Massey Shaw

Fireboat built 1935 by White, J Samuel & Co Ltd, Cowes, Isle of Wight

Ensign House flag


National Historic Fleet

Service Vessel

Fire Float



Private use






Web site









To be confirmed

12.59 feet (3.84 metres)

77.93 feet (23.77 metres)

5.25 feet (1.60 metres)



MASSEY SHAW was built by J Samuel White of Cowes, Isle of Wight in 1935. She was built to a design of the London County Council, who wished her to be able to go under all the bridges of the Thames and its tributaries at any state of the tide. The vessel cost the sum of £18,000 to complete, and for that the LCC received a Fireboat with the following dimensions. She was powered by two Gleniffer DC8 eight cylinder diesel engines which were connected to two Merryweather four stage fire pumps. MASSEY SHAW was heralded as a great addition to the fire fighting capabilities of the London Fire Brigade's River Service. Within a few months, she had demonstrated her full capabilities whilst fighting a large warehouse fire at Colonial Wharf, Wapping. The fire had gained hold of an eight storey warehouse complex and fire fighting operations were hampered by difficult access. MASSEY was able to supply a vast jet of water that made a ‘firebreak’ and allowed the land-based crews to regroup and stop the fire spreading. Newspapers at the time credited MASSEY with saving over a million pounds worth of stock, by preventing the fire moving along to other adjoining warehouses. MASSEY's finest hour came in May 1940 when she answered a call from the Home Office asking her to take part in ‘Operation Dynamo’. She made three trips to the beaches with her volunteer crew of LFB, AFS and NFS Firemen, rescuing some 500 troops from the beaches and bringing back a further 110 to Ramsgate. In addition to this work, on her return to London MASSEY rescued thirty French merchant seamen when their vessel hit a mine. On her return to her home port, MASSEY was heavily involved in fire fighting operations during the Blitz. Her fire pumps provided vast amounts of water to quell the large number of fires in the Docks and surrounding areas. MASSEY continued as an operational fireboat on the Thames until 1971, when she was decommissioned by the London Fire Brigade. After this period, she was moved to different locations on the Thames whilst the Fire Authority decided what should be done with her. One of the most notable ideas was that MASSEY would be placed in dry-dock in the Thames Mead Housing Estate, befalling a similar fate as the CUTTY SARK. Fortunately in the early 1980s she was moved to St Katherine’s Dock, by Tower Bridge, where she was seen by several enthusiasts. At this time, MASSEY was looking a sorry state, she was being used as a walk way for people to get to other craft and her general condition was poor. Undeterred, these individuals decided to form a preservation group to restore this historic craft to her former glory on the Thames. Many ‘battles’ were fought along the way with the Fire Authority (who still owned the boat) and various other organisations who had their doubts about handing MASSEY over to this unknown group. Finally, The Massey Shaw & Marine Vessels Preservation Society were given a fifty year lease on the vessel from the Fire Authority, and began to restore her to working condition. In the autumn of 2008, it was reported that she was currently in Deptford Dock undergoing restoration by the Massey Shaw Society. One of her main Glennifer diesel engines was awaiting a full rebuild over the winter. The vessel was also due to have a complete redecking if the HLF Lottery bid is successful. The aim of the Society was to complete the restoration of the fire boat so that it can be used as a floating educational resource on the Thames. On 31 March 2011, MASSEY SHAW travelled from South East London to Gloucester where restoration work was continuing at Tommi Nielsen's yard.

Subsequent Developments

  1. December 2011 Work is progressing well at Tomy Nielsen's yard in Gloucester Dock. The Hull is having new steel along the wter lone secured by many thousands of rivets. Work on the remainder of the vessel is on schedule so hopeful to have MASSEY back on the Thames for the Queen's Jubilee. Source: Massey Shaw Trust, ADLS Newsletter Dec 2011
  2. April 2013 Preparation underway for vessel to undertake journey from Gloucester Dock to River Thames, over 550 miles, due to start on 3 June 2013. Source:, Apr 2013
  3. November 2013 Arrived in London, West India Dock and re-launched

Key dates

  1. 1935 Vessel built by J. Samuel White, Cowes, Isle of Wight, for London County Council use on the Thames
  2. 1936 Attended a major fire at Colonial Wharf, Wapping.  Vessel credited with saving £2 million worth of stock
  3. 1940 Took part in Operation Dynamo making three trips to Dunkirk and rescuing some 500 troops
  4. 1940-1942 Desperate fire-fighting during the ‘blitz’
  5. 1947 A permanent, wooden wheelhouse replaced the open canvass ‘dodger’ offering protection to coxswain and river pilot
  6. 1960s Vessel became a reserve boat. New boats had taken over first-line duties
  7. 1969 Attended a chemical fire at Dungens Wharf on the Isle of Dogs to provide additional pumping capacity
  8. 1971 Decommissioned by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) and moved to different locations on the Thames pending LFB’s decision on her future
  9. 1980 Moved to St Katharine Docks and abandoned
  10. 1982 The Massey Shaw and Marine Vessels Preservation Society Ltd. was founded and the vessel given to the Society on a 50 year lease
  11. 1990 Sunk close to the LFB Headquarters at Lambeth, but salvaged so work could begin again
  12. 1990 Attended the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships’ 50th Anniversary return to Dunkirk
  13. 2000 Attended 60th Anniversary Dunkirk return
  14. 2008 Society granted £500,000 from Heritage Lottery Fund for restoration work and an educational project
  15. 2009 Vessel lifted out of the water onto hard standing at South Dock Marina, Southwark
  16. 2011 Vessel moved from South East London to Gloucester to complete restoration at Tommi Nielsen’s yard


  1. 1989 The Little Ships of Dunkirk: 1940-1990 - Brann, Christian
  2. 1993 International Register of Historic Ships - Brouwer, Norman J
  3. 2000 Classic Boat Through Fire and Water
  4. 2014 Classic Boat, June 'The boat that saved St Paul's' - Compton, Nic


  1. 2007 An award of £200 to cover the costs of attendance at the RINA Conference was made from the Strategic Development Fundof National Historic Ships
  2. 2008-2009 The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £992,00 for a restoratin and educational project
  3. 2009 A Sustainability Grant of £500 for a survey was made from the Strategic Development Fund of National Historic Ships
If you are the owner of the vessel and would like to provide more details or updated information please contact


a rope, chain or iron collar which attaches the yard to the mast but which allows vertical movement