Sunday 17 November 2019

Repairing the Massey Shaw


Massey Shaw, the preserved London Fire Brigade Float, was recently the subject of a TV programme. The following review, by our member Richard Buchanan, is taken from the SLAS News, Newsletter of the Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Society, No.93. March 2003. With thanks.
On Channel 4 on Monday 20th January there was a programme featuring the Salvage Squad, who had a go at repairing the 1935 Massey Shaw, the first purpose built Fire Boat in London. Did you see it?
The programme features three expert technicians, Claire Barratt, Alex Cleghorn and Jerry Thurston with a presenter (also technically savvy), and shows in half an hour work which has been carried out sometime in the previous year. They showed the repair of four items: the Rubbing Strakes, the Engine, the Fire Pump Control Valves, and the Engine Room Telegraph.
Rubbing Strakes, Alex Cleghorn. These were badly rotting, and needed to be removed (which was hard work, removing old bolts and even then needing a 6 ft jemmy) and replaced with new oak. The replacement of one strake was shown.
New oak, about 4 x 6 in cross section and the length of the boat, was prepared. To be able to fit it, it was steamed for a couple of hours in a long square sheet metal tube, which was well lagged. It was then carefully taken out and handled (while still hot) using G-clamps, inserting the forward end into a steel socket at the bow, and forming it round the boat.
Engine, Claire Barratt. The Massey Shaw was powered by two large diesel engines. It seemed that both engines needed overhaul, but one had been in worse condition and had had one piston removed. They showed the removal of this engine from one side of the boat, through a central hatchway not much bigger than the engine; it’s stripping down, and the remetalling of the crankshaft bearings with white metal (they had completely worn down to the copper backing). The boat was counterbalanced with large drums filled with water while the engine was removed. After reassembly the engine was put back in and connected up.
As usual on this programme (as in real life), this was being done to a tight schedule, so there was no time to properly test the engine before they wanted to run it, and it didn't. So they ran the other engine - whose exhaust was ghastly.
Pump Control Valves, Jerry Thurston. Water to the main Monitor and other hose outlets are controlled by a valve where a plate is moved across a pipe by a screw. On stripping down all looked well, until it was found that the bronze screw thread had been badly corroded by the river water, and lost its strength. New ones were made (a bad moment on the screw cutting lathe was shown, when knocking a wrong lever spoilt the piece).
Engine Room Telegraph, Jerry Thurston. The Massey Shaw has conventional (for its day) telegraph with dials and brass control handles, one for the engines and an- other for the fire pumps. The repair was not shown in any detail, just the testing afterwards to confirm that the indicators followed the controls from the bridge, and that the response was correctly signalled.
History The Massey Shaw was seen some years ago, left to rot, by the Woolwich Ferry - the principal man in this was featured. It was saved and a trust set up to care for it; the Trust invited the Salvage Squad to help with its upkeep, which was becoming expensive. One of the firemen who had worked on the vessel in World War 2 was also traced, and said how in the blitz at the end of 1941 St Paul's was only saved because the Massey Shaw was able to pump Thames water to hoses on land when the water main was bombed.
The final scene of the programme was to pilot the Massey Shaw through the open bascules of Tower Bridge.

Richard Buchanan

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