Inside the Dark Satanic Mill: the McHenry Street works c1904

Eleven of the photos in the Lewis Album are taken inside a busy and cluttered workshop that I like to refer to (with apologies to William Blake) as "the dark Satanic mill". All types of activities are going on in here, involving bicycles, motorcycles and cars. A number of details in the photos - the activities at the various benches, the presence of the two cars - suggest that all eleven photos were taken around the same time, most likely on the same day. Most of the activities seem to be consistent with a date around 1904.

The workshop was located in McHenry St, Adelaide, quite close to the main Lewis building in Gawler Place. It's probably typical of a large number of buildings in the Adelaide central business district at the turn of the 20th century: built hard against existing stone and brick buildings largely from corrugated iron, with most likely a rammed earth floor, it's a remanent of an earlier age.

I have sketched out a floor plan of the building, and I will add this later when I've tidied it up a bit. To give me some language to describe the layout, I'm going to call the brick and stone wall (with the covered in archway) the "front" of the workshop, and T. P. O'Grady's area the "back". The roof is one of those sawtooth-style affairs, with four sets of pitched roofs and vertical windows. Because of this the light comes in from the left (when looking to the front) and the photographer has taken the majority of his shots looking to the right side of the workshop - we never get to see the left wall.

Let's start the tour at the front of the workshop, where bicycle frames are being erected at a cluttered bench. Note that the clutter extends upwards to the rafters, where we see what is surely the remains of one of Australia's most important early motor vehicles, the 1899 Lewis motor triplet. By now stripped of its motor (gone in 1900 to power the first Lewis car), it's a nice touch of history. No other photo of the motor triplet is known.

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The solid wall (arbitrarily the front wall) obviously belongs to a substantial building, or collection of buildings as it switches from brick to stone than then (not seen in this photo) back to brick. The men assembling bike frames are working at a double sided bench. Beyond them, in the front right corner of the building is the motorcycle workshop.

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The machines are discussed in detail elsewhere in the motorcycle section, but briefly we have a Kelecom-engined Lewis in the foreground, a c1901 American Mitchell motorcycle leaning against the bench on the right, and a Lewis Minerva under construction on the left. The man in the centre of the photograph is brazing up a bicycle frame, using a small hearth and a town-gas torch. Having taken this photo our photographer swung his camera to the left to complete the view of the front of the workshop with the following shot, which shows the other side of the bicycle frame assembly bench:

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In the left front corner of the workshop we are looking at what I suspect is an mezzanine floor, enclosed with timber paneling. It must have been difficult for the photographer to get the correct exposure for this shot as he pointed his camera towards the light flooding from one of the vertical roof windows. In the background, two workers are truing wheels at a bench. The cars are unidentified at this stage.

To set the context for the rest of the photos, let's send our photographer right down to the rear of the workshop (into Mr O'Grady's domain) to give us an overview of of the entire workshop looking towards the front wall:

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Those with an eagle eye will find their hearts racing at another glimpse of the motor triplet hanging high in the right background - not much more to make out here other than that the front handlebars were of the down-turned racing style. In the right foreground we see the flywheel of the gas engine that is driving the overhead shafting for the machinery. Three lathes, a vertical mill and a horizontal mill are laid out on the left side of the workshop, with miscellaneous metal finishing machines (grinders and polishers) to the right. The man in the centre of the photo operates a drill press, while the lad in the right mid-ground is using a small lathe with its headstock reversed - possibly to polish small parts. The two cars in the photos (one pointed across the shop in this photo, and another behind it shown in the previous photo) must have entered via a large door adjacent to the mezzanine, where light can be seen entering in the left background. The motorcycle shop is in the far right corner, and if we work our way down the right side wall we find men busy with metal finishing on brazed-up bicycle frames. This man is finishing a set of rear seat stays:

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while to the right of the door behind him (note the step down into the pit of the workshop) his co-workers attend to frames and front forks:

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Not a beer bottle by the door I hope. The solid stone wall with brick quoins constitutes the back wall of the right side the workshop, but the left side is actually deeper than the right, and houses T. P. O'Grady's area that we will see later. If the worker on the right of this photo were to extend his left arm, the fork that he is working on would bang into the shelf or cupboard (or even a water-cooling tank or radiator) that separates him from the gas engine.

Because of the lighting situation, our photographer has to back himself over against the left wall to take the remaining photos. In the first, George Hill is immortalised machining a component on his rather primitive lathe:

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The metal finishing in the previous photo is located in the corner behind George's head in this shot, and we get another view of the gas engine. Note the gas pipe running horizontally high on the stone wall, then vertically down to supply the engine.

If we follow the gas pipe to the right we come to O'Grady's domain:

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Here, according to George Brooks, TPO'G is pondering  what is possibly a 2 cylinder Talbot motor, while a 2 cylinder de Dion motor bares its workings on the floor. In the background the town gas supply can be seen branching down to the benches where, judging by the scorch marks on the wall, some welding has taken place. The worker on O'Grady's right elbow is fettling a smaller single cylinder motor. The car wheel is mounted in the rear-most of the three lathes.

In the next photo we get another view of this lathe, this time with Jack Carruthers at the helm machining what is obviously a freshly-cast de Dion crankcase:

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That Lewis were manufacturing their own copies of the de Dion motor gives an interesting insight into the fledgling Australian motor industry in 1904. The origin of the motors used in Lewis products is a recurring theme for Lewis historians - from these photos we see that Lewis could, and did, produce complete engines in their own workshop.

After boring the de Dion crankcase for the cylinder spigot, we see the main bearing journals being bored in the same lathe, and a better view of the other lathes and mills:

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The true enthusiast will be drawn to the phantom of the motor triplet lurking between the belting. Unfortunately a combination of depth-of-field and exposure means that no detail at all can be gleaned.

The vertical mill is located behind the horizontal mill in the shot above, and by the time the final "dark Satanic mill" photo is taken the de Dion crankcase (or is it another?) has moved on to have its cam bearing reamed. Again the machinist is Jack Carruthers:

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Yes there up high in the left background lies the object of all men's desire: the motor triplet. I wouldn't mind steering, or looking after the engine down the back, but I'll leave the middle seat for someone else.

The photographs here represent the last days of Lewis in this workshop. A short time later we see the same men operating the same machinery in a new workshop - the white garage - located behind the new Lewis Motor House on Victoria Square.

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