A large bronze sculpture suspended by crane with three workers on scaffolding manoeuvring it into position.

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St Michael's Cathedral, Coventry. View of Jacob Epstein's sculpture of the devil being hoisted into position 1961-2 © Historic England Archive. John Laing Photographic Collection JLP01/14/00036

John Laing Collection: Breaking New Ground

The John Laing plc building company profoundly shaped post-war Britain. They built outstanding sites of worship like Coventry Cathedral, some of the country’s first motorways, including the M1, and buildings which housed pioneering forms of technology such as Berkeley Nuclear Power Station.

Historic England holds Laing’s photographic collection of around 230,000 images. Breaking New Ground is a project that will digitise, conserve, catalogue and make accessible 10,000 images from the collection.

Did you or your family work for Laing? Find out how to get involved

Plymouth power station below the bricklayer appears tiny, like a model. He has a cigarette in his mouth and wears a flat cap and a tweed jacket. There's no safety equipment or clothing visible.
Bricklayer at work on top of a chimney during the construction of Plymouth Power Station © Historic England Archive, John Laing Photographic Collection Jlp01 01 089 54

Iconic British buildings and the people who built them

The collection provides a unique insight into the origins of iconic British buildings and the considerable human effort that went into their construction. Workers are pictured laying foundations in the depths of the earth or adding another floor to the top of lofty towers.

The collection shows how the construction industry became professionalised. In early photos men wear flat-caps. In later images the site uniform is strictly hard-hats and steel-capped boots.

Alongside images of famous visitors to Laing sites, the collection holds employee holiday albums which capture the inclusive company spirit that Laing created.

Civil Engineer Kik Hong Ong at work © Historic England Archive. John Laing Photographic Collection JLP01/08/060505

Preserving and sharing employees' memories

Breaking New Ground is a project funded by Historic England and the John Laing Charitable Trust. The project will include engagement activities where former Laing employees will visit schools near major Laing sites and speak about their experiences working for the company.

The project will record these oral histories and convert them into films to preserve the memories of the employees. Uploaded onto the internet, the films will be used to educate future generations about Laing’s tremendous impact upon their local areas.

Upcoming highlights

  • The launch of the online collection in autumn 2019
  • Oral history workshops across England in 2019 to 2020. The dates will be published here as soon as they're confirmed.

Get involved

Were you an architect, brick-layer, secretary or one of the female civil engineers? Maybe your family member worked for the company? Or you have a memorable story about a Laing site? We want to hear from you. To learn more about the project or get involved, please contact: [email protected] or phone 01793 445050.

A caterpillar tractor towing an excavator that is stripping material from the ground into a chute that is dropping it into a dumper
John Laing excavators and other plant at work during the construction of the M1 motorway. Photographed 1958-9 © Historic England Archive. John Laing Photographic Collection JLP01/10/00113

Supported by:

Logo for John Laing Charitable Trust
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