Why are the words ‘Facts not Opinions’ carved over the door at 99 Southwark Street? 

This is Kirkaldy’s Testing and Experimenting Works, and it was the world’s first independent commercial materials testing house, right here in Bankside’s original innovation district. From the day it opened on 1 January 1874 huge samples of bridges and other engineering structures arrived here from around the world to be tested to destruction on David Kirkaldy’s patented 116-ton ‘Universal Testing Machine’. Kirkaldy’s ‘facts’ were transforming the ‘opinions’ that underpinned Victorian cities.

Today, thanks to a small group of passionate volunteers, you can still experience David Kirkaldy’s single-minded ingenuity. Take the tour and you will see – and smell – the authentic workshop with its working machines, bringing the story of materials testing and the Kirkaldy family to life. It’s a direct link with a pioneering age of engineering and thanks to an education programme being developed with local schools, now it is inspiring future generations. Go and visit – you might even get to break something yourself!


Photograph (c) Peter Dazeley

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