Cobblers in Spring Lane

Boot making and shoe repair shop in Spring Lane

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Who remembers the Cobblers shop at 32, Spring Lane? This photo shows Thomas Mullock with his daughter outside 32, Spring Lane. He had taken over from Frank Browning who had established a boot makers and shoe repair business in 1907, Thomas took over in the 1930’s and ran it until the mid 1960’s.

(I can remember buying “segs”, metal heel plates from here)

Thomas Mullock was injured in WWI and as a result had a wooden leg. He had been a skilled turner and to enable him to drive his finishing spindle & sewing machine, he had purchased a Gardner gas engine, that was in reguglar use until 1972, but when town gas was converted into natural gas, it became redudant and was disconnected and replaced by an electric motor.

Martin Waldron purchased the Gardner engine from Thomas Mullock’s widow and over the years reburbished it, to enable it to run again. This particular Gardner engine is featured in a Magazine “ Stationary Engine” entitled “ A Gardner breathes again” by Kevin Parsons.

Below is the aticle from that magazine

“A Gardner breathes again”

Kevin Parsons relates a tale of resurrection

Crouching down by the engine, I adjusted both the gas mixture and the propane feed gas valve for the umpteenth time, all previous attempts being unsuccessful. Martin, the engine’s owner had popped in doors to put the kettle on and in his absence, I had decided to try yet again to bring life to this ancient machine. Keeping the hand-held gas torch playing on the hot-tub, which was now glowing red, I took hold of the flywheel rim and began to pull it round. Coming up onto compression, there was a chuff and the piston, responded to the explosion, kicked back the wrong way. We had managed to get this much response earlier this day, but this time it was different, exploding mixture had forced, with enough figure to overcome the next compression when again, a chuff sent the engine spinning into the correct rotation. With sufficient momentum now, after about four revolutions the engine fired again and gradually picked up speed. I called Martin on his return, we both admired the motion, the first the engine had done for over 50 years, perhaps I had better start at the beginning.

In the early 1890s, L. Gardner & sons were operating as consulting engineers and manufacturers of special machinery, in premises known as “Gardeners Engineering Works at Hadfield Street, Cornbrook in Manchester. Their products at that time consisted of Dynamos, general engineering products, and a range of hot-air engines, designed by others. However, on the 5th of May 1894, their first internal combustion engine was completed and tested, the horizontal No1 gas engine, designed to develop 1 BHP at 350 rpm. It was used to light the “small room” at the works.

Engine tested

By 1898, 686 engines in sizes up to 15 BHP had been built. That year also saw the first vertical Gardner made. However far the most popular, size was the No 1, made to run on gas or oil, ignited by hot-tube or petrol when a Magneto was made available. On the 1st of November 1904, Gardner No 1, serial number 4535, a gas engine was tested (between 2:00 and 4:00 PM) by M.F. Bennett, who noted that it had “Good firing and Good cards” while starting was described as “Very satisfactory” interestingly it was found to produce 1.3 BHP at its rated speed. There is no record of who brought this engine or its first used. However, many machines were used as prime movers for generating sets made by the “Crypto Electrical Co of Bermondsey Street, London, who retailed the No1 gas engine for £25 .15s. 0d. (£25-75p) the Dynamo costing £13.0s.0d. Such a set was capable of producing sufficient electrical power for up to 300 CP (candle power) in metallic filament lamps. Whether this engine started life as such is a matter of conjecture. However, it’s later story is known. During the Great War, a soldier skilled in the art of turning, was injured and upon his recovery, he retained as a cobbler setting up his business in the front room of a house in Eastleigh. At some point he purchased this engine and set it up to drive his finishing spindle and sewing machine. With a note to his past profession, on the end of the spindle he mounted a lathe chuck to allow for simple turning projects.

New Owner

Business obviously prospered as the engine was in regular use until 1972. At that time, an apprentice gas fitter who knew Martin through their mutual bell ringing hobby advised him that he had recently completed an interesting job. He had been called to this cobbler to disconnect the gas engine and install an electric motor in its stead. The consequence of the change to Natural Gas that was being rolled out across the country had rendered the old Gardener used to a diet of town gas, unusable. Martin made approaches regarding the fate of the engine and when the old cobbler died, his widow in 1974, sold Martin the engine together with any auxiliary equipment he thought necessary.

Upon acquisition, Martin correspondent with Gardner’s, who provided him with the test information above. They also advised him that if he was interested in disposing of this engine, at a figure of around 25 pounds, which is average, we would like an opportunity of acquiring it so that it can be preserved for prosperity. Although complete, the engine would benefit from an overhaul. When brought home, Martin stripped it to assess what work was required being on good terms with Matchems Motor Engineers of Winchester, who used their caustic bath to strip off the paint work, something he would regret later as in these current times a well-preserved patina of age is quite acceptable. Matchems also reground the crankshaft, most Martin used their facilities to cast new white metal bearings. Work on the engine then slowed, moving house, running a coal business, then working as a bell hanger across the country, not to mention general village life, all conspiring to render progress with the engine very slow. I first met Martin some 15 years ago, and the Garner was always in his workshop, resting under a bench, being moved around as necessary to allow other work to proceed. When I asked if it was ready, the answer was the same no it still needs XYZ doing to it. Eventually the mechanical restoration was complete new mains, big end, small end Bush, reground gudgeon pin, remade new exhaust valve and guide. Repairs were made to the burner, a new ignition hot tube manufactured and finally the gas and air valves ground in. A coat of red oxide was also applied pending getting it running. Yet when I visited, the engine still occupied space in the workshop, it’s fly-wheel sat nearby. Suggesting that I would come over for the day and not leave until we had woken it up. The bait was taken and as spring turned to summer, Martin rang to say the time had arrived and a day was set. Driving at his house and after a hearty breakfast of kippers, we repaired to his back garden where in an open shed, the Gardener SN4535, sat waiting. Martin having rounded up the various bits of engine and the tools needed to fit them. The first task was to bolt the engine down to the two hefty sleepers. That done, the fly-wheel keyway was checked to ensure the newly made gib- head key would not bind and having satisfied ourselves, the flywheel was mounted and locked in place. (Incidentally the two-foot diameter flywheel is exceedingly heavy, seeming out of proportion for the power of the engine, perhaps this engine was designed for electrical generation). Next the remanufactured hot tub was screwed in, followed by the burner chimney, the burner itself and the carburettor gas valve. The gas bottles were connected, and Martin went round with the oil can, paying special attention to the big ends and mains. It was mid-morning. The time had arrived. Burning was lit and the hot tube and chimney were enveloped in a mass of yellow flame. Try as we might, a concentrated blue hot flame could not be produced. We later found that we were running on propane, the burner jet nozzle needed resizing, a job for the future. Dispensing with the burner, a substitute modern handheld gas canister was played over the hot tube until it glowed red. With gas on, the first attempts at starting with made, we conspicuous lack of success. The valves on the engine, the gas cylinder, and just for good measure, the gas bottle regulator were all twiddled to and fro with little success, other than at one particular setting, the engine, rebounded off compression, with exhaust a cylinder of gas to atmosphere where it was duly ignited by the flames playing around the cylinder head. After losing the hairs on our hands, we decided that were there is a great merit in spark ignition systems. Once or twice, the mixture with ignite as the engine came up to compression, sending the engine backward, but only just. It had gone lunchtime. Despondency has set in. Martin sought refuge in the telephone to see if acquaintances could inspire and shed light on the problems. The consensus was to ensure the hot tube was glowing and that the gas settings were quite critical. Again, efforts were made, again with no results.

It finally ran

It was definitely time for another cup of tea and Martin set off for the kitchen and although it appeared a futile act, I sided to try again to try and get life from the century old machine. Crouched down by the machine, I adjusted both the gas mixture and the propane feed gas well for the umpteenth time the results bring us to the start of this article. With the engine running, the main battle was keeping the handheld gas torch playing onto the hot tube. Operation was not perfect. The engine appeared to be eight-stroking and fiddling going with the gas supply valve did improve running, such that the quirky Gardner governor system would operate. It was not perfect, but it ran, a 118-year-old engine that had last worked over 50 years ago was again full of life. We run it for a few more minutes, removing the gas torch from the hot tube, relying solely on the inadequate original burner. The little Gardner still run, but eventually as the hot tube cooled it slowed and stopped. However, the day had been successful. Martin and I have proved the engine would run. Further refinement is needed, especially in the sorting out the hot-tube burner to allow operation on propane as well as consider a thinner walled ignition tube. A proper gasbag or regulator as per the original idea to improve the gas supply to the engine, but at the end of this day, both myself and especially Martin, were pleased that finally, the engine that had spent so much time under benches in the workshop, had run.