Open House London gives an annual opportunity to visit buildings that are not usually open to the public. I’ve often walked past Euston Fire Station and wondered what it was like inside, so I booked a tour.
Euston Fire Station is a Grade II listed late Victorian red brick building. It’s in the Arts and Crafts architectural style, dressed with Portland stone. It is close to Euston railway station on the busy Euston Road. The fire station was designed in 1901 by H. F. T. Cooper from the Fire Brigade Branch of the London County Council Architects’ Department and built by Stimpson & Co. The construction cost £14,377 plus £7,693 for the site.
The foundation stone was laid on 14 December 1901 by Councillor J. D. Gilbert, Chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee of the London County Council. The station became operational on 21 May 1902 and it was opened as station No.73 on 27 November 1902. It replaced the Metropolitan Board of Works station at 171–175 Great Portland Street. (The Metropolitan Fire Brigade was initially part of the Metropolitan Board of Works.) Euston Fire Station is one of the oldest operational fire stations in London.
London County Council
In 1889, the fire brigade passed to the newly-formed London County Council. The LCC was responsible for London Fire Brigade (LFB) and its badge is still on the front of Euston Fire Station.
In 1965, the Greater London Council was formed and Euston became station A23 in the enlarged London Fire Brigade.
Following the First World War, it was decided to postpone extending the building. However, a single-story 3-bay appliance room (where the fire engines rest) was erected as a temporary measure. This temporary structure was completed in 1922 and is still in use today.
An optician’s shop had been on the site of the appliance room until 1918. The station has some artifacts, such as old bottles, that were found when digging the foundations.
The station was last refurbished in 1995. Some original features including doors, dado paneling in the ground-floor former recreation room and fireplaces survive but generally, it was much-altered to make it fit for purpose. The stone staircase with plain iron balustrade is original. Crews and appliances moved back in on 8 January 1997.
Due to its central London, Euston was an important station during the Second World War Blitz. The station now covers the nearby railway stations – Euston, King’s Cross, and St Pancras – plus the British Museum, British Library, and even London Zoo. Four watches of twenty firefighters provide 24-hour emergency cover.
Grade II Listed
During the mid-1960s, Sir John Betjeman, the Poet Laureate, visited the fire station. He was campaigning to save the Doric Arch that stood outside Euston railway station and he was drawn to the unique design of the fire station. It was a direct consequence of this visit that applied pressure to protect the building.
The architectural significance of the building was acknowledged on 14 May 1974 when it became Grade II listed (must be preserved). This was because it is widely regarded as the masterpiece of a remarkable group of fire stations built by the LCC between 1896 and 1914. Historic England states that it “stands at the summit of achievement of LCC civic architecture of this rich and prolific period”.
It is a prominent landmark close to Euston station. It has been well-preserved and the boundary walls and railings are included in the listing (can’t be removed). Above the appliance bay is a patterned frieze with ‘L.C.C FIRE BRIGADE STATION EUSTON 1902’ in bronze lettering.
The London Fire Brigade is not allowed to attach anything to the railings but they do have a simple noticeboard behind the railings with a very unofficial-looking poster.
The building is L-shaped and faces onto Euston Road behind a forecourt. There are six floors and attic space above. It is more of a romantic silhouette due to the lack of symmetry and different level roofs.
On the Euston Square side of the building, there is a separate entrance for the advice and counseling department (which expanded after the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017). Also, on this side, you can see double gates (which are no longer needed but have to be preserved) as this was the entrance for horse-drawn carts. You can see the shape of the larger equestrian entrance on the building but it was closed permanently during the 1920s alterations. (The kitchen is now inside here.)
The London Fire Brigade has its roots in the Navy so you find various references in LFB buildings and their way of working. This building has a “crow’s nest” lookout on the Euston Square side.
Heading inside, we visited ‘The Box’ which is the room where they receive the instructions for an emergency call. The firefighters have about 60 seconds to be driving out in the fire engine from when the information arrives. We heard the alarm that sounds to alert the firefighters and it was very distinct; rather like an interesting mobile phone ring tone and the words “mobilise, mobilise”.
While learning about alarms, someone asked if the police siren is the same as the fire engine’s siren. We were informed it is the same sound although the fire engines’ siren is louder and they can use a bullhorn too – especially useful at crossroads.
We saw the office which looked like any office although the now-closed high archways for the horse-drawn carts reminded us that the horses would exit the building this way. The office corridors have some memorabilia of the station’s history including photos of major incidents and group shots of past watches (each crew of firefighters is called a watch).
Then we visited the ‘gear room’ which is where the specialist clothing is kept, plus there are lockers for non-work items.
Heading upstairs, there are dormitories for rest between duties. I have to say the mattresses looked thin and there was the constant sound of the busy traffic on Euston Road so I doubt anyone sleeps well here.
As you would expect, there are many fireman’s poles throughout the building. As it is six storeys high, there are staggered poles so no one has to do an exceptionally long drop. The poles are another part of naval history.
The firefighters stay fit in the basement gym and relax in the kitchen/”mess area” or the lecture/TV room.
The firefighters maintain a central courtyard garden as a meditative space to unwind. There is a barbecue for the summer months.
A modern drill tower is used for ladder training. There are also often old vehicles in the courtyard to practice road traffic accident rescues.
From the rear of the building, we could see the former drill tower (you can see a scorch mark on the bricks).
The station appliance room currently has two fire engines. One is called the Pump Ladder and has a long ladder on top of the vehicle. The other, seen here, is a Rescue Unit. This vehicle is actually only two weeks old and they expect it to last for 15 years.
Not a Visitor Attraction
As this is an operational fire station you can only visit on open days. While I was on the building tour, there were two ‘shouts’ and we needed to stand back to let the vehicles leave swiftly to save lives.
Firefighters often keep their equipment near to the open vehicle ready to put on in seconds.
Address: Euston Fire Station, 172 Euston Road, London NW1 2DH
Around the back of the building, on Grafton Place, you can get a better look at the drill tower.
When I visited, there was a ‘body’ on the ground too! (It’s a stuffed body shape that is very heavy.) This is used for rescue practice. As the Rescue Unit vehicle is equipped with animal rescue equipment, there is also a stuffed ‘horse’ on-site for training purposes.