The Machine Men of the Wolds

September 2022 will see the return of the Museum of Rural Life (MORL) heritage weekend. The Tractor Run, on 10th September, along with the Steam & Vintage Vehicle Day, on Sunday 11th September, will enable us to see the machines of the past working together again. Keep an eye on the Manor House website and Facebook page for all of the details.

In April 2020 we looked into the origins of the combine and agricultural engineers Fenton Townsend Ltd , this time around the threshing machine history has provided an insight into the manufacturer, led us to the machine men of the Lincolnshire Wolds and a glimpse of threshing days of the past.

The Portable Threshing Machine

Tuxford’s, agricultural engineers of Boston are credited with being the first to introduce a portable thrashing machine in 1842, followed by the first combined machine ( which dressed, separated, thrashed and winnowed) two years later. In 1858 The Book of Farm Implements and Machines ( Blackwood ) notes that Hornsby & Son of Grantham and Clayton & Shuttleworth of Lincoln are among those celebrated for their manufacture of this form of machine.

The MORL machine has the mark of R Hornsby of Grantham, along with a number, last year Ashley established a few more specifics on this particular machine :

Threshing Machine

Model : R. Hornsby of Grantham,  4’ 6” Right Drive.

Year : Delivered on 3/7/1891 to W & A Brumpton Alford (Swaby), Threshing Contractors.

Power : Belt drive to Main Pulley by Steam Engine

Operation: Sheaves cut and fed manually into the cylinder. Grain bagged off from the rear of the machine. Threshed straw conveyed from front of the machine by elevator for either trussing, baling or re stacking. Chaff removed regularly by hand from under the machine.

Output : Approx 10 tons per day

Manpower :  A team of 10 – 12 men is required.

Pursuing the above information we will look at the early fortunes of Richard Hornsby up to the manufacture of our machine. We can then follow the machine into the heart of the Lincolnshire wolds and have a look at the machine men who worked there. Finally we visit the threshing days of the era.

Richard Hornsby

The founder of R Hornsby & Sons was Mr Richard Hornsby, born in Elsham in 1790, he was apprenticed to a wheelwright in 1805, moving to Grantham 5 years later, he found employment with Mr Richard Seaman of Spittlegate. Hornsby had so impressed his employer that they commenced a new venture together as Seaman and Hornsby, makers of horse powered thrashing machines and drills. In 1828 Seaman retired leaving Richard Hornsby the sole proprietor. The firm became renowned nationally and internationally for quality and innovation, a broad selection of exhibition and farming catalogues testify to their success and prize winning implements. Richard Hornsby senior died in 1864, shortly before his death the firm are recorded as employing 378 people. By 1889, two years prior to the sale of the MORL threshing machine to W&A Brumpton, R Hornsby & Sons employed 1,200 men.

R Hornsby & Sons Ltd Advertisement : History and Development of Steam Locomotion on Common Roads

W & A Brumpton : Threshing Contractors

W. Brumpton of Swaby pops up quite quickly in trade directories, and on the 1891 census, as a threshing machine owner, neither employer or employed. William and his wife Lucy lived in the hamlet of Whitepit, Swaby but the “A” Brumpton mentioned on the original sale record is not within their family unit. Calceby, just a few miles away, was the birthplace of William and home to the wider Brumptons family. A little digging has shown that William’s younger brother Thomas was commonly referred to as Andrew. Their father Thomas made the transition from an agricultural labourer to a machine man. In 1881 Thomas Snr, aged 67, is recorded as the owner and master of a thrashing machine, employing ten men. Two years after the death of their father William and Andrew would buy the new Hornsby machine. As owners of an engine the Brumptons would have been contracted to provide the power behind a wide variety of work beyond their own threshing business placing them at the heart of the agricultural industry in the Wolds.

This old photo appeared in Lincolnshire Life magazine in 1968 it was taken on the South Ormsby estate. William Brumpton is the engine driver, below him left to right, are : Charlie Dodds, Walter Calvert, Hugh Calvert and Jesse Grant all of South Ormsby. Joe Willoughby is on the far right below William, according to the original caption ” the donkey was Joe’s and he always took it work with him. Poor Joe had a wooden leg and no doubt the donkey eased Joe’s burden at the end of a busy day”.

The South Ormsby steam sawing photo leads us into some other wolds families of the era. The Grant family were thatchers and woodman Charlie Dodds worked on the estate as his father had before him. In July 1905 various newspapers reported on the Long Service & Large Families prizes awarded at the Lincolnshire Agriculture Show for “having brought up and placed out the largest number of children without having received parochial relief” Joe Green Willoughby of Calceby had 20 children (two with his first wife who sadly died in 1876 just 6 years after their marriage) Seventeen of those born were brought up and twelve placed out.

The Calverts were wheelwrights their trade spanned four generations at South Ormsby prior to the shop being demolished and it had been in use before their involvement. Benjamin Calvert founded their business.

In 1851, 20 year old, Benjamin Calvert of Alford (Huttoft) is living with his inlaws in South Ormsby. Benjamin is recorded as a journeyman wheelwright, his father in law William butters is also a wheelwright along with a close neighbour, James Atkins. Benjamin would later take over from Edward Atkins when the business was sold in 1863. Some years later newspaper reports suggest that Benjamin liked a tipple. In July 1893, aged 59, he was fined 10s and 7s costs for being drunk in charge of a horse and cart in Alford, an offence repeated in April 1900 in Horncastle.

It should be stated that we cannot be 100% sure that Benjamin’s eldest son (Benjamin Joseph) was not the culprit but he was always known as Joseph.

The Brumpton family were an integral part of the area for many years, more details of the extended family and their transition from labourers to machine men are at the end of this piece for those that are interested.

Threshing Day

Traditional hand tools of harvest were the sickle, the scythe and the flail, some traditional threshing of the corn by flail survived into the twentieth century in Lincolnshire barns. Published recollections of the era conjure up nostalgic images of stooks in the fields, busy wives feeding visiting harvesters, while their children were occupied picking blackberries, sloes and elderberries from the hedgerows.

The stooks would be led back to the yard, some farmers walking behind the last load, carrying the last sheaf to mark the “Harvest Home”. Once the stooks were removed the gleaning could begin, a perk of the labourers, the last remnants of the corn were collected, old hands would have linen aprons made for the purpose to collect as much as possible.

In rural areas harvest time always led to low school attendance although in later years the truant officers would work to return children under 11.Some recollections of mention the presence of children and dogs excited to begin their role of dispatching the rats disturbed by the dismantling of the stack, while others searched for mice beneath the drum sheet drying in the sun.

Preparations would have been made in advance, a large water barrel would stand ready and had to be kept full, the water carrying often undertaken by a boy using a wooden yoke and a pair of two gallon buckets. Coal was at hand to provide the steam engine with its seemingly endless requirement. The machinery train would have rumbled along the village lanes at walking pace, being carefully manouvered along tracks made for horses and carts, trying to avoid the inevitable delays if one of them got stuck in the mud and they had to fetch horses to pull it all free. On occasion its progress would only be made visible by the swaying hurricane lanterns which lit its path.

The threshing set covered a large area. The drum would be set by the stack, the hungry traction engine close by connected to the drive wheel by a belt. An elevator would carry the straw away, all were chocked and ready for the hard work ahead. An anxious farmer may check that the drum was not fed too slowly to hamper progress or too fast to leave grain in the straw. The sacks would be heaved away amid the clouds of dust, wheat sacks were 18 stone, barley 16 and oats 12. The bad tempered chaff carrier rarely suffered in silence while the engine driver occupied an enviable place at the wheel.

At the end of the day, exhausted and dirty, the labourers often faced a long walk home, or wobbled off on old cycles.

We sometimes look back with longing to the simpler days of the past but there was a harsh reality to the times. In 1893 the school leaving age was set at a minimum of 11 years. One Lincolnshire man recalled his first job aged 11 years in the early 1890s , he would work a twelve hour day picking stones from the fields for sixpence a day.

The 2022 Museum of Rural Life Tractor Run will be on Saturday 10th September with the Steam & Vintage Vehicle day taking place on Sunday 11th September in the Manor House Grounds.

The Brumpton Family

The Brumptons were a large family this particular branch originating in Calceby when Thomas Brumpton of Louth and his Wife Eliza Woodliffe of Burwell settled there following their marriage in 1833. The men of the family were all agricultural labourers when they were young. William Brumpton was the eldest son, he was present at the family home in Calceby in 1841, ten years later aged 15 he remained at home alongside his five brothers and two sisters. William, George, James, Thomas, Frances (dau) Mary ann, John, Francis (Son). By the 1851 census young Thomas is referred to as Andrew, most likely our missing “A” from the purchase information of 1891.

The elder boys quickly forged their own path, William was first described as a “Machine Man” on the 1871 census, he lived in the hamlet of Whitepit close to his brother James who had left agriculture behind and worked as a carrier. At that time their father, aged 57, remained in Calceby, Andrew (30), John (23) and Francis (20) all lived in the family home, all were agricultural labourers. It was ten years later, in the 1881 census, that Thomas snr., aged 67, was recorded as the “Owner & Master of Thrashing Machine: Employing 10 men” William’s occupation remains as a “machine man” and engine driver. The presence of Andrew on the sale details above suggests that he worked closely with his elder brother but he is not recorded as an owner on the census at all. There is one mention of Andrew Brumpton of Calceby as a machine man in a local newspaper report in relation to him appearing as a witness to sheep stealing.

Thomas snr died in 1889 and in April 1891 William is finally recorded as a threshing machine owner but he is neither employer or employed suggesting he is leaving the provision of labour to others and just working as a contractor. Just a few months later William and Andrew are recorded as taking delivery of the MORL Hornsby threshing machine. Andrew died in 1895 aged 54, the death certificate records epilepsy and liver disease as a cause of death, which may be why William appears to have taken the lead in the contracting business.

William continued the business with his sons, William and Thomas, he died in October 1902 aged 67 years, his widow remained the official owner of a traction engine working on her own account in 1911 aged 76. The threshing machine passed to William jnr, he married Harriet Hodgson in 1908, the couple lived at Swaby School House with his sister in law. Thomas had 9 children of his own by 1911 and worked as an engine driver for threshing, the family also lived in Swaby.

The Brumptons were intricately involved in village life in the Swaby area, particularly William snr’s brother James’ family. James had set up as a carrier but he died in 1879 aged 40 of TB. Eliza, his wife of 18 years continued as Sub Postmistress supported by his six children. In 1911 at the age of 72 Eliza still held the post assisted throughout by her daughter Emma. James and Eliza’s son Thomas moved away from the agricultural labour of his twenties to work as a postman for his mother alongside his passion for repairing bicycles, watches and clocks earning him the nickname “Clocky Tom”. James and Eliza’s elder son James returned to the village with his own family becoming the Sexton and Parish Clerk while also working as an agricultural machinist. William resumed his father’s carrier business and farmed, his daughter worked for her grandmother as a telegraph messenger, in 1911 his son Edward was an agricultural labourer. Edward was killed in action in 1918.

The 1919 Kelly’s Directory lists Thomas and William Brumpton as threshing contractors, their cousin William was still a farmer and carrier, and Emma had taken over as the sub postmistress.

Published by

Mrs T

Beyond the day job, and the garden, I love to delve into local and family history. While pursuing one project other snippets frequently distract me, resulting in the eclectic mix of tales from the past found here.

3 thoughts on “The Machine Men of the Wolds”

  1. Hi Sarah This is fascinating and wonderful to know the early history of this our star exhibit! Is it possible to print or produce an information document to be displayed by the machine? The same also applies to your Fenton and Townsend research for the combine. Keep up the good work! Best wishes Ashley

    Sent from my iPad


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