Facts not Opinions

Facts not opinions is above the office door of 99 Southwark Street the location of the Kircaldy testing Museum.  I remember walking past the building when I first moved to London and seeing the information in the window of what from the outside looked like an almost abandoned building.  But after looking it up on line and seeing that it is still an open museum i decided that i would visit sometime, so a couple of weeks ago i made it down.


captured from google street view.

It was quite odd to see a sign pointing to go in the back entrance to the museum. But the main entrance isn’t in use.  Getting into the museum means squeezing through a gap in the fence of some road works .

I sort of knew what to expect,as the museum is only open the first Sunday of every month so wasn’t expecting a large,slick operation.

The Kircaldy Testing Museum isn’t really a museum in the way  a lot of museums are buildings to house a collection of objects but it is a industrial premises that was closed for nearly 20 years and then re-opened as a museum with not a lot of  changes made to it.

So after going into the back entrance and meeting the two friendly volunteers I was taken downstairs to watch a DVD about the history of David Kircaldy and the testing Works.

After the DVD it was a guided tour of the works. The first things were the impact machines.  I remember something very similar to these in the metrology lab at college.


French Charpy machine was made in 1916 and spent all of its working life at Imperial College. It came to the museum in full working order. It is believed to the oldest such machine is existence.


Izod Testing machine

After the impact testing machines it was the concrete testing machine. This takes a solid figure of eight shaped piece of concrete and pulls it apart. What surprised me here was that samples of concrete were shipped from all over the world to be tested here.

From the basement it is also possible to see some of the hydraulic components of the main testing machine. A big surprise was finding out that there once existed London hydraulic power company that pumped high pressure water through parts of London.


Then back upstairs to have a look at the main Testing machine.  On the day that I visited an artist was there preparing work for a show later on in the year.He was interested in having the testing machine pull apart objects and see how they deformed.  The artist was waiting for a friend of his to turn up with his camera to video the test on his object which was a metal sphere.

The delay waiting for the camera gave us chance to be shown David Kircaldy’s office,looking in an original state. There is a portrait on the wall of David, showing him with plans for his testing machine which are held in the Science Museum Library (Was pleased to hear of the connection).



As well as the main large machine there are several small ones. One of these was prepared with the plastic bands that are used for wrapping parcels and i turned a handle to put tension on it till it broke. I could feel the handle tighten and then the strap broke with a bang.

And finally what we came for to see the big machine test some metal.



The first attempt failed as the wedges gripping the test piece weren’t tight enough and the piece slipped out. But after reloading it and some subtle adjustment with a big hammer. This time everything went well .  After a couple of minutes of pulling,slowly increasing the load of the test piece it finally failed.

Unfortunately for the artist the failure was quite simple in that it cleanly pulled the welded arms off with no distortion in the sphere itself.  He decided to come back next month with a Mark 2 version after making some changes to the construction of the Sphere.

After another look around down stairs it was nearly time to head off. But not before buying the guide book for £5 and making the suggested donation of £5. To be honest I was more than happy to give the money.  The Museum was awarded a grant of £50,000 in the mid nineteen eighties of which £15,000 still remains, talk about frugal.

Sadly the future of the museum is on doubt, the lease is up on the museum and the Landlord is looking to replace them with a commercial tennant paying commercial rent.  One possible ray of hope for the Museum is that the Building and Testing machine  in it are both list so hopefully would prove to be very difficult to convert into a Trendy Wine Bar.

If you are interested in visiting have a look at the website  for information on opening times.


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