- A feature from the September 2017 issue of Suffolk Norfolk Life magazine
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By Susie Kearley
The Long Shop Museum in Leiston, Suffolk, explores the history of the town’s biggest 19th century employer, Richard Garrett & Sons, and the people who worked there. The enterprise grew from modest beginnings making hand tools in 1778, and expanded into making heavy machinery, eventually employing around 2500 people.
We met an elderly gentleman who worked there as a lad, and so did his dad! The Long Shop itself, constructed in 1852, was the first ‘production line’ factory for making heavy machinery and tools. They made steam engines and other steam-powered machines, as well as a wide variety of industrial machinery including ovens, portable saw benches, agricultural equipment, and commercial dry cleaners. The factory traded for just over 200 years, eventually closing in 1981.
Walking through the galleries, you can read about the staff, the apprenticeship schemes, pay day, and the unions. New apprentices signed up to a six-year training scheme, and many went on to work there for life.
During the First World War, the factory made shells and by winter 1915, they were running double shifts, seven days a week, producing 7000 12lb shell cases every week.
The War had a devastating effect on the Garrett family and their factory. Many of the men who had worked there were killed in action. Stephen Garrett was killed in 1915 and Frank Garrett Junior sustained such severe trauma that he had a breakdown and was sent home, exempt from duty, because of ill health.
The factory’s chief product designer was a German citizen who had to leave the UK, never to return, and by the end of the war, Frank Garrett Senior had died too.
After the war, economic depression hit the business badly and the Garretts never really recovered from the war financially. The family business folded in 1932 and Beyer Peacock took the enterprise over. They kept the Garrett name and ran the business for another 44 years. Then in 1976, NCI of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, bought Beyer Peacock. They closed the factory in Leiston in 1981.