vintage engine

Horses and Garden Machines

September 12, 2019 in Machinery

Our journey this month takes us back to 1912 where labour was absolutely vital to keeping a country house spick and span both inside and outside. No self-respecting lady (or gentleman) would dare be seen without a couple of maids around the house keeping everything clean and smart whilst out in the gardens there’d be at least one struggling gardener faffing with the dahlias and doffing his cap for tuppence a week. 

The bigger the properties the more labour was required. And much like today tools and machinery could cut down on time-consuming tasks and save on labour costs.

These following machines are absolutely fantastic and one can see how modern machines have developed over the years. 

But we need a bit of labour to power the machinery and our time-saving saviour comes in the form of a horse, for horse powered equipment was really useful in a big country garden. So, gee up Dobbin, put yer boots on, we are going gardening.

Alternative Steel Horse Boot

Without his boots on poor Dobbin isn’t allowed on the posh lawns, or gravel driveway, in fact he isn’t allowed anywhere considered ‘delicate’ without being properly kitted out in footwear. We have no doubt all seen leather boots (image in the gallery) for ponies to stop them marking the grass when dragging a mower along. I’ve since discovered that metal horse boots were also available for the same reasons and they seem to be a curved metal plate with a Jubilee-type clip to attach them to the hoof. Available in several sizes, a quirk of ordering was that a drawing of the outline of the hoof (like drawing around your hand) was to be sent in with the order.

One of the main garden uses for pony-power (or horse) was for mowing lawns. The image below shows what appears to be a concerned gentleman trying to figure out the controls of his new 1912 combined mower AND roller, wonder if it came with a handbook to help the chap master all the levers and pedals? 

Horse drawn lawnmower

The mower can easily be adjusted for high and low cut, ‘throwing in and out of gear’ and ‘for raising the knives when passing over stones, rough places, or roads’. It can also be used for rolling with the high-speed cutters disengaged. Note that in the image the horse is wearing boots.

Horse drawn lawn sweeper

In 1912 the blokes ride-on mower, above, didn’t have the capability of grass collecting, although pedestrian mowers did. Yet at the same time lawn sweepers were available to be drawn by horses across the lawn as in the image on the right. That’s correct – horse drawn lawn sweepers; turns out they are not a new-fangled invention from the last 50 years as would be assumed.

The lawn sweeper shown had a large 3′ revolving brush and the collecting box could be emptied on the move – which presumably meant heaps of lawn sweepings in several places that some worker then had to clear up. The sweeper was designed to be used after the lawn had been mown to give a perfect finish and leave no grass clippings behind.

Horse drawn seeder

Another way to improve the lawn is to stick a bit more seed down. The lawn seeder, pictured right and called the ‘Velvet Lawn’ was useful for renewing or thickening grass and renovating bald patches on lawns. It would evenly distribute the seed and plant it at a reasonable depth according to how the operator adjusted the machine. The description of the machines workings is involved but it essentially cuts a slot with a revolving steel disc and drops grass seed into the slot before a roller covers it up – pretty standard stuff then.

So far our horse has been mowing, sweeping and seeding the lawns. There are three more garden jobs that can be done:

Horse drawn roller

There was a choice of garden lawn rollers. The basic one-horse affairs, which carried more of an agricultural look, could ‘smooth and keep in perfection, lawns, drives’ etc. The better two-horse rollers as shown in the image above were of superior quality and finish and were of a much more elaborate design with ‘attractively decorated woodwork’ above the roller and castings  – the desirable woodwork decoration making no difference whatsoever to the effectiveness of the rollers prime function, suppose it’s much like wood veneer in an Austin Allegro – but it’s a selling point.  

Horse drawn water sprinkler

The next innovation, as pictured on the right, is a water carrier and sprinkler with over 100 gallon capacity, for lawns, driveways and gardens. It can spread water up to 18’ wide or reduced down to 1’ wide as required. It can also be adjusted to apply one or two narrow streams of water onto vegetables or plants in rows. My question is: If one took a horse across said vegetable growing area dragging such a sprinkler, wouldn’t it be tricky to avoid the plants as there are four hooves, two wheels plus a mouth at the front end to manoeuvre through the crops?

And for the sprinklers encore – it is the only sprinkler adapted for spreading liquid manure as it will not clog. We are suitably impressed with this early interpretation of the slurry tanker.

Horse drawn turf cutter

Finally, an amazing machine that’d probably take some skill in using is a turf cutter. It cuts the turf to a uniformed width and thickness and to any length. There is an adjustable roller to regulate the thickness of the turf from half an inch to two inches. It will cut up to an acre a day saving the labour of 40 men. Yet it’s still to roll, lift, transport and re-lay. 

From a horses point of view I’m pretty sure the garden jobs would be preferable to pulling a plough through a field all day and being mostly in a garden pulling a mower or sweeper they’d be fair-weather jobs too. But, would they have their own horse, or did they just borrow a local one when required? Or horse-share even? Anyone know? 

These images are from a brochure we have in VHGMC archive. 

Everything for the Garden
. New York: Peter Henderson and Co., 1912. Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalogue Collection. Special Collections, National Agricultural Library.

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

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

VHGMC in the Telegraph newspaper 2009

March 3, 2018 in Club News

In April 2009 the Telegraph newspaper ran an excellent article about the VHGMC with the headline of ‘Down Tools? Not these vintage gems’.

The Telegraph article can be read online and can be found at:

The VHGMC featured in the Telegraph newspaper in 2009 –  Click this image for a larger version


by alan

Machines and original engines

May 7, 2017 in Articles, Machinery

Villiers Engine Advert

Occasionally we see posts on the VHGMC forum asking if a certain machine had a particular engine fitted from new or is it a replacement engine.

A machine may get an engine transplant over it’s lifetime. Maybe the swap is because the engine has expired, maybe it was easier to put on another engine as it was cheaper than replacing worn parts or indeed the machine may have the correct engine type but swapped from a different machine and hence the colours or ID plates no longer match the receiving machine. There are many reasons. 

Coming across a 1965 Gaskets and Oil Seals catalogue the other week there is a list of vintage machines with their engines, list reproduced below. This isn’t an exhaustive list but nevertheless it is interesting to see the original specified engines with their machines listed alongside some popular manufacturers. 

There are a few interesting items within the pages such as a battery charger made by Dale with a Villiers Mk.20 engine. A Byron elevator with a JAP 2S engine (Probably the same as Byron who made the tractors). An Acre soil shredder with BSA 320cc engine, and Teles Chainsaws with various Villiers engines. 

Of note is an En-Tout-Cas (of the posh tennis courts) roller with a Villiers Mk.12 engine. An engine powered En-Tout-Cas roller to match the En-Tout-Cas tennis court is very upmarket indeed! I’ll make an assumption that the roller was possibly a re-badged machine, maybe a Stothert & Pitt as they used the same engines.

Below are the pages relevant to vintage horticultural machines – check to see which engines were fitted on each machine. Is your’s there?

The columns in bold were the recommended head gasket reference numbers.

Click on the images for slightly larger versions.

Walking Tractors Engine List

Sprayers (Liquid) Engine List

Sprayers (Dry) Engine List

Soil Mixers Engine List

Grass Cutters & Mowers Engine List

Soil Shredder Engine List

Chainsaw Engine List

Rollers Engine List

Trucks Engine List

Batter Charger Engine List

Flxible Drive Tools Engine List

Dumpers Engine List

Generators Engine List

by alan

Before Starting Engine…

March 19, 2017 in Articles

Briggs and Stratton engine with 1976 engine maintenance card

Briggs and Stratton engine with 1976 engine maintenance card

Engine maintenance is of the utmost importance, for without a running engine we are going nowhere apart from the workshop to do some problem solving. 

Illustrated right and shown as a full scan at the bottom of the page is a 1976 dated Briggs and Stratton engine instruction guide supplied with a new B&S engine and usually attached to the engine or pull cord.

These instructions were issued with engines as an important piece of information for the operator and as such contain the message ‘Keep and follow this guide to good engine performance‘ but we wonder how many instruction guides were kept or did they end up oil-stained on the workshop bench to be discarded at a later date?

Before Starting Engine…

The B&S guide details the recommended oil levels and also the oil to be used in summer (over 40F or 4C) and winter (under 40F or 4C) and colder (under 0F use SAE 10W oil diluted 10% with kerosene). These engines would have been supplied worldwide and powered many implements in varying temperatures from mowers in summer to snowblowers in the depths of winter. 

Looking at the offerings of cheap and cheerful mowers at a DIY store over the weekend we noticed they still have labels with instructions, although limited sometimes to just informing the operator that the engine contains no oil and needs purchasing separately. I know of someone who omitted to fill a new mower engine with oil and it had a very short life indeed. 

As we know, dragging the mower out at Easter, chucking in some of last years winter-stored fuel and hoping it starts is not the best idea, sensibly the B&S guide recommends for ‘Off Season Care’ to ‘Empty the fuel tank before storage and run engine until it stops’. For a new season then ‘Fill fuel tank completely (outdoors) with clean, fresh, regular grade automotive gasoline’. 

According to the B&S guide for regular maintenance the engine oil should be checked before starting the engine and after every five hours of operation. Also change the oil after each 25 hours of operation, re-oil the air cleaner at 25 hours, washing the oil-foam element in kerosene or detergent and then dry, saturate with engine oil and squeeze to remove excess oil – I remember that from college years ago. How many domestic lawnmowers get that treatment nowadays? 

Finally ‘Service Notes’ on the guide helpfully advise that if the engine is difficult to start when cold then rotate the carburetor needle 1/8 turn counterclockwise, if it’s hard to start when hot then turn it 1/8 turn clockwise. ‘When working on engine or equipment disconnect spark plug wire…to avoid accidental starting’  – I’m sure we all know stories about someone accidentally starting an engine via turning the mower blade.

Briggs & Stratton Engine Maintenance Card

1976 Briggs & Stratton Engine Maintenance Card – Side 1

Briggs & Stratton Engine Maintenance Card - Side 2

1976 Briggs & Stratton Engine Maintenance Card – Side 2