Tuesday 18th May 1830 – the birth of a mower

At some time before this day Edwin Budding, an engineer from Stroud, Gloucestershire, had watched a machine in a local cloth mill that used a cutting cylinder/bladed reel mounted on a bench to trim the irregular nap from the surface of woollen cloth and give a smooth finish. This gave him an idea – ‘could this concept be used to cut grass?’ Budding decided that if he could modify that process to cut the lawns on sports grounds and extensive gardens – it would be significantly better than scythes or animals which were then the prime devices for maintaining a good green-sward. He approached John Ferrabee, the owner of Phoenix Foundry at Thrupp Mill in Stroud with his idea and, in an agreement between the two dated Tuesday 18th May 1830, Ferrabee agreed to pay the costs of development and the obtaining of letters of patent in exchange for having the rights to manufacture, sell and license other manufacturers in the production of lawn mowers. Budding agreed to this and, on Monday 31st August 1830 he was granted a British patent for the device.

The first machine produced was 19 inches wide with a wrought iron frame. The ‘mowing device’ was pushed from behind with a rear roller driving gears which transferred the drive to the knives on the cutting cylinder. Another roller between the cutting cylinder and the land roller was adjustable to alter the height of cut. On cutting, the grass clippings were hurled forward into a tray-like box. In other words – pretty much the same as the Webb Witch push mower that I use on my various lawns since the mid-1960s. Two of the earliest Budding machines sold went to Regent’s Park Gardens and the Oxford Colleges. It took ten more years, and further innovations, to create a machine that could be worked by animals, and sixty years before a steam-powered lawn mower was built.

So – the next time you cut the lawn – say ‘Thank you’ to Edward and John for creating the device that can save you a lot of pushing!

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