Head down Southwark St on the first Sunday of the month and you’ll discover a unique Victorian building dedicated to the achievements of a very talented Scottish engineer – the Kirkaldy Testing Museum.
The museum’s main attraction is the huge materials testing machine designed by Glaswegian David Kirkaldy and built to his specification by Greenwood & Batley of Leeds in 1865. It was moved to the building at 99 Southwark St in 1874, and has remained in situ for the last 150 years. It has an incredible capacity of over 1,000,000 lbs, and during its long lifetime it has had many tasks – everything from testing components of the failed Tay Bridge to the much happier role of analysing the materials that made up the beautiful Skylon, a key London attraction during the Festival of Britain in 1951.
The Kirkaldy Testing Museum is entirely staffed by volunteers, amongst them some skilled engineers who are responsible for maintaining the machine. At set times throughout the day visitors can actually see it in operation – in the photo above you can see one of the engineers straddling the machine’s main shaft, getting ready to insert a sample for stress testing.
Since the museum was founded many more examples of testing equipment have been added to the collection, used across a wide range of fields. These include machines used to test the hardness of materials and to examine the consistency of concrete, to name but two.
Visitors to the Kirkaldy Testing Museum can also see David Kirkaldy private office, which looks more or less as it would have done during his tenure in the late 1800s. Notable amongst the objects in this room is a fine portrait executed in oils, showing Kirkaldy poised over an engineering drawing with a compass in hand.
If you’re interested in visiting this living monument to Victorian scientific endeavour do keep a close eye on the Museum’s website, as it’s only open on the first Sunday of each month…