Review of the reads – February 2022

Words by:
Yusef Sayed
Featured in:
February 2022

The Story of Ruston Traction Engines 1877 to 1937
by Michael Thexton

Grimsby born Michael Thexton draws on his first-hand knowledge of traction engines, having acquired his first Ruston-Proctor in 1968, to tell the story of the Lincoln company and its contribution to agricultural developments and construction before and after the First World War.

With help from a Ruston archivist and illustrated with numerous photographs, the book provides an overview of the engines built and supplied to both the domestic and international market. From traction engines to road rollers and steam tractors, Thexton explains the different needs of land workers and builders from Italy and Russia to the Baltics, with an emphasis on the importance of the Argentine market to Ruston’s sales.

Thexton is attentive to the ways in which similiarities across models and standardisation helped with production capacity and cost – and equally the ways in which the standards of competitors had to be borne in mind. During the war, the urgency of supplying grain for home food production and hay to horses on the Front saw the company shifting course to meet these demands.

The acquisition of Richard Hornsby and Sons in September 1918, leading to the formation of Ruston and Hornsby, is also covered along with the new company’s changing fortunes in overseas markets post-war.

The book will appeal primarily to those with an interest in the technical aspects of these engines, with Thexton outlining the distinct specs and capabilities of each. The photos are of a high quality although it is only on the back cover illustration that one sees the distinctive green and red colour scheme, as specified by agents Agar Cross. Thexton’s overview is supplemented by copious appendices detailing price comparisons, dimensions and performance data, and production records.

Published by Road Locomotive Society, price £30 plus P&P, available from or by emailing

Stamford’s Industrial Past – An Untold Story
by Neville Birch

After publishing a pamphlet on Stamford’s industrial history in 1972, Neville Birch continued his research into the town’s past, collecting enough material for a more substantial book before his death in 2018. Edited by the late Chris Lester, who also died prior to publication, this new title from the Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology finally makes Birch’s work readily available.

Looking into the thriving engineering and manufacturing industries of the mid-Victorian to the Edwardian period – on which today’s attractive tourist town was built – Birch provides capsule histories of numerous businesses and personalities. Some of these were short-lived, such as the Coulson & Wear engine company, but even here Birch has drawn upon a wide range of sources to gather useful information and document the changing ownership, identities and success of the businesses.

There are more lengthy discussions of those firms which achieved national or international repute, from Williamson Cliff brickworks and Blashfield’s terracotta, to Blackstone’s engineering, Martin agricultural machinery and Pick’s motor cars. As Birch underlines, the Cecil family are central to the story of Stamford, providing the land for a number of firms and ensuring a clean water supply for the town. Birch includes where possible family histories and the fates of each company, with some leaving lasting traces in the town to this day.

The text is supplemented by a wealth of photographs, illustrations, maps and archival advertisements.

The range of industries covered, as well as Stamford’s response to the Great War and its developing public services, road and rail networks, reflects the enormous amount of research undertaken by Birch – effort that will now provide an accessible and reliable source of information to future historians, enthusiasts and writers.

Published by Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology, price £14.95 plus P&P, available from

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