It’s a machine that speaks of an age when armies of gardeners were deployed to manicure aristocratic country estates, and the British empire was an engineering powerhouse.
But the Ransomes, the world’s first motorized lawn-mower, was so prized, that only the chauffuer was allowed to drive it.
And, with its £15,000 (about $23,000) price tag, in today’s money, it was well out of the reach of all but the Edwardian elite.
One of the few remaining examples has now been restored to its former, fully-functioning glory by lawn-mower collector Andrew Hall. Mr. Hall, a gardener from Ilminster, Somerset, spent £7,000 patching up the old 1 1⁄4-ton, eight-foot-long machine, dating back to 1902, after acquiring it when it was discoverd during the demolition of an old pavilion in Coventry.
The 54-year-old, who owns 1,200 other lawn-mowers, took four years to restore the Ransomes, which was “60 per cent intact” and still had its original body, rollers, cutting cylinder blades and 1906 8 horse-power engine.
This forerunner to the modern, drivable mowers of today is somewhat slower, puttering along at “walking pace” according to Mr. Hall, but it lacks brakes and the steering can be haphazard.
At the time it was considered a feat of modern engineering, a 20th Century alternative to horse-driven and steam-powered mowers.
It was initially purchased by Cadbury’s and used in the Bourneville village in Warwickshire to maintain a sports field.
Car-makers Peugeot Talbot bought it second-hand in 1923 to mow their sports field in Coventry.
But when the motoring firm extended their pavilion they erected the new structure over the top of the machine, totally encasing it.
It lay forgotten for more than 50 years until the building was demolished.
Mr. Hall had to build a new side frame and a grass box assembly and had to locate and replace the chains which run down one side.
He said: “As collectors you are always having to look for rare items or what people haven’t heard of.
“When I first saw the mower it looked a bit forlorn, someone had gone at it with a sledge hammer and there was nothing in front of the cutting cylinder.
“After I was given it I realized it was the first one that Ransomes made when I spotted the identification number.
“It took so long because of the rebuilding and sourcing of parts and putting it all together.”
Mr. Hall searched high and low for engine parts including a magneto and a carburator, and used a stop-valve from a central heating in a block of flats in London as a wheel for adjusting the height of the cutting cylinder.
He added: “It runs a bit slower than a modern lawn mower, I would say it is about walking pace.
“When the engine is running everybody knows about it because it is very loud like a traction engine. “There aren’t any brakes on it because it was just designed for use on flat ground.
“There’s a wheel and what you do is turn it one way or the other and somewhere in the middle there is a neutral position.
“But there aren’t any gears and to stop you have to turn it off.” The four year restoration had been a “mammoth job” but also a “labor of love,” Mr. Hall added.