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At Caird & Rayner

April 7, 2015
by the gentle author

In January, I published photographs by Paul Talling of Derelict London of the abandoned Caird & Rayner building in Limehouse and today, thanks to historian Tom Ridge, I am able to reveal the proud story of innovation and enterprise that lies behind the current state of sorry dereliction

In 1893, Edward Bonar Caird & Thomas J Rayner patented a design for device that could evaporate seawater and produce drinkable freshwater. It was an essential piece of nautical apparatus that was to sustain the company for more than a century. Rayner was an inventor of considerable talent and Caird had the financial resources to develop the commercial potential.

They set up a partnership in 1889 and took a lease upon 777 Commercial Rd, a former sailmakers, spending more than fifteen hundred pounds in equipping it with machinery for their purposes. The company prospered and in 1893 – the year of their patent – Caird & Rayner, were described in a publication entitled ‘The Thames, Waterway of the World’ as ‘Gentlemen of Conspicuous Endeavour.’

With minor diversions into swimming pool filters and sewage treatment, Caird & Rayner carried on through the twentieth century supplying distillation and filtration equipment to the maritime industry, both naval vessels and grand liners, from their factory in Commercial Rd until 1972. During World War II, a plant was established in Watford away from the bombing  of London and eventually all manufacturing was transferred there, leaving the factory in the Limehouse empty all these years.

Artists impression of Caird & Rayner offices in 1890

The Caird & Rayner building today

777 Commercial Rd in the early twentieth century

On the shop floor in Limehouse in the sixties

Percy Martin in the drawing office in the thirties

Plant to produce 25 gallons per hour

Plant to produce 100 gallons per hour

Diagram of secret communication system in World War II

A beano in 1949 for the company’s sixtieth birthday celebrations

The ladies of Caird & Rayner photographed on the roof of 777 Commercial Rd

The Watford factory opened in 1941, away from the bombing of the East End

Colour photographs copyright © Paul Talling

You may also like to take a look at

The Last Sailmakers’ Loft in the East End

At St Clement’s Hospital

9 Responses leave one →
  1. April 7, 2015

    This article really interested me not least because I spend a lot of time going through Heathrow airport and can’t avoid the HSBC ads to and from the plane. However, they are obviously behind the times with one of their new campaign posters which shows a large water flagon with the words, “In the future, salt water will quench our thirst”. How far from Commercial Road to Canary Wharf?

  2. April 7, 2015

    What a shame that another historical building is being left to decay. Valerie

  3. Garry varty permalink
    March 5, 2016

    It is very interesting to see those photographs and iam happy the building is still standing.
    I worked at the watford caird and Rayner as a panel wirer/electrician and I still have a book they gave me to me to commemorate 100 years.

  4. November 30, 2016

    Great reading the article and seeing the old photos of the inside of the building again. I was an apprentice there from 1960 and left in 1968

  5. jim king permalink
    January 9, 2017

    I was an apprentice in the drawing office at C&R between 1960-1966 when Charlie Ruffhead was chief draughtsman.

  6. Godfrey Parish permalink
    January 31, 2017

    I worked at C&R in the early eighties when Bravac moved from Milton Keynes to Watford on new product design. The head of design/engineering at the time was Derick Budge and the MD was Alex Moffit.
    Does anyone know what happened to the C&R Pension Scheme?

  7. colin Hiscock permalink
    June 28, 2017

    Hi.I was an aprentised plumber to a building company named Turnbull and son.we were working on the flat roof above where the boilers are being built.Adjacent to the edge of the flat roof was a large expanse of wired glass panels at approximately 30 degree’s and about 60 ft above the boilers.To cut a long story short i managed to miss my footing crash though the glass and was on my way to sudden death but was saved by steel girder running the length of the boiler room,which i landed on with my legs either side.I sat there looking down as some of the glass continued on it’s way to the floor and people running away.I then slid my way across to a access window at the opposite side.Iwas then taken to hospital where I had stitches on my back.I wonder if the aprentise of C&R remembers the incident.I never went there again . I think it was 1956

  8. Halina Eynon. permalink
    July 11, 2017

    A very interesting building that I saw for the first time this weekend ( July 2017). Wondering if anyone knows anything about a Charles Earnest Abbott a boiler maker who worked there around the time of The First World War or a Rene East (married name Scutts) who worked there just after the Second World War. Both were relatives of mine. Any information would be gratefully received .

  9. Alan Hawkes permalink
    October 29, 2017

    I also was an apprentice in the drawing office from 1964 till relocating with the company to Watford in 1970. It is such a shame to see its present state.
    The Watford works has now also sadly gone.

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