by alan

Then & Now, Locations Home & Abroad

March 9, 2020 in Articles

This months meanderings is generally about one particular manufacturer, but also crosses the paths of Farmfitters, Kubota, Countax, Husqvarna and Wheel Horse. Initially taking us into the 1960’s on a short trip abroad and then a trip back over to the UK all thanks to Google Earth and Street View. However, having researched this I think I need a real holiday. 

This article is also partly about looking up places on Earth and Street View and seeing if the location of your machines manufacture is still there. Suprisingly many factories still exist, we have found five relating to one company and they exist on Google Earth, read on to find out more….

Norlett 8hp Tractor (Image: VHGMC)

An article from 1969 informs us that a new but small enterprise had just been established alongside the King Baudouin Motorway in Belgium and one of the two parties involved was Norsk Lettmetall of Askin, Norway. This new setup (that is at this location) which was employing about 100 people was ‘to assemble lawn-mowers, light agricultural tractors and similar machines’, in fact their trade is listed as ‘Lawn & Garden Tractors & Attaching Tools’. Even more impressive is that Crown Prince Harald and Crown Princess Sonja of Norway participated in the inauguration of this new factory (source).

Any idea which manufacturer this small enterprise could be?

It’s a little bit of a trick question as there’s more than one company name associated with this factory. To start it is Amnor with this location being in Oevel, Belgium. One reason you may know this is as an outpost for the American Wheel Horse tractors and equipment with many UK Wheel Horse machines having the ‘Amnor NV B-2431 Oevel, Belgium’ identification attached to them. But there is another important name here….

The main company involved was Norsk Lettmetall, shortened this gives us the name Norlett which we’ve seen on countless machines in the UK. Amongst other machines, coming from the same Oevel assembly plant in Belgium some Wheel Horse tractors were badged as Norlett and painted gold. These were Norsk Lettmetall’s ‘Golden Blades’ range of horticultural and domestic gardening equipment. The three ride-on mowers they made out of Wheel Horses were the Scout, Ranger and Commander, all painted gold.

If you have a Norlett machine then the Oevel factory might be where it came from, or it just might not. The reason is that the Norlett group had manufacturing units in England, Belgium, Denmark and Norway. 

Norlett Versatiller 1000 and a Norlett tiller.

Perhaps, since the Oevel factory was sandwiched between the motorway and with the 25 mile long navigable Albert canal, maybe many a Norlett or Wheel Horse made it’s way down the waterway (pictured below) to the great port of Antwerp before heading across the sea to this country? Who knows, but it’s an interesting thought!

The navigable waterway, which can handle vessels up to 9000 tons and servicing a highly industrialized area leads through Oevel to Antwerp. Did the factory use this method of transportation? Or did they just use good old lorries and the motorway? ((C)2020 Google)

A few years later in the 1970’s and over in the UK, Norlett had been working out of a factory and distribution point (perhaps one of many) at Stadhampton Road, Great Milton, Oxford. The factory still exists, image below, although the road layout has changed. It is now home to Countax. 

The Norlett, Stadhampton Road premises, until 1975. Now occupied by Countax mowers and tractors. ((C)2020 Google)

In 1972 it’s reported that the Norlett Versatiller (tiller, pictured way above), Bushwacker (wheeled grass scythe) and Rapier (lawnmower) models were being assembled by Farmfitters LTD, their address being the above factory in Stadhampton Road before being taken over by Norlett in 1973. Up to 1973 Norlett owned 50% of Farmfitters. (see source 1973). 

Gold-painted Norlett Scout, it’s a Wheel Horse in disguise. (Image: VHGMC)

One of the 1975 machines that Norlett was distributing from it’s Stadhampton Road address was the Norlett Scout electric-start rider mower with 5hp Tecumseh engine, pictured right, this became a discontinued model by late 1975 and was not a big seller. The Scout retailed at £299 + vat, was ex-stock and dealers were being sought in some areas to sell this machine. Can we assume that the gold-painted ‘Golden Blades’ ride-on machines were therefore brought in to the Stadhampton Road premises from Oevel in Belgium before distribution or were they assembled at the Stadhampton Road premises? It’s often assumed that they were all built in Oevel in Belgium purely because they have an Oevel label attached. Anyone?

From 1975, bigger works, warehousing and assembly line were required for Norlett. It’s interesting that there is mention of an ‘assembly line’. These new premises were at Dormer Road, Thame, Oxfordshire, which is now home to Kubota, image below. In 1979 they were detailed as being ‘Distribution & assembly of horticultural machinery’ with their company as ‘Norlett (Norway)’. Two years later in 1981 Norlett was again expanding by creating new assembly lines in England (Dormer Road), Belgium, Denmark and Norway and had a total workforce of 340 employees. Lawnmowers were Norlett’s main machine and 90,000 units were being assembled each year across all plants.

Amazingly in 1980 it was reported that an order had been placed with Norlett of Dormer Road, Thame for 3000 rotary lawnmowers worth £250,000 to be exported to France. One thing I have found is that a lot more Norlett machines such as mowers and tillers were actually built in this country rather than being imported, in fact Norlett appeared to be exporting from here! 

The site of the Norlett factory and distribution depot. Dormer Road, Thame, Oxfordshire. ((C)2020 Google)

Norlett Professional Range Advert. A presumably original design but with input from Yazoo.  (Image: VHGMC)

Advertised in 1974 with the Norlett Professional logo as in the image,right, was an out-front mower created with input from Yazoo ZTR mowers.

We also end up with Flymo being involved with Norlett, this is after being acquired by the Electrolux Group in 1981. This created the company of  ‘Flymo-Norlett Commercial Products LTD’ in the UK.

This was headed by a Norlett Sales Team and the division formed at Flymo’s Newton Aycliffe, County Durham premises. The image below shows the 1990’s Flymo factory location today which is now Husqvarna, an earlier address gives a factory up the road at Redworth Way.

The 1990s Flymo factory location, now Husqvarna, later incorporating in 1981 Flymo-Norlett Commercial products Ltd with the ‘Professional’ range of equipment. Note there is an earlier location detailed as Redworth Way a short distance away. ((C)2020 Google)

There we have it a trip abroad and then through a few counties to find where Norlett worked from. And all from the comfort of ones own home.

It is surprising how many locations can be found online, either through maps, old photograph or archives. Do you have any images of old factories or locations? 

Additional: There’s an advert from Murdochs in ‘The Wicklow People’ May 14, 1960. This advertises newly introduced Norlett Rotary mowers; 2 stoke at £25; 4 stroke at £33. Norlett machines existed in the UK (and Ireland) from at least 1960. Reports state such as ‘tremendous sales’ for the mowers due to them being economical as well as their robust build quality. 

Note: Images/media are used for research/illustration purposes for non-profit only with copyright held by respective publishers where and as applicable.  

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

Norlett’s changing logo

May 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

Norlett 8hp Tractor

Norlett 8hp Tractor

I’m sure that most machinery enthusiasts are familiar with Norlett the well known brand of machinery sold in the UK. Perhaps mostly associated with the gold painted, re-badged Wheel Horse garden tractors of the 1970’s, the Norlett name is also connected to a range of tillers, lawnmowers, snowblowers and potentially other machines which are yet to surface. Do you have any other Norlett badged machinery in the shed? 

Norlett was a busy company being associated with various importers for a range of petrol and electric powered garden machines. They either had a very good marketing division, or the logo changed as the company moved premises (there’s two or more different addresses for them) or they altered the logo for a new machine or new business deal (Flymo etc) or there was more than one part to Norlett is unknown. Let us know if you can enlighten us any further!

However at least someone was kept very busy in a back room developing a Norlett logo which appears in many different forms over a few short years – more than any other manufacturer I have come across. This isn’t a difinitive guide more of an observation really on a well known name that we all associate with one company and as for the date order perhaps someone may have an answer! It’s surprising how many manufacturers have altered or tweaked their logos through the decades and we, the consumers, never noticed. 

So out of curiosity here are the Norlett logos on file displayed all in one place.

There does seem to be quite a few old Norlett badged lawnmowers lurking about, working, rusty or otherwise and the logo seems to have a blade symbol above the name which is pretty self-explanatory for a lawnmower logo.

Norlett Lawnmower Logo

Norlett Lawnmower Logo

Moving on in production, tillers and other machines sported a similar logo but without the blade symbol. Some of these logos appeared with white text on a blue or black or transparent background. Some having black text on a white background too. 

Norlett Tiller Logo

Norlett Tiller Logo with blue background

Norlett Logo with White text on a black background

Norlett Logo with white text on a black background

However, Norlett’s logo for the professional range of commercial lawnmowers featured the image without the blade symbol. Have a better look at their full professional advert. The triangular Professional Range logo also appears on the machines too so wasn’t just for advert purposes.

Norlett Professional Range Advert

Norlett Professional range advert

Somewhere along the line Norlett decided to have a re-think of the logo, opting for a more modern simple font with a now capital letter N yet still keeping the two letter T’s joined together as in the early logos. These logos are mostly printed on a clear background with white text. 

Norlett's modern logo

Norlett’s modern logo

There’s a slight deviation when the logo-designer treated the logo to a curved effect for the petrol powered Beaver Powaspade.

Norlett Powaspade logo

Norlett Powaspade curved logo

And again with the Electric Beaver Powaspade logo.

Norlett Electric Beaver Powaspade logo

Norlett Electric Beaver Powaspade logo

Some of the Norlett tractors (re-badged Wheel Horses) had the logo in all capital letters. White text on black, red or gold to suit the individual tractor.

Norlett tractor logo

Norlett tractor logo

The tillers also had a more modern logo in the end with all capital letters.

Norlett tiller logo

Norlett tiller logo

Let us know if you can add further to this or can correct anything.