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Moulding Lloyd's of London

The Lloyd’s of London building is located at 1 Lime Street, EC3 in the City of London area, not far from Leadenhall Market. The building was designed by architect company Richard Rogers and Partners and was built between 1978 and 1986. Lloyd’s is a very unusual design as it has staircases, lifts, electrical power conduits and water pipes on the outside. In 2011 this giant eye catching steel building was granted Grade I listed status. At first appearance the building looks like it is made out of solid steel, however a large percentage of it is made from concrete moulds wrapped in steel 'shells'.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Bill Hiskett about the part he played in the creation of this unique building. Bill worked for a company called May and Butcher in an Essex village called Heybridge Basin (just outside Maldon) between 1978 and 1982. The company specialised in making timber and plywood moulds for pre cast concrete items which could be anything from a simple concrete lintel to 100 foot long bridges.

Most of the moulds were sent to a company called Anglian Building Products in Norwich who would cast the concrete parts for use in buildings or bridges and in 1980 Bill started making moulds for the Lloyd’s of London building. Bill’s job was to estimate how much they would cost to make, his boss would double check the figures and post the quote to the customer, Bill laughed, “note post, there were no emails then!”. Bill used to collate the plans of the concrete shapes and do a rough drawing around the shapes to build up an idea of the timber being used to cost the job, he said, “I would speak to the production managers to get an idea of how long it would take to make and we would price from that. If we won the job our mould designer, Jack, would draw the mould up by hand on sheets of hardboard, at full size in an old sail loft on the site, if the mould was 100 foot long his drawing would be 100 feet long - there were no plotters in those days! The chaps in the workshop would then lay the hardboard panels on the floor and start building the mould on top of it, all the timber would be prepared in our timber shop, looking back on it there was a lot of skill involved from various departments”.

When viewing the Lloyd’s of London building it looks like it is solid stainless still, however Bill said “it is not obvious that a lot of it is cladding around precase concrete items cast from our moulds. There are however some concrete parts visible inside”. The photo on the left shows some internal details, however Bill remembers that the bits between each column section were called nodes and he thinks that at least two moulds for these were made. Bill said they also made the moulds for the columns visible in the photo below (credit Wikipedia).

Bill remembers working on various moulds for over a year, mixed in with other jobs, but unfortunately this wasn’t enough to save May and Butcher, he said “it was owned by a family and was on a pretty large site, they got an offer too good to refuse from a house building company and there are now 50 houses where our company once stood, I think it closed in 1982, I was right there until the end.”

Bill remembers the company office being an old hut opposite Osea Island out in the Blackwater estuary and reminisced “the only heat was from an open fire and the first one in had to clean and light it each day, it was blooming good for cooking baked potatoes in though, we wrapped them in silver foil, put in the ashes and by 12.30 they were done, lovely and crisp on the outside, powdery smooth on the inside... you don’t get that with aircon!”.

The photos below are examples of moulds that Bill worked on, although they are not related to the Lloyd’s of London building. These moulds were used to cast a concrete duct which Bill remembers as being used for carrying cooling water into and out of a nuclear power plant.

Bill introduced computing to May and Butcher, and remembers “we were making a mould for a footbridge that now spans the M25 just south of the Dartford crossing and needed a way of finding heights along the mould from a datum point. I had a Sinclair ZX81 with the 16 kilobyte expansion pack - not megabyte or gigabyte, I wrote a program that could give us the numbers we were looking for and brought it into work along with my 13" black and white TV”. Bill currently works as an estimator for a sign company called NES Solutions and is a keen photographer, recently covering a concert for an international music school in the South Bank area of London (photo of Bill below).

Bill Hiskett


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