Stott Park Bobbin Mill, Cumbria
The blocking machine operator, known as a blocker, held the cake in his hands and brought a saw blade, spinning at 8,000 revolutions per minute, down, to cut over 5,000 blanks in a day. It was specialised work:
‘You didn’t put [just] anyone on a saw like that, they’re too dangerous really. No, he had to know his job, to be efficient. The same chap worked for 40 years, a chap called Jim Graham. He did the sawing up into the slabs and when he’d got a good hep he would go from there to the blocking saw.’
Each block had a hole drilled through it, so that it could be put on a lathe.
‘[The boring machines] were going all the time. [The operator would] sit in front of it and bore it, holding the piece of wood. He’d just hold it in his hand. It might take two or three shoves, it all depends on the bobbin you see.
[It could be] nearly anybody, but it wanted a fairly strong lad, not a new starter. [It was a] fairly simple thing to do, although there was a certain amount of danger … it could spin round in your hand and be quite nasty.’
The automatic boring machine further mechanised the bobbin-making process. Skilled individuals were replaced by mechanically complex machines, designed and built locally, and specifically suited to the industry.
‘It’s like a big cam [rotating disk], and it works backwards … and there’s a roller on the end of the pushing bar, and that goes down into these slots … it works backwards and forwards in three separate pushes.’
Making a bobbin required two lathes: one to cut the rough shape, and one for a fine finish. Machines like this cut a rough bobbin every 5 seconds across a 10-hour day. It was essential that machine and tools did not let you down.
‘The main things were keeping your tools sharp, keeping your claver sharp, and your spindles oiled, and this slide oiled here for easy working. [Tools] were sharpened at least once a day, sometimes perhaps two or three times a day. It all depends on your wood. If you were using fairly dry sycamore, that would blunt … much faster than if you were using, say, soft birch wood or something.’
Kevin Booth, Jack Iveson, Rose Arkle