Lathe bench, bar lathe on top, footwheel and treadle below.


Lathe bench, with bar lathe on top, and footwheel and treadle below.

This item is part of the contents of the workshop that Scottish engineer James Watt developed at his home, Heathfield, at Handsworth, Birmingham. Although Watt is best known for his work on the steam engine, his workshop contains a wide variety of objects from many different projects, from chemistry to sculpture-copying.

The description of the item was written by Edward Collins, the land agent responsible for Heathfield when the workshop was given to the Science Museum in 1924. Collins could not always identify what he was looking at, but always described what he saw clearly. This has allowed his descriptions to form the basis of subsequent research.

This is a lathe Bench, for turning objects from a variety of materials, with footwheel and treadle fixed below. A drawing made by Watt and preserved in the workshop, dated April 1810, corresponds exactly to this bench. It therefore indicates that the bench was made to order and probably gives the date of purchase of the lathe. The bench is all oak. Comparison of the footwheel and crank under this bench with those fitted to the two machines for copying sculpture also present in the workshop suggests that all three were obtained from one source. Seeing that they have been bored and turned on the bosses and the rims, and that this has been done well, a thing not easily achieved at this early date, it seems probable that they were prepared at The Soho Foundry.

The lathe conforms generally to a type, and is of a general size, widely used at the time both by tradesmen and by amateurs. It has some unusual features, but is almost certainly a proprietary trade article.


James Watt's Garret Workshop
Object Number:
Major J.M. Gibson-Watt