27 July 2022

BM TRADA marks 50 years of fire testing in its High Wycombe laboratory

TRADA image

To give back to the industry that we have been a part of for the last fifty years, we are hosting a free Introduction to Fire Doors webinar with Peter Barker on Wednesday 12th October. Jump to the bottom to find out more or book now.


Last month, fifty years on from its first commercial fire resistance test on a demountable timber partition, colleagues from BM TRADA and sister brand Warringtonfire gathered on-site to celebrate its fire laboratory’s substantial history.


In this article, as part of our celebrations, we shine a spotlight on BM TRADA’s and TRADA’s mutual origins, beginning with TRADA’s predecessor, the Timber Development Association (TDA), which first formed in London in 1934 from a Timber Trade Federation Council committee to counter misinformation about timber.


The Timber Development Association is formed

In 1935, TDA toured the country on a timber train “extolling the merits of wood”, and amassed the signatures of 8,900 architects and technicians, and 44,000 other visitors. A few years later, in 1937, the first of the famous “red booklets” discussing aspects of timber were printed; in 1945 alone, around 60,000 red booklets were circulated. These booklets are still available in the BM TRADA Bookshop 85 years after they were originally published.


From 1939 to 1945, the TDA undertook several activities related to WWII. At home, due to fire problems resulting from the Blitz, fire protection data was collected which enabled the TDA to advise the Government on how to address the fire performance of timber buildings. It was also during this time that the stress grading of timber began, although this was initially met with scepticism. Overseas, meanwhile, books on timber were dispatched to POWs in Germany. By 1946, the TDA had five regional offices in addition to its London headquarters.


TDA formally becomes a research association for the UK Government

Following a successful bid for a research grant from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), a research laboratory was set up in Tylers Green, Buckinghamshire, in 1954 and drew over 600 visitors in an open week. That year, timber frame construction – then referred to as brick-framed construction – was mentioned for the first time.


By the 60s, the TDA had designed multiple high-profile innovative constructions using timber – including a remarkable ‘Himalayan Hut’ for Sir Edmund Hilary’s 1960 expedition up Mount Everest, which had to be designed in such a way that it could be carried in parts on the backs of the Sherpa porters.


On 23 May 1962, the TDA became the Timber Research and Development Association (TRADA), and five years later it moved to Chiltern House in Hughenden Valley, Buckinghamshire, where it commenced ambitious plans for a brand new “fire lab” complete with an innovative furnace that could test horizontal and vertical components simultaneously. This allowed technicians to test the junction between the floor and the wall. The site, now owned rather than rented, enabled the development of a working complex comprising offices and laboratories in the years to come.


Setting up the new fire test laboratory

In 1970, the technicians involved went on a “world tour” to fire resistance laboratories across the US and Europe. Although fire resistance testing had been around since the late 1800s, fire resistance laboratories were not commonplace, and so the world tour provided an opportunity to identify best practice at the time.


In 1981, the TRADA fire door certification scheme launched. This was a precursor to the BM TRADA Q-Mark scheme, which has continued to grow in both its specification and the number of companies whose products and installation services are covered by the scheme.


TRADA adapts to meet a tough commercial environment

In the mid-1990s, to secure the association’s future and ensure sufficient income following a reduction in Government funding, a decision was made to restructure how TRADA membership sat in relation to the rest of its commercial activities.


TRADA had been addressing the tough economic environment for some time by growing services such as independent testing, certification and consultancy, but – as commercial income grew considerably – it became necessary to restructure the organisation in order to ensure the continued integrity of the research association and its purpose.


Consequently, a restructuring took place that saw the creation of parent company TTL Chiltern, which was later renamed BM TRADA. This company had three sub-divisions: Chiltern International Fire, which provided all fire testing services; BM TRADA Certification; and TRADA Technology, which provided timber consultancy. 1994, TRADA Technology officially took on the role of TRADA’s service provider, and commenced running its required services. These included the timber helpline, all ongoing research and publishing, membership administration, and marketing activities.


Fifty years on, the sub-division services have been united under the two brands BM TRADA and Warringtonfire as part of the fast-growing Element Group, and all fire resistance testing takes place beneath the Warringtonfire banner.


Today, while still preparing for and running tests on the same footprint, both the capacity of the fire lab and the demand for fire resistance testing has grown exponentially. Over the last fifty years, we have completed tests on behalf of BSI committees; appeared on the long-running BBC programme Tomorrow’s World, which looks at innovative products in the science and technology sectors, three times; produced research that impacted standards; updated our labs to improve health and safety; and in 2008 modernised the furnace which we continue to use to this day.


On 23 June 2022, fifty years on from the first commercial fire resistance test, colleagues from across BM TRADA and Warringtonfire gathered at Chiltern House to celebrate their long history with presentations from Leigh Hill, Divisional Director; Mark Cummings, Technical Director; Phil Howard, Quality & Governance Manager; and Peter Barker, Technical Manager.


Phil Howard said:


“We are immensely proud of our heritage at Chiltern House. Not only has our fire lab been instrumental in this industry, but so have our colleagues. Many are still with us decades later, while others have gone on to be highly influential in other fire resistance testing businesses. I joined the team in 2005 so I have witnessed many of the innovations and the changes that have occurred here over the years.”


BM TRADA and Warringtonfire mark 50 years of testing in High Wycombe with a free webinar. This is essential viewing if you want to know more about fire doors and the vital role they play in protecting buildings and lives.


Introduction to Fire Doors Explained

Wednesday 12 October ∙ 11:00 – 13:00 BST via GoToWebinar


Webinar schedule

  • Fire resisting doors - proving performance
  • Fire resisting doors - key elements of construction
  • Fire resisting doors and smoke control performance
  • Break for questions
  • Installation and maintenance
  • Third party certification and adding assurance
  • Fire testing in action
  • Break for questions




About the speaker

Peter is a Technical Manager at Warringtonfire and has worked for 18 years in the field of passive fire protection, specialising in leading and supporting engineers producing technical assessments of fire resisting construction products and providing technical support to Approved Bodies and Notified Bodies offering testing and certification services.