David Kirkaldy engravingDavid Kirkaldy
William George photoWilliam George Kirkaldy
David Kirkaldy juniorDavid W H Kirkaldy
Denis SmithDenis Smith


David Kirkaldy 1820 - 1897 and Materials Testing

Born in Dundee, Scotland to a merchant family.
Educated at Edinburgh University.
Apprenticed at Napier's Vulcan Foundry in 1843 where he designed steamships, engines and boilers.
By 1847 he was Chief Draughtsman and Calculator. He started his mammoth comparative test program on iron & steel in 1858 with results published in 1862.

David resigned from Napier's to design his testing machine, which was patented in 1863. The machine was built by Greenwood & Batley of Leeds (Works history) and was sent to London in 1865 & started work in The Grove, Southwark.

A new Testing Works built at 99 Southwark St was opened in 1874.
Manufacturers sent materials from all over the world - he tested parts for James Eads 1867 St Louis Bridge over the Mississippi River.
David was a prominent member of the Steel Committee 1866 - 71.

He was also asked to perform tests on parts of the failed Tay Bridge in 1880 but was not part of the formal Board of Enquiry into the disaster.

More on the Tay Bridge disaster

Wikipedia on the Tay Bridge disaster

The Works in the 20th Century

William George Kirkaldy 1862 - 1914 took over the Works after David’s death. He developed a tensile impact machine and published his results in 1910. William George was also closely involved with establishing the National Physical Laboratory.

From 1914, his widow Annie ran the Works with Dr Gulliver as manager. Kirkaldy’s supervised the construction of the original Empire Stadium at Wembley built in 1923.

David Kirkaldy 1910 - 1992 joined in 1934 after study at Cambridge and ran the works until his retirement in 1965.


Parts for the 1951 Festival of Britain Skylon (left),

and of the de Havilland Comet aircraft (below) that crashed off Elba in 1954 were tested at the Works.

Saving the Machine and the Building

Members of the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society first visited in 1974, and later the building and machine were listed for preservation.

Here are a few photos from that time.

The first museum proposal was made in 1978, and the Kirkaldy Testing Museum was finally set up as a charity in 1983. Dr Denis Smith (1930-2017) was Chairman of the Trustees until 2012.

The Industrial Buildings Preservation Trust obtained finance, bought the whole building from the Crown Estate & divided the space, with the Kirkaldy Testing Museum occupying most of the ground floor and basement. Some time after this the buiding was taken over by the engineering firm Waterman Partners (now Waterman Group). After many years in which they generously supported the museum, changing circumstances caused Watermans to leave and the building was then bought by commercial landlords.

Three storeys of commercial offices above provide an income for the owners of the building, but not for the Museum which is self-financing.

Since its foundation the collection of testing machines has increased, in particular a number of machines have been donated to the museum by Imperial College Mechanical Engineering Department.

The building was listed Grade 2 in 1971 and this was upgraded to 2* on 18th June 2014. The listing includes the Kirkaldy machine as an integral part of the listed structure. Historic England (formerly English Heritage) listing details.