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Riley Steel Framed House

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  • Manufacturer: Riley Constructional Systems. Cawood, Wharton & Co. Ltd
  • Period Built: 1940's
  • Number Built: 200

The Riley House

PLEASE NOTE: This building system should not be confused with the Rileyform Timber Framed system, or the visually similar, British Iron & Steel Federation (BISF) House..

The Riley house is a metal framed system of dwellings, first constructed in the mid-1940s by Riley Constructional Systems, a trading name of Cawood, Wharton and Co Ltd. The original 'Cawood' company was founded in 1919, and located in Harrogate, Yorkshire and later, also Gravesend, Kent. The company ceased trading in the 1990s. (See footnotes).

The first prototype Riley House was constructed at the Doric Works, Ossett, Yorkshire and after further development and improvements to the initial design, some 200 houses were erected in the Newall Green Area of Manchester in the late 1940s.

Riley steel-framed dwellings were built as two-storey semi-­detached, or terraced houses. The ground-floor walls are finished with a sand and cement external render and the first-floor external facing walls are clad with flat aluminium sheeting and vertical timber strips, which effectively provides the appearance of ribbed profiled sheeting. There is also an aluminium-covered timber weather strip located around the perimeter at the first-floor level and also across the gable-end at eaves level. The gable-ended roofs were originally clad with corrugated asbestos cement sheeting, but the roofs on many of the houses, have since been replaced with safer, profiled metal sheeting.

Riley steel framed house
Riley House

riley house steel frame diagram
Riley House Steel Frame

Construction Detail

Foundations and substructure

Historical drawings suggest that these houses sit atop a concrete raft type foundation. The depth of the foundation slab was increased around the perimeter and beneath areas subjected to increased load. A bituminous damp-proof course was laid around the perimeter edge of the slab, below where the external walls are to be situated.

The Steel Frame

The main components of the house were assembled on the ground and lifted upright with guy ropes that ran over a tall mast located at each end of the structure. The vertical steel stanchions (Steel Columns) are hinged to the roof structure, and swung into position as the roof was raised.

The frame itself has four, two-storey stanchions, at the front and rear elevations, spaced approximately 6ft apart. Four single-storey prop stanchions are located along the middle of the house. The stanchions for the adjoining property are adjacent to each other, but they are not connected across the separating party wall.

Example of a typical rolled steel channel

The box section stanchions are fabricated from two rolled steel (RS) channels welded together with small steel plates. The stanchions are bolted to the substructure baseplates, and sections of RS channel used for raising and locating the external wall panels, are fixed between the upright stanchions.

At first-floor level, lattice floor beams run front to rear from stanchion locations and are supported mid-span by additional single-storey height stanchions. The floor beams are fabricated from 3in x 1.5"-in rolled steel channel shaped top and bottom members, with square lacing bars, welded between the channels on both sides.

Rolled steel channels tie the stanchions laterally in both the front and rear elevations, and rolled steel angles tie the lattice floor beams laterally at three separate locations. This provides additional stability for the frame. The floor grid is braced at the corners with 1/2 inch diameter steel rods.

Roof Structure

The roof structure consists of roof trusses at the gable-end and separating walls, which support three trussed purlins.

The roof trusses are fabricated from 3" x 3" rolled steel angle rafters, and 1.5" x 1.5" rolled steel angle bottom tie and diagonal braces, and 2" x 1/4 inch flat bar horizontal and vertical braces.

The 3ft deep trussed purlins are fabricated from 3" x 1.5" in RS channel top, bottom, and end members, with steel lattice bracing, welded in between. Smaller lattice purlins constructed of 1.5" in RS angle top and bottom members, with steel flats for bracing, are located at the eaves and connect to the tops of the stanchions on both the front and rear elevations.

Intermediate purlins of RS angle, two in each roof slope, span from the gable-end to the separating wall. At the intermediate stanchions, the purlins are tied by 1/2 inch diameter rods and braced by crossed diagonal 1.5" x 1.5" rolled steel angle struts.

At ceiling level, a rolled steel T-section binder spans from the middle of the gable-end wall to the middle of the separating wall, and RS angles span from the intermediate stanchions in the front elevation to the intermediate stanchions in the rear elevation.

External walls

The external walls are constructed from 6ft wide prefabricated timber-framed panels, supported by timber studs at the edges and centre, along with vertical and horizontal timber noggins. A rolled steel (RS) T-section is screwed along the base of the panel, which acts as a pivot to aid positioning and installation of the panels between the stanchions.

The panel itself is screwed to the rolled steel angle of the small lattice purlin at the eaves and through special lugs that had been pre-welded to the stanchions. A strong, tight-fitting U shaped clip is forced over the adjacent lugs projecting from the edge of the panel and the stanchion.

On the ground floor, the panels are rendered with sand and cement on expanded metal mesh. However, it is suspected that brick or blockwork may have been used as a render backing in some instances. The first floor level is clad with narrow vertical strips of aluminium sheet, fixed to the timber framework over a bituminised coated building paper. The long edges of each aluminium sheet are bent outwards and covered with hardwood battens, that were grooved in order to fit over the bent edges.

A one inch thick paper-wrapped glass fibre blanket is positioned between the timber studs of the panel, and the internal surface is lined with 9.5mm plasterboard, and finished with a traditional plaster skim.

The gable-end apex is a separate panel which is devoid of insulation or inner lining.

Separating wall

Drawings indicate a cavity wall constructed of two leaves of lightweight concrete blocks. On site inspections reveal the use of breeze block to separate the roof space.


The partitions are pre-made panels of timber studding, lined on both sides with 9.5mm drywall plasterboard and finished with a traditional plaster skim.


The ground floor is of solid concrete construction, surfaced with pitch-mastic.

The first floor is constructed with prefabricated timber panels approximately 8ft by 6ft 4in wide, constructed using 5" x 2" joists at 18" centres overlaid with tongue and groove boarding. The joists are notched over the lattice steel floor beams.


The ceilings for both ground and upper storeys are constructed using prefabricated panels of 2in x 2in timber bearers faced with 9.5mm plasterboard.


The roofs were initially covered with profiled asbestos cement sheeting, however many appear to have been re­-covered with insulated metal profile sheeting.

Corrosion protection

The steel frame and associated components received a coat of protective red lead paint during manufacture at the factory. An additional coat white paint was to be applied on site prior to erection, however, inspections tend to show that no second coat was applied in many cases.

Riley Steel Framed Construction Diagram

Surveyors Notes

Breakdown of factory applied rust protection coating, can lead to light surface corrosion..

Minor corrosion to RSC stanchions, particularly at bases.

Corrosion of RSC setting out channel.

Superficial corrosion of steelwork, particularly in roof space.

Superficial corrosion to the internal faces of flat aluminium sheeting at the gable apex.

Corrosion of the expanded metal lathing, used to support the cement render.

Poor maintenance and/or water ingress to external ground floor render coating, can lead to cracks, striations, bulging and spalling.

Degradation of external render, whilst not load-bearing, can increase the risk of stanchion corrosion, particularly to the lower half of stanchion legs and baseplates, as this is where moisture/water is most likely to pool or settle.

Riley Constructional Systems. Company Information

Cawood, Wharton and Co. of Harrogate, Yorkshire.
1919 Company founded.
1922 Private company.
1947 Company made public.
1961 Contractors and exporters of coal, coke and fuel oil, steel arches and rails; shipowners; warfingers and transport contractors. Manufacturers of asphalt, tarmacadam and bituminous carpeting's; porous pipes; concrete products; granite, limestone, sand and gravel quarry owners; prefabricated permanent housing, lightweight roofing; building and civil engineering contractors; cotton bag manufacturers.

Cawood newspaper extract Harrogate Herald - 4th December 1940

Mr G R Cawood, of Arden, Cornwall Road, Harrogate, has been appointed House Coal Officer for the North-East Division under the Ministry of Mines House Coal Distribution Emergency Scheme.
Mr Cawood is chairman of the Board of Directors of Cawood Wharton and Company, Ltd, wholesale coal distributors, of Leeds and London, and associated companies. He is a member of the National Council of Coal Traders, and has been President of the Yorkshire Coal Exchange, Chairman of the North of England Coal Traders' Association, and was a member of the Coal Utilisation Council.
He will have three assistants, each in charge of an area. The areas in his division are West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, and the East Riding. Mr R T Read, of Pannal, manager of the House Coal Department of Cawood Wharton and Company, Ltd, will be his personal assistant in charge of the West Yorkshire area.
Under each assistant there will be district managers, whose duties will be to aid the depot managers in charge of railway depots used by a large section of the coal distributive trade, and to act as liaison officers between them and the assistant in charge of the area.
The duties of the depot managers will consist of ensuring that all resources and all available labour necessary for the distribution of coal from his railway depot are pooled by the merchants using that depot.
This new coal distribution system, which will operate throughout the winter, provides a link between the Government and the coal distributive trade, and it aims at the equitable distribution, and continuity of distribution, of house coal.

A prototype dwelling was built at the Doric Works, Ossett, Yorkshire and after further development work about 200 houses were erected in the Newall Green Area of Manchester in the late 1940s.