Long forgotten, and with just a handful of known examples (in Australia, South Africa and one in the magnificent Museum of Making in Calgary, Canada) the history of the Pitt's Yorkshire Machine Company must remain, for the moment, a mystery. However, known to have been based in one of the centres of 19th century machine tool production, Cleckheaton near Liversedge, in Yorkshire, "Pitt's" produced lathes absolutely typical of the era, from simple treadle-powered plain-turning models to medium-sized, backgeared and screwcutting types typical of the late 1800s. As was often the case with lesser-known manufacturers, their products were often re-branded by larger agents and distributors for sale under their own or other names - the example residing in the U.S.A. having the cast-in letters chiselled off the bed and painted over. When stripped and cleaned, the truth was revealed.
With a 6-inch centre height and admitting anything between 36 and 54 inches between centres, the Pitt's had a rather slender, typically English-pattern, flat-topped bed with 60-degree sides. In the days of carbon-steel tools, rigidity was not as great a concern as it became in later years and the bed, especially if equipped with the optional very deep, removable gap piece to weaken it, would not have been especially stiff. The headstock spindle with a 1 ¾" x 6 t.p.i thread on its nose, ran in bronze bearings - of parallel bore but tapered on their outside for adjustment - with the spindle end thrust taken on a remote bar to the left. However, in the case of heavier Pitt's models this unit, instead of being supported on posts, was cast (unusually) as an integral part of the headstock - a most distinctive recognition point for the maker. The backgear assembly was heavily constructed - and the 3-step cone pulley a little wider than normal for the size of lathe.
Power sliding and surfacing feed were fitted, drive to the cross-feed screw being by an exposed gear on the face of the apron - a system also widely employed at the time on German Weisser lathes. Two designs power-cross feed appear to have been used: an earlier type with the gear crudely and dangerously exposed on the end of the cross-feed screw and a later, improved arrangement, where the second part of the drive was enclosed and the cross-feed gear mounted inboard of the operating handle.
Screwcutting employed a 2 t.p.i. leadscrew driven by changewheels though an externally-mounted tumble-reverse mechanism.
With awkward-to-operate crank handles, the compound slide rest also lacked micrometer dials - as did most of those from competing makers, their widespread use being a development of later years.
Now, in case you think that an antique lathe from an obscure maker could not possibly be the start of a £100 million-turnover company, think again. In 1970, an engineer in the Netherlands bough a sound but ancient Pitt's, refurbished it and fitted a number of quick-action controls to turn it into a simple production lathe. Helped by his son and daughter, the lathe turned out thousands of parts and, even when CNC machines were bought and installed, the brother and sister could still, on occasion, beat them at their computer-controlled game. The lathe is to be retired to Italy, where it will continue to work, turning out furniture.
If you have a Pitt's lathe - or other machine tool by the Company - the writer would be very interested to hear from you..