Britannia Iron Works: A Book Review

Marshall tandem roller

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11 Avenue Road Chelmsford, England CM2 9TY

William Marshall, Sons & Company of Gainsborough, Lincoln, United Kingdom, have been engaged in the design and manufacture of agricultural implements and machines since 1848 right through to the present time. A fascinating book on the history of the firm has just been written by Michael Lane, entitled The Story of the Britannia Iron Works.

It is a most detailed and comprehensive account of the artifacts manufactured by Marshall's over almost 150 years, and also gives an insight into the growth and evolution of the firm and of the personalities involved.

Marshall tandem roller, Works No. 87125, built in 1933. It has steam steering with instant reverse and a vertical boiler. Photo taken at the Great Dorset Steam Fair 1991.

Marshall portable, works No. 86161, built in 1931. It's driving a rack saw bench which was made in 1852. Photo taken at the Amberly Chalk Pits Museum in 1989.

In its early days Marshall's concentrated on the design and production of threshing machines, then in 1857 it produced its first portable steam engine. Twenty years later the first steam traction engine left the Britannia Works, and in 1894 steam rollers began to be manufactured there. Although Marshall's built an experimental gas engine in 1881, it was not until 1906 that their first internal combustion powered tractor left the factory. From then on, although producing steam powered engines for about another 30 years, much effort was applied to improving the internal combustion tractor, culminating in the present day production of their well known Track-Marshall range. Meanwhile, as steam powered vehicles were being phased out, a whole range of diesel engined rollers began to be produced.

Marshall 8 ton steam roller, Works No. 79669, built in 1925. This was the last steam roller to be used by a local Council and was retired in 1983 after working for that time. Photo taken at the Amberly Chalk Pits Museum in 1989.

The author takes the reader through all these design and model changes to both steam and internal combustion powered machines, and touches on such matters as the use of the Corliss oscillating valve which was patented by George H. Corliss, the owner of Corliss, Nightingale & Company of Rhode Island, for which Marshall's became the sole licensee in the United Kingdom. Mention is also made of the 1923 Millars-Marshall tandem steam roller, which was based on an American patent, and of the subsidiary company, set up in the United States, of Marshall-Richards. Although the main thrust of the book is the definitive descriptive illustrations and detail of all the Marshall engines and tractors over almost 150 years, the author does not lose sight of the fact that Marshall's were engaged, over a long period, in the manufacture of stationary engines, boilers, flax harvesting machines, drilling rigs, cement and concrete mixing machines, saw benches, etc. Also, during the First World War, they built Bristol fighter aircraft, and in the Second World War they made naval gun mountings, ammunition hoists, rocket launching platforms, pom-pom guns and ammunition. They even built four very hush-hush miniature submarines (X-Craft) which were used to blow up German ships in the Norwegian fjords. It might be thought that a factual account of the history of a particular firm might be as dry as dust but this is certainly not the case in this book. The author, Michael Lane, is a former Chairman of the National Traction Engine Trust and has from a very early age been keenly interested in steam engines, especially railway locomotives and traction engines. He was the owner of the magnificent 1925 Burrell Showmans Road Locomotive; called Ex-Mayor, Works No. 4000, and he spent many years on its full restoration. He has written several other books including The Story of the Steam Plough Works which is the history of John Fowler (Leeds) Ltd., and all are written in a lucid and easily readable style.

The Story of the Britannia Iron Works, in 8? inch by 12 inch format, with over 300 illustrations, would make an attractive addition to anyone's library but it is almost essential reading for Marshall collectors and enthusiasts or for those interested in the evolution of design and manufacture of engines in the United Kingdom.

The book can be bought from booksellers in the United States, or from Cimino Publishing Group, Inc. P.O. Box 174, Carle Place, New York, NY 11514, telephone 516-997-3721. The price per copy is $42.00 at press time.

Pat Freeman is the Publicity Officer of the Road Roller Association. Should you wish to join the RRA or wish for any information on British engines, please write to him.