King's College London
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In the Beginning ...



drawing of main front of King's College London and plans of three floorsPrincipal front and floor plans of King's College London (1830)The original contract provided detailed specifications on the method of construction and materials employed.

The contractor was required to clear the site. All bricks, stone, timber and other materials were to be transported by barge and unloaded from the river, while workmen were required to enter at the small Strand Lane entrance.

The saving by using river instead of road to transport heavy materials was estimated at 5% of the total cost.

The foundations were to be sunk to a depth of 19 feet 6 inches at the river end at low water using a cofferdam if necessary to contain the water.

They comprised coarse river gravel with a lime grout made with 'well pounded Mersham or Maidstone lime', seven parts gravel to one part lime thrown into trenches.

The contract insisted that a man be present in the trench during this process in order to 'work down and level the grout'. Bricklayers were then charged with erecting footings, the lowest to be laid in Roman cement to harden in the waterlogged conditions.

The superstructure

The main body of the building comprised brickwork, cast iron joists and wrought iron fittings faced with Bath, Portland or Bramley fall or other Yorkshire sandstone in public areas; 'Bangor Rag' slates each to be fastened with four copper nails and exterior paving three inch thick in hardwearing and expensive York stone.

Roof lead was specified as 'Greenwich Hospital' sourced from the mines of the northern estates of the charity located high in the Pennines near Alston. The floorings of the basement and sub-basement were tooled York stone set into courses based with rough bedding built over brick arches.

Staircases were in high quality Elland edge or Cornwall bottom Yorkshire stone, rubbed on both surfaces with landings in six-inch thick stone on iron bearings set nine inches under the adjoining walls. The balustrades on the entrance hall stairs were in Portland stone.

Smirke considered every detail such as the precise dimensions of the drains, constructed with air traps and cesspools of brick 18 inches square. Thought was also put into minimising the risk of fire spreading throughout the College buildings and the construction incorporated several advanced features including chimney flues that could be cleaned by machine rather than by using children.

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