RogerBW's Blog

Kirkaldy Testing Museum 09 February 2017

Just off Southwark Street in London is an unexpected piece of industrial history. Images follow: cc-by-sa on everything.

New skyscrapers from Blackfriars Bridge, pleasingly cut off by the mist.

Original sign. David Kirkaldy moved the works to this site in 1874.

The Great Machine. This is basically a hydraulic piston that pulls (or pushes, or bends) against a weighted arm, with a sample in the middle. When originally built it could exert a million pounds of force, though these days they only run it at a few thousands. The cylinder end:

Looking towards the cylinder.

Non-cylinder end.

Secondary arm.

Arm pivot, magnifying lever action.

Weighted arm and measuring scale.

A sample of iron, secured in place.

And after breakage.

Here's one we broke earlier.

The crew of volunteers.

More details.

An ancient (well, probably early 1900s) calculating machine.

Tension tester used at the Irving Parachute Factory in Letchworth to check risers. Used here on a packing strap

which disintegrates satisfactorily

and not only can you read off the poundage (in better light)

but a series of eight ratchets gives 2-ounce resolution within the grad marks.

Another tension tester, used at Irving for broader straps.

Torsion tester, cranked by turning the worm gear; apparently it's all too easy to apply quite excessive force.

One of the mains from the London Hydraulic Power Company, on which the works ran for much of its life.

More tension testers.

Tension tester for concrete. Lead shot runs out of the tower on the right into a bucket, to put load on the "dog-biscuit" sample; when the sample breaks, the bucket hits a lever at the bottom and stops the flow of shot. It can then be weighed.

Sample block - we happened to visit on its birthday. I used to live near there, and this is what it looks like today; it's possible that the bottom level still consists of the original blocks. (The current owners want to knock it down and replace it with an Asda, even though there's a perfectly good Sainsbury's across the road and there's local demand for small shops as well as supermarkets. The current owners are St Modwen Properties, and that's what they want to do with everything they buy.)

The hydraulic press used to test those cubes (piston fully extended, cylinder at the base).

Underside of the Machine above.

Hydraulic intensifier, used to bring the 750ish psi of the LHP Company up to the 4,500 or so needed for the Machine.

Impact testing machines (1916 or so).

1920s chain tester.

Counterweight for the Machine.

It's all a bit basic, and desperately reliant on volunteers, but one can get up close to the machinery and get a good sense of the scale of 19th- and 20th-century industrial hardware. Highly recommended, though it isn't often open; check the museum web site.


  1. Posted by John Dallman at 10:46am on 09 February 2017

    Thanks for this. For those puzzled as to what all this was about, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Kirkaldy has an outline.

  2. Posted by Owen Smith at 10:40pm on 09 February 2017

    Seriously heavy engineering at its best, thanks for the report. My grandad worked at British Ropes in Doncaster for many years, they had a wire rope pre-stretching plant where the tension was put on the ropes in 100 ton increments. It was the largest in the world, it may still be. Wire ropes for a bridge in Japan were made in Japan (outer casing stainless steel), shipped to Doncaster to be pre-stretched, and sent back to Japan to be fitted to the bridge. The Japanese were very happy, there were no marks on their lovely stainless steel casing.

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