By Julius de Waal

Photo: Norbert  Schnitzler

Ransomes, Sims and Jeffries Limited was a major British agricultural machinery maker also producing a wide range of general engineering products including traction engines. The 4NHP Compound Tractor  was a successful light steam tractor in the early decades of the 20th Century. A number are preserved.

The enterprise was started by Robert Ransome in 1789 when he started casting plough shares in a disused malting at St Margaret's Ditches, Ipswich. As a result of an accident in the foundry, a broken mould caused molten metal to come into contact with cold metal, making the metal surface extremely hard - what we now know as ‘chilled casting’. He advertised his 'self sharpening' ploughs, and received patents for his discovery.

In 1809 Robert Ransome made his eldest son, James Ransome, his partner and they called themselves Ransome & Son. In 1826 James' son known as Allen went to live at Yoxford, Suffolk, where he established a branch of the business. In 1839 Allen Ransome moved from Yoxford to Ipswich and under his direction the firm of J, R & A Ransome (James, Robert and Allen Ransome) was to become a real force. Manufacture of ploughing and other agricultural machinery was expanded to include portable, traction and other steam engines and thrashing machines. In 1851 export trade was initiated which by the early 20th century was more important than the home market.

An independent factory was set up for the manufacture of lawn mowers. Ransomes produced the 'Automaton' hand-powered lawn mower in 1867. In 1902 it produced the first commercially available powered lawn mower, driven by an gasolene engine. In the First World War, they manufactured 350 Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2 fighters.

In the 1950s Ransomes started producing forklifts and other materials handling equipment.

In the early 1980s Ransomes sold their forklift business to Hawkins Mechanical Handling, and in 1989 the whole of the agricultural implement business was sold to Electrolux and merged with their subsidiary, Överum.

That left Ransomes solely as a manufacturer of lawn mowers, with the Ransomes, Westwood and Mountfield mower brands. That was taken over  by Textron Inc., USA in 1998. Westwood and Mountfield were later sold in a management buyout.

Click on drawings to download - for personal use only.

Part one here. Part two  Part three  Part four  Part five  Part six