Fire pioneer’s descendant ‘heartbroken’ at closure bid

Vanessa Braidwood visits the Fire Museum at Lauriston Place. Picture: Neil Hanna
Vanessa Braidwood visits the Fire Museum at Lauriston Place. Picture: Neil Hanna
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THE great-great-granddaughter of Edinburgh firefighting pioneer James Braidwood has visited the city’s Museum of Fire and said she was “heartbroken” at the prospect of it being forced to close.

Vanessa Braidwood said the museum, based in the former Central fire station at Lauriston Place, was “a wonderful slice of history”.

It’s just so sad to think all this history could be boxed up and may never be seen again. I’m heartbroken.

Vanessa Braidwood

It tells the story of how James Braidwood founded the world’s first municipal fire service in Edinburgh in 1824. And it boasts a unique collection of historic fire engines and other equipment.

But the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) plans to sell off the building in a cost-cutting exercise. It has promised to keep the collection in Edinburgh, but the volunteers who run the museum say no alternative site has been found and they fear it could just close.

Ms Braidwood, who is in her 60s, said: “It’s just so sad to think all this history could be boxed up and may never be seen again. I’m heartbroken. It’s making me choke up.

“I’m running around taking pictures of everything in case it’s the last time.

“I wish I was more affluent and I could be a financial benefactor.”

She said she had grown up knowing about her ancestor’s role in pioneering firefighting.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the history and the family connection,” she said. “It has always been so special.”

Campaigners fighting to save the museum are keen to pursue possible options for staying in the ground floor of the current building – the last surviving Victiorian fire station in the UK – while the upper part could be converted for student accommodation.

And city council leader Andrew Burns is due to have talks with the SFRS in a bid to keep the museum in its present home.

Ms Braidwood, who lives in Northumberland, said: “It would be wonderful if we kept the museum on the ground floor. This is where it all happened – there are pictures of the day it opened with the fire brigade all lined up outside with their horses and fire engines.

“And the old fire engines are so beautiful, all the brasswork highly polished.

“The volunteers do such an exceptional job of maintaining everything. And they have made it very hands-on to help children understand all the history.”

The museum display includes James Braidwood’s 1824 Edinburgh Fire Establishment, which he helped design; his ceremonial axe; various medals he was awarded; and his bosun’s whistle, which had 36 different calls used to give instructions to firefighters as they tackled a blaze.

George Gray, a volunteer guide at the museum and retired part-time officer-in-charge at Linlithgow Fire Station, said they were delighted to have a visit from Ms Braidwood. He said: “She is a great campaigner for retaining the museum and the Braidwood artefacts in their present home at Lauriston Place.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com