Monday, November 25, 2019

Leiston, Suffolk

At the Long Shop

The idea was to head for Aldeburgh. I’d been there before, but it was the Resident Wise Woman’s first visit and she was keen to go Poetry at Aldeburgh, the annual poetry festival there. For that matter, so was I. Over a long weekend, between poetic events we managed to do some exploring and I was eager to pop into the church at nearby Leiston, a masterpiece of Victorian architect E. B Lamb, but so dark inside it was virtually impossible to photograph. While we were in Leiston, however, we came across this building, the factory of Richard Garrett & Sons.

The name Garrett seemed to ring bells with me – and I soon realised that it was familiar in at least three ways. Most relevant to the bricks and mortar in front of me was the Garrett engineering company, manufacturers on this very site of agricultural machinery, steam engines, and, in later years, trolley buses. The trolley buses were electrically powered but what Garrett’s were mainly about was steam – steam engines, traction engines, steam-powered lorries. The 1850s structure in my photograph, the Long Shop, was where they made portable steam engines. It was well known in the Victorian period, because it had a very up-to-date layout. In 1851, Richard Garrett* went, like so many of his contemporaries, to the Crystal Palace in London to see the Great Exhibition. Among the things that impressed him there were some of the ideas about manufacturing that were being taken up in America – in particular the concept of what we now call an assembly line. So his Long Shop was designed to house a production process in which the embryonic engines began at one end of the lengthy building and were gradually moved along the floor as parts were added. This process happened in the centre aisle of the shop, and some of the parts, produced in galleries above, were craned down at the appropriate point on the line and fixed to the engine as it took shape.

The layout is expressed architecturally on the outside by the large middle window, lighting the central assembly line area, and the smaller windows on either side, which illuminate the upper galleries. The whole building was much admired in the 19th century, has great historical importance, and combines functionality and a certain ornamental polychromatic quality in a typically mid-Victorian way. It is rightly listed at Grade II*. My only frustration was that when we were free the museum was closed, so we didn’t get the chance to go inside.† Clearly the enticing mix of Victorian architecture and old machinery will have to wait for another visit.

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* He was actually Richard Garrett III, the grandson of the company’s founder.

† You may wonder what my other two reasons for recognising the name of Garrett were. They were two famous pioneering women, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to qualify as a doctor in Britain, and Millicent Garrett Fawcett, political activist and campaigner for women’s suffrage, both daughters of Newson Garrett, who was a son of one of the engineering Garretts but did not go into the family business.


Hels said...

I love Deco and would love to read your post called Deco displayed. But I cannot find it.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hello Hels: Sorry that you've come across this title somehow. Look out for this post, which will be a review of a new book, in a week or ten days' time.