Prahran Volunteer Fire Station_Watchtower_Jan 2008_mz
Statement of Significance
Last updated on - February 18, 2008
What is Significant? Built in 1889 for the Prahran Fire Brigade, the Former Prahran City Fire Station is a two storey brick building with an attached brick watchtower. The ground floor of the building contained the apparatus room to accommodate the brigade's hose reels and a steam fire engine and a workshop. The top floor of the fire station housed a library, a meeting room and an office. As the members of the fire brigade were volunteers and did not live at the station, no accommodation space was provided. The building was remodelled at the turn of the nineteenth century after it ceased to be a fire station. The double doors of the apparatus room were converted into a large window, the internal space was divided into smaller rooms and two rooms, a balcony and porch were added to the front the building.
Until 1891, fire fighting in Victoria was generally undertaken by brigades of volunteers. The brigades were funded by insurance companies, private companies, municipal councils and private funds. Volunteers were paid a stipend and a bonus for every fire attended. However without any central control of the various fire brigades, a number of brigades could have turned up to fight a fire causing disputes over control and water access.
The Prahran Fire Brigade was established in 1856 and operated for its first two years from the Prahran Inn until that building was destroyed by fire. The brigade then moved to a small bluestone building fronting Greville St in 1858 which had a 12 metre wooden lookout to its rear. The Prahran Brigade was brought under the control of the Prahran Council in 1871.
Captain James Kelly, leader of the Prahran City Brigade, had been active since the early 1850s in the campaign for an association of volunteer fire brigades, the passage of legislation to regulate fire fighting in Victoria, the use of modern equipment such as steam fire engines, the use of electric alarms as in San Francisco and the appointment of paid firemen. Kelly convened a meeting of firemen in May 1883 where they formed the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Association. The objective of the Association was to represent the interests of volunteer fire brigades and fire men and to work for the passing of a fire brigades act.
The bluestone engine house was demolished in 1888 to make way for the extension of the town hall and the new fire station building at 44 Macquarie St, considered advanced for its time, was completed by November 1889.
The choice of site was criticised by the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Association, by local fire fighters, some Prahran Councillors and by Prahran residents because the location made it difficult for engines to move from the narrow Macquarie Street out into the main thoroughfare of Chapel Street.
Toward the end of the 1880s conflicts between the various volunteer brigades and the Insurance Companies Brigade gave impetus to the Fire Brigades Act being passed through parliament in 1890. The Act created two fire boards in the Colony; The Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), which became a fulltime professional force, and the Country Fires Brigade Board (CFBB) which evolved to become the Country Fire Authority (CFA). The MFB first met on 6 March 1891.
Following the formation of the MFB the Melbourne metropolitan area was divided into a number of districts. Prahran fell into 'D' District which covered the south eastern suburbs. A number of new fire stations were built in the district during the 1890s, including three in Prahran. The new Albert Street Prahran Station, built in 1892, became the main station in the area due in part the unsuitable location of the Macquarie Street Station. The latter was closed at the end of the nineteenth century and taken over by the Prahran Council for other uses.
How is it Significant?
The Former Prahran City Fire Station is of historical and architectural significance to the state of Victoria.
Why is it Significant?
The Former Prahran City Fire Station is of historical significance as the only known remaining pre-1891 fire station in Melbourne associated with the volunteer fire brigades that operated in the nineteenth century.
The Former Prahran City Fire Station is of historical significance for its association with the captain of the Prahran Fire Brigade, James Kelly who was influential in promoting a number of innovations in fire fighting in Victoria from the 1850s which led to the formation of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.
The Former Prahran City Fire Station is of architectural significance as the only known example of a pre 1891 volunteer fire brigade station in Melbourne. Volunteer stations differed from the later MFB stations as they contain no accommodation for the fire fighters to live on site. Watchtowers became redundant in the late nineteenth century due the adoption of electric alarm systems, coinciding with the period of the formation of the MFB.