The Victorian era was a hugely productive one in terms of the advancement of British society, with the United Kingdom being the world leader in terms of technological innovations at this time. Things like sanitation, the railways and water works were all the focus of Victorian engineers, and the state of these things in the modern world owes a lot to the innovations of this period. Of course, another masterpiece of Victorian engineering was the London Underground, which opened in the mid nineteenth century and continues to be central to life in London.
Of course, all these engineering marvels depended upon the use of only the strongest and most durable materials, and David Kirkaldy’s Testing Museum was one of the central institutions around which Victorian engineering was based. Kirkaldy was a Scottish engineer who had worked on the Glasgow shipyards. He left in 1861 and spent the next two and a half years studying existing mechanical testing methods and designing his own testing machine. He was working at a time when new materials such as steel were being developed to replace cast iron and wrought iron, but when the properties of these kinds of materials were still little understood. The result of Kirkaldy’s painstaking research was his vast testing machine, built entirely at his own expense, which is 47 feet and seven inches long, and weighs no less than 116 tons. This machine is the centerpiece of Kirkaldy’s testing house, which is now known as the Kirkaldy Testing Museum, and remains in working order. The museum is a shrine to the determined spirit of progress which characterised Victorian engineering, with the famous inscription above its door reading ‘Facts Not Opinions’. The Kirkaldy Testing Museum is open on the first Sunday of every month, and entrance costs just £5, or £4 for concessions. On one Saturday per month, the museum will also be open for guided tours at 11am and 2pm. The nearest mainline stations are Waterloo, Blackfriars and London Bridge, and the nearest Tube stations are Waterloo, Southwark, London Bridge and Borough. The Kirkaldy Testing Museum’s central London location makes it easily accessible from The Montcalm Brewery London city hotel . It is advisable to arrive at the museum via public transport, as car parking in this area of London is scarce even on a Sunday. Bus routes 381 and RV1 pass the museum.
Kirkaldy’s reputation was such that he was commissioned to investigate the causes of the Tay Bridge disaster, which occurred in 1879 when the first Tay Rail Bridge collapsed while a train was passing over it from Wormit to Dundee in Scotland, killing everyone who was aboard. The testing works continued two operate at a high level after David’s death, when is son, William George, took over their running. The building which houses the museum is stunning in itself and is Grade 2* listed. It also represents the first time ever in which a machine was listed alongside a building.