courtesy BTHL

This post is part of a monthly series that explores the historical applications of building materials and systems through resources from the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, brochures, trade publications, and more. The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization. Read more about the archive here.

While the Building Technology Heritage Library primarily focuses on U.S. documents,, the collection has been international since its inception, with a large number of Canadian, English, and French documents from the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. For this month’s feature, we're exploring documents from England, some of which are among the oldest documents in the BTHL. This survey of English companies begins in the 1840s and goes through every decade until the 1960s. Predictably, many of the companies referenced were located in London. However, several of those featured were also located in Birmingham, an important regional center of steel production.

The Industrial Revolution had its origins in the English metalworking industries, and there are a number of trade catalogs and other documents on cast iron, wrought iron, and steel. In addition to metal fabrications, the topics chosen for this survey include paints, masonry, windows, toilets, wallpapers, and even papier-mâché. The paper-pulp material is not generally associated with building construction, but, beginning in 18th-century France, it was used for architectural ornament and integrated with plaster interiors and, in the 19th century, the medium came into use in the U.S.

Over the past few years, the BTHL has added numerous documents from England thanks to the generous donation of the Miles Lewis Heritage Building collection in Melbourne, Australia. The donation highlights a longstanding tradition of English companies establishing an Australian division and the exchange of building products and practices.

The BTHL hopes to expand its international holdings; however, we have not found a collection partner in England. None of the major architectural libraries in England seem to have an archival trade catalog collection. We welcome any suggestions from our readers about possible architectural trade catalog collections in England.

On the Use of Improved Papier-Mâché in Furniture, in the Interior Decoration of Buildings, Charles Frederick Bielefeld, London, 1842

The use of molded ornament in plaster has a long history, but the production of cast paper versions, “papier-mâché,” started in France in the late 19th century. Charles Frederick Bielefeld was the first to produce it there. This is an extensively illustrated catalog of papier-mâché ornament meant for interior decoration in buildings as well as artistic applications.

The Builder’s Practical Director, A. H. Payne, London, 1858

Builder’s Guides is a special topic within the BTHL and this volume from England is an extensive example, with more than 40 topics and 300 illustrated plates. There are detailed lists of materials, specifications, and costs. The Metropolitan Building Act of 1855, an early building code, is also included as an appendix.

An Account with Illustrated Sketches of Cranston’s Patented Buildings, as Applied to Horticulture, James Cranston, Birmingham, England, 1852

This catalog features designs for greenhouses, which could be fabricated in metal and glass. London's Great Exhibition in 1851 (also called the Crystal Palace Exhibition) brought worldwide attention to the metal and glass building. The smaller example available from this company represent an early version of a prefab building type.

Examples of metal work for ecclesiastical and domestic use : manufactured by Hart, Son, Peard & Co., Hart, Son, Peard & Co., Birmingham, England, 1870

This metalwork catalog features an extensive variety of cast and wrought iron ornament “for ecclesiastical and domestic use.” There are two sections to this catalog. The first section is cast-iron ornament and the second section of wrought-iron ornament.

William Thomas & Co. Patent Steam-Powered Brick, Tile, Pottery and Terra Cotta Works, William Thomas & Co., Wellington, Somersetshire, England, 1888

This catalog features 70 illustrated plates of brick, terra cotta, and roofing tiles as well as some pottery. The illustrations of various pressed brick and terra cotta pieces are rendered with delicate lines, which makes each catalog page a virtual “work of art.”

Gardner, Sons & Co., Bristol: Catalogue No. 34, Garner, Sons & Co., Bristol, England, 1890

This metal work catalog has extensive sections on hardware, fireplaces, gaslight fixtures, and exterior fencing as well as many other architectural elements.

Twyford's Catalogue of Sanitary Specialities: In Porcelain, Earthenware and Porcelain-Enamelled Fire Clay: Sanitary Appliances and Fittings, T.W. Twyford Sanitary Potter, Cliffe Vale Potteries, Hanley, Staffordshire, England, 1894

The flush toilet had its origins in 19th-century England, and this catalog from 1894 features highly decorated pottery toilet and sinks, as well as more utilitarian examples in white.

Morris Wall-Papers, Morris & Co., London, 1909

This slim volume includes just 15 wallpaper designs from the Morris studio, and each sample is listed with a history of the design. This catalog was issued in 1909 but includes some of the first designs from 1862, a testament to the enduring beauty of these designs.

Timber and Steel Buildings, Bruce & Still, Liverpool, England, 1910s

The design and manufacture of prefabricated buildings that could be shipped anywhere speaks to the era when the English empire spanned the world. Most of the buildings available in this catalog were rather small such as a “cottage” or a “motor car house.”

Hope’s Metal Windows and Casements, Henry Hope & Sons, Birmingham, England, 1926

The metal casement window was popular in the early 20th century and the Hope’s Company of Birmingham, England, was one of the largest producers. These products were promoted in the U.S. as well as England.

Aluminum in Architecture and Decoration, British Aluminum Co., London, 1937

Trade association publications that promote specific products is another category of documents in the BTHL. This document features illustrations of 1930s building in England that had various aluminum, or as the English say “aluminium,” products.

Steel construction and broad flange beams, Grey process, R. A. Shelton & Co., London, 1948

This handbook of steel construction features comprehensive tables of dimensional and engineering data for a wide range of steel beams, columns, and connections.

Colour schemes for house exteriors, Walpamur Company, Darwen & London, 1950s

This catalog follows a long tradition of paint catalogs that present color schemes for the exteriors of houses. The building types that are illustrated vary from an ancient thatched roof cottage to a modern ranch house.