THE WORKSHOP, 29 Surrey St., Norwich



These are some of the machines in the workshop; this was in the basement and had originally been the kitchen/scullery and still had the remains of the spit in the large fire place that I could stand up in. The workshop was in the back of the house at basement level, but not quite underground. There was a window by the old sink (cold tap only of course).  The front facing room had been the kitchen with a range on one side and a built-in dresser on the other.  This had cupboards and a drawer under the scrubbed pine work top, and shelves above for plates.

To the left, half in view is our electric hacksaw. The next comes a specialised milling machine which we made, then the Dorset router that we used to cut out the Verator fronts from sheets of plastic. In the corner is a belt sander. Further across the workshop was the woodworker’s bench which incorporated a circular saw. (You can see the extreme end of this bench to the right of the first picture.) There was also a Myford 8 wood lathe and a big 3 phase polishing spindle. Against the exterior wall was a bench holding a jigsaw and a band saw, and between the window and the fireplace were the grind stone for sharpening tools and the edging stone on which spectacle lenses were shaped. Finally there was a Startrite bench drill, and the engineer’s bench which had an engineer’s vice, a surface plate and a flypress. It was a very thoroughly equipped workshop, the only major deficiency being the lack of a metal turning lathe.

Pattern waiting to be cast.

Pattern waiting to be cast.

These are the wooden patterns (including the core patterns) for the router that I made – under my father’s direction – on the Myford wood-turning lathe. There is a colour code for patterns, so that the cores for example are instantly distinguishable from the rest, but all is painted silver here. The correct colours would have been black for untreated surfaces, red for machined surfaces and cores to b e painted yellow.  We never did paint the wood the correct colours. The patterns were taken to Lew Jay’s foundry in Oak Street for casting and he knew what was needed even without the colours. When it  was assembled it made up the machine shown in the picture below. This was a useful addition to the equipment used in making the Versator binocular magnifier (see blog of Dec 2011).At one time we also had the blacksmith’s anvil in the workshop, but fumes from the forge made it a bad companion indoors, and we moved it outside to the middle vault beside the former wine cellar. We had the ‘scrap cupboard’ in the corner of the room and a large cabinet full of tools.

The finished milling machine.

The finished milling machine.

The walls were massively thick, at least half a metre and probably more like 2½ feet in the basement. There was no such thing as cavity walling in the eighteenth century, but the insulation properties of all that brick was huge. It was never cold and there was scarcely even any heat on in the workshop. The activity taking place there kept you warm enough. The office next door had a paraffin heater available if required, but I think enough heat seeped down the stairwell from the rest of the building most of the time. Equally the insulation of the thick walls meant that it was never hot in summer months.

The workshop was set up from the outset of my father’s occupation of 29 Surrey Street in 1959- it was one of the first things he did after the ground floor, where his optician’s business was located. It lasted until I let the room to an interior designer at the end of the 1980s, and even then I moved several of the machines into a smaller room until I finally sold the property in 1997. N.B. The unguarded nature of the machinery would not pass muster for Health and Safety today; I am not sure it would have done 40 years ago either, but fortunately no one ever inspected them, and we never injured ourselves.

Versator Binocular Magnifier

The Versator Binocular Magnifier was the main item produced in the workshop.




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