963/0/10123 ALBERT EMBANKMENT
Lambeth Fire Station
(Formerly listed as:
LONDON FIRE BRIGADE HEADQUARTERS)
Fire station (former Brigade Headquarters of the London Fire Brigade). Built 1937 by the London County Council to the design of EP Wheeler, Architect to the LCC, assisted by G Weald. Sculpture by Gilbert Bayes, Stanley Nicholas Babb and FP Morton.
MATERIALS: Steel frame clad in brown-grey bricks in English bond; ground floor, central part of the first floor, cornice to top floor and top of central tower are faced in Portland stone. Granite courses to base.
PLAN: Long rectangular 8-storey block aligned N-S along river frontage. The building comprised a ground floor fire station, with staff facilities (mess rooms, dormitories etc) at first floor, offices at second, administration at third, and living quarters on the fourth to eighth floors. The appliance room is placed centrally on the ground floor, with main entrance hall to the S plus a smaller entrance hall to the N. Two stairs to rear. Each floor is bisected by a long axial corridor. A single-storey rear wing, originally housing the LFB museum, and a bandstand to the south east, were demolished in the 1980s to make way for a large new extension.
EXTERIOR: Moderne style, expressed through severe geometry, stepped-back upper storeys, flat roof and strong horizontal emphasis. Symmetrical façade of 9 storeys, with top two storeys stepped back, apart from central 5 bays of eighth storey which thus form a centrepiece to the façade. 25 bays, plus set-back blind end bays forming returns to side elevations. Original steel-framed casement windows with horizontal glazing; those to each end are narrower; those to central 5 bays at first floor and the central bay above are triple casements with margin lights.
Ground floor has 7 central appliance bays with deep stepped-back splayed reveals and an upper transom with horizontal fluting (these details are repeated in the lower pedestrian entrances to either side). Appliance bays have folding wooden doors (some replicated) of coffered panels with metal grilles to the upper parts; transom lights also have decorative metal grilles. To each side of the appliance bays are 4 small square windows with metal grilles, arranged 2 to either side of a pedestrian entrance. Entrances have panelled double doors with metal grilles; above each of them is a stone relief of firemen in action by Nicholas Babb. Stone balcony to first floor, continuing around side elevations, bears name of building. Above first floor of central 5 bays is stone cornice with horizontal fluting, curved at the ends and in the centre around two elaborate metal lamp standards. From the first to the third floors are central stone reliefs by Gilbert Bayes with gold mosaic backgrounds. Flanking the first floor are two galleys, above the first floor are two mermen with water hoses, above the second floor Phoebus in his chariot with sun's rays behind, and on the third floor a griffin. Horizontal rustication to eighth-floor centrepiece, which has inset panel of wheat ears, and to ninth floor. Central set-back tower has side pavilions and elaborate stone cornice with square and dot pattern, iron railings and flagstaff above, and large carved LCC coat of arms crest in stone by FP Morton. Return elevations of 6 bays with narrower end windows. Here the top 3 storeys are set back apart from the 2 end bays to SE rear, which form a corner tower. The rear elevation has balconies on all floors, the three lowest floors are deeper with cast iron balustrading. The ends project and there is a built-in canted bay observation post to the second floor. The lower balconies were designed to be used as display platforms for up to 800 people to watch weekly public drill displays. The building diminishes in depth above 3rd storey level.
1980s rear extension is not of special interest.
INTERIOR: Main (S) entrance hall has marble cladding and a geometrical frieze. Doors have elaborate geometrical patterned grilles. On the right-hand rear (E) side, set in an alcove, is a memorial by Gilbert Bayes presented to the LFB by Lloyds underwriters and dedicated 'to the memory of the officers and men of the London Fire Brigade who throughout the years lay down their lives whilst doing their duty'. The central marble relief depicts a contemporary fire-fighting scene, set within a bronze frame with opening panels to either side bearing the names of 62 men. The top bears the motto "FINIS CORONAT OPUS", surmounted by a statuary group with a steam fire engine drawn by galloping horses. Set in the walls to either side are bronze grilles depicting billhooks and historic fire-fighting equipment, below which are bas-relief panels of modern appliances. In front of the memorial is a circular floor mosaic depicting the Great Fire of London. On the left rear wall is an elaborate tablet commemorating the establishment of the London Fire Brigade in 1865. This has a marble relief by Gilbert Bayes dated 1938 depicting an C18 fire fighting scene, set in a bronze frame with relief figures to either side and the inscription 'OMNIUM RERUM PRINCIPIA PARVA SUNT' at the top. A circular early 1950s sgraffito floor panel on the right (W) side depicts the areas of the London Civil Defence Region Fire Services. Memorial tablet against central pier to LCC staff who died in the two World Wars, with gilded key pattern. The smaller N entrance hall has similar doors and frieze to main entrance; marble cladding is 1980s. Open-well moderne style stairs with bronze balustrades. First-floor mess room with beamed coffered ceiling and some original timber fittings. Second floor has rear conference room faced in polished wood veneer with a fluted frieze; the sliding partitions have gone. The upper residential floors have largely been stripped of domestic fittings, although many original doors survive and a few fireplaces. Other features include original wood-veneer post boxes, and doors to pole houses. The basement has a generator which is thought to date from WWII.
Lambeth Fire Station and the former drill tower to the rear (qv) form a group.
The former training school and workshops to the rear of the main building in Lambeth High Street are not of special interest.
HISTORY: Albert Embankment marks the close of a long and remarkable programme of fire-station building which began in 1866 with the formation of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, the first publicly-funded authority charged with saving lives and protecting buildings from fire. Initially part of the Metropolitan Board of Works, the earliest fire stations were generally plain brick and few pre-1880 examples survive. In 1880s under the MFB architect Robert Pearsall, the fire station acquired a true architectural identity, most notably in the rich Gothic style typical of Victorian municipal buildings such as Bishopsgate. It was the building boom of the 1890s-1900s however that was to transform fire station architecture and give the Brigade some of its most characterful buildings. In 1889 the fire brigade came under the control of the newly-formed London County Council, and from 1896 new stations were designed by a group of architects led by Owen Fleming and Charles Canning Winmill, both formerly of the LCC Housing Department, who brought the highly-experimental methods which had evolved for designing new social housing to the Fire Brigade Division, as the department was called from 1899, and drew on a huge variety of influences to create unique and commanding stations, each built to a bespoke design and plan. This exciting period in fire station design continued to the outbreak of WWI, although there was some standardisation of design in the period. No new fire stations were built between 1916-1925, and only a few up to WWII, and when building resumed, a more functional, stripped-down idiom was employed.
The new headquarters of the London Fire Brigade in Albert Embankment replaced the first HQ of 1876 in Southwark Bridge Road (listed Grade II). It was built on land occupied by the London Pottery of Doulton & Co, and opened on 21st June 1937 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The complex comprised the administrative headquarters of London firefighting, residential quarters, a working fire station with a whole range of staff facilities, a drill parade ground, drill tower, and a training school and maintenance workshops at the rear, also combined with flats. The grandstand-like rear elevation with tiers of balconies accommodated large crowds of spectators to watch fire-fighting displays on the drill tower. There was also a river fire station with pontoon, still in use but rebuilt.
It was from here that the capital's fire-fighting operations were run during WWII, when an underground control room was constructed to withstand a direct hit and a gas attack, with its own reserve electric light installation and forced ventilation. The building ceased to be the LFB headquarters in January 2008, but continues as Lambeth Fire Station.
SOURCES: The Fireman, April 1935, pp 146-7
The Builder, 12 March 1937
Architect and Building News, 19 February 1937
The Architects' Journal, 22 July 1937
The Times, 22 July 1937
The Illustrated London News, 24 July 1937
English Heritage Historian's Report, LAM/35
John B Nadel, London's Fire Stations, 2006, p 113
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: Lambeth Fire Station is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Of special architectural interest as a well-composed and externally unaltered 1930s building which, while in the streamlined Moderne idiom, upholds the Arts and Crafts ideal of collaboration between architecture and sculpture;
* A landmark building on the south bank of the River Thames;
* Important sculptural reliefs, most notably by the distinguished C20 sculptor Gilbert Bayes;
* Interior features of interest, including the main entrance hall and sculpture;
* Of special historic interest as the headquarters of the London Fire Brigade, the most important fire brigade nationally and the third largest in the world. The building was the centre of London's fire-fighting operations in WWII.