Last edited 19 May 2024

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Institute of Historic Building Conservation Institute / association Website

Construction Historian Issue 12 Summer 2023

The Construction Historian (Issue 12, Summer 2023) has an article by Nick Bill about the forgotten timber roofs of Kings Cross Station. Built between 1851 and 1852 as a London terminus for the Great Northern Railway, the station was centred on two parallel sheds, each 800 feet long and 105 feet wide, divided by a brick wall formed by piers and open arches. That structure seems to have gone largely unnoticed within engineering circles at the time. By 1868, barely 18 years after its original construction, works were underway to replace the timber ribs on the eastern shed roof of the arrival platforms with the wrought-iron-plated girders that can be seen today. The article rehearses the theories about why the original eastern roof had performed so poorly. In 1886, when a decision was taken to renew the western shed roof of the departure platforms, it was reasoned that lesser severity of decay might be attributed to the positioning of standing steam locomotives during normal operations. It is an interesting insight into operational factors determining the reasons for structural decay.

The issue also deals with one aspect of the benefits provided by the Construction History Society to research: the ability to tap into worldwide experience. One such case involves a ‘faulty’ form of historic nail which turned up in building renovations in Sunderland. This displayed a curious but pronounced longitudinal split and an arched bow out to one side, seemingly a distinctly mid-19th-century phenomenon. The author refers to different manufacturing processes and characteristics, relating to construction using nails of this kind. This may be useful in a dating context, and it shows the power of incremental knowledge provided by, among others, construction historians in Sweden, Latvia and Australia.

An article by RJ Barwick describes the relatively short life of Leighton Public Baths, completed in 1934 and demolished in 1991 (a very unprepossessing Tesco superstore now occupies the site). The baths were noteworthy for the steel-frame construction and the splendid internal spaces, exemplified by the large bath hall, diving stage and underwater lighting. During the winter months the baths were converted into an entertainment venue, famously hosting the Beatles in 1963. This building seems to have been a regrettable loss, leading to speculation about whether in a later era it might have been listed.

It is worth drawing attention to the existence of the History of Structural Engineering Group, active since 1973. It is not necessary to be a member of the institution or an engineer to join the group, which includes historians, architects and other professionals, who are encouraged to share their knowledge and experience.

This article originally appeared in the Institute of Historic Building Conservation’s (IHBC’s) Context 178, published in December 2023.

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation

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