Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Lincoln


Heavy plant

I first came across really tall factory windows when I had to write about the Nairn’s linoleum works in Kirkcaldy for my first BBC Restoration book back in 2003. Here are some to rival them, at the Robey iron works not far from the centre of Lincoln. Robey’s was one of several successful Lincoln engineering companies that were born in the 19th century. They were famous for making steam engines – stationary engines to power factory machinery, the first iron-framed threshing machines, railway engines, and big traction engines. This was the sort of heavy plant that needed big spaces, and this part of the works – just a tiny section of what was a seven-acre site, fitted the bill. These enormous windows must make for an interior that's very light. From the outside they make a statement: it doesn’t matter how big it is, we can make it.

The huge complex was at first known as the Perseverance Works, but in 1885 it was extended and renamed the Globe Ironworks, presumably in honour of the company’s worldwide reach. The late-19th century entrance, on a lower wing that adjoins the wall with the high windows, has a carved globe above along with the company name.
When World War I arrived, Robey’s were again in the technological vanguard – like several other Lincoln engineering firms they took to manufacturing aeroplanes. As well as aircraft bearing their own name, they produced Sopwith Gunbuses and Short seaplanes under contract. Later still they developed their electrical engineering work (they’d already built electrical plant to light Lincoln cathedral in the Victorian period) and moved into diesel engineering. The company survived until 1988, their closure part of the general decline in British manufacturing industry that took place at that time. A lot of their robust and versatile buildings remain on Lincoln’s Canwick Road.

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