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At Tim Hunkin’s Workshop

July 20, 2020
by the gentle author

Tim Hunkin’s NOVELTY AUTOMATION is reopening on Saturdays 11-6pm

Tim Hunkin at work on his Small Hadron Collider

Engineer & Cartoonist Tim Hunkin’s workshop sits in a remote spot beside the estuary of the river Blythe in Suffolk. A bumpy ride in Tim’s van along the pot-holed track only served to heighten my expectation as we arrived at the water’s edge, where a vast expanse of mud stretched to the horizon reflecting the dramatic East Anglian sky.

A statue of Michael Faraday, parked beside an enormous clock face, a hen coop and a giant pocket calculator, welcomes you the world of Tim Hunkin. Since 1976, Tim has lived here in a cottage at the end of a long brick farmhouse and worked in a series of venerable black weatherboarded sheds. “Back then, The Observer agreed to pay my train fare to London once a fortnight,” he explained, “and that meant I was able to leave London and come to live out here.”

For decades, Tim contributed his Rudiments of Wisdom cartoon strip to the Sunday magazine, but gradually the slot machines took over and now he has two arcades of them – The Under the Pier Show in Southwold and Novelty Automation in Holborn.

It was a humbling experience to enter the lair of the great inventor and observe him at work. All around were fragments of mechanical devices and intriguing pieces of junk that might one day contribute to one of his creations. Over nearly forty years, Tim has got everything nicely organised, with a wood workshop, a metal workshop, an engineering shop, all kinds of machines, and vast stocks of timber, metal and other stuff.

In spite of the apparent chaos, it is obvious that Tim knows where everything is and can lay his hand upon anything he might require at a moment’s notice. “I’m happiest when I am here in my workshop,” he confided to me and I was startled by the beauty of this unlikely factory, surrounded by trees coming into blossom and all the lush plant growth of summer.

Whenever Tim finds himself at a loose end or in need of inspiration, he jumps into his old van, negotiates the bumpy track and drives over to enjoy the laughter of visitors at his arcade on the pier at Southwold. I had the privilege of accompanying him that day and we met some of Tim’s fans. Most remarkable to me was the woman who took a break from walking her dogs to enjoy the dog-walking machine while her patient husband stood holding the leads. Dumbstruck with wonder, I stood contemplating the profound implication of this curious spectacle.

This woman loved walking her dogs so much that she could not resist Tim’s dog-walking machine which offered a virtual experience of equal or superior quality to actual dog-walking. It was the perfect metaphor of our paradoxical relationship with technology and a personal triumph for Tim.

To the Amusements

Tim solves a problem in Quantum Dynamics on his laptop

Tim searches for a screw

Tim demonstrates his metal pressing machine from Clerkenwell

Tim enjoys a thoughtful moment outside his workshop on the estuary of the river Blythe

At Southwold Pier

A woman takes a break from dog walking

Tim’s water clock

Southwold seen from the pier

NOVELTY AUTOMATION is at 1a Princeton St, Bloomsbury, WC1. 

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Tim Hunkin, Cartoonist & Engineer

13 Responses leave one →
  1. July 20, 2020

    I love your blog. We came across it during the early days of lockdown. Our son lives in / on London Fields and I passed on your blog to him. He recognised some of the dogs and their walkers.
    I am writing to ask if I may please add the link of your episode about Tim Hunkin to our holiday cottage website? Our visitors love his amusements.
    With best wishes
    , Judith Chestnutt

  2. July 20, 2020

    I loved this story! Thank you. ?

  3. Rebekah Bristow permalink
    July 20, 2020

    Thanks for the unexpected pictures of Southwold. I’ve missed being there this year so it was lovely to see it pop up and remind me of happy days.

  4. Paul Wavell Ridgway permalink
    July 20, 2020

    How did Michael Faraday come to be here?
    Where did he come from?

  5. Leana Pooley permalink
    July 20, 2020

    This lovely piece brought back happy memories of when my son Gulliver, now aged 42, was small. His favourite television programme was Timothy Hunkin’s How Machines Work. It was so fascinating and such fun. The end was always terrific – a vast pile of tellies exploding. I may be being fanciful but I think the huge conflagration was filmed in that very orchard outside his several workshops.

  6. Richard Smith permalink
    July 20, 2020

    Simply wanted to say how much I enjoyed today’s blog. Thank you GA.

  7. paul loften permalink
    July 20, 2020

    Brilliant ! I wish I had room for even a very tiny particle collider in my workshop I would throw it all in and it could help clear up the mess. I could do with a black hole

  8. July 20, 2020

    Dear G.A., on October 15, 2019, you published another Tim Hunkin machine, “The fulfilment center machine”. I sent all my London friends to see it. It was a great success. Please tell Mr. Hunkin that his machines are great. And that I envy him for living where he does. Thank you.

  9. marilyn permalink
    July 20, 2020

    So glad you’ve done a story about him. My afternoon at the novelty automaton was one of the best afternoons I’ve spent in London

  10. July 20, 2020

    This is Amazing!! Thank You Very Much!!???????

  11. July 21, 2020

    The arcade is brilliant! I hope that I get to visit it again someday.

  12. Alan Billing permalink
    July 21, 2020

    Thanks for the interesting story. I live in Toronto, Canada, and this got me to look at my photos of my one visit to Southwold, back on 14 April 2004. My photo of the Punch and Judy show has a man standing beside it who looks somewhat like Tim. Could it be him? I don’t know, but I will be happy to send a copy, should you be interested.

  13. July 22, 2020

    A fine Place of Creativity!

    Love & Peace

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