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Farming Heritage

Words G Pictures Mike Teanby

Ford - the Ten Years Romance

Mike Teanby takes a look at the positive benefits of Henry Ford's involvement in British Farming during the 1930s and led to the creation of his company's famous Institute for Agricultural Engineering.

Henry Ford was an industrial genius who built his reputation, and considerable fortune, making some of the earliest automobiles and tractors. Apart from these, Ford is acknowledged as the inventor of the moving industrial assembly line and engineering component interchangability - both crucial elements required for mass production.

When asked about what Henry Ford did, people will say; the Model T motorcar, the Fordson F farm tractor - most likely in that order too. Indeed, so successful was this little farm tractor that it went on to totally dominate the American market for years and, importantly, re-wrote the rulebook on how everyone else would make tractors thereafter. Whether it was true that he actually recruited left handed fitters to work on his new assembly lines, so they could match the output of right handed men working on the opposite side of the vehicle, I don't know, but attention to detail such as this was very definitely Henry Ford's stock in trade.

Vintage Farmers Market

As the farm became mechanised men from Evesham were recruited to grow fruit and vegetable crops on intensive rotations.

Dilapidated Farms With Lots Crops

Picture the scene

Henry Ford and his wife visited the Oberammergau Passion Play in 1930 and on returning to London by train from Harwich was struck by the orderliness of the rolling countryside of Essex, noting also the extent of dilapidated cottages, farm buildings and general neglect of vast tracts of arable land hereabouts. He was surprised that such conditions existed in such a potentially fertile county, especially one so close to the capital's busy markets. Ford was later shocked to also learn that the low wages paid to farm workers had precipitated a significant, and continual,


Much has been written about this great man, often summarising his achievements as energetic, enterprising, ambitious, and even ruthless. What is beyond doubt, however, is that Henry Ford, the farmer's son from Michigan, founded a dynasty and became one of the wealthiest men in the world. Amassing a fortune worth between $500 and $700 Million by the time he died in 1947. Some of this wealth came out of his love for the agricultural industry at a time when farm mechanisation, associated with animal drawn implements, was about to be given a tremendous boost through the introduction of the lightweight design tractor like the Fordson model F - so called because another chap had registered the name Ford already in the embryo tractor business. Our story today, however, takes a somewhat different track, and starts with a journey undertaken by Henry Ford through Essex, a route that subsequently leads to what has been called the 'Ten Years Romance'. A somewhat endearing phrase describing this great man's involvement in British farming during the 1930s that not only turned land usage on its head but resulted in better pay and conditions for workers here and, ultimately the creation of his company's famous Institute for Agricultural Engineering.

Boreham House A centre of excellence

Vintage Women Tractor

Boreham House became a centre of agricultural study, providing a variety of courses for farm workers, the Women's Land Army were among the first attending to learn tractor driving and maintenance.

1930s Rock Crusher

During the war years ladies took to the land in the thousands with many learning tractor and ploughing skills.

The new way during the 1930s that not only turned land usage on its head but resulted in better pay and conditions for workers.

During the war years ladies took to the land in the thousands with many learning tractor and ploughing skills.

The new way during the 1930s that not only turned land usage on its head but resulted in better pay and conditions for workers.

migration, especially of the young, to higher paid jobs with better prospects elsewhere.

With his genius to look beyond, and beneath, the superficial, what happened next underlines something of what made Henry Ford one of the 20lh century's truly great figures. He bought Boreham House, near Chelmsford, together with several thousand acres with farms and woodland that surrounded it. Then he set about improving the land together with the prospects of those who sought to earn a living from it.

A joint stock company - Fordson Estates Ltd - was established with funds provided by Ford himself. Land with buildings was purchased on the open market at the going rate of around £20 per acre. A further £10 per acre was set aside in addition to put the land back into 'good heart'. Tenancies were cancelled, buildings renovated, land cleared of redundant timber and drainage improved.

It took almost two years, and a lot of physical effort, but on completion, the farms were ready for occupation and the number of labourers employed on them was doubled. Soon, in excess of six people were now able to earn a living from every 100 acres under cultivation.

British agriculture was in dire straights and as a consequence workers could expect to earn not much more than 30 shillings a week, weekends off and holidays were unheard of and lay-offs during the long winter months were inevitable. The landed gentry, on the other hand, took little interest in their vast estates save for recreational use, shooting, hunting and fishing.

Ford's commitment towards greater farm mechanisation now sat perfectly alongside his newfound fascination with the experiment in Essex which from the outset he fully expected to take a full decade to evolve. The Ten Year

Initially, and throughout the greater part of the 'Ten Years Romance', Boreham House was, in fact, regarded as a bit of a white elephant. At one time it was gifted to the Essex County Agricultural Committee for educational purposes, but the offer was declined as it was considered by them to be unfit for such a purpose. Henry Ford, undaunted by such commentary, then set up the Trustees himself in 1937, and so was formed the very first institution of its kind in this country.

Lord Perry, who had been involved with the greater farming experiment in Essex from the outset, was now Chairman of the Ford Motor Company in Britain and took a keen interest in the development of the new Institution. Boreham House became a centre of agricultural study, providing a variety of courses for farm workers through to the outbreak of WWII in 1939. The Women's Land Army were among the first attending thereafter and here they learned much about driving and maintaining tractors and how to use an assortment of farm implements.

In 1953, the Ford Motor Company Tractor Division next took over responsibility for Boreham House and the following year their Mechanised Farming Centre was opened as a training establishment for the Fordson dealer network as well as their

Boreham House became a centre of agricultural study, providing a variety of courses for farm workers, the Women's Land Army were among the first attending to learn tractor driving and maintenance.

Romance is a genuine example of the man's capacity for forward thinking, commitment and, of course, financial acumen.

At Boreham he typically ignored the grand house to concentrate his initial efforts instead in growing produce and rearing livestock as rapidly as possible to ship into London's thriving Covent Garden and Smithfield markets - all of this in exchange for hard cash. The money raised was quite literally ploughed straight back into the land and soon began helping to improve the living conditions and prospects of his workers. 3

own Tractor Division staff. Among the many notable products launched here was the 1953 British built Major, manufactured at Dagenham, and the little Dexta, produced four years later.

In 1971 the higher horsepower Ford 7000 Series graced the now magnificent lawns at Boreham and more recently, in 1991, around the time of the Fiat merger, the Series 40 models also made their debut here.

In its heyday, visitor numbers to Boreham House exceeded 1200 a year - and that's on top of 8000 trainees, half of whom would also be involved in territory-based courses too. Many of these students came from overseas as Ford, along with all the other great farm machinery companies with factories in Britain, increased their sales around the world. Product diversity continued expanding to include combine harvesters, haymaking equipment, balers and industrial machinery too.

Under New Holland ownership, the facilities at Boreham went on to cater for even more overseas students easily fulfilling the role as that company's International Training Centre before being sold in 1985, when a purpose built facility was established within the company's massive Tractor Works at Basildon itself.

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Although complete and in running order, Jim thought the tractor looked rather tired and so went for the thorough restoration.

Mr Huxley kept the tractor for around eight years during which time he carried out some mechanical repairs, replacing the starter, the injectors and one of the tyres and he also tidied up the paintwork. The tractor really needed some major refurbishment work but Mr Huxley did not have the time to devote to the project and the tractor was eventually sold to Lloyd Williams in 1990. A few years later it was bought by George Wisener and he began work on a thorough restoration. The tractor was stripped down and problems with the fuel lines, transmission and faulty seals on the powershift were identified. George had good contacts in the USA and managed to obtain the necessary replacement parts without too much difficulty. The brakes were also found to be less than effective and were completely stripped down and the brakes were relined by a firm in Kilmarnock. A new chrome exhaust was also made locally.

Although the tractor had worked on the coast for many years, the salty air had caused very

Power at your fingertips to control the whole outfit which measured around 40ft in length.

little in the way of rusting and the bodywork and chassis were still in remarkably good condition. However, the tractor really did need repainting especially as Southport County Council had painted some of the panels green and, as built, these tractors were always turned out in Cornfield Yellow. Taking off the old paintwork also removed what remained of the Allis logos and transfers but George managed to obtain some new transfers from his North American contacts. However, the Beachmaster logo proved impossible to find and the original would be lost when the old paintwork was stripped off. George arranged for a replacement set based on the original design to be made up locally. With those details preserved the tractor was taken back to bare metal and primed and repainted.

Current owner

George sold the Beachmaster to Bob Pettigrew in 2001 and the current owner of the machine, Jim Padkin bought it from him in 2003 and took delivery of the Allis at a tractor event held at Loudon Castle. I recently met up with Jim having made arrangements to photograph his superbly restored Albion Reiver and while the lorry was being driven out of the shed I was intrigued by the bright yellow rear end of a tractor poking out from beneath a tarpaulin. Curiosity certainly got the better of me and I asked Jim what the sheet was hiding. "That is probably one tractor you won't have seen before, an Allis-Chalmers One-Ninety Beachmaster." He was absolutely right as he lifted the sheet to reveal the magnificent tractor, the like of which I had never seen.

During that first visit I concentrated on photographing the Albion, but intrigued by the rare tractor, I made arrangements to return a couple of weeks later to 'play' with the One-Ninety.

When Jim bought the tractor it was complete and in running order but it was beginning to look rather tired. "Once I had brought the tractor back to the workshop I considered the options: keep as it was, carry out a cosmetic refurbishment or strip the thing down and carry out a thorough restoration. I chose the third option and the Allis was dismantled and soon the shed floor had practically disappeared under a mass of Beachmaster parts. The old paintwork was stripped off but knowing that the original transfers and logos were no longer available in the USA some copies were made and the full details recorded so I could have a new set made up.

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