Harold Martin and his Wheels

Harold Stanley Martin (1905 – 1988) was born in South Shields, in the north-east of England. The picture at right was probably taken about the time he emigrated to New Zealand with his aunt at the age of 19. He appears in the photo to be spinning, though unfortunately the wheel is not visible.

The Beauchamp family of South Canterbury had a number of wheels made during the depression by the young engineer Harold Martin. An account of their spinning and weaving enterprise was published in The Web, June 1981 pp. 26-27. We do not know whether the two wheels pictured in the NZ Herald in 1933 (Heather Nicholson, The Loving Stitch p. 111) were made by Martin but they look cruder than the wheels of his we are familiar with. Perhaps they were his very early efforts, or copies by someone else.

Dorothea Turner owned one of his wheels which she remembered had been given to her by her mother, but she knew only that it had come from “down south”. “If only it could talk, what tales it would tell” she said. Perrine Moncrieff had one too, and is shown with it in Spin a Yarn, Weave a Dream on p. 74 in a 1957 photograph. (I have read somewhere that Mrs Moncrieff’s wheel was painted red – can anybody confirm this?)

Mr Martin’s daughter recalls that there were always spinning wheels and looms around when she was a child in Christchurch, and her father taught her to spin and weave. He was a tool- and die-maker by trade and loved making things with his hands. He obtained wood from farms and made beautiful clocks and furniture, and at least one spinning wheel (left) which is quite different from the functional little workhorses. Its treadle has the same 3 scallops at the back edge as his little wheels (compare the pictures at right).

Aileen Stace of the Eastbourne Spinners wrote in 1962 “Those Martin wheels that we called the Iron Horse are jolly good spinners tho ugly.” Many people, however, find that their simple functionality has its own beauty. A receipt dated 1942 is for a wheel costing 4 pounds 5 shillings, with an extra 15 shillings for carders and 5 shillings for two extra bobbins. It is headed “H.S. Martin, Designer and Manufacturer of HAND SPINNING AND WEAVING EQUIPMENT” and mentions also that he made a “Full Range of Looms and Accessories for Schools and Private Use.” Late in his life he was apparently working on a new loom design but it is not known what happened to this.

He was a skilled spinner and weaver, as shown by this well-worn but still very striking floor rug which he spun and wove. The photograph of him at left was taken in the 1980s.

I am very grateful to his daughter Alison Davis for sharing her photographs and memories.