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  Exploring Southwark and discovering its history

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Kirkcaldy's Testing Works

[A] major industry in Southwark was engineering of various kinds – not terribly surprising, maybe, given the prominence of food processing in the borough. However, the north of the borough was also within easy reach of Westminster – an important consideration when major infrastructure projects like bridges require Acts of Parliament to authorise and finance. For this reason, David Kirkcaldy, the father of materials science, chose to set up shop in The Grove, Southwark. In 1874, the firm – and the giant universal testing machine Kirkcaldy built – moved to 99 Southwark Street, where the machine remains to this day. Kirkcaldy’s Testing Works, run by David’s widow and then grandson after his death in 1897, pioneered materials testing via microscope as well as more vigorous forms of stress testing: pulling, shearing, and twisting materials until they broke, carefully measuring the forces involved. Kirkcaldy’s tested components for Battersea Bridge, Hammersmith Bridge, and Skylon, among other structures – the building could accommodate entire girders being fed into the testing machine, which required stopping traffic on Southwark Street! The  works also assisted with accident investigations, including the 1879 Tay Bridge disaster. You can still see the machine in its original home visit for more information of opening dates and times.


Text from Southwark Life, Autumn 2017



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