Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Kidderminster, Worcestershire

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.


Chris Partridge said...

One of the big advantages of iron construction was that it could be easily dismantled and re-used, and Disraeli himself justified the expense of the Brompton Boilers on those grounds. And indeed, when they were replaced by the permanent V&A buildings they were transferred to Bethnal Green where they stand to this day as the Museum of Childhood.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Indeed. There those Boilers stand. The Bethnal Boilers. The moving and recycling of railway buildings by the volunteers of the heritage railway movement is similarly impressive. It's remarkable, and makes the much vaunted longevity of postwar prefabs, designed to last ten or 15 years, look brief indeed.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I seem to remember some other interesting buildings in "Kidder" if they are still there - medieval tower in a back street? Old carpet factory? Some very Midland redbrick terraces, not very prepossessing, but distinctive? And the Baxter Church that developed backwards - (neo-)Classical first then back to (neo-) Gothic?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, Kidderminster is a place made rather bleak by misguided (and uncompleted) 1960s redevelopment, but it contains some interesting buildings. There are two or three former carpet factories, some in polychrome brick, and yes, a medieval tower that seems marooned among later buildings. I did a post about one of the carpet factories a year or two ago. It should still be in the blog's archive, and can be found using the search box, top left of the home page.