by alan

Machines in the North East – 1988

June 14, 2018 in Articles, Machinery

Qualcast Suffolk Punch 35S and the cheapest price in the North East

This month our search for machinery takes us to the north-east of the UK, to be more precise it’s to a now defunct chain of home improvement stores by the name of Dickens. By all accounts Dickens was a fantastic place to shop. They said that they had ‘…the biggest, the cheapest and the widest range of mowers in the world…’. They also had tillers, rotavators, lawn rakes etc and there’s a very short video clip at the bottom of this article – can you name any of the machines?

It can sometimes be a mystery as to who sold which machine, take any vintage machine and if really lucky a search of the chassis or tin-work may perhaps result in finding a dealership sticker, generally it may be a local mower shop or an agricultural supplier. These details are helpful in determining where a machine originated from or at least the point where the transaction was logged. We are aware that there’s garden equipment and machines from the 1970’s and 80’s finding their way into collectors hands, yet these machines may not have originated from that trusty local lawn mower dealer or from an agricultural supplier, these 1970’s and 80’s machines may simply have been picked up from the local DIY store or catalogue company, think B&Q, Argos, Woolworths and even Green Shield Stamps.

This takes us onto Dickens home improvement stores, they were like an independent B&Q and actually were eventually bought out by B&Q. Dickens advert shown below from April 1988 at the start of the mowing season to attract the spending public shows a vast range of electric and petrol mowers and strimmers too. Who knew there were so many different models on sale at this time? A transcript of this model list and prices will be at the bottom of this article for perusal. Or click this link to see a larger image of the advert.

Dickens Home Improvement Hypermarket Advert 1988

Briefly, there is a huge range of electric mowers. What’s the difference between the Qualcast Concorde RE25X and the RE30X apart from £10.00 ? Or the Flymo Sprinter E25 and E30 ? A brochure would be mighty helpful!

Of note is the advert showing there is a petrol Flymo Strimmer Weedeater 1400 and also a 1700 model – potentially a rare machine now as many may have expired through the last 30 years. The price then was £114.99 which is equivalent to some £308.00 today so a hefty investment for a homeowner.

Mountfield have some mowers and all with the 3.5hp Tecumseh engine. Mountfield were mentioned in a previous article where some machines were made until 1982 in a factory in Luxembourg (article here) but where these would have been made is unknown. Business-wise there is a connection between Mountfield and Norlett of Belgium; then Qualcast bought Norlett, and further Qualcast/Flymo at the time had a production plant at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham not far from Dickens. It’s all very complicated and tenuous – but with Dickens saying they had ”…the biggest, the cheapest and the widest range of mowers in the world…’ it makes one wonder if they were mostly sourced from the nearest factories at a bargain price perhaps? 

There isn’t a Mountfield electric mower in the bottom right corner of Dickens advert, they may not have been manufacturing them at the time, but their petrol mowers show that the price nearly doubles between the Mountfield Emblem 15″ and the 16″ self propelled with electric start, both with a 3.5hp Tecumseh engine – would that be a premium product at the time? 

There also happens to be a brilliant Youtube video for a 1976 Dickens television advert. This advert briefly shows machines on display in their garden centre with a tiller, rotavator and mowers at about 50 seconds.

Can anyone name the machines being shown in the video below?

Is that a Norlett Beaver Powaspade in gold and white? (see above comment re:Norlett/Flymo/Qualcast) 

The machines in the printed 1988 advert with prices:

Black & Decker RM45  £169.99
Black & Decker RM41  £149.99
Black & Decker RM40  £129.99
Black & Decker RM37  £114.99
Black & Decker RM33  £109.99
Black & Decker RM2  £64.99
Black & Decker C35  £64.99
Black & Decker HX3  £49.99
Black & Decker T1C  £54.99
Black & Decker HS1C  £44.99
Black & Decker RS1C  £29.99
Black & Decker C30P  £59.99

Qualcast Panther 30  £29.99
Qualcast Rotamo E30  £33.99
Qualcast Panther 30S  £49.99
Qualcast Concorde E30  £64.99
Qualcast Concorde RE25X  £74.99
Qualcast Concorde RE30X  £84.99
Qualcast Concorde XR35  £99.99
Qualcast Hoversafe 25  £39.99
Qualcast Hoversafe 30  £49.99
Qualcast Rotamo 300R  £59.99
Qualcast Punch EP30  £159.99
Qualcast Punch EP35  £179.99
Qualcast Suffolk Punch 30S  £209.99
Qualcast Suffolk Punch 35S  £228.99
Qualcast Suffolk Punch 43S  £249.99
Qualcast Turbo SR40  £234.99
Qualcast Turbo SR46  £259.99

Flymo Minimo S  £44.99
Flymo Sprinter E25  £49.99
Flymo Sprinter E30  £54.99
Flymo Sprinter E38  £79.99
Flymo Minimo Plus XE25  £74.99
Flymo Sprintmaster XE30  £89.99
Flymo Sprintmaster XE38  £114.99
Flymo Chevron 300T  £79.99
Flymo Chevron 350S  £109.99
Flymo Strimmer Minitrim  £24.99
Flymo Strimmer Multitrim £33.99
Flymo Strimmer weedeater 1400  £94.99
Flymo Strimmer weedeater 1700 £114.99

Mountfield Emblem 15″ Tecumseh 3.5hp 4 stroke engine £199.00
Mountfield Empress 16″ Tecumseh 3.5hp 4 stroke engine £249.00
Mountfield Empress 16″ Self Propelled, Tecumseh 3.5hp 4 stroke engine £299.00
Mountfield Empress 16″ Self Propelled, Key Start, Tecumseh 3.5hp 4 stroke engine £369.00

by alan

Then and Now – 1910

April 29, 2018 in Articles

Our latest Then & Now picture is from 1910 and features Ashton’s of East Sheen. The sign in the window announcing the stock of Garden Tools & Requisites and the array of merchandise on the pavement tells us that they probably stocked everything the early 20th century gardener could want.

The image is typical of many shops from that time. Ashton’s featured an expensive curved glass window on the corner, the thermometer  on the wall to the left of the image, the lamps hanging on elegant supports and the impressive sign writing to catch the eye – one would like to think this was a shop of some quality.

The items on display include wooden D handled spades by the entrance, incinerators (of the same design of today), a display of hand tools in the window along with wire netting and seed adverts. The timber wheelbarrow looks a beast with a steel-rimmed wheel and even if some person tried to schlep it away down the street they’d no doubt be out of breath after a couple of hundred yards. 

The lawnmowers and particularly the rollers are of interest. I’m guessing they may have been manufactured by Thomas Green & Sons who were at the New Surrey Works, Southwark Street, London about a ten mile distance from Ashton’s shop. 

But long gone is Ashton’s, little did they know that a century later their wares would make an awesome horticultural display at a vintage show: They’d have thought we were mad!

And now the shop is a fast food outlet as in the image below.

by alan

What was on sale in 1960….

March 16, 2018 in Articles, Machinery

A selection of garden equipment in 1960

1960 is our year of choice for this article, it was the year that The Beatles was officially named and formed, the Mark 1 Mini had only just recently been introduced and in space exploration the first probe was launched to go to Mars although it failed to reach it’s target. 

Back down on earth and with our new Mini on the driveway trying to out-shine next doors Morris Oxford, there was also a whole host of equipment available for the garden.

The image on the right shows some of the items that no self-respecting suburban homeowner should be without to keep their garden as tidy as possible.

Clockwise from top left is the Fisons Evergreen fertilizer spreader able to treat 64 sq yards of lawn on each fill-up. The price was 59s 6d for the spreader and the fertilizer itself was from 3s 11d. 

The Greensleaves garden shears on top of the box were 34s 6d and were available from Derry & Toms the London department store in Kensington. 

For a more upmarket experience why not shop at Harrods? They were retailing the illustrated lawn roller which could be filled with either water or sand, available in several sizes with a range of prices starting at £3 7s 11d up to nearly £7. One’s chauffeur could fetch it home for ones gardener…..

The Army & Navy Stores were selling the small Webb Lawn Trimmer push mower for the smaller areas of lawn for £7 19s 7d, whilst the push lawn aerator was £4 15s and another Harrods purchase. 

The Tarpen Little Giant chainsaw in the very bottom right corner of the first picture could be used with a single hand and cut through 4″ branches, the price to you in 1960 was £22. 


Shay Rotogardner 125

There were many machines on sale in 1960 which were engine powered. One such was the self-propelled Shay Rotogardner 125, pictured right, powered by a “four-stroke Aspera engine and impulse starter making it easy to operate” according to sales literature. It had specially tempered steel tines that “will break up any soil“. The cost of the complete machine as pictured was £67. 

Or how about something to cut the lawn such as the Ransomes Sprite pictured below. In April 1960 Ransomes were advertising this as a new mower with 14″ cut and as being ‘the lowest priced motor mower in it’s class‘ costing £32.17s.3d. For something more expensive on sale at the same time and also from Ransomes was their Marquis mower with 18″ or 20″ cut powered by a Clinton 4-stroke 117cc engine, prices started at £74.1s.9d, and £89.0s.6d for the 20″, an electric version was also available.


Ransomes 14″ cut Sprite for £32.17s.3d.

Webb battery mower

Through the decades battery-powered machines have been a bit of a novelty, if one didn’t want a petrol mower or be tethered by an electric cable to a three-pin plug then in late 1960 Webb had the answer with their ‘new to the market‘ rechargeable battery mower model, no mess, no fumes or noise. Webb previously showcased a remote controlled battery mower to the general public in 1959 at the Chelsea Flower Show but this one is just the ordinary walk-behind type – there’s a great vintage image on our Webb gallery of a sale of a battery mower taking place.

The battery mower cost £58.19s.5d for the 14″ cut and £48.19s.10d for the 12″ cut. They were available from ‘all large stores and hardware shops‘ so Webb were reaching out to a large customer base and could see some potential.

Still in 1960, Godfrey’s of Marylebone Lane, London, were advertising the “Allen Universal Self-propelled Motor Scythe” with a two or four stroke Villiers engine – pictured below.

The image shows it with an attached spray tank and four foot lance, apparently all the attachments just plugged in. The machine itself was £98.15s; the spray tank was £23.10s; spray pump including lance was an additional £39.4s.6d. 

Allen Scythe with spray tank, pump and lance

Hayter Scythe with a Villiers 4-stroke engine.

Several manufacturers designed machines that were able to take attachments just like the Allen scythe could with the sprayer. Hayter made the Hayter Scythe – pictured right is a model which consisted of a power unit that could be used as a rotary scythe or cylinder mower. Powered by a Villiers 4-stroke, 265cc engine and with a three-speed gearbox and kick start the machine had adjustable cutting height for the scythe attachment and could be converted to a 30″ cylinder mower complete with roller, a good machine for a larger garden where the most use could be gained from it. Again available from Godfreys, or A.T.Oliver & Sons, Luton or our favourite (who most have sold every machine ever created) Robert. H. Andrews Ltd, Sunningdale. Price: £119.10s; cylinder mower an extra £47.16s; and the grass box another £7. 15s. 

For helping around the garden in the early 60’s, the Army & Navy Stores were selling a light but strong metal wheelbarrow with pneumatic tyres for £15.4s.6d. The image below shows it fitted with a useful screen for sifting soil made by Barrowscreen. Sold by Woodmans of Pinner the Barrowscreen cost 34s 11d and could fit any barrow.

Wheelbarrow by Army & Navy Stores 1960. Fitted with a soil sifting Barrowscreen.

Finally, two smaller items which could have graced a 60’s shed was a flame gun on wheels called the Sheen-X. and also garden sprinklers from the American Everain range, both items illustrated below.

The Sheen-X had a tank that could hold one gallon of paraffin and could destroy surface and deep rooted weeds with ease. Price was £12.17s.  The Everain sprinklers were both adjustable, the larger one could cover up to 2400 square feet, the smaller one a 50 foot diameter. Prices were £6.7s.6d and £3.12s respectively.

Sheen-X paraffin powered flame gun.

Everain garden sprinklers.

by alan

Howard Bantam 1950

February 22, 2018 in Articles, Machinery

Humour can capture the attention of the prospective customer far easier than any serious advertising might.

All from 1950 are the following four adverts for the Howard Rotavator ‘Bantam’. Each is carefully crafted to highlight the difficulties of gardening that the Bantam can overcome: Digging, weeding and labour saving. 

The fourth advert proves that an oily machine can be a great fashion accessory for the owner outside their 16thC Elizabethan mansion. 

There are more Howard images in the VHGMC Howard gallery pages.

Dogged by digging? Howard Bantam 1950



Worried by weeds? Howard Bantam 1950


Gardening? I though I knew it all! Howard Bantam 1950


My Bantam’s a treasure – Howard Bantam 1950


Howard Bantam Brochure

by alan

G. D. Mountfield Adverts

January 20, 2018 in Articles

Mountfield 7hp Ride-on-mower in 1973

G.D.Mountfield of Maidenhead are well known to be associated with a large range of horticultural machinery and accordingly the company did a vast amount of advertising.

Mountfield started their ‘proper’ marketing in 1967 after the appointment of Robinson Scotland and Partners who handled the marketing, advertising and public relations. Advertising was planned for amongst others the Sunday Times, Observer, Daily Mail and the Times.

Later advertising appears not only in gardening publications or through trade magazines but also in glossy magazines of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s such as The Tatler and Country Life – a place to market a premium brand but ultimately with a limited audience too.

It was reported in 1985 that Mountfield had been acquired by Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies for £4.25m. Although this did not include Mountfield’s distribution and retail subsidiaries of Robert. H. Andrews Ltd (see gallery) or Power Gardening (Slough) Ltd which were retained by Mountfield (source). Power Gardening (Slough) Ltd residing at 40 Stoke Road, was the distributor of Wheel Horse products from the 1960’s onwards (source)  although the address on adverts they refer to is one of Mountfield’s at Grenfell Place, Maidenhead.

Mountfield were involved in the sale of various machines in the UK, most notably the Wheel Horse garden tractors and the Reo range too. But just as Mountfield marketed these machines here so did others in other countries, for example in France; Fenwick of St.Ouen and also the workshop of Goetzmann based in Lingolsheim near the Geman border. Goetzmann also retailed the Jacobsen ride-on mowers such as the Jacobsen Chief. The image below shows two French adverts.

It should be noted that from about 1968 to 1982  G. D. Mountfield were involved in  a factory in Troisvierges, Luxembourg (source1) , (source2) making their lawnmowers – potentially making Mountfield a widespread company that probably pulled in merchandise and components from across the world.  The Troisvierges factory was not too far, approximately 120 miles away, from where European Wheel Horse tractors were assembled in Belgium that  Power Gardening (Slough) Ltd distributed.

Reo and Wheel Horse mowers being retailed in France by Geotzmann (left) and Fenwick (right).

Through the decades Mountfield appear to have dabbled in the advertising world by changing their adverts rather frequently although 1967 when advertising agents Robinson Scotland and Partners took over was a year when several adverts for different machines were consistent. Here is a short selection of different small-sized adverts that we have for Mountfield showing just a few of the machines they retailed, although their machinery range was vast. These adverts span fourteen years from 1965 to 1979:

1965 – Mountfield with address at Grenfell Place, Maidenhead.

Mountfield marketed wheel Horse and  this advert comes from 1966. The address has changed to East Street, Maidenhead.

Mountfield M3 lawn mower and price of £47.10. in 1967

Mountfield Wheel Horse Reo Mower with price of £215 and £245 for the electric start model in 1967

Mountfield Wheel Horse Advert with price of £275 (7hp recoil start) and £335 (8hp electric start) in 1967

Wheel Horse Mountfield 1968

Mountfield  Reo ride-on mower advert 1968

Mountfield ‘Horse of The Year’ tractor advert 1970

Mountfield also marketed General Electric Elec-Trak machines in the mid 1973-1976

In 1975 Milloy & Warrington of Cubbington, Leamington Spa were retailing the Wheel Horse with a small mention of Mountfield.

Wheel Horse Mountfield Advert for Nairn Brown (Glasgow) in 1979

by alan

Nobby Fletcher and Bolens

December 12, 2017 in Articles

Nobby Fletcher is a fictitious character who appeared in a Bolens advert in 1970, reproduced below, promoting the assets of owning a Bolens garden tractor. 

Nobby Fletcher appears to be somewhat of a dogsbody working five and a half days per week mowing the lawns, scything the orchard, tending the kitchen garden, sweeping leaves, rolling the lawns, as well as lighting the house fires and cleaning the car. He’d probably be out in the December snow and frost clearing the driveway and cursing his chilblains and rheumatic joints and all for £16 per week in 1970. No wonder then that Nobby needed 10 days off work with twinges and aches and pains. 

I’m pretty sure that Nobby Fletcher would have welcomed the use of a Bolens tractor to help with the chores around the garden and especially the snow clearing in winter. Hopefully Nobby got a look at the attachments brochure and persuade his employer to buy the lot, after all what use is a great tractor with no implements or a valuable good gardener to use them too? 

1970. UK Bolens tractors advert. 7-14hp engines and 25 attachments. The 6hp lawn tractor started from £280.00. The garden tractor started from £325.00.


by alan

Ginge mowers and tools

November 13, 2017 in Articles, Machinery

Ginge-Raadvad, owners of the Royal Danish Foundry and By Appointment To The Royal Danish Court

During the late 1960’s a hugely successful Danish manufacturer by the full name of Ginge-Raadvad was launching their range of lawn mowers and garden tools into the UK market. Marketed as Ginge (pronounced Ging-ha) nowadays it is a little known make but had big ambitions with some snazzy sales patter, yet although the name is known there’s zilch been written about the company in the UK. It’s a bit like tapioca pudding, we know the name and what is but fail miserably at describing it in any meaningful way. 

But Ginge in the UK has thankfully left a paper trail of adverts and news articles from 1967 to 1978 before gently taking a back seat.

All manufacturers regardless of the machines or tools they are making seem to have a pretty good and ambitious start and Ginge were no different. Although Ginge came to the UK and then silently went leaving behind a few mowers and little evidence of being here, they had actually been making mowers for a long time and obviously knew what they were doing. In the Danish Foreign Office Journal of 1951 they are stated as making ‘a mower powered by 1.5hp, 4 stroke continental engine, oil bath filter, rope starter, auto reverse and magneto ignition‘. I cannot find a picture of that mower but I’m guessing it’s a cylinder side-wheel mower (2 wheel). 

It’s often difficult to pin down when a manufacturer actually launched their products. Thankfully Ginge must have had a decent secretary or marketing person who sent out some sales copy to a few magazines as the Gardeners Chronicle & New Horticulturalist of 1967 has a glowing  report: ‘This year [1967] sees the introduction of the Ginge range of lawnmowers and gardening equipment to the UK. Among the mowers is a 12″ machine weighing only 17lbs claimed to be the lightest ever. This is the Ginge Prisma, the recommended retail price of which is only £6 14s 9d including the rust proof [plastic?] grass collecting box‘. This is followed by the impressively named World’s Press, News and Advertisers Review with ‘Ginge-Raadvad (UK) LTD [their full trading name] , subsiduary of Danish manufacturer of the Ginge range of lawnmowers and gardening equipment to be launched in the UK in 1967′. 


Before getting on to the mowers which Ginge are best known for, they also made a range of handtools and equipment too.

Ginge Long Handled Grass Shears 1968

1968 saw the launch of a range of Ginge products. These included the long-handled grass shears (£3 15s), pictured right, also standard grass shears (£1 17s 6d) and a long-handled self-sharpening lawn edger (£3 5s). An additional advert from the same time states there was a garden roller (£6 19s 3d) and a hose reel too. Gardeners Chronicle in 1968 commented that the new hose reel was “..easy to operate and easy on the eye, rotates smoothly and noiselessly” 

It’s worth mentioning that Ginge thought that  garden hoses were worth exploring. In 1973 Ginge-Raadvad considered ordering from a supplier a huge 80 miles of reinforced PVC garden hose with a guaranteed life of at least 10 years, this was under consideration for launch in the UK market (Source: Europlastics Monthly, Vol.46).  

The 1972 59R oscillating sprinkler costing £1.98 was claimed to be the cheapest on the market. It watered lawns up to 1900 sq ft and was one of three oscillators, the other two cost £2.45 and £3.15. There was also the ‘675’ Turret sprinkler. 

1974 saw  “Eight Ginge sprayers, from small household models suitable for window boxes and small garden flowers, right up to super automatic sprayers with capacities of 3, 5 and 7 litres. Ginge trowels, a plant fork, cultivator and weed iron“, (Source: Amateur Gardening 1974)

As we can see Ginge was certainly taking on the domestic garden from all angles and aiming to be in everyone’s garden shed and on their lawn too. 

Lawn Mowers

The 1967 launch of the mowers included an advert in Gardeners Chronicle stating that ‘You’ve never seen such  good-looking lawnmowers in your life until you’ve seen the Ginge range. Never handled such smooth running grass-cropping machines until you’ve whipped round your lawn with Ginge‘.

Several adverts for Ginge mowers appear in April 1968 in Scotland. This is hardly surprising since Ginge had a newly set up factory at Irvine Industrial Estate, Irvine, Ayrshire, as well as manufacturing mowers at their factory in Copenhagen. There was also an office at Croxley Green, Herefordshire, although the address appears to be a residential street so presumably an outpost office. 

The mowers available were all cylinder mowers, the hand propelled Prisma 12″ (£6.19.9d) and Futura 16″ (£8.19.9d). As shown in the image, right. 

Powered cylinder mowers were the Meridia 18″ (£34.19.9d) and the Atlanta 21″ (£49.19.9d) in the same style as in the image. A year later in 1969 the Meridia and Atlanta prices had increased by £5 each.

According to newspaper reports it was claimed that since the launch of these machines in 1967 they captured 6% of the British lawnmower market in the first twelve months. It was hoped to increase this to 10% with their new lightweight mowers. One of the key selling factors was an “unconditional guarantee on all lawnmowers and garden equipment against faulty workmanship and defective materials“. (source). 

Following in 1970 were two 19″ rotary mowers powered by  4-stroke, 3hp Aspera engines, the mowers differed in engine specifications with one having an auto-choke. Prices were £23 and £28 for the better spec machine. Cutting heights for both were 3/4″, 1 1/2″ and 1 3/4″. 

However ambitious Ginge were with their mowers there’s nothing like a bit of comparative testing to spoil the party. Enter one consumer magazine to put the spot light on a range of mowers in 1970. Pitting the Ginge against similar side-wheel cylinder mowers such as one from Gamage, the Suffolk Viceroy MK11, Spinney side wheel mower, Husquvarna from Sweden and the Qualcast B1 was certainly going to cause a squabble on the front lawn. Which was best? 


The comparative tests found that the Gamage, Suffolk Viceroy and Spinney mowers all gave a good cut on short grass and they all easily tackled medium grass in one cut and even did quite well on the long grass. Apparently ‘the other mowers were not quite so good‘, oh dear, not the best outcome. Additionally it was found that the rear-mounted grass box on two mowers including the Ginge got in the way of the operators feet. (1970 magazine reference for mower test). Good news though was that the build quality of the Ginge stood up to scrutiny and the mower roller survived unscathed in acid tests ‘unlike the others‘. 

1970 also saw the MI 04 Orbita mower being as the ‘lowest priced four-stroke rotary mower on the UK market’ at £23.00. (source: Surveyor magazine)

Advertising in Amateur Gardening in 1973 ‘Ginge have taken the hardwork out of mowing. They’ve produced a selection of lightweight Hand Mowers, Motor Mowers and Rotary mowers that literally glide through the grass‘.

1974 saw Ginge offering seven lawn mowers: three hand mowers, three motor cylinder mowers and one rotary mower.

In a 1975 copy of the Agricultural Machinery Journal, Ginge are reported to still importing the 12″ Prisma mower as well as the Futura and Comet range, they were obviously popular mowers and must have worked well. Also stated is that Ginge were importing three 3.5hp rotary mowers with 15″ and 19″ cuts priced from £59.00 to £78.50. Cylinder mowers also included two 18″ 2hp self propelled mowers priced £94.50 and £105.00 respectively. 

It then all starts to fizzle out just a mere 8 years after an ambitious 1967 start in the UK with 1975 when we start to see a change and Sheen of Nottingham were offering a 3.5hp four-stroke Ginge mower for sale. 

Ginge Rotomower

Announced in 1976 the Agricultural Machinery Journal state that ‘…mower maker Ginge-Raadvad has given up its central operation in the UK and appointed four importers to handle the range’ . In 1977 Sheen were reported as having taken on the range of Ginge mowers (Source: Agricultural Machinery Journal April 1977) and by 1978 Sheen were importing quite a range of Ginge mowers including the handmowers of: HD28 (28cm cut) at £24.50; HD38 (38cm cut) at £28.50; H26 De Luxe 38cm cut at £37.00. All prices included the grassbox. There was also the R48HB 19″ rotary mower with a 3.5hp Briggs and Stratton engine. 

1976 saw the closure of Ginge’s Croxley Green office in Herefordshire. But what happened to the Irvine factory? Anyone know?

The Ginge name continued in the UK under presumably different importers. 1992 sees an advert for the Ginge Garden Caddy, an open steel frame on wheels designed for holding garden debris and carrying tools. The caddy had a guide price of £50.00 and was available from Ginge of Denmark. 

And after much research that is the current known story of UK Ginge. 

Ginge mower dealers Scotland 1968

by alan

Secret life of secateurs

October 19, 2017 in Articles

Modern Secateurs by Wilkinson Sword and Rolcut

Forget about garden tractors, rotavators, mowers and more, for the humble secateurs have appeared in more intriguing articles and news reports than any other tool or machine. From being the source of a riot, to an item of numerous counts of petty pilfering; from being a restricted wartime item to also being a free gift with a brand of tea, secateurs have seen it all. 

It’s important to remember that secateurs were not the mass-produced items we see mostly today, they were important, precision instruments of many different designs from scissor-like items to proper pruning implements yet all hand-held, that were kept sharp, looked after and treasured. Secateurs were also eventually seen as a mechanical advancement for horticulture, a time saving tool that no gardener should be without.

I will briefly mention here the claimed inventor of the secateur in Europe, this is invariably given as the French aristocrat Antoine Francois Bertrand de Molleville (more at source) somewhere before 1819 depending on reports which do difer and I cannot decide whom is correct, so will leave it at that. 

Trouble at t’mill

We start in 1840 with a potential riot in Beziers, France, a mere 20 years or so after secateurs (and their claimed invention) began their slow attempt to become an established pruning tool in Europe. A newspaper article states that ‘A riot took place at Beziers‘ because the agricultural committee there was deciding whether or not secateurs were superior to the common pruning knife for trimming vines. This was of great concern to the workers who had always used the pruning knife and at seven o’clock in the evening a band of 300 or more peasants, preceded by a drum, a spectacle which could have been quite dramatic and loud, traversed the streets announcing their determination to oppose the agricultural committee because if the secateur was substituted for the knife it would be ‘the means of making a number of vine dressers unemployed‘. The humble secateur it seems can worry workers enough to become concerned about their jobs, secateurs were seen as progress and yet also a threat. There was also some concern amongst experts that secateurs were an inferior method of pruning, a view which apparently lasted for quite some time through the 19th century.

Secateurs from France to UK

1868 – The Secateur Lecointe

I thought secateurs had been here since the dawn of time but they don’t appear to make it over the Channel to the UK for a few more years, indeed newspaper gardening articles from the mid to late 1800’s start by actually explaining the new-fangled secateur and it’s advantages/disadvantages over the common pruning knife, just like the concerns of the good folk of Beziers a few decades earlier. 

The first UK article I find is in October 1868, the Nottinghamshire Guardian stated that the French horticultural journal ‘Gleanings from French Gardens‘ was recommending ‘The Secateur Lecointe‘, as in the image above right, the secateur had a coiled spring rather than the normal flat spring of previous models and was thought to be superior. I will say that in 2017 some 149 years later and with coil springs on my premium secateurs failing many times that they were wrong, completely wrong, the coiled spring being a backwards step, there I’ve put it in print.

But where to get good secateurs? The Kelso Chronicle comes to the rescue in 1871 with their suggestion that the best is the French secateur ‘made by a working blacksmith at Versailles‘ they even give his name as Prevost with the recommendation that he supplies all gardeners in that part of France with them. How the Kelso Chronicle knows of this amazing blacksmith is unknown although there is absolutely no reason to doubt their claim, but with Versailles being a world renowned garden for it’s splendid topiary I have this vision of an early gift shop (boutique de souvenirs) flogging secateurs to 19th century tourists on their jaunt around Europe.

B.R Davis, Yoevil, Secateurs advert 1872

To finally seal that secateurs were here in the UK an 1872 (and a similar 1871)  advert, image right, for B.R.Davis of Yeovil states ‘The Secateur or New French pruner, imported direct from the inventor [more likely the manufacturer], acknowledged to be the best pruner‘. 

And in 1883 a gardening column details that the secateur ‘has long been used by the French gardeners but has only found it’s way into use [in the  UK] during the past few years, and is not by any means general yet….it far surpasses the best clasp or other knife ever invented, for a man can do three times more work with it with one hand than he can do with his two hands and the common knife. The French make the best and we advise buyers to accept no other kind’. Interestingly it also states that ‘Any seedsman can procure them and several supply Sheffield-made secateurs‘. 

Wilkinson’s secateurs. Edwinson Green & Sons, Cheltenham. 1924

It didn’t just stop at the UK, by 1911 an Australian publication began it’s gardening column by stating that ‘Secateurs have taken the place of the pruning knife in practically all gardens in Australia‘. Now, that is some achievement. I will refer back to Australia later.

The earliest advert I can find to UK made secateurs is in 1924 for ‘Wilkinson’s Famous Stainless Secateurs‘ which are about the same design as The Secateur Lecointe of 1868 (image further up page). Wilkinson’s tools were all guaranteed Sheffield made and an assumption is that secateurs were being made by others at this time and before as there are earlier adverts which briefly mention the sale of secateurs rather than French secateurs.

John Nowill & Sons of Sheffield were producing secateurs in 1914 – the only company directly listed in a trade directory as doing so around that time. (source: Gracesguide)

We have a bit of a large gap for UK made secateurs between 1880 and 1924, anyone fill us in?

And that is secateurs firmly planted in the UK and being made by the finest manufacturers in Sheffield.

Pilfering secateurs

Onwards and on the darker crime side, there are many, even numerous, reported instances in archive newspapers of secateurs being stolen as they were an item which were easy to pocket and by all accounts easily sold on for a quick shilling. Indeed one 1918 gardener spotted his stolen secateurs for sale in a local shop and after a bit of sleuthing by the local police the thief was apprehended – it was the gardener’s grandson who had sold them on to the shady shopkeeper. 

The most interesting crime involving secateurs took place in Australia in the 1930’s. Picture an evocative scene of a steamship coming into Port Gisborne in Australia and a port labourer takes the opportunity to remove a tin box of fourteen pairs of secateurs destined for a hardware store in Melbourne. Court proceedings valued the items at nearly £2 so a princely amount for the secateurs, the labourer upon panicking decided the best action being to bury the tin in his garden, unfortunately an action which didn’t fool the police. The guilty party was fined £5 or could have had a month in jail. Lesson learnt. 

Supply and demand

February 1944

Secateurs seem to have always had a great value, either monetary (and the risk of being stolen) or in their capability to make the job easier, better, quicker. Indeed for some areas of crop production they were an important tool which were in demand but not always available. Hence in the latter part of WWII in February 1944 this announcement, image right, appears ‘Following a request from the NFU the Ministry of Agriculture announces that fruit growers in England and Wales who sell their crops should apply to their C.W.A.E.C’s [County War Agricultural Executive Committee] without delay for an application form [for a permit to purchase] if they wish to buy secateurs for use in 1944. Commercial growers who have unfulfilled orders with retailers or factors should also do this

The NFU request resulted in county office adverts appearing throughout the country requesting that applicants apply as soon as possible to get their permits to purchase secateurs. We also see a few shop adverts from the same time which were advertising secateurs but state they are either in limited numbers or are ‘available for horticultural trade only‘.

April 1947

Back in Australia just two years later in April 1947 and the nurserymen of Australia, image right, are having a different problem trying to lift restrictions on the import of knives, secateurs and other implements. The restriction was on imported steel implements yet there also appears to be a shortage of steel, one reason being the lack of coal to produce the steel in the country, one dealer stated that ‘he did not know when he would be able to deliver another plough or harrows, and a local manufacturer said steel was so scarce [in his Mackay area] he had to improvise with scraps to try to fill orders‘ (source: Daily Mercury 30 Mar 1949).

It appears the shortage of steel or quality steel is perhaps why the nurserymen of Australia stated in 1947 (image right) that ‘inferior types of secateurs and knives were available, but these were unsuitable for the job, being faulty and crudely finished‘.

The Giveaway

Black & Greens Tea Advert November 1945

Shortly after the cessation of WWII and just 18 months after the NFU request for growers to apply for a permit to purchase secateurs, something unexpected appears. Adverts in November 1945 for Black & Green’s tea, such as the one on the right, offer a free pair of secateurs to householders for saving the labels from their tea packets and sending them in to claim. Although the advert images of the secateurs is not clear and they look more scissor-like, nevertheless it is a marketing idea to promote their product in a positive way to benefit the customer, they could have chosen any number of giveaway products but chose practical secateurs. I suppose the secateurs would not have been of the finest quality, yet in my own thoughts they do make people think of their gardens, the outdoors and their freedom at this point in time. 

Any additions on secateurs in the UK? What have we missed?

by alan

Sprayers, Misters & Dusters *cough, splutter*

September 25, 2017 in Articles

I have been collecting some sprayer demonstration images for a few months now, and for a bit of light-hearted fun, these images show the marvelous ingenuity and brave stupidity of some of the sprayers and dusters that graced the mid-20th Century. There were certainly some clever chaps on our shores who took the bull by the horns and from a few bits of pipe, a two-stroke engine and sheer determination created sprayers and dusters to rid the land of pesky pests with the aim of better crops all around. 

OK, on the negative side perhaps killing bugs wasn’t always advantageous to the whole food chain but in 1951 it was estimated that in many parts of the world 10% of food crops and in some cases as much as 20% were spoiled by pests and disease. Where there’s a potential problem then there’s someone with a potential answer and our chaps stepped in with a multitude of solutions.

Observe from the pictures the ingenuity of the people who designed and made these machines – and the machines worked too!

Pests and bugs exist everywhere and the first image (below) that caught my eye was a sprayer for use in limited areas where bugs have found a safe haven – like under a rock half way up a mountain pass. This sprayer was affixed to a donkey which is ideally suited for difficult terrain such as mountainous areas or Blackpool beach. It comprises of a hopper with 30lbs of dust and is powered by a Villiers engine rattling in the donkey’s ears. The sprayer never went into production and donkey number 26 got a reprieve. 

Donkey sprayer in demo mode

Donkey power can only be surpassed by one other and that is Camel power. The sprayer pictured below was developed in the UK for use in the cotton fields of Sudan and two panniers each held a 15 gallon plastic tank. The camel was provided by a local zoo for the demo day, the camel looking suitably miffed that it has had it’s day off completely ruined.

Camel powered sprayer proving difficult to attach at a demonstration 1951.

Health and safety was never of the utmost importance yet at these demonstrations one cannot be sure what was being sprayed or at whom, this seems to be a recurring theme through all the following images. Observe the chap below with a Drake and Fletcher exhibit and cigarette in mouth, the 1947 caption actually reads “This is a good one!!”. We hope the chemical could not ignite. 

“This is a good one!!”

…Or how about just spraying the visitors during a demonstration?

Dusting demo at Wroxham 1959

Seeing sprayers demonstrated at an events day is possibly a good idea, yet old images make it seem a little primitive somehow. This 1947 Skip Crop Duster shown below was described directly as using a bicycle wheel – why invent the wheel when one already exists? Used for distributing insecticide between narrow rows it is demonstrated in a somewhat back-ache inducing position. 

Skip Crop Duster 1947 with cycle wheel at the front and soon to be crippled operator at the rear.

Fancy something that can be ridden? Then, below, enter stage-right one car (in lieu of a tractor), trailer and a spraying machine. Designed for dusting high trees and no doubt drifting over the outskirts of the nearest town this machine could decimate bugs galore at whatever height they decided to hide. On the back of the trailer is a large letter T for ‘trailer’.  This machine was actually called the ‘Dustejecta’ – great name. To me this image looks like the exhibitor is setting off home across the showfield but has accidentally left the machine running.

1951 Dustejecta for trees and high places

The Power Dusting Machine, below, was designed to be people-powered and designed for rough ground where a couple of unwilling accomplices could drag the machine along, over, or up whilst the operator used the hose for bug reduction purposes. It seems very labour intensive. Protection was not high on the agenda although suits and ties were. 

Power Dusting Machine, Evesham. 1951

Finally an image from 1938 of another great machine, sadly no photos of it in use but you can imagine the workers designing the machine, carefully working out how it would operate and function in the field, with the folk in the workshop and foundry making the parts, they would have been immensely proud of their work in producing this sprayer. This is the magnificent British made Drake & Fletcher ‘Mistifier’. Anyone got one, I’d like to have a go and I’ll bring my proper Health & Safety gear!

Drake and Fletcher ‘Mistifier’ 1938

by alan

When Machines Go Modern

August 2, 2017 in Articles, Machinery

Reo Mower Advert USA – 1950 – Reo made it to the UK eventually under the Wheel Horse brand.

When searching machinery in any archives it becomes apparent that although machines were well-made and created to do a job, there was also a lot of thought behind the marketing too and creating machines that kept up with public demand – who wants last years model when there’s an updated, sparkling new one just been released? 

Manufacturers would go to great lengths to promote their machines with colourful advert and brochure images as in the image on the right, and also marketing tactics such as special HP deals or perhaps promoting new machine innovations to outperform the competitors. It didn’t just stop at advertising either, on the whole manufacturers were generally looking to the future, making their machines more efficient, lighter, more cost effective to manufacture, buy and run. 

At least a few designers were looking to leave their competitors behind by creating machines that had a modern look. These new designs may have looked updated and modern on the outside but sometimes the actual mechanicals were the same under the tin work as the previous models – the public doesn’t mind as long as it looks like a new model. Some machine designs were becoming squarer and angular and there are quite a few machines that demonstrate that – some may not have made it past the mock-up stages or got to market.

This article does showcase the skill of the designers and their ability to produce (mostly) an aesthetically pleasing machine. Below are machines with some inspired and interesting design to their tin work. 

Qualcast Jetstream mowers 1979

As an example of marketing: The image on the right shows two Qualcast mowers from 1979. The mower on the left is a “Standard” Jetstream with a 3hp Briggs and Stratton engine, 18″ cut and and 4 height adjustments, retailing at £113.45.

The mower on the right is a modern looking Qualcast Jetstream De-Luxe rotary mower, retailed at the same time as the “Standard”, powered by a slightly larger 3.5hp Briggs and Stratton engine but with the same 18″ cut, this had a retail price of £135.00.

That equates to a £20.00 premium for the more modern De-Luxe design of the Jetstream – they’ll both cut the grass exactly the same, and the engines will both have intermittent hissy fits but doesn’t the more modern design look better, sleeker, impress the neighbours more and worth the £20 increase? Argos actually had it on offer in 1979 at £109.99 vs £99.99 for the “Standard” making it even more of a bargain.

Another machine shown in the image below that doesn’t seem to have dated much through the decades is the Garner industrial tractor when fitted with the optional full body tin work. Even today the addition of the tin work makes it look a smart machine, the designers obviously thinking about how the final machine will look and the attention to how the bodywork is sculptured. I still haven’t seen one of these fully-kitted out tractors or an image on the internet yet, perhaps the optional tin work was expensive? The image below shows one being exhibited in 1954 at the National Association of Groundsman’s Exhibition at The Hurlingham Club, London. The VHGMC have a Garner register here

1954 Garner Industrial Tractor with optional body kit.

Even John Allen & Sons created modern designs, a huge leap away from the Allen Scythe is a 1955 Allen Rotary Sickle, shown below. This machine was powered by a 2-stroke engine (potentially 2.5 hp from other reports) with kick start. Excellent for dealing with “neglected grassland and hedgerows” it had a handlebar extension to use when taking a first cut at tall, rough grass. price was £67 15s. A fairly modern enclosed design, the top cover is hinged at the front and lifts up to reveal the engine and workings, but what were the colours and livery of the tin work? Again another machine that has proved elusive.

1955 Allen Rotary Sickle

Some designs went very angular, or the designer got carried away with his ruler and set square. Shown is the Auto-Culto 55, it was a boxy machine with the tin work being an interesting design decision, the flat top perhaps being a handy place to put a flask of coffee when having a break. According to newspaper reports the machine was powered by a “four stroke Villiers 150cc engine which develops 3bhp at 3600rpm. It can be used with a variety of attachments.” The attachments included a flexi-drive chainsaw and hedgetrimmer. Also an out-front rotary mower. Anybody have an Auto-Culto 55 in the back of the shed? The right-side image is from a 1964 Smithfield Show report. 

Auto Culto 55

Probably the best know modern design is the Shay Rotoscythe. The image below is a late image from 1955. This machine is visually an excellent piece of design and an ingenious development of the lawnmower too. The mower was also available with ‘moss pegs’, these attached to the mower blade and acted as a scarifier to remove moss from the lawn. The earliest newspaper advert reference the VHGMC has found to the Rotoscythe is from May 1934, the electric model being £11 and the petrol model £19.

Shay Rotoscythe advert 1955

Even abroad there were some interesting machines taking on a modern look:

Below is something different and proves that manufacturer did look for something to capture the buyers imagination. Retailed in America in 1978 was the Sears Maxi Mow. A quirky looking machine, this 5 speed self-propelled mower had the added benefit that it would take ordinary black bin bags and the mower would then fill the bags in the rear compartment. This would not work in the UK with our intermittent weather and damp grass, did it work efficiently anyway with it’s vertical grass chute? An interesting design nonetheless, although probably a nightmare to dismantle to service the engine. 

1978 Sears Maxi Mow – USA

In France the Staub cultivators (pictured below) had a makeover moving away from the traditional look of the vintage cultivator that we all know so well. 

The 1980’s Staub range are in a striking livery of white, blue, silver and chrome and their appearance has a great presence, it is a surely one to catch the eye in the lineup of machines at a retailers in France. Particularly the 6000 model below from the early 1980’s is a successful overhaul of a traditional machine. In the flesh it is visually faultless – some even have go-faster arrows on top of the white fuel tank! 

Staub 6000 – 1980 – France

In Sweden the Husqvarna company was making the MK 500 mower (pictured below) in around the late 1960′ early 1970’s, these mowers were retailed in the UK. This smooth ABS shelled mower was available in two fashionable colours, either a mid-blue colour for the push-version or if preferred there was an identical looking self-propelled front wheel driven model in bright orange, as pictured. The mower was advertised has having “clean, almost streamlined styling…the smooth uncluttered lines making it easier to keep the machine clean and smart“.

Powered by a 120cc (3,5hp) two-stroke engine the mower was described in the brochure as ” Everywhere it has been demonstrated experts have commented on it’s low noise level ‘Environmentally acceptable, agreeable – almost silent’ “. Two-stroke?

It was also stated in the literature that it was ‘Europe’s rarest power mower‘ which is an odd thing to say when trying to sell a product, however, it turns out they were right and 40-odd years later it remains rare, indeed we still haven’t seen one!

1960’s/ 70’s Husqvarna MK500 mower – available in blue or orange for the fashionable gardener.

Looking back through the images we seem to have chosen quite a few machines that remain rare. The Rotoscythe, the Qualcast Jetstream mower and the Staub tractor in France are available, the others not a sign of them. Have you got one of them?