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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

16 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.

  10. Linda Clark permalink
    April 11, 2018

    I was a shorthand typist at Caird & Rayner from 1964 – 1966. I had a good time working there, sad to see it now.

  11. John Alexander permalink
    July 19, 2020

    I was an apprentice coppersmith from 1950/56 under Bill Derbyshite senior and then again after doing my nation service for a few months Looking at the photographs brought back lots of memory’s of old and good frends it like being in the workshops building evaporates and condensers plus what ever came in

  12. Derek Verlander permalink
    December 6, 2020

    Very sad to see the state of the place.
    I was also an apprentice coppersmith working with good friends John Alexander and Peter Lock.

  13. Alfred Chalk permalink
    January 28, 2021

    I was an apprentice Fitter and Turner from 1962 to 1967. I do recognize some of the names above and remember many more. Working life was much easier in those days which is probably why I got away with so much and enjoyed the work and people so much. Very sad to see it gone.

  14. Nilu permalink
    February 16, 2021

    Hi all! I am an university student studying Interior Architecture and Design

    I have a project where I have to redesign this building and somehow bring it back to life.

    After doing some research and reading the comments of many people who previously worked here or whose parents and grandparents knew the building well during the 40’s and 50’s, I decided I would like to turn it into a Cultural Centre (as it should in real life!) this building should be brought back to life and should not be touched for anything else, it does not only hold historical significance but I can see it’s a place close to many people’s hearts, after all, it has been standing for 152 years.

    So I would like to kindly ask for help to anyone who has relevant information or little stories about their experiences in this building (like Mr. Colin above, who shared the accident he had in 1956), the sort of things that might not be found on books or online! Anything that would help and feed my proposal.

    Thank you!

  15. Bryan Vincent permalink
    February 22, 2021

    So great to read the history, but sad to see it today. I was an apprentice draughtsman from 1962 to 1969 also spending a year on the factory floor. I recognise several of the names that have left posts on the site. John Ford in the factory, Jim King and Alan Hawkes in Drawing Office. Contact guys it would be good to talk. I enjoyed my apprenticeship at Caird & Rayner, after leaving I went back in 1976 and rented the the complete site under the name of Waterskils until 1990. It was then purchased from the freeholders by the VIP Garage. I think they found the site with heavy traffic increasing difficult to operate from. No stopping outside and heavy traffic to stop every time they needed to get a car in and out. Not sure who they sold it to but it is a state now. Could it be demolished ? I understood the façade of was listed, so probably No.

  16. Clement Rowalnd permalink
    November 10, 2021

    I to worked for Caird & Rayner from the summer of 1965 until 1968, I started as an apprentice, I worked in the factory on the 1st floor working on the capstan lathes, some of which were very old, the big machinery was on the ground floor, I moved on into the the drawing office where we worked on new plastic drawing sheets as well as paper with very hard pencils to get very fine lines, i remember also working on very old cloth & ink drawings kept in the archives in roles, where we had to up date these by scratching the ink of and then with a pen and ink draw and write the changes required on them. I recall that these drawings had to be kept an long as the ships were in use. I recall the pattern makers, the castings coming in and being machined, there was the welding and copper works shop next door. Sadly i had to move away and never completed the apprenticeship.
    I had an interest in steam locomotives, and was surprised that the heating in the workshop was steam with it clicking and banging through the building, there was a coal fired boiler and an oscillating pump pumping water around too.
    The front housed the stores and security at the front with the offices on the 1st floor above.
    There were a lot of nice people that I met whilst working there, unfortunately I forget a lot of the names of most people.

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