Here are two original photographs I bought off ebay a few years back. They are two shots of a fire. On the back in pen is written “Butler Wharf – Before 2nd war”. The picture belonged to “Fox Photos, 6 Tudor Street, London E.C.4, so I assumed they were taken at one of London’s old wharfs alongside the Thames.
Some time later I obtained a copy of London Fireman, printed in December 1966. On the back page was a short story of that fire. It is titled “The Brigades Coldest Fire”, and read:
“Moderate or fresh East or North East winds; bright intervals; snow showers; very cold”, This was London’s gloomy forecast for Saturday 7 March, 1931. In Chelsea, athletes due to represent Oxford and Cambridge universities that afternoon at Stamford Bridge, read the forecast, looked to the sky, and prophesised slower times and shorter jumps. In Southwark, at the headquarters of the London Fire Brigade, firemen read the same forecast, looked at the same sky, and wondered why they chose a career that made them get up on such a morning. In a warehouse at Butler’s Wharf near London a fire was in its infancy.
Shortly after 10o’clock the Brigade was called for; the bells went down and firemen, their breath condensing beneath brass helmets, scrambled aboard their machines and sped to the scene. A pall of black smoke hung over Shad Thames and as they drew nearer the acrid fumes of burning rubber stung their nostrils.
The fireboats Alpha and Beta ploughed their way towards the wharf and crowds gathered to watch the spectacle. On arrival the firemen immediately got to work and attacked the blaze from the street and adjoining premises, they even used the cargo ship “Teal” as a standing platform. In charge of these operations was the Chief Officer, Mr. Arthur Reginald Dyer, and also on hand were the men of the London Salvage Corps under the command of Captain Miles.
The Brigade managed to confine the blaze to the single building but it was a long time before the last flame was quenched. All day it burned and when darkness fell searchlights were brought into action. Compared with other conflagrations this fire was not very large, but it was the unbelievably cold conditions that made the fireman’s job so difficult. Water froze as it ran down the walls; sheets of ice spreading across the road made even the most limited of movements hazardous and everywhere hung monstrous icicles like the serpents of Medusa after her decapitation by Perseus. We will leave the last words on the subject to another, more qualified to speak; “The temperature was so low that all branches had to be wrapped in sacking, or it would have been impossible to hold them”
Back to the pictures and you can see just how cold it was, especially bear in mind it was March and spring should have been on the way. The area was used as docks until they closed in the early 1970s. The area became run down and derelict, but in the 1980s Butler’s Wharf was transformed into an up market area comprising of luxury flats with restaurants and shops on the ground floor.