Testing! Testing!

Kirkaldy's Testing and Experimenting Works
Kirkaldy’s Testing and Experimenting Works

The Kirkaldy Testing Museum is one of London’s most unusual museums. Located in Southwark (more specifically here) the Kirkaldy Testing museum is unique in several ways; not only is it only open on the first Sunday of each month but it only boasts one object – Kirkaldy’s universal testing machine.

Intrigued? Well, without further ado, on with the adventure!

So, let’s get going. If we can find the door. Where is the door? Is that it? Not quite: “Entrance on Price Street” Where is Price Street?!

Eventually Imogen and I found our way to a black door marked “MUSEUM”. Hoping for the best, we rang the bell and awaited a response. Promptly we were greeted by a cheery volunteer who ushered us in with a friendly “Hello, do watch out for the uneven floors, would you care to sign the guestbook?”

Once the guestbook had been signed, the conversation continued, with a question whose answer provides a crucial bit of data for museums to capture. What is this vital question? None other than the simple:

“How did you hear about us?” 

How indeed? The Kirkaldy Museum has been on The List for quite some time, but finding out much (if any) info on it was quite tricky. Recently I saw a tweet announcing the museum’s new website which I promptly checked.

“Oh, the internet, I blog about museums you see and -”

“I’m so glad! We’ve only just put the website up! We’ve been talking about it for a while and in the end we decided to just go ahead with it.”

After a brief introductory video detailing the history of Kirkaldy: the man, the machine and the museum we were taken on a tour of the tiny (but surprisingly full!) gallery  work room  museum. 

Kirkaldy Testing Machine
Kirkaldy Testing Machine

As you can see, the Universal Testing Machine takes up nearly all the floor space. Constructed in 1865 in Leeds, the machine was brought to London where it tested components -or sample pieces- in tension, compression, bending and torsion. In a nutshell, it tested how much pressure something could take before breaking. It’s truly a magnificent piece of machinery, which the museum has been caring for since 1983.

The Original Museum

It turns out that there has been a museum on this site for quite a while and our tour-guide told us the tale with a twinkle in his eye “…and you can almost imagine Mr. Kirkaldy locking the door behind the unsuspecting visitors who thought they would be in for a treat with a cheeky grin on his face.”

But what was in this museum?

Bits broken by the testing machine, of course!

Scintillating stuff, right? Our Tour Guide said he’d like to recreate this aspect of the place – not to the same scale, mind you- but just a small display to give you a sense of it.

Hands On

Imogen working a testing machine
Imogen working a testing machine

It’s not all walking and looking and listening at the museum, there’s a chance to get hands on too. Not with the Big Testing Machine, but with some smaller ones. They work along the same principles as the first but they aren’t anywhere near as big and impressive. Lots of fun nonetheless. And you get to wear safety goggles!

I’ve visited lots of museums so far on my adventures (and dragged Imogen along to a fair few of them) but none have been quite as quirky as the Kirkaldy. It’s not just the odd hours that make it unique, but that the whole place is centred around the one object.

As a workshop, you can completely see the logic of the set up, but as a museum, it is very interesting indeed. One could easily be both over and under -whelmed but the volunteers manage to squeeze all the interesting bits they can out of the object without going on too long.




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