The first machine my father made at the “works” in Hall Road in Norwich was the Menistor. He had transferred his manufacturing business from the basement at 3 Orford Place when the formation of the National Health Service in 1948 had greatly increased the demand for glasses and hence for the machinery to make them. Menistor was a portmanteau word made up of meniscus and toric, the two commonest types of lenses. The Versator was a development of this machine, being more adaptable. It could also produce cylinders and spherical lenses.
You can see some of the works staff with a machine they had been working on. My father also made spectacle frames at the works. He naturally produced his own lenses on his own machines, so all the parts were made in house. In the early years of the NHS there were no prescription charges, so all drugs, dentistry and of course NHS spectacles were free. (You could get more attractive private frames that you paid for.) This was a condition too good to last, and we should remember this when we are told that the Health Service is free at the point of need; it isn’t, although briefly this was true. When the inevitable happened and charges were imposed my father had not the financial resources to survive the shock and had to sell up.
The name Versator was revived several times by may father who was proud of his machine. It was the name he gave to the Enterprise sailing dinghy he bough for me in 1964. The name was also used (as the Versator Mk3) for the binocular magnifier my father designed in the 1970s and which I continued to make during the 80 and 90s. The binocular loupe was used mostly by model engineers, but they were also sold to the MoD, National Coal Board and the Research Establishment at Porton Down.
Versator is also the name of a kind of pump I believe, and maybe of other things too. The pump is more recent than 1951 I think, so my father’s registration on the Trade Name of Versator must have lapsed, or (more likely) it was just ignored. The company behind the Versator, both the original machine and the binocular magnifier was Mason and Gantlett Ltd. This company survived to 1997. Even when the company was wound up I still made Versators. I sent the last batch of Versator magnifiers to a firm of dental equipment suppliers about 15 years ago. There was nothing new or original in the magnifier’s design, and it had none of the technical brilliance of the original Versator machine, protected as it was by a raft of patents. All the Versators produced by Mason and Gantlett Ltd (my father’s firm which survived the disaster of prescription charges), both the original machine and the subsequent binocular magnifier were made in Norwich.
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