The contractor’s picture vault is being digitised by Historic England and charts the industry’s progress from flat caps to hard hats and from labour-intensive hard-graft into a mechanised age of heavy plant.
John Laing was one of Britain’s biggest construction companies, with its heyday in the post-war decades.
A unique collection of its time, the pictures chronicle the construction of iconic 20th century British sites including: Coventry Cathedral, the M1 Motorway, Berkeley Nuclear power station, the Second Severn Crossing as well as everyday sites such as Easiform social housing estates, sewage works and bus stations.
John Laing started work with his father’s company in 1894 at the age of 14, eventually building it into one of Britain’s largest construction firms.
Sir John William Laing (24 September 1879 – 11 January 1978)
He was a member of the Plymouth Brethren and the company sought to provide inclusive company spirit for its employees, arranging various outings and occasions for staff including regular sports days and “family days” to the seaside.
Workers backfill the central reservation of the M1 (1958)
A team of Laing workers smoothing a concrete surface during the construction of the runway at Filton. (1947)
Bricklayer at work on top of a chimney during the construction of Plymouth Power Station (1949)
Sir John Laing (left) with dignitaries on the Wood Farm housing estate in Oxford, at the ceremonial opening of the 30,000th post-war Easiform house (1953)
Laing workers and a Coles 22 Crane unloading blocks of stone from the back of a lorry on the construction site of Coventry Cathedral (1956)
Sir John W Laing signing contract for new Coventry Cathedral ( 1956)
Two boys watching an 8 ton roller being unloaded by a 15 ton Smith lorry mounted crane during the construction of Berkeley Nuclear Power Station
Excavation of the reactor in progress during the construction of Berkeley Nuclear Power Station, with an excavator unloading material into a dump truck (1957)
Workmen straightening the steel reinforcement rods after the bottom of the dome of the pressure vessel had been winched into position within the thermal shield during the construction of Berkeley Nuclear Power Station (1958)
A view of cranes on either side of a reactor on the Berkeley Nuclear Power Station construction site, with the lid of the reactor being lifted into place (1958)
Four office workers, probably at the project headquarters in Newport Pagnell, updating charts and tracking progress in the construction of the London to Yorkshire Motorway (M1) (1958)
A group of Laing workers using a site catering van on Section B3 of the London to Yorkshire Motorway (M1) (1958)
A site nurse employed on Project B of the London to Yorkshire Motorway (M1) examining the eyes of a Laing worker (1958)
A view of the construction of the Birmingham to Preston Motorway (M6), showing a team of men operating machinery during the building of Structure 306, the bridge over the railway line from Stafford to Wolverhampton
Construction of the M6 also saw John Laing employ its first female civil engineer, 21-year-old London University student Kik Hong Ong. (1961)
A portrait of two Laing workers at the Carlisle Civic Centre construction site, showing I Blackett, one of the newest members of the team on the left with long-serving member of staff, Harry Varah, Foreman Bricklayer. (1962)
RAF Belvedere helicopter hoisting in to place the 80ft bronze spire on to the new Coventry Cathedral. (1962)
Worker operating a pile drilling machine during foundation work on Phase IV of the Barbican development (1964)
Construction of the Midland Link Motorway, between Junction 13 and Junction 11 of the M6, showing road workers with shovels following a machine laying a base layer of coarse stone (1965)
Caravan site occupied by Laing workers and their families who were involved in construction work on the London to Yorkshire Motorway (M1) (1966)
Dismantling of a tower crane during the construction of the Barbican (1968)
Placement of a concrete beam as part of the construction of Preston Bus Station.
Members of Laing’s sports club taking a trip on the River Thames near Windsor, on a boat named the Windsor Castle.(May 1971)
A view from a high vantage point showing steelwork for the domed roof of the prayer hall during the construction of the London Central Mosque. (December 1975)
The Laing site team with Martin Laing and the Mayor of Carlisle, councillor Trudy Whalley, posed on the roof of the multi-storey car park at The Lanes Shopping Centre for the topping out ceremony. (March 1984)
Three men wearing Draeger gas masks during a safety course at the British Library construction site. (June 1984)
Martin Laing with the Mayor of Carlisle, councillor Trudy Whalley, during the topping out ceremony at The Lanes Shopping Centre. (March 1984)
A Laing stonemason working on the restoration of the east window at Carlisle Cathedral, chiselling stonework prior to bonding a new piece of stone to the existing fabric (July 1983)
Safety awareness on the rise. Second Severn Crossing construction site, standing beneath a sign reading ‘MAKE IT SAFE’ (June 1995)
View of the Second Severn Crossing under construction (1995)
Sir Martin Laing, Chairman of Trustees, John Laing Charitable Trust said: “I am delighted that this unique record of the construction industry is being made available to a wide audience and demonstrates the evolving nature and contribution of an industry that impacts us all. As a company Laing has been a leader in this change and demonstrates how important the people who work in it are and how we have been able to affect their lives and working conditions.”
- Breaking New Ground is part of Historic England’s work to engage the public in the history of the built environment.
Copyright Historic England Archive. John Laing Photographic Collection