Continued on Page 2 A Mystery Colchester From the 1930s
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With no maker's badge to confirm their identity (and sometimes found with either a Brown Brothers of London, IXL or Alfred Herbert badges), it was long thought that these early Colchester lathes from around 1908 to 1910, were a version of the better-known 3.5" flat-bed Drummond. It was only when the grandson of a gentleman who had been the original purchaser came forward with both the lathe and supporting paperwork that that the writer was alerted to the truth. In addition, the model has been found advertised on the first page of Alfred Herbert's Small Tool Catalogue, second edition, dated 1909 (probably printed late 1908), when it was priced at £18 : 0s : 0d with a 25% discount offered to retailers. In recent years (during the first decade or so of the 21st century), several other examples came to light including two in Australia - although some are sufficiently different to either raise further questions as to their origin. One particular machine, found in the upstairs workshop of a plumbers in Bolton during 2011, appears totally original, even to its paint finish, and is believed to have been there since new. Examples with "IXL" badges confirm that the lathe was also factored, IXL being well known for ordering a batch of lathes and attaching their own identification. This re-branding was common between 1900 and 1940 as manufacturers found it easier to supply a limited number of trade customer rather than individuals.
Although of very similar design and size to the Drummond - 3.5" x 16" (90 mm x 405 mm) with a gap bed to swing 10 inches (255 mm) with backgear and screwcutting - this early Colchester exhibits three significant differences: twin bolts - front and rear - holding down the front of the headstock; a foot at the tailstock end of the bed and, when equipped with a proper compound slide rest assembly, the "inverted" form of the cross-slide ways - the latter arrangement being identical to that used on the first production Drummond and later 5-inch models - but with longitudinal rather than transverse T-slots. Bored through 3/8" (10 mm), the spindle ran in adjustable bronze bearings, these being radially split, seated in tapered housing and with large washers fitted against their inside faces that could be pulled inwards by a pair of through-bolts to draw then in and so set the running clearance. It is likely, as in the case of the very similar flat-bed Drummond, that this little Colchester evolved through several versions in a relatively short space of time; although both were arranged for the headstock to swing for the turning of slight tapers the Colchester lacked a curved slot at the front to complement the central locking bolt, this coming fitting being introduced later. Even later versions of both had the front and rear headstock bearings braced by a cast-in overarm and the spindle bearings modified with screwed rings instead of compression washers to effect adjustment (though in the case of the Drummond, this was a return to a practice seen on the first, 1902 model)
Supplied as standard on a treadle-equipped cast-iron stand, a 21-inch diameter ((535 mm) flywheel was fitted that had two high-speed grooves and one low-speed intended to take a 3/8" (10 mm) diameter round leather "gut" rope. On the first model (as advertised) the tool slide was, like that on the similar Drummond, just a simple, single-swivelling type, but on all surviving example a proper compound type (with separate top and cross slides) has been found. Although the compound may well have been offered as an option, it's more likely to have been introduced as a standard fitting, as the entire carriage assembly is of a different design. Supplied with each new example was a full set of screwcutting changewheels, a hand-tool rest, two faceplates ( 43/8" and 61/2"), a travelling steady and the necessary spanners. Occupying a space some 34" x 21" (865 x 535 mm) it weighed approximately 350 lbs (159 kg).
Interestingly, early examples appear, like the first flat-bed 3.5" Drummond, to have had the leadscrew running down the centre line of the bed, between the ways, while later versions also copied the 1912 to 1921 Drummond with its overarm-braced headstock bearings - though the rest of the machine remained largely unchanged.
If the mystery of the origins surrounding the early small Colchester lathes is not enough, another model has emerged that, from its design and the clear use of an A-Section V-belt (first used in 1930/31 on Atlas lathes) must have been built in the early years of the 1930s.
Founded in 1908, the Colchester company were eventually to become a major player in the manufacture of general-purpose workshop lathes - though it was not until the 1950s that a concerted export drive sealed its success internationally..