Historic fireboat Massey Shaw at London Boat Show

By Rob Virtue on January 6, 2014 10:17 AM |

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Quietly unassuming, the latest arrival at West India Docks sat almost hidden. But rewind nearly 80 years ago and the this fireboat, the Massey Shaw, was hailed as the eighth wonder of the world.

It had a huge pumping capacity which, over the following decade, was in constant use as it served along the Thames and especially the East End docks during the Second World War.

On top of that she was one of the "small ships" that headed across the Channel in May 1940 to evacuate soldiers from the beach at Dunkirk.

However, in time the ship was forgotten and in 2004 left badly vandalised but, thanks to a near £500,000 donation from the Heritage Lottery Fund and many hours of tireless work from volunteers, she's back to her best.

Julian Cartwright, director at the Massey Shaw Fire Boat Society, said: "In her day she was the most powerful fireboat in Europe, running at 12 knots.

"The water cannon on top was designed to punch through the walls of the warehouses on the riverbank. It was so powerful it would blast through walls and windows to get to the root of the fire.

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"She's got such a fantastic history, especially during the war but the society found her in a derelict condition. So we started restoration and the Heritage Lottery Fund had put in a big donation, which we matched. A more thorough refit you won't find."

Using twin eight cylinder Gleniffer engines constructed in 1935, the ship offers a glimpse back to a golden era for British engineering. Its pumps can shoot 1,500 gallons of water per minute.

Her semi-permanent home is near Wood Wharf, where she arrived just a few weeks ago, but she's expected to be a big draw at her current berth at the Royal Docks for the London Boat Show. But after that the future is not completely clear.

"The funds now are almost depleted so we need sponsorship," said Julian. "She's part of London's history and becomes a floating museum this year.

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"We take demonstrations to schools and it gives the children something tangible to better understand the effect the war had on London. It's vitally important we preserve her for future generations."

Go to masseyshaw.org

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