Sunday, 3 January 2010

Dockhead fire station, the Blackwall of London's Burning

London has a long and ever growing list of films and television series filmed on location in the capital, which makes for interesting viewing for those of us who know the capital well.

Growing up in south east London, however, or the 'forgotten quarter', as it could probably be called, we had fewer local programming than the residents of other parts of London, particularly the western half of London, which was blessed not only with the home of the BBC, but also of ITV's Thames Television, and the nearby film studio complexes of Pinewood and Elstree. Even Only Fools and Horses was filmed elsewhere, with west London standing in for Peckham.

But a few production companies graced our streets, none more so than London's Burning, probably the biggest TV show set and filmed in south east London.

Motorists driving northbound towards the Blackwall Tunnel can look down to their left as they pass over the Woolwich Road flyover and see a small hotel, formerly East Greenwich fire station, before they moved to more modern premises slightly towards Charlton. When London's Burning were scouting locations for a new Fire Brigade-based drama, they apparently alighted on this newly-closed fire station as an ideal base from which to film, hence the fictional fire station's name of Blackwall.

However, it seems the noise of the adjacent A102(M) (as it was then) was too much for filming, and instead a real fire station, Dockhead, was used, together with a small studio built in the rear. Dockhead is still an active fire station, which can be found in Wolseley Street in Bermondsey, just a couple of hundred metres from Shad Thames.

As I now live on Dockhead's patch, it was great re-watching the first few series recently, and seeing a surprising number of real local places and place names in use, with calls to Rotherhithe Street, checking fire hydrants off the Jamaica Road, and swinging the engines around the Rotherhithe Tunnel Roundabout, or St Olave's Square, to give the roundabout its geometrically dubious proper name.

Sadly the production company eventually upped-sticks to the slightly greener pastures of Leyton, under the guise of Blackwall being re-built. But in reality, Dockhead carried on much as before, although the fire-fighters' local in the show has since been converted to flats (on the left in my picture above).

But real life catches up with the fictional, and Dockhead really is now up for demolition and reconstruction. No doubt our local fire-fighters will have all mod cons, with better working conditions, better equipment, and probably lower maintenance costs, and who can say that is a bad thing?

But I will be a little sad to see the Blackwall fire station of my youth demolished.

And poor old Nelson Mandela House, which was really in South Acton, is going the same way.

1 comment:

  1. I realize that this is an old post but I just found it. How is it that you discovered this fact about the proposed/original filming location for London's Burning? Production notes, newspaper, ??? Thank you, Richard