Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Huts and boilers
Britain’s railways, which had their heyday in the hundred years after the 1840s, developed an architecture of their own, embracing whole new building types from the vast train sheds of the London termini to the smallest rural signal box. Among the least regarded of these railway structures were the corrugated iron buildings, created by railway companies such as the Great Western Railway to fulfil a range of functions – workshops, platform shelters, little lamp huts. I’ve posted about one of these types before, the elegant pagoda platform shelters built by the GWR, with their distinctive concave roofs – perfect for production in large numbers and easy to erect with whatever labour was available locally. There's the end of one on the left-hand edge of my photograph above.
Still less glamorous were the metal storage huts that were made in huge numbers. Many were lamp huts, small structures with a curved roof and plain walls of corrugated iron on a frame of angle iron. There were also slightly larger huts, like this example from Kidderminster station on the preserved Severn Valley Railway. Although very plain, they can look good when painted, as here, in the railway’s colours – with a row of red fire buckets to help catch the eye.
The curving roof shape is classic for corrugated iron buildings – it’s the same shape, roughly, as that of the roofs of thousands of barns as well as of hundreds of railway buildings. It’s also that of one of the most celebrated (but also derided) early corrugated-iron buildings, the first South Kensington Museum, built in the 1850s and the modest precursor of the V&A. With its three curving iron roofs, this structure was described by The Builder as like a ‘threefold monster boiler’. The idea stuck and it became known, to the embarrassment of the museum authorities, as the Brompton Boilers. Curved roofs, corrugated iron, and escaping hot gases – the railways have always been associated with such things, and all they entail.