Curator's Choice: Brian Radam of The Lawnmower Museum chooses the 22" Atco Standard Nine Blade

Brian Radam interviewed by Chris Broughton | 01 March 2009
An image of a man in a tuxedo on a lawnmower in a garden with a house in the background.

Courtesy The Lawnmower Museum

Curator's Choice: In his own words... Brian Radam, Director and Curator of the Lawnmower Museum, chooses the 22" Acto Standard Nine Blade mower (1921-41), designed by Charles Henry Pugh. Here he talks about the beauty of the machine, its rivals and how it came to be made.

"My favourite mower is the first one manufactured by the Atlas Chain Company, who later shortened their name to Atco. It’s very ornately made, with a cast iron chassis and lots of lovely detailing such as brass gauges and fittings. It has a crank handle to start it up and a propellor on the side to cool it down. All the chains are exposed and it has a really convenient tool rack at the back.

There are quite a few manufacturers that aren’t really associated with lawn mowing, but that nevertheless produced models of their own – companies like Royal Enfield, Rolls-Royce and Vincent Motorbikes. Atco fits with that tradition. They made chains for ships, and had a horse-drawn lawnmower to cut the factory grounds. When the horse died of overwork the managers got together and said, "is there not another way we can cut the grass without getting another poor horse?"

They decided to build a new chassis and put a new-fangled petrol engine on it, and they brought out the first mass-produced petrol lawnmower in 1921. It would never have happened if the horse hadn’t died. It cost 19 guineas, which was an enormous amount in those days, but it had nine blades and would have given a superb finish. It’s a very fine example of the beautiful craftsmanship that used to be par for the course in British manufacturing 80 years ago.

The sad thing is, Charles Henry Pugh, the fellow who designed it, never got to see his lawnmower in action – he died before the first one was made. But Atco are still going today, and still making lawnmowers. The original design was refined many times over the years, but Standards were still being produced until the early 1930s, and the company continued to service the original models into the 1960s."

An image of a vintage lawnmower.

Courtesy The Lawnmower Museum

"So the Atco Standard is my favourite mower, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best ever made. In my opinion, that didn’t appear for another five years. The Jerram & Pearson Water Cooled mower had a cast-aluminium side frame and was far in advance of anything else available at the time. Mind you, in 1926 it would have cost twice as much as a car, so you’d expect it to be good.

Jerram & Pearson described it as ‘the Rolls-Royce of lawnmowers’ and Rolls-Royce did actually end up manufacturing the machines after they bought the company. Obviously, only wealthy people owned Jerram & Pearson machines but in those days, people bought things expecting them to last. And they did last – there are quite a lot of Jerram & Pearson mowers still going today.

Mind you, at that time, even the normal mowers were well engineered – there really weren’t any bad ones. Today we have a very different attitude to these sorts of products, and people expect to replace things once they’ve been superceded.

At one time, Britain had the best lawnmowers in the world and some of the best lawns, too. We seem to have lost both – we’ve got virtually no British lawnmower manufacturers left, which I think is a real shame. That’s one of the reasons we started the museum."

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