The Gye’s lathe

This is unusual. Normally this blog is about items in the Market Lavington Museum collection. Today we are looking at an item which is at the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading. But the object – an enormous old lathe – came from Market Lavington and we do have photos of it at our museum.

This is the entry on the MERL catalogue. Their website is at

Object number 56/349
Physical description lathe: metal; wood
Archival history This lathe consists of a very long bench with 3 attachments and a large spoked wheel with 2 wooden rings in a frame. Two men turned the large driving wheel while a third operated the lathe. Used by wheelwrights, carpenters and joiners for large turnery (wheel stocks, newel posts, bed posts, pillars, ballusters .

We can add to this, first of all with a couple of photos.

Tom Gye stands by the drive wheel for an old wheelwright's lathe. The lathe is now at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading, but the photo and information is at Market Lavington Museum

Here we see Tom Gye standing with the power unit for the lathe. The lathe was driven by rope which, according to the speed required was passed around the larger or smaller pulley on this spoked wheel. This was then spun by two men, to actually provide the power.

The lathe set up and ready to spin in Gye's Yard at White Street, Market Lavington in 1956

Here we have the lathe set up. The power wheel is large and the lathe itself is ruggedly big. The timber baulks and legs on which the lathe is mounted suggest that this lathe was built for large turning jobs.

The age is not certain, but it is believed that it existed when Tom Gye’s grandfather, James Gye, was bound apprentice to the Drapers to learn the trades of carpenter and wheelwright. And that was back in the 1850s.

The lathe was last used after World War II because it had the scale to work large pieces of wood. Throughout its career it had been used  for cart wheel hubs (known as stocks) but it probably also turned newel posts, ornamental fence posts, balusters and even bed posts.

It was way back in 1956 that the lathe was given to the MERL at Reading. This was almost 30 years before our museum opened its doors, but in any case we’d not have the space to cope with an object of this size (more is the pity). So if you want to see this fascinating relic from our wheelwright’s shop in Market Lavington, you’ll need to journey up the M4 to Reading.

Our information comes from a cutting taken from the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald for November 1st 1956 – an item we have at Market Lavington Museum.

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One Response to “The Gye’s lathe”

  1. John Burgess Says:

    This is certainly how i remember the Gye’s yard also how i remember Tom. I am glad that my own wood lathe does not need to be this big.

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