Places to Visit in Scotland
- Museum of Fire, Edinburgh
Fire Museum, Lauriston Place, Edinburgh
Edinburgh Fire Establishment was created in 1824 by Firemaster James Braidwood and is the oldest municipal fire brigade in the United Kingdom. It eventually became the Lothian & Borders Fire & Rescue Service with its HQ at 76-78 Lauriston Place, Edinburgh, near the centre of Scotland's Capital. So it was very appropriate that when the building was no longer required as an active fire station it should be transformed into a "Fire Museum" to house a varied collection of fire engines, equipment, models and photographs which told the story not only of the development of fire fighting services but also honoured the heroic members of the fire service not just in Edinburgh but elsewhere as well. Some of the items on display are over 400 years old.
The Fire Museum is sometimes described as Edinburgh's best kept secret museum as there are no large signs on the exterior of the building saying what it is - apparently so that the facade can comply with conservation regulations. The entrance is round the corner from the main facade of the museum (the four large doors that used to open to allow the fire engines to exit the building). There is a reception desk where a member of staff will contact one of the volunteers who can escort you round the exhibits and provide information and answer questions. The guide was involved with another visitor when I arrived, so after welcoming me to the museum, I was able to wander round taking photographs until he caught up with me.
Entrance to the Fire Museum is free but very appropriately there is an old fireman's helmet (see graphic on the right) with a slot into which you can put donations to help keep this great resource going.
Pride of place in the building is a Glasgow made "Halley" fire engine which was obtained by Leith Fire Brigade in 1910 (see right).
Even older, is the Fire Pump from Duns (in the Scottish Borders) which entered service in 1806, pictured on the left. It took the residents of Duns nearly two years to collect the nearly £80 purchase price by subscription. There is a list of the contributors (and how much they donated) in the Fire Service library.
Now fitted with a canvas hose, it originally had a leather hose riveted together and kept supple by applying grease. The pump was found in a very poor state of repair in a farmer's barn and brought to Edinburgh for restoration. As with the other historic exhibits it is now in impeccable condition.
The Duns fire pump and the pump from Dunbar (shown on the left) and the unit used by the paper company Tullis Russell in Fife in 1901 (on the right) were of course horse drawn vehicles. The museum also recalls those horse-drawn days by having a realistic stable in one corner with a life size model horse being brushed down by a model fireman. Straw on the floor adds an authentic touch..
Fitted into a cupboard is an old fire station "communication centre" (see graphic on the left). No state of the art technology here - this is from the days of telephones with manual switchboards and dealing just with local fires in Edinburgh. Nowadays there are only a few large control rooms covering the whole of Scotland. The museum also has a large collection of models of many types of fire engine from around the world, including some from USA (see illustration on the right). On an exterior wall of the museum is a plaque commemorating the 343 firefighters killed on 9/11 at the World Trade Centre in New York.
In a stairwell at the back of the main display hall there is a fireman's extending ladder and a model of a fireman in a uniform from earlier times. And the original "fireman's pole" is to be seen. This allowed the firemen on duty but located on an upper floor to rapidly slide down to the ground floor to race to a waiting fire engine about to head out to respond to an emergency call received by the control room.
The museum is open from Monday to Fridaybetween10am and 3pm. But you are advised to contact the museum on 0131 228 2401 before visiting to ensure that one of the museum volunteers is available for your visit.
There have been recent suggestions that the new Scotland-wide fire service organisation is seeking to make cost savings and the closure of the Fire Museum may be on the hit list. It would be a great pity if this valuable window into our recent historic past was no longer available for future generations to learn about the magnificent work of the fire and rescue service.
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