The Richard Garrett Works or "Leiston Works", as it is locally referred to, dominates the history of the town of Leiston. Garrett's made steam tractors and cast metal products, they also produced ammunition in both World Wars. The company stopped production many years ago but there is now a museum tracing the history of the company and the town, the Long Shop Museum is a fascinating place for young and old. The museum contains static displays of steam road locomotives, vintage fire engines, local railway vehicles and farming implements.

eadt.jpg
Coming off shift, Garrett Works EADT


The Garrett Works at Leiston was established in 1778 by Richard Garrett, a bladesmith and gunsmith, Garretts grew to become one of the most famous engineering works in the country, and throughout the world where many of their products were exported. Richard Garrett III was in charge of the business by 1836. The first Garrett traction engines emerged from Leiston in 1857, and over the years they were to build innumerable traction engines, road rollers, road haulage tractors, steam wagons and showman's engines. A wide range of agricultural machinery was also made for the home market and for export. The firm became a limited company in 1897. At its peak, there was a workforce of over 2,000 and in 1913 a new works adjoining Leiston railway station was built to increase capacity.

Frank Garrett dominated the period from 1895 to 1919, which was the zenith of the firm. Output reached the highest ever levels, the population of the town of Leiston expanded rapidly (increase of 1000) with the growth of the works (from 900 to 1200). A loss of leadership which resulted in a weakening of the remaining family interest occurred at Garretts following the death of Frank Garrett in 1918. His son Stephen Garrett, who was inclined towards an investment in internal combustion engines, was killed in 1915. The author of The Garretts of Leiston, R.A.Whitehead summed up the position in which the surviving Garrett brothers found themselves as follows: it was;

"hedged by present difficulties and past sorrows and yet embraced the heady hope that the end of the
hostilities engendered. Their father had been dead scarcely more than two months at the time of the
Armistice and apart from their natural filial sorrow at his passing there was the gap in administration and
leadership which his death opened for although he had had Frank, Alfred and Stephen with him on the
board for a number of years and Victor for two years, there had never been any suggestion that ultimate
control and final decisions rested anywhere but in his firm and capable hands. Moreover, affectionate
though the relationship of father and sons was, none of the younger Garretts had felt it right or perhaps
needful, to come into conflict with their father's wishes. Indeed the only person who ever dared openly to
do battle with the old gentleman was the trusted old retainer Charles Remy, now sadly detached from his
former employers and associates and a broken man living in the ruined post-war Germany. Moreover the
capable and robust mind of Stephen, on whom the brothers had placed such high hopes, had been tragically
snatched from them. Coupled to these troubles as a natural consequence of their father's death, was the
personal task of settling his financial affairs and implementing his will whilst behind all was the total loss
of the moneys owing from Russia. The Garretts were a wealthy family but the loss of nearly two hundred
thousand pounds was a deprivation which was not to be borne without effort. The courses of action open to
the directors were threefold. They could have attempted to carry on the company as it was; they could have
turned it into a public company or they could have amalgamated it with or sold it out to another company
or companies".


Repudiation of foreign debts by the Russian government in 1919 precipitated a financial crisis and forced Garretts into a merger with eleven other firms, the consortium trading as ‘Agricultural and General Engineers’ with a headquarters at Aldwych House, London. The outcome was an amalgamation with thirteen other companies to form Agricultural and General Engineers Ltd. Garretts continued within this association and attemps made to diversify from traditional steam traction and agricultural engineering into electric (later motor) vehicles and machine tools, foundry castings and even washing machines were only partially successful. The last Garrett traction engine was built in 1931. On the 15th February 1932 the following notice was posted on the works gate.

"The works will close to-night until further notice. Wages to date will be paid tomorrow at 5.30 pm"

The company went into Receivership and the Garrett business was then purchased by Beyer, Peacock and Co Ltd of Gorton, Manchester. Further changes of ownership took place in 1976 and 1980; part of the Station Works remained active until 1985 when final closure took place after 200 years of existence. This was a seminal period of the industrial revolution in which Garretts played a key international role in the development of the ideas and applications of mass production. There was an exchange of ideas between Leiston and the Henry Ford Automobile Co. in Detroit and the Longshop housed one of the first British assembly lines.

After final closure the Town Works site was partially redeveloped for housing, the remainder forming the Long Shop Museum; the Station Works site is an industrial estate.


In the early 1900's Garrett's produced a steam-driven cinema projection system which toured local towns (this was essentially a mobile cinema). Such was the success that the operators eventually built a permanent base in Leiston High Street, the half timber framed Leiston Film Theatre still stands and operates as a cinema to this day, it is the oldest purpose built cinema in Suffolk.



Archives

Longshop Museum