Built in 1874 for ‘Kirkaldy's Testing and Experimenting Works’, 99 Southwark Street now houses the Kirkaldy Testing Museum. The museum is open to the public twice a month, once for a general Open Day (first Sunday of the month) and once a month (the second Saturday) demonstrations are held of the original testing machinery. The machinery tested materials that were to be used in all manner of ways and testing the strength and resilience of these materials was integral. These tests were to be used in all manner of ways and testing the strength and resilience of these materials was integral – especially if the materials were to be used in constructions like bridges and even the Empire Stadium at Wembley, built in 1923.
What is now a built-up, mostly office, area was once a thriving industrial district of London and ‘Kirkaldy's Testing and Experimenting Works’ was an important part of that. The site has since opened as a museum in 1983, and granted 2* listed status in 2014, and has been welcoming visitors regularly to demonstrate the machinery since. Tucked right behind the Tate Modern Art Museum, Kirkaldy Testing Museum isn’t short of competition for visitors. However, the museum is a thriving hub of industrial heritage, busy with visitors on the two monthly open dates. The majority of visits to the Kirkaldy Testing Museum are guided. The team of volunteers are mostly engineers or physicists and their expertise is a gem of the museum. The tours are in-depth and rich with information, while remaining accessible and engaging – visitors move around the museum where volunteers highlight the social importance of Southwark to industry. On the second Saturday of the month, the volunteers also run the machinery in live demonstrations. There are plenty of small machines demonstrated and explained, with the main event being the 47 feet long and weighs 116 tons Kirkaldy Testing Machine.
Although the historic feats of engineering, and live demonstrations of machinery are the highlights of a visit to Kirkaldy Testing Museum, the museum also interprets the heritage of the area. David Kirkaldy was an influential figure in engineering and testing, and ‘Kirkaldy's Testing and Experimenting Works’ was a prime example of the leading figure in the prosperous industrial area of Southwark. The written panels up in the office space, as well as the volunteer tours, shed light on this story of Southwark, industry, and David Kirkaldy.
Kirkaldy Testing Museum is a fascinating small museum right in the centre of London. Even for those with little to know knowledge or interest in industry, the museum is an eye-opening experience on the changing landscape of Southwark. Led by expert volunteers, with some pretty impressive 116 tons’ machine demonstrations, I would recommend a visit to Kirkaldy Testing Museum the next time Tate Modern is a little crowded.
99 Southwark Street, London SE1 0JF
Open for visitors first Sunday of every month and second Saturday of every month for booked tour (via Eventbrite)
Under 12s: Free
Annual Pass (Adult): £15
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Chloe Turner is the Front of House Manager, in which she coordinates visitor experience and retail services. She is also the Volunteer Manager for Girl Museum. Chloe obtained her MA in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester, in which the primary area of research has focused on the social impact of museums.