The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents


Alfred Mellows' Holbrook Lathe
A working 1/6 scale Holbrook Model C Lathe built by a precision engineer

Click on any image for a larger view    page added Jan 2019
  “The Cutting Edge of the civilized mind is the hand of the craftsman.”
—Dr. Bronowski

The above quote was mounted to the wall of the home workshop of Alfred R. Mellows of Romford, England. It gives us a clue into the thoughts of a man who devoted a good part of his life to the building of a model of a lathe produced by the factory where he worked as an apprentice machinist from 1939 to 1943.

Over the years we have featured craftsmen like Wilhelm Huxhold, Al Osterman, Barry Jordan, and others who have modeled fine miniature examples of machine tools in miniature. We recently became aware of a masterpiece produced in England over a long period of time by Mr. Mellows. His project, a working 1/6 scale model of a Holbrook Model C lathe, was completed in 2003, just weeks before he passed away. We received photos and a description from his son Malcolm and immediately could see that this project was a great tribute to a master craftsman that lives on to exhibit the skills attained in a lifetime of precision work. It has won prizes at model engineering contests and was featured in articles published by Model Engineer’s Workshop magazine.

Full size Vs Miniature
On the left is a photo of a well-used full-size Holbrook Model C lathe, while on the right is an image of Alfred Mellows’ 1/6 scale model. Calipers, pen and wristwatch are the only clues that the lathe is a miniature that duplicates all the functions of the full-sized lathe.

Here is the list of technical features of the miniature Holbrook Model C lathe written by Mr. Mellows.

The cover of Model Engineer’s Workshop #44 from August/September 1997 features Mr. Mellows’ lathe. An update was also provided in issue #54, Dec’98/Jan ’99.

A rear view of the lathe. Note the multi-pin electrical connection socket near the lower right-hand corner. This is where the separate relay box connects.

The nearly completed model won a silver award in 2000 at the Model Engineer Exhibition, losing out to first place due to a minor technicality.

The headstock, bed, and tailstock are seen in more detail in these three images.

Rather than just have a box to house all the necessary relays and wiring required to make the lathe operate, Mr. Mellows designed a case that resembles a metal shop cabinet that would be appropriate next to the machine. A cable runs to the multi-pin connector on the back of the lathe.


Mr. Mellows also built a sturdy transport case to protect the lathe during travel to shows.

An electrical diagram shows the lathes circuits.


A young Alfred Mellows

Alfred Robert “Bob” Mellows - Precision Engineer


Biography by Malcolm Mellows


The photograph of Bob Mellows was taken during his service at the De-Havilland aircraft Co., in the late 1940's to mid-1950's at the time when the idea for the model was first conceived. Having shown an aptitude for engineering, in his teen years he was granted an apprenticeship at the Holbrook Machine Tool Co, which was located near to his home in London.


At the outbreak of World War Two, he volunteered for service in engineering with the Royal Navy, but was turned down, having been told that it was better to finish his apprenticeship first, then come back and re-apply to the military when qualified. Having completed his training as instructed, he returned to volunteer again, only to be told that the services no longer required so many engineers, and that he would better serve in industry. With that he was sent to the De-Havilland aircraft manufacturing plant, as that was also in London and within easy travelling distance of home. (Subject of course to the train not being hit by a German bomb, which was not impossible at the time ). Strangely enough, Goering, the head of the German Luftwaffe, was so worried about the awesome De-Havilland Mosquito fighter bomber, for which he had no equivalent, that maybe Dad did better service at DH than had he joined the forces.


Whilst working, he decided in his free time to make a small model of a Holbrook lathe, but was teased by his workmates because it was of no use as it did not function. With that, he took up the challenge and resolved to make a fully working scale model, which would be as if the real thing had been shrunk to a small scale, and decided that he would complete it however long it took him. In fact it took him the rest of his busy life to complete, working whenever he could. 


On leaving De-Havilland in the mid 1950's, Dad worked for a variety of engineering firms, but was often consulted by a previous employer and asked to return and solve a machinery problem that could not be rectified by their current engineers. He was much admired and respected for his expertise, and his right arm and instinct was trusted more than a proper torque wrench.


His work on his own cars was something else. He would dispute the machined tolerances on factory fitted mechanical parts, and re-work them to his own satisfaction.


In retirement, he decided that the completion of his model would be his motivation to "get up on the morning, “and keep his mind active. He converted his garage into a workshop, bought himself a small lathe, plus a modelers' size vertical drilling machine, and various other gadgets, and set about finishing his model. Ironically, and tragically, he completed work just a few short weeks before he passed away in 2003, after telling me that all he had to do was make a few connections here and there.


During the latter years, Model Engineers' Workshop magazine followed the final build stages with articles in several issues, after having seen it at the model engineering exhibitions.


For myself as his only son, and inheritor of this unusual piece, I regret that I did not know much about the model, and what were Dad's intentions for it on completion, having myself not followed in his footsteps in engineering, and so I suppose my Dad assumed that I was not too interested, so he did not confide details to me to any great extent, much to my regret now.

—Malcolm Mellows

Alfred Mellows is seen later in life with his two grandchildren

Alfred Mellows’ son Malcolm looks over the details of his father’s masterpiece


A silver plated beer tankard award by a local college for helping and advising students in his retirement.

The inscription reads

Havering College
Mechanical Engineering Award
Alfred Mellows, 1991-92

Mr. Mellows original indenture agreement from 1939 with the Holbrook Tool Company. It is an interesting document reflecting a different era in employer / employee relationship.



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