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Why the Good Builder?

After completing my M.St I was looking for a subject which might make a good PhD - something that had not been written about specifically so meeting the uniqueness requirement but in an area where there was a lot of material and ideally something that would leverage my interest and past research in photography. A colleague at work came up with the perfect solution - looking at the John Laing Collection, an approx. 230,000 image archive held by Historic England for whom I work.
John Laing was a major construction company with a long history stretching back into the late nineteenth century (they are now mainly involved in infrastructure investment and asset management).  The company was the primary contractor for a number of "firsts" including the M1 Motorway and Berkeley Power Station (Britain's first commercial nuclear power station).
John W. Laing (1879–1978) was a devout Christian and carried out many philanthropic works during his life, hence The Good Builder has two meanings, and is the title of one of the main company biographies by Berry Ritchie.
Three viewpoints are considered:
  • An investigation of the novel building processes created and used by John Laing in the creation of buildings and how such a photographic archive can be used to expand our knowledge of architectural history and in particular how the building phase is documented.
  • An examination of how the various constructions were documented by John Laing in comparison to third party agencies efforts. This may lead to an understanding how the photographic image has supported differing stakeholder requirements and the impact of the proposed audience on the image itself and secondly how such audience requirements altered what images were captured. The company employed noted photographers and photographic companies such as Bedford Lemere and Aerofilms and Historic England holds substantial archives of both which can be used to provide an alternative view of how the company wished to portray itself to the wider public.
  • An exploration of how a photographic archive can be used to document a company's history and the lives of its employees to gain a better understanding of the wider social impact of a large national business.


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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, Berkel

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The building of Coventry Cathedral after the previous incarnation was all but destroyed in a German air raid was one of the "power and glory" contracts that John Laing won in 1956 and one that John Laing felt particularly strongly about 1 . The John Laing Collection has a number of albums which depict the development from many angles and includes both construction work and more presentational aspects such as the recording of visiting dignitaries and in particular members of the Royal Family. The images for the latter are often taken from newspapers such as the Coventry Evening Telegraph. One such image from the Leicester Evening Mail shows Sir Basil Spence showing Queen Elizabeth II a model of the new Cathedral in the grounds (it is assumed) of the ruins of the old Cathedral. Basil Spence explaining the site of the new Cathedral to Her Majesty The Queen Photograph by Leicester Evening Mail 23rd March, 1956. © Historic England 2018 - The John Laing Collection The fact