Brittania Test House – Middlesbrough

Geotag Icon Show on map

The 1250 Ton Testing Machine in this building was used by Dorman Long to test the girders for the Sydney Harbour Bridge amongst many others.
Brittania Test House
Brittania Test House
The site is now run by Durham Lifting and their website carries the following detail :-

The largest testing house in the UK holds Lloyds approval to undertake tensile and compressive testing up to 1250 tons. Its 50ft long bed can accept specimens 30ft wide and up to 4ft deep. The recent manufacture of a 1.6 mechanical advantage lever assembly for the test machine now allows tensile testing of 2000 Ton to be carried out.

26 thoughts on “Brittania Test House – Middlesbrough

  1. Back in 1963 , I worked on the Sinter Plant at Gjers Mills ( Ayresome Ironworks ) which was next to Britannia . I could see this building lit up on a night shift , and I believe it used to be their boiler house in those days .

  2. Thanks for the comments above, any information regarding the history of the building is welcomed. anyone wishing to look round is more than welcome.
    its nice to look back and remember. thanks Amanda Gardiner

    • I did my apprenticeship (3yrs) on the top floor – Dorman Long drawing school – we knew when a big test was being done because the strip lights used to dim and start flashing – the machine pulled so much electrical power – i believe it was a destruction test on a suspension bridge main cable – we could hear (and feel) as each strand partied, that got faster until the final big fail – brilliant

  3. In the late 1950’s the Test House also was used as an apprentice draughtsman office – on the top floor. I vividly remember the constant noise generated as the machine built up pressure – and the bang when whatever parted. Although the machine has its own foundation, separate from that of the building, the whole building would shake. Once it caused the lift to stop mid floor with a colleague inside. After a few minutes whoever it was stuck decided to climb out onto the top floor, rather than to wait for someone to make the lift safe. Frightening.
    Another time we were playing cards at lunch time when something else was parted. If my memory isn’t playing tricks, everything from the middle of the bench table top jumped up and landed on the floor!
    I can’t say I particularly enjoyed working over there!

    • David, your comments are funny. and yes the building still shakes when we carry our Wire rope Breaks..

  4. I began my working life in August of 1966 in that building. As I approach retirement, seeing it sparks a jolt of nostalgia. Yes, I too remember the “bangs” from the tensile testing downstairs, and the almost Dickensian working atmosphere – learning to print at an angle of 70 degrees, toiling away doing development drawings of blast furnace dust-catchers, making the morning tea for about 50 apprentices in the antiquated kitchen etc.

  5. When I was working in this building the other day a man came in and said he served his time upstairs in the drawing school 50 years ago and it was his first time back he could not believe it was still a test house and how the area around had changed

  6. I was taken on by Dorman Long as a Technical Apprentice in september 1961 located in the drawing office, on the top floor of this building. The apprentice intake consisted of mechanical, electrical and fuel catagories on day release, at local colleges.
    The educators were a Mr. Danny Ramage (strict disciplinarian) and Mr. John Benjamin.
    When the building shook we were uncertain as to the cause being the testing, or Danny blowing his top. I was thankfully relocated to the Royal Exchange in the december of that year. It was an excellent apprenticeship scheme!!!

    • Hi-Stan
      I worked there as apprentice around the same time.
      I remember having to do drawing tests of intersecting lines and Danny Ramage would come and tear the drawing up if it was inaccurate.
      John Benjamin was a bit softer and used to question Danny’s approach. I played football for the office one day and one of our players had his leg broken.Danny didn’t know what to do and John took over.

      Tom Osborne

    • In 1952 I was an apprentice in the main office opposite the test house, copies of old drawings were kept on the ground floor. I do remember hunting among the parcels to fine old factories that were being extended.

      David Strachan

  7. Hello
    started my working life in the drawing school on Aug 1st 1957 , as it was a
    bank holiday ( early August in those days ! ) I had my first working day off . Like all the other 16 year olds at DL&Co , I was paid £3-41p a week .
    As mentioned , when something down below broke ,the whole building shook ,
    which usually resulted in a shower of rust coming down off the roof trusses above onto the drawing boards
    Danny Ramage had only just taken over the drawing school quite recently then , his predecessor was Johnny Durnford , I still have his Dorman Long handbook of
    company products and safe load tables, dated 1938 .

    As an aside does anybody have any photographs of the 16,000 HP Davy steam engine which powered the rolling mill ( No 1 , I think ) used to roll the sections for the Sydney Harbor Bridge ?

    Tony Waddington

  8. I’m curious about what types of drawings you were making at the school. Can anyone fill me in? And does anyone have images of those drawings?

    • Proudly powere by Word press ? Have tried three times now to reply only to have my episcal dumped ? Is there a max length of reply on here ?

  9. hello
    the first few weeks were spent learning to print in a clear and legible manner , drawings with bad printing cannot convey adequate information , followed by the basics of drawing lines , joining at 90 degrees , tangential to curves etc . only when that was mastered did we progress to actual details of items , usually from a Tech Drawing instruction book , again only when this was acceptable did we progress to copying actual working drawings from the companies drawing archives , which were for practice only , not used for production purposes . This meant that there was various streams of apprentices at different levels of progress , but by the year end all were of adequate skill to work in the main drawing office in the Royal Exchange building near Middlesbrough railway station or in the smaller drawing offices attached to each of Dormans many different woks or ironstone mines .
    Regarding “images” or prints of these drawings , there was no print machine in the drawing school , but most draughtsmen kept copies of some of their work to use as samples for prospective employers to see , confirming ability .
    I still have a stack of prints of my work from 35 years on the drawing board , not entirerly
    legal but as most are now defunct who is going to object . An example of the sad decline in British manufacturing industry !
    The worst thing is that there are now very few people coming forward with such skills , the computer has destroyed this valuable thinking skill .
    Best regards
    Tony Waddington

  10. Looking at the photograph of the test house, and from Google Maps, opposite the test house is a warehouse. That was the site of Dorman Long (B&E) North and South drawing offices. It was where I spent most of my time as an apprentice draughtsman. One of the duties, every now and again, was to take complete files of projects up to the attic which housed the archives: a musty dusty old place even then.

    But – along with others one couldn’t resist looking around to see how far back the archives went. Astonishing! There they were – the original drawings for the fabrication of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Many of these, if not all, were drawn with pen and ink, a skill that was still being taught in the 1950’s.

    Does anyone know what happened to the archive and these drawings when the building was demolished? Hopefully they will have been saved as a valuable historical record either in the Dorman Museum or a similar place in Sydney!

    And by the way, the test of the beams for the Sydney Harbour Bridge used beams fabricated at one fifth scale – not full size.

    • Yes, they were part of the British Steel Collection that is kept at the Tees Archives.
      I saw some of them Sydney Harbour Bridge drawings when I was involved in the project.

  11. Ref my note of the 21st Oct 2017 – between the Test House and the Drawing Offices was a car park with a railway line running parallel and in front of the drawing offfices. It was not unusual for an old steam powered shunter to be parked outside belching steam and smoke. This occured one pay day. Pay in those days came as cash in a small brown envelope. It was brought to the offices by one man carrying all the wages in a good sized brief case across the car park from the wages office – maybe a 5 minutes walk.

    This particular day a few of us apprentices were looking out for the wages to arrive when we realised that, thanks to the shunter belching out more smoke than normal combined with the wind direction, the wages chap disappeared for a couple of minutes. Long enough for someone to grab the wages, jump in a car and drive sedately away. Of couse, it never happened but ………

    Well well, the wages kept on coming !!!

  12. Brilliant memories . I also trained with Danny Ramage. We called it the stooge house in those days. Great training and great friends made , some of which I still see ( John Martin ). I went onward to the Royal Exchange in the Blast Furnace squad. Again great memories. I am 77 years old now. Wish I could remember all of my fellow trainees. Geoff Race

  13. Hello Geoff
    I was in the Royal Exchange from late 1957 until early 1962 , except for my year in the works at Dock Street Foundry .
    Started with Billy Lamb with the architect section and after Dock Street ended up with Russell Corke in the Mechanical Section .
    The Blast Furnace Section was under Albert Peplow , at this time Clay Lane number 2 was under construction .
    I came across a Utube clip recently showing the demolition of Clay Lane , made me very sad .
    I am 80 now and still have my D&L handbooks which have been been useful reference books all my working life , which I have only just left behind to concentrate on trout fishing .
    Tony Waddington

  14. Hi Tony, just looked up my starting letter. My commencement date was 5th sept 1960 with a starting wage of £4.2.3d per week, delivered in brown envelopes on Fridays.
    On my first day Danny Ramage placed a £5 note on the wall and challenged us to draw vertical and horizontal corners, using t and set squares. Later in the day he came round with his red pencil and circled all our errors( corners not joining, lines too thick or thin etc) No one succeeded and i recall he placed a ruler under the paper and tore upwards with the words “rubbish.” Next day we got a little better, and the following day a bit better again and so on. Eventually the red circles stopped.
    I too remember Russell Corke and Albert Peplow at the royal exchange. Incidently i still have my set square and slide rule just in case i get called back. Great days all starting with the stooge house ,
    .Best wishes
    Geoff Race

  15. I was in the test house apprentice intake of September 1961. I have just found this site and recognise the names including Danny Ramage and John Benjamin and also the apprentices. Remember having to work Saturday mornings allegedly because the steelworkers had to work weekends. Used to go by motorbike in my second 6 month spell and remember falling off on the forty foot road a couple of times. I also went to the exchange and on to Lackenby and Steel House.
    Bill McGregor

  16. Well this is a surprise I thought this would have been long gone in a housing estate by now.
    I used to work as a shunter for British Rail at Middlesbrough Goods yard and whenever we travelled to Thornaby goods yard we used to see this building and one of the drivers told me about it. After finishing an early shift I visited it on my way home and got to see all the machinery even though it was not being used at the time, I have since been across the Tyne bridge and the Sydney Harbour bridge on a motorcycle and this building is a historic connection with them.
    So much history of the area has been lost by short sighted councils especially Redcar and Cleveland.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.