Born in 1786*, John Muckle is known to have made a number of lathes in the early decades of the 19th century. Of ingenious design, utterly beautiful construction and exhibiting the finest possible detailed workmanship (indeed, as fine as a top-class scientific instrument maker), the lathe shown below survives complete with almost all its original equipment. With his machine tools inscribed Jno. Muckle (Jno. being a contemporary abbreviation for John) Muckle has been recorded as living at his works address in Monkwell Street, Cripplegate in London from 1805 onwards; he remained there until his death in 1856.
Made in cast iron, the headstock and tailstock are especially well finished, particularly the former, where some sort of blackening or blueing process was used that, despite the rigors of neglect, reappeared in its original slightly streaky finish when cleaned. Other components appear to have been made in a grade of hard steel - or even case hardened - and all finished so as to give very close fits.
One important part of the Muckle lathe design is the rocking headstock: a pointed and hardened screw, with an octagonal head, passing through the left-hand face of the bed and having the effect, when screwed in, of forcing the headstock forward so that another hardened screw point, set opposite and held in the front of the headstock casting, is pushed into a recess formed in a metal plate secured firmly in the lathe bed. The effect is to lift the headstock off its seating and allow it to rock backwards and forward under the control of a rosette cam or, alternatively, a geared eccentric mechanism with an adjustable throw that gives a waved effect to turned work. Of course, for ordinary turning when the headstock needs to be bolted down, the left-hand screw is slackened (or to save time, a thin brass plate slid under the head to take up the gap) and a large long-headed bolt tightened from underneath. The use of rocking headstocks was established on rose engines from their earliest days, though usually these machines were of very elaborate construction while this lathe, though of the highest quality, uses a somewhat simpler design. Rather than the more commonly used method, where the operator can choose between many rosettes mounted side-by-side on the headstock, the Muckle employs a system whereby the rosettes are detachable.
Set horizontally on the left-hand face of the stand is a dovetailed steel plate that would allow something to be slid on and secured - but what exactly is unknown, though it's possible that it may have carried a quickly detachable, single-standard overhead drive system as introduced early in the 19th century to power toolpost-mounted grinding and cutter-holding spindles. As a matter of interest, a Muckle lathe is illustrated as an example of this system in Holtzapffel's book and is also described in the 1816 book The Turners' Manual (by P. Hamelin-Bergeron) as a new system lately arrived from England. However, this particular lathe shows no evidence that such a device was ever fitted. At the front and back the lathe bed and also on inside face of the tool tray's rear upright are other screwed-on dovetailed plates of the same kind - all obviously intended to allow various accessories slipped on and off at will and all arranged so as to be in line with the headstock.
If you have a Muckle lathe, the writer would be delighted to hear from you.
For more on ornamental turning lathes see the web site of the Society of Ornamental Turners
*The son of David Muckle, a sea Captain, John Muckle was born in Liverpool but baptised in London, in the church of St. George in the East, in Stepney, when he was 17 days old, on 25th October, 1786. Details of his early days and training are lost but, his work being of such high quality, he must have served an apprentice with a London-based tool or instrument maker. He married a Catherine Gardiner in Old Church St. Pancras on 16th April 1804 (when Catherine was about five months pregnant). Because their daughter was not christened until she was over a year old, it is likely that the family were not in settled accommodation during that time. Finally, a home was established at No. 2 (or 2/2), Monkswell Street in 1805, an address where John was to remain until his death at the age of 70. He was buried in Kensal Green on 22 December, 1856.
At least four of John and Catherine's children are listed in the pre-1813 parish records of St Giles Cripplegate, with six more by 1827 (some of the off-springs' addresses being given as 3, Monkswell)..