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The Mystery L

Clapham Wind Tunnel One area where being able to talk to the people who worked for John Laing is really helpful is unravelling the odd mystery.  I have noticed that in a number of photographs from the 1950s there is one or two individuals who had a large L on their jacket. I speculated on what this might be and thought that most likely it was to designate the leader of a team of workers.  I was able to put a short piece in John Laing's Retired Employees' News asking for any information on the mystery L and several people kindly wrote to explain the mystery - which was no real mystery at all.  The L simply stood for Laing but only new employees would be given a jacket with the logotype and so this took a long time to permeate through the organisation. A case of applying Occam's razor and not overthinking things for me.
Recent posts

PHRC 2019

The PHRC conference at De Montfort was tremendous and provided a lot of insights for me to go away and think about.  In particular there was a lot of discussion about what is missing from an archive and what that tells us - sometimes as much as the extant material.  Things for me to think about include:

How colour photography creates a new sensory experience - maybe tying this into the work that Lynda Nead has doneWho are the keepers of corporate memory - the business or the people who work in it?How posed are the images - are they pictures of work in progress or stagedDo the images sanction and "testify" to a particular (curated?) history
I was also pointed at other work that I need to read - the pile keeps getting higher!

The Construction History Society - 6th Annual Conference

James W P Campbell opening the Conference On 5th April I got to present my early research at the Sixth Annual Conference of the Construction History Society at Queens' College, Cambridge.  I was very pleased with the reaction and got a lot of questions and comments following the talk and have a number of angles to follow up.  In particular my characterisation of senior staff in suits and labourers in more humble outfits was challenged with one member of the audience suggesting that suits were almost ubiquitous wear for all classes - something to look into.
Other areas of interest included potential use of progress photos as means of protecting the company from claims by subcontractors or clients when a job took longer or cost more and there was a general sense that research into the social aspects of construction history as demonstrated by some of the Laing photographs would be important.  The paper is published in the Proceedings so I am hopeful that the research will gain wider i…

SAHGB - First Public Outing for the John Laing Research

Yesterday I presented 'The Power and the Glory: A Study of John Laing & Son Ltd through its Photographic Archive" at the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain's Architectural History Workshop in London. There was a lot of positive feedback and a number of entirely new areas to take a look at, such as the work done by William Mitchell. Mitchell was  a sculptor from the 1950s who worked extensively in Laing's concrete products - thanks to Dr. Dawn Pereira (see some of Dawn's work on Mitchell here The concrete legacy of William Mitchell) for bringing this to my attention.  Mitchell has a number of works listed including pieces in Clifton Cathedral (Cathedral Church of SS Peter and Paul, Clifton Park).

The series of presentations helped give a real sense of the amazing variety of subjects and approaches that fall loosely under the banner of architectural history and it was noticeable that photography played a part in quite a few.  To show the level…

Joining Up - Reaching Out

Airfield construction at Thurleigh - Keeping contact with the control centre © Historic England 2018
Having completed the PhD introductions session I have been concentrating on completing my paper for the Construction History Society meeting in April (Sixth Annual Conference of the Construction History Society) - deadline is 14th January. In addition I have been looking to see what other organisations might be able to help me and so am now a "Friend of RIBA" and a student member of the International Council on Archives.

John Laing very kindly put a piece in the latest Retirees Newsletter about the work that I am undertaking and I have had an immediate response with someone very kindly offering me their notebook from Berkeley to take a look at. This was better than I could have hoped for and with luck is the start of more material and anecdotes.

January will start with a tutorial and attending a whole lecture series for which the reading list is huge (but usefully has a small…

PhD Introductions

So 2 months into the degree it is time to talk about my research ideas to a wider audience. On 4th Dec the School will be running a session titled PhD Introductions. The purpose of the event is to introduce the students' previous work and research interests, to discuss their current research ideas, developments and experiments and to generate a lively discussion about research in architecture. I get to do a 10 minute presentation followed by comments/questions/discussion.
It has been a useful exercise so far - thinking about how to condense a somewhat sprawling thought process into a short piece and to make sure that it is accessible in the sense of providing enough of the background and context to allow the audience to make some sense of everything.

Going Nuclear

One of the many novel engineering feats John Laing was involved in was the birth of commercial nuclear power in Britain. The company worked on the Windscale reactors and were part of the AEI consortium that built Berkeley Power Station, the first commercial power station. The John Laing Collection has a series of fascinating images showing how very low tech the initial construction phase was and the human side of work - from tea wagons to the local postman taking an interest.
Nuclear Power Station, Berkeley, First day of arrivals to the site, 8th Jan 1957
© Historic England 2018 - The John Laing Collection No. 48773
Nuclear Power Station, Berkeley, Supplies being delivered to caravan in its temporary site, 8th Jan 1957 © Historic England 2018 - The John Laing Collection No. 48781
Nuclear Power Station, Berkeley, Local postman interested in heavy machines, 8th Jan 1957 © Historic England 2018 - The John Laing Collection No. 48778

Nuclear Power Station, Berkeley, Mobile Canteen for servi…