Founded in 1862 and, as with so many Companies based in the Halifax area, Butler's expertise in machine tools had grown from previous experience in manufacturing looms for the textile trade - of which Halifax was an important centre. Over many decades the Company made a wide variety of machine tools including ordinary and giant facing lathes, vertical turning and boring machines, slab millers, and drills. Even so, an extract from the 1942 obituary of Mr Harold Butler (son of the Company's founder) and the then chairman and managing director of the Company, sums up neatly the Company's standing and specialist interest for which they were to become so well known: "The policy adopted by the company was to concentrate on the construction of machines of the reciprocating type: planers, shapers, and slotters; and a high degree of excellence, both in design and in workmanship was attained. It would, in fact, be difficult to find a more impressive machine than a Butler electrically controlled planer, which for smoothness of action, volume of output, and ease of control is an outstanding example of the machine tool maker's art."
Today, as Asquith Butler, the Company continues to work in the field of large machine tools and their repair and servicing.
Butler lathes are rare; most would have been built by the end of WW1 in 1918, the Company then concentrated on their very successful shapers, planers and vertical borers. So far, the writer has managed to find only two examples of early Butler lathes - if you can add to the total, please do let me know.
During the 1960s and 1970s, when Butler was owned by the Elliott Group, a variety of lathes imported from eastern Europe were badged as the Butler 460, 550, 560 and 57 and Elliott Omnispeed, Omnitool and Omniturn. These large and powerful lathes were sold at a competitive price and proved very popular - but had nothing to do with the "real" UK Company.
The first example of a vintage Butler lathe shown below - resident in New Zealand - is typical of its type, a heavy industrial class with an all-geared headstock, a Norton quick-change screwcutting feeds gearbox, power sliding and surfacing feeds driven by a separate power shaft and taper turning. As what appears to be the original electric motor is dated 1926, this is likely to have been the year of the lathe's construction. Being a relatively large workshop lathe, the screwcutting gearbox, when fitted with the standard set of changewheels, was restricted to the usual rather less generous selection of pitches. However, in this case, the number and range were both unusually small and ranged from just 2 to 8 t.p.i. This is further complicated by a circa 1917 brochure listing 2 to 64 t.p.i. - a possible explanation is that supplied with the lathe was a set of extra changewheels to extend the range of the box. Even so, some of the pitches listed were rather odd; what use, one wonders, could there have been for 23/8, 27/8 and 53/4 t.p.i.?
Spindle speeds, from 9 to a maximum of just 290 r.p.m., were similarly restricted, but did reflect the state of contemporary cutting tools. The spindle-speed chart did list the drive pulley size fitted, so there might well have been the option of several faster ranges as well.
The lathe was well specified: a spindle clutch appears to have been fitted along with a taper-turning unit; the power sliding and surfacing feeds were fitted with screw-in clutches and the equal-length saddle wings each had a T-slot for use as a boring table.
It has been pointed out by an enthusiastic owner of a Butler lathe, that some models by the company are identical to those by the American concern Lodge and Shipley leading to a conclusion that there must have been an arrangement between them. Interestingly, James Ryder Butler and William Lodge were both born in Yorkshire in the 1840s and served their time there. They must have known each other and co-operated.