Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Braidwood, James

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BRAIDWOOD, JAMES (1800–1861), superintendent of the London fire-brigade, was born at Edinburgh in the year 1800, and was the son of a respectable tradesman in that city. He was educated at the High School, and afterwards he followed the building trade. In 1824 he joined the police, and, having been appointed superintendent of fire-engines in Edinburgh, he at once set to work to organise efficient fire-brigade.

Nor was it too soon; for in that year Edinburgh was visited by a terrible conflagration, which destroyed a great part of the High Street and the steeple of the Tron Church. At this fire his coolness, determination, and daring were conspicuously shown: an ironmonger's shop was in flames, and Braidwood, hearing there was gunpowder on the premises, entered, and at the utmost personal risk to himself carried out first one and then another barrel of powder.

In 1830 he published a pamphlet 'On the Construction of Fire-engines and Apparatus, the Training of Firemen, and the Method of Proceeding in Cases of Fire.' This little work brought him into more than local notoriety, and eventually led to his appointment, in 1832, as superintendent of the London Fire-engine Establishment, then supported by the different insurance companies. On leaving Edinburgh the firemen gave him a gold watch, and the committee made him a present of a valuable piece of plate.

In London he had but the very small force of 120 men under him; yet, by his activity, energy, and perseverance, he kept the fires which occurred in the metropolis in very fair subjection. He fell a victim to his duty on 22 June 1861, while endeavouring to subdue a huge conflagration at Cotton's Wharf and Depot, Tooley Street, London Bridge, where he was crushed by a falling wall, and buried in the ruins. His body, terribly mutilated, was recovered two days afterwards, and he was buried at Abney Park Cemetery on 29 June.

He was for nearly thirty years an associate of the Institute of Civil Engineers, and to that learned body, as well as to the Society of Arts, be read many papers connected with the prevention and extinction of fires.

[Gent. Mag. 1861. p. 212.]

J. A.