Once more I have embarked on the endless project known as “Fixing Chez L’Abeille”. I’ve not had the energy to do anything since the last epic dust storm but the time has come to bite the bullet once again. However, what I thought would be a few days upheaval whilst some simple adjustments to decor and plug location were completed, has turned into a need to rewire my poor old house so everything has ground to an unplanned halt. It’s a situation that is definitely testing me!
Thus, as the sun came out over London town for what seems the first time in months, I was desperate to get out and see something more stimulating than bare plaster walls and holes where uplights once lived.
I was headed for the newly opened Tate Modern extension but halfway there I was waylaid. In fact that really should be weigh-laid because the never visited Kirkaldy Testing Museum was open, so I looked in.
Now if you’ve ever looked up in Southwark Street, you may have pondered over this inscription:
The motto “Facts not opinions” gives you some sense that this was a place of science – and as soon as you step through the door you are whisked back to 1874, when David Kirkaldy set up the testing works at No.99.
As a result of the Industrial Revolution many new materials were developed, but their weaknesses were not always understood, resulting in major incidents such as the 1879 Tay Bridge Disaster. Setting himself up as an independent consultant, Kirkaldy designed and built his own testing machine to investigate and check the strength of many different materials used in building and industry.
The museum houses this enormous machine along with many other examples of testing equipment. I wasn’t in time to see it in action but I can only guess how impressive this is, given the size; the bolts alone are the size of my hand!
I did get to see the Charpy machine working – this tests the brittleness of materials and determines the energy needed to break them. This test was invaluable during the Second World War when the hulls of many Liberty Ships cracked under the extreme conditions in the North Atlantic.
Visiting this museum I was struck by the sheer brilliance that a combination of human ingenuity, determination, passion and scientific application can achieve. The tests developed in the 19th century out of the Industrial Revolution are still pretty much the tests used today, albeit with probably more health and safety legislation attached to them. So despite the things I need to fix, those Victorians built me a home which is still standing over 100 years later.
As we move forwards into uncertain times and another form of revolution, I hope that some of those truly British characteristics will surface.
The Kirkaldy Testing Museum is open on the first Sunday of the month