Ron Shearman (1924-2016) of Marton in the North Island, began his career as a chairmaker and then a cabinetmaker. Later he became a teacher of woodwork, engineering and technical drawing. He made his first spinning wheel around 1970 from a pattern in Popular Mechanics. This started an interest in different types of wheels, and he made a number in various styles, each one different. Even the bobbins of these early wheels are not usually interchangeable. Here are two: on the left, an upright –
and on the right, a saxony he called the Armagh wheel, after the street in Marton that he and his wife Sheila lived in. Typically, his own name isn’t on the label.
He made the one below for Sheila, quite similar to the above but different in some ways: some turnings, the profile of the drive wheel, the metal bindings at the ends of the treadle bar, and the charming triangular kate.
Until the 1990s, as far as we know he had made only one-off wheels, each one a separate project. But in 1991 he was contacted by Gloria Eatwell, a highly skilled spinner of fine yarns. She had in her mind a wheel that she wanted, and she was looking for a craftsman who could interpret her ideas: versatility (double drive and scotch tension, fine and bulky yarn), multiple ratios, easy bobbin change, quiet running and effortless treadling. “A series of meetings, experiments, arguments, modifications and mad spinning sessions followed until, at prototype No. 5, they were pleased with the outcome.”
She did get her “perfect” wheel eventually, and here it is –
The general style of the earlier uprights continued as the basis of the new wheels. Those like the one above were called the Westminster, which has finials: extra pieces of turned wood inside the rim of the wheel between the spokes. Finials are not purely for decoration; many people think the extra mass of the rim of the wheel helps to preserve the momentum and make spinning for long periods less tiring.
The same wheel without the finials was called the Regent.
New features in the Westminster and Regent wheels include multiple grooves on the whorl, and a lot of attention has been paid to tension adjustment. There are now actually two separate tension systems. The main one is by raising and lowering the mother-of-all, which is screwed up or down at both ends (to keep it level) by two beautifully crafted wood screws.The fine tension adjustment works by tilting the flyer assembly, and is controlled by a wooden knob on the end of a metal screw.
Even after this, there are still small differences between Shearman wheels; for example the main tension “screw” at the top is just a handle on the Regent shown above. He clearly loved to try new ideas. But all his wheels show fine craftsmanship and great attention to detail.
A personal memory of Ron Shearman is here:
and this is informative:
Maureen Bird “The Westminster and Regent spinning wheels” The Web 24.4, November 1993 pp.27 and 54.