Budding a hero to gardeners with invention
THINK of a typical British garden and your mental image probably includes a well-manicured sward of lawn with stripes as straight as those down the trousers of a bank manager’s suit.
The person responsible for those stripes is Edwin Beard Budding, inventor of the lawnmower and a man born and bred in Stroud, Gloucestershire.
Before his machine ordinary domestic homes did not have lawns.
Stately homes did and the upkeep required a vast amount of man power.
At Blenheim Palace, for example, in around 1800 a workforce of 200 people looked after the estate and in the summer months a quarter of them were permanently occupied by keeping the grass cut with scythes and hand shears, then gathering up the clippings afterwards.
The word lawn referred to land grazed by animals and it crops up in local place names, such as Corse Lawn.
So it was a bit of a blow to job opportunities for labourers when in 1830 Mr Budding designed and patented the world’s first lawnmower.
Born in 1795 the son of a farmer, Edwin trained as a carpenter before changing tack to become a pattern maker in an iron foundry where his inventive ability soon came to the fore.
His engineering innovations included a hand pistol, a machine for cutting up vegetables, a lathe and the first adjustable spanner.
Then in 1830 he designed the lawna
mower, which was said to be inspired by mechanised cutting shears he’d seen used in Stroud cloth mills. To put his lawnmowers into production, Budding set up a partnership with John Ferrabee who owned the Phoenix Iron Works at Thrupp.
The earliest machine had a 19 inch cutting width and was pushed from behind. It had a box on the front to catch the clippings and roller to make the stripes on the lawn and when you see one you realise that lawn mowers haven’t really changed much over the years. The original model did, however, prove to be heavy going for one operator, so a second handle at the front was added allowing the machine to be pushed and pulled by two people, or sometimes a horse.
Among the list of customers for Mr Budding’s innovation were London Zoo in Regent’s Park the Oxford Colleges. Lawnmowers proved to be a great success.
range of models with different cutting widths was introduced and a licence was granted for the machines to be made by a Ransomes of Ipswich, a firm that made agricultural equipment.
In the 10 years after production first began 1,000 Budding lawnmowers had been sold.
Steam powered versions of the lawnmower became popular in the latter years of Queen Victoria’s reign, then Ransomes introduced a model with a petrol engine and that sold nicely too.
“So Edwin Budding must have become wealthy and enjoyed a long retirement living in the lap of luxury” you may be thinking.
Sadly, no. At the age of just 50 our hero suffered a stroke and died.
You can see an example of an early Budding lawnmower in Stroud’s Museum in the Park and the Science Museum in London has one on display as well.
Edwin Budding hasn’t achieved as prominent an entry in the Who’s Who of inventors as, say George Stephenson who was responsible for the Rocket locomotive.
That’s odd in a way, because you hardly ever see a steam engine on the railway these days, while you see plenty of lawnmowers in people’s gardens.
But he had an honour bestowed upon him just a few years ago when Greg Pilley, proprietor of the Stroud Brewery, named one of his excellent organic beers Budding and it’s been popular in the locality ever since.
Appropriately, Stroud Brewery stands on the site in Thrupp where the Phoenix Ironworks stood and in April 2015 a blue plaque commemorating Stroud’s almost famous inventor was unveiled by David Withers, president of Ransomes.
A horse drawn mower
Budding’s patented lawnmower
Plaque commemorating Edwin Budding