Exercise 5 — The curator

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Read the following text about a curator and decide what verb forms should be used in gaps 1-10.

The Curator

Who doesn’t enjoy the quirks of an independent museum? They alone celebrate aspects of life that other institutions may choose to pass over. This series asks curators of the UK’s most unusual galleries and collections to share their highlights and take you on a private tour, and perhaps persuade you to visit in person ...

Ray Rushton
London Sewing Machine Museum


„My father used to carry them back from Elephant and Castle with a length of rope,” says Ray Rushton.” Two round his neck, two in his hands, to the council house we had in South Wimbledon. „We’re talking sewing machines. „I’d go with him and struggled with two, I was only about ten. Over weeks the front room filled up, then he got a shop for Ł2.50 a week, that was the start of it.”

Seventy years later, ’it’ .......... (1. grow) into the Wimbledon Sewing Machine Co Ltd, dispatching machines across the globe, including 36 models of its own industrial brand, Wimsew. Ray was a smart kid, went to a ’decent’ school, thanks to scholarships, and .......... (2. expect) to go to university. Except, he says, „I didn’t want to go on with education, I wanted to go into sewing machines. I was in the shop after school, Saturdays, Sundays, in the house in the evenings, painting stands, polishing.” He still has the letter from his old headmaster .......... (3. say) he accepted Ray’s heart wasn’t in studying and allowing him to leave.

We’re standing chatting at the counter on the ground floor, .......... (4. flank) by machinery. What we’ve come to see, however, .......... (5. lay out) in gleaming cabinets and on polished treadle tables upstairs: more than 600 vintage sewing machines comprising the London Sewing Machine Museum.

„At the turn of the (20th) century, there were about 600 makers worldwide, says Ray. „All trying to get on the bandwagon, but Singer came through with a basic good machine. People still buy Singers, made in the 1920s/30s, and the quality is so good they’ll still be running in 50 years time. I .......... (6. never see) a real bad quality Singer.”

Ray’s personal favourite isn’t a Singer but an intricately carved and etched affair, with spools of old ivory. „There is only one of them in the world.” he explains. „It was made for Queen Victoria, but she gave it to her eldest daughter, Vicky. She married into the German family, it went round the German palaces and finished up on the Isle of Wight. In 1938 it was given to the nanny, who lived in Staines. „When the late nanny’s family took it to Christie’s in 1997, Ray stopped by with Ł23,500 and made it what was then the most world’s expensive sewing machine.

That was before the Thimonnier came to market. „You only get one chance in the world for something like that,” says Ray. Made by Barthélemy Thimonnier in 1839, there’s a reason it doesn’t actually look like a sewing machine: as the first production model in history, it predates the layout familiar to us today by a couple of decades. Indeed, .......... (7. get) this far almost cost the inventor his life. At a time when people didn’t believe it was possible to make a machine that could sew, horror-struck tailors responded to the apparent threat to their livelihood by setting fire to the factory with Thimmonier inside. The model was fairly costly for Ray, too: „We heard they’d turned down Ł40,000, so I said to my son, ’See what they want’. He said „They want around Ł50,000”. Which they got, and which remains the world record.

Not that it’s all about big spending. The majority of the museum’s artefacts .......... (8. assemble) in a fashion altogether closer to how Ray’s father, Thomas, started out. In 1947, a friend of the family, Mrs Harris, wanted a machine, and Thomas offered to pick up one from the local market. She wasn’t happy with it .......... (9. have) a handle on the front, says Ray, so „To get rid of it he put an advert in the Borough News and had about 20 or 30 enquiries. Then he went back down the market to see if he could find one with the handle on the side, came back with two. She had one, they put the other in the paper, same thing. He cottoned onto the idea that it might be a good thing ...”

Which is where we came in, father and son seeking treasure in the markets, a handcart and bicycle soon replacing lengths of rope as transportation.” We’d strip every part, .......... (10. the frame re-enamel), rebuild them, put them in a new cover and base, and out they’d go. If you wanted a new Singer in 1950, you’d wait six months, so the secondhand market was good.”

Ray recalls how, when his father’s original shop in Merton took off, „We used to get a lot of rag and bone totters bringing machines in.” Many of their wares are in the collection, none more striking than a 1904 sewing machine hidden inside the statue of a lion. „This totter came up one lunchtime. He said ’I’ve got this machine outside’. I said ’We don’t want it’. He said ’I’ve come all the way from Mitcham, all up Wimbledon Hill, the horse is tired, I’m drenched’. As he walked out, I thought, ’I’m wrong here, and said, ’I’ll come out and have a look. It was the Lion of England, absolutely unique. I asked him what he wanted, he said seven pound, I paid him and he went off happy.”

One final question for the man who reckons he personally stripped 80 % of the machines in this compelling link to a bygone age. Do you enjoy using sewing machines yourself? „No. I can strip them and rebuild them, but to make anything? Definitely a no-no. I’m not arty.

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