Former Caird and Rayner Premises


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Former Caird and Rayner Workshop, Warehouse and Offices, 777-783 Commercial Road, London, E14 7HG


Ordnance survey map of Former Caird and Rayner Premises
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Statutory Address:
Former Caird and Rayner Workshop, Warehouse and Offices, 777-783 Commercial Road, London, E14 7HG

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Tower Hamlets (London Borough)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Former ships chandler’s workshop and sail loft, 1869 by William Cubitt and Company, engineering workshop and service range, 1893-1897 by Marshall and Bradley, for Caird and Rayner.

Reasons for Designation

The former Caird and Rayner premises, 1869, and 1893-1897, is listed at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* the engineering workshop is a very early example of a fully steel-framed structure, and representative of transition from cast-iron engineering traditions, with rivets and bolts, anticipating the spatially liberating, robust steel-framed structures that followed; * an innovative design, using the new material to great effect, the slender steel stanchions being visually and spatially unobstructive, yet strong enough to absorb the powerful vibrations of the travelling crane; * one of only two surviving ships chandler’s workshops in London, with a notably large sail loft; * an architect-designed service range presenting a polite frontage to the street, integrated with the industrial building fronting onto the Limehouse Cut; * a highly-specialised complex which was carefully planned to facilitate efficiency in the design and manufacturing process, which survives in a little-altered state.

Historic interest:

* Caird and Rayner is an historically significant engineering company, whose distilling apparatus was used extensively in Royal Navy ships, early Dreadnoughts, and Cunard liners; * a rare survival of an industrial building in an area once richly-populated, and one of even fewer maritime industrial buildings which have extra importance for their associations with the internationally significant port of London.

Group value:

* with the Grade I-listed Church of St Anne, the Limehouse Town Hall and several other listed buildings in the vicinity.


777-783 Commercial Road is a multi-phase industrial building. The first phase, that part of the building to the north-west, was constructed in 1869 to the designs of William Cubitt and Company, as a sail-maker’s and ship-chandler’s workshop. Caird and Rayner, an engineering and coppersmiths company, moved to the building in 1889, adapting the original building and adding a steel-framed workshop adjacent to the east, along Limehouse Cut. They also built service ranges, the first in 1893-1894 on the southern elevation of the original building, creating a polite frontage to Commercial Road; the architect was Charles John Marshall. The service range was extended eastwards in 1896-1897, again by Marshall, who by that time was in partnership with Charles Campion Bradley; the builder was JH Johnson. Within the service range were drawing offices, pattern shop, stores, dispatch office and a caretaker’s flat, and these were carefully laid out in order to provide efficient communication between the functional areas and with the manufacturing workshops at the rear. Further accommodation was added adjacent to the east, at 785 Commercial Road, in 1902-1903.

The ships chandler’s workshop, which has an exceptionally large first-floor sail loft (now subdivided) is a rare survival in the Docklands, the only other example, which survives less completely, is in West India Dock Road, Tower Hamlets. The sail loft was subject to a fire in 2010, and a temporary roof has replaced the original hipped, slate-covered structure.

Dating from 1896-1897, the engineering workshop is a very early example of a fully steel structural framework, which, in its method of construction, illustrates the transition from cast iron traditions of the C19, anticipating the new, flexible steel form. It is an example of design ingenuity, making use of the structural capabilities of the new material to create a slender frame, visually and spatially unobtrusive, yet with the strength to withstand the strong vibrations from the overhead travelling crane. The engineering workshop is believed to be the only example of a C19 steel-framed industrial building surviving in London, and represents an early use of rolled structural steel in the national context.

The complex was occupied by Caird and Rayner from 1889 to 1972, and was used for the design, manufacture and marketing of their products – principally their patented sea water distillation plant, which produced fresh drinking water and a constant supply of pure water for marine boilers on steamships. The location of the workshop adjacent to the canal provided a plentiful supply of water for developing and testing the equipment. Thomas James Rayner's 'Automatic Evaporator' was patented in 1888 and an example is in the Science Museum. The firm's equipment was widely used by the Royal Navy and the Cunard Line until the 1980s, and was also adapted for use as desalination units in desert areas.


Former ships chandler’s workshop and sail loft, 1869 by William Cubitt and Company, engineering workshop and service range, 1893-1897 by Marshall and Bradley, for Caird and Rayner.

MATERIALS: elevations of the warehouse and engineering workshop are in brown stock brick, and the service range is red brick with rubbed brick arches, with engineering brick lining some ground-floor doorways. Roofs are slate with large glazed roof lights to the engineering workshop, and are tiled to the service range, which has brick chimneystacks.

PLAN: the complex stands on a plot of land between Commercial Road and the Limehouse Cut.

It consists of three principle elements: the former ships chandler’s workshop, which is the roughly rectangular block to the north-west; the engineering workshop, adjacent to the east; and the service range, built in two phases and forming the southern frontage.

EXTERIOR: the service range forms the polite, Queen Anne-style frontage to the workshops, facing south onto Commercial Road. It is three storeys, with 777 in the three bays to the left (1893-1894), and 779-783 in the three bays to the right (1896-1897), unified by continuous storey bands, a glazed brick plinth, and parapets with coping stones. On the ground floor of 777 is a central carriageway entrance, and on the right, a pair of doorways with multiple-pane overlights, once providing separate access for blue- and white-collar workers. Pilasters separate the bays, the outer two of which have wide window openings, with pairs of windows in the central bay, all beneath segmental arches of rubbed red brick, with red brick keystones to the wider openings. Much original fenestration survives, usually as six-over-two light sashes, or a variation thereof, and in a tripartite or dipartite arrangement in the wider openings. In the wider right-hand bay the second-floor window is taller, and above is a gable with an oeil de boeuf, rebuilt after war damage. A parapet conceals the pitched roof. 779-783 has a wide central bay, the upper storeys of which are framed by semi-octagonal pilasters with stone copings. There is a carriageway entrance on the ground floor, three windows to the first floor, and a wide, tripartite window in a round-headed opening to the second floor, under a gable, similarly rebuilt after war damage. The outer bays have pairs of windows to each floor.

The north-west elevation of the ships chandler’s warehouse faces onto the canal. It is five bays and two storeys with a basement, with central loading doorways to the upper floors, and windows with cast-iron multiple-light frames to either side; all are beneath gauged brick segmental arches. There are similar windows on the return (south-west) elevation, and it has a shallow mansard roof, erected in 2010 after fire damage, replacing the original hipped structure.

The north-west elevation of the engineering workshop abuts the ships chandler’s warehouse on the left, and is also two storeys and a basement, and is divided into three bays, indicating the location of the internal central hall and aisles to either side. Seven squat, segmental-arched openings light the basement, and there are double doors to the central bay of the ground floor above, with pairs of windows in the bays to either side, also in segmental-arched openings, and with multiple-light metal window frames. On the first floor, the central hall is lit by three round-headed windows, with pairs of windows on either side lighting the aisles. The workshop is also top-lit by three ranges of steel-framed, glazed, hipped roofs running above the central hall and aisles.

INTERIOR: the ground floor of the ships chandler’s warehouse has six bays with strutted timber posts under long cross heads, some with horizontal struts additionally linking them to the vertical posts. The first floor, originally an exceptionally large example of a sail loft, is divided longitudinally, and retains queen rod roof trusses.

The engineering workshop comprises a central full-height assembly hall of six bays with galleried side aisles, a wider north end galley, and a balcony at the southern end connecting the galleries and service range. The structure is carried on an internal rolled-steel frame, with integral overhead crane gantry, comprising two full-length rolled-steel runway beams, the outer ends of which are set in piers in the load-bearing brick walls; there are two electric overhead travelling cranes. There are H-section stanchions, marked ‘Dorman, Long & Co’, and I-section beams and joists which support the roofs and timber-floored side galleries, with riveted and bolted flange plates. The galleries have a light timber balustrade. The roof is in three pitched, glazed ranges, the central of which is raised and has clerestory windows.

In the service range of 777, and the connecting range to the ships chandler’s workshop, the ground floor has a vehicle yard, an open space once used as a smithy, and stores. An open timber stair leads to the first floor, where there were offices and the original drawing office. The second floor was the caretaker’s flat. In the service range of 779-783 the ground floor has a central vehicle access with stores to either side. On the first floor were a new drawing office and dispatch office, and on the second floor, the pattern shop. These have 'Fawcett floors', a patented fire-resisting type of construction with terracotta blocks on steel joists, and simple joinery and cornices. The various functional areas are carefully planned in order that direct communication routes between the assembly floor and galleries, to the drawing office and pattern shop, facilitated design development and inspection.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Palfrey, Kenneth, Water Under the Bridge: The First Hundred Years of Caird and Rayner, (1989)
'At Caird and Rayner' [photographs], 7 April 2015, Spitalfields Life, accessed 4 December 2017 from
'Caird and Rayner', Graces Guide to British Industrial History, accessed 4 December 2017 from
Photographs BB/000865 to 902, Historic England Archive, Swindon
Tom Ridge, Caird and Rayner Reports and historic photos, cat nos LC256 and LC1450 to 1454, Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, London


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 07 Jun 2007
Reference: IOE01/16620/28
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Anthony Rau. Source Historic England Archive
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