Based at their Atlas works in West Orchard, Coventry, Webster & Bennett were formed, originally as Webster and Howarth in 1887 and traded as general engineers. The formation of the Company coincided with a huge boom in the cycle trade, following the invention of the "safety" bicycle by Herbert Starley of Rover. As a result, to meet the demands of the new industry, manufacture of machine tools began this leading, in the early 1900s, to a variety of products for the motor trade including horizontal borers, automatic cam profile milling machines, bar-feed capstan lathes, multi-head drilling machines, vertical millers and, their eventual speciality, vertical boring and turning machines (VBTMs).
In effect a type of vertical capstan lathe, the turning and boring mill is especially suitable for machining heavy workpieces and was first brought into use during the late 1800s. Based on a very heavy main casting, a VBTM usually carries its cutting tools in a 5 or 6-station turret on the end of a slide that runs in vertical ways - the whole assembly able to be moved sideways on a horizontal side machined across the front face of the main casting. On some models the cross arm with its turret slide can also be moved vertically, as on the Webster & Bennett Types "E". Workpieces are carried on a rotating faceplate-cum-table, usually in the form a huge 3 or 4-jaw chuck that, also machined with T-slots, is able to mount a variety of work-holding clamps. The "boring" part of a VBTM refers to the fact that the tool-slide assembly can be replaced by a ram-type slotting head, the units being made easily interchangeable.
By the early 1900s Webster and Bennett had a range of VBTMs in production (using pentagonal turrets), including double-table, side-by-side models, with all versions being steadily developed over the following decades to become heavier, more rigid and powerful. By 1928 the Company had abandoned all other machine tools in favour of the VBTM, with the range in production at that point still looking very much like the original models - though now with the option was of factory-fitted (and retro-fit) built-on electric motors in place of drive by old-fashioned and restrictive overhead line shafting. Further improvements, into the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s again concentrated on greater weight-bearing capacity and, with improved rigidity, more powerful motors and quicker rates of tool feed, the ability to take advantage of new developments in cutting tool materials.
Early models, until WW2, were listed simple by their size and type, these covering standard models with single-and duplex tables from 20-inches to 48-inch and "High Power" versions from 30-inch to 48-inch. Finally, individual machines were named after their table size in feet e.g. the DH range consisted at one point of the DH3, DH5 and DH6 From the late 1930s, or just post-war, the machines were given model numbers including, at first, the D, DH then the M and EH, followed by the DCM (a double-column machine in 96, 120 and 144-inch sizes). While the D, DH and M had heads that could be moved side to side on a cross slide and vertically, the EH was so called because its head (or heads) was carried on a cross slide formed as a rail that could, like that on a planing machine, be moved vertically on ways machined into the front face of the column. While the elevating rail type allowed a great variety of jobs to be tackled it did, of course, involve some loss of rigidity.
Starting at some point in the 1970s production was rationalised around two types: the "R" and "S" - the former a "rationalised" design in sizes from 36 to 146-inch swing with single or double columns (and all equipped with an elevating rail) while the "S" was a special version advertised as being assembled to a customer's particular requirements and built up from a range of standard components.
From 1963 a number of Numerical Control (NC) models had been introduced, though at first these were not given specific designations (being developments of conventional types and built in small numbers to order), but eventually listed as, amongst others, the DCS, FRNC, ERNC and TC. Also offered, from the 1960s onwards, was the Type Q, a vertical turret lathe in two sizes, 54 and 72-inch.
Webster & Bennett D, DH, M and EH and DCM, R, S, FRNC, ERNC and TC