Tall storeys – words on buildings: Part 1. Kirkaldy's Testing & Experimenting Works in the heart of London SE1

You know that bridge you cross four or five times a week – ever wondered if it's completely safe? Luckily the ingenious Victorian engineers who put it up (no, obviously that doesn't include the Millennium Bridge) got there before you, in every sense.
When much of this great city was being transformed the last time round infrastructure wasn't infra dig, in fact quite the opposite. New bridges were springing up everywhere, usually with the aim of improving transport and only occasionally to raise income (just saying).
New building materials were coming into use, and to test that these could do what they were being asked to, independent commercial materials testing houses were a must. Oh yes, except there weren't any.
Luckily for London, David Kirkaldy, a Dundee-born engineer who trained at the Glasgow shipbuilders Napier, decided that Southwark was the right place to set up his huge Universal Testing Machine (so called because it could twist, pull, compress, punch, and of course pull apart), designed by him and and commissioned from Green and Batley in Leeds. The 47 foot-long machine first arrived in Southwark in 1866.
It was lucky for other cities round the world, too. Within two weeks of opening a box of steel samples arrived to be tested from Krupp in Essen. Later, samples would come from the Eads Bridge in St Louis, as well as Sydney Harbour Bridge. When the new highway of Southwark Street was cut and building plots released, David Kirkaldy designed a four-storey over basement 'machine' to house the UTM, complete with a 'museum of fractures' on the upper floors where huge samples of previous tests were laid out for prospective clients to inspect. Those London bridges you might know from personal experience include Blackfriars and Hammersmith.

99 Southwark Street opened for business on 1 January 1874, defiantly declaring over the door "Facts Not Opinions". And it has been there ever since, though the testing business closed down after 99 years and for the last 30 it's been operating as a small, independent museum.
Oh yes, and the machine still pulls metal apart. To find out more, and see it for yourself, you can visit the Kirkaldy Testing & Experimenting Works on the first Sunday of each month. Or, if you have a bunch of friends or work colleagues you'd like to impress with a private tour, get in touch