Catalogue description RANSOMES, SIMS & JEFFERIES LTD.

This record is held by Museum of English Rural Life

Details of TR RAN
Reference: TR RAN

The historical records deposited by Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies Ltd. at the Institute of Agricultural History are notable for their diversity of type, their extensive coverage of the firm's products and activities and not least their time span, ranging from the late eighteenth century to the present day. Even so, the Ransomes Collection represents only a small proportion of a veritable mountain of records which must have been generated by this large and complex manufacturing firm. External factors influencing record survival have been the continuity and success of Ransomes as a business since 1789, and only one major change of site - that of the gradual move after 1946 from the Orwell Works in the centre of Ipswich to Nacton, on the outskirts of the town. Internally, the relative lack of any records management policy meant that physical bulk alone militated against the survival of many records, especially during rebuilding or internal reorganisation. There were, fortunately, more conservative forces at work but these were selective with the result that certain types of records, such as summaries or those subject to internal registration, survive better than, for example, routine administrative or accounting records. Internal registration was notably employed for four lengthy records series. These were drawings, photographs, publications and printing block proofs, for which systematic recording was essential for speed of recall and reference. Certain technical records, especially those originating in the engineering department, were also retained to service technical enquiries and facilitate the repair and maintenance of discontinued lines. Finally, a continuous interest in the history and development of the firm, as evinced by C.J. Palmer's History of the Orwell Works (TR RAN/SP1/1), and the employment of company historians between 1949 and 1969, meant that the preservation of records became official company policy. As a result most types of record are represented, but a detailed analysis of their composition reveals a far from even pattern of conservation, especially for the earlier period.


The business records proper (TR RAN/CO, TR RAN/AC and TR RAN/AD) comprise useful summary material but exclude the formidable bulk of the subsidiary records. It is possible, especially in view of the paucity of business agreements and patenting records, that more company records (TR RAN/CO) survive, in bank custody, with firms of solicitors or in company strong rooms. The Orwell Works estate records, for instance, (TR RAN/CO4) are known to have been transferred to the new owners when the site was sold. As they stand the company records consist of partnership records (TR RAN/CO1), including a few early agreements and the capital ledger 1865-1884; limited company records (TR RAN/CO2) and trade mark records (TR RAN/CO6), including litigation in Chancery 1872-1874 and 1881-1882.


The absence of the long runs of bought ledgers, sales ledgers, cash books, day books and journals in the commercial accounts (TR RAN/AC1-TR RAN/AC4) is compensated for by their summary in the first five private ledgers of RSJ for the period 1884-1944 (TR RAN/AC1/1-5) and the two runs of financial statements 1837-1883 and 1941-1971 (TR RAN/AC7). The cost accounts (TR RAN/AC5) likewise do not survive apart from yearly wage analysis sheets 1871-1939 and two salaries and wages books. However, yearly cost account analysis books were compiled of which those for 1885 and 1936-1939 are preserved (TR RAN/AC5/1-5). Both sets of the accounts are summarised in a director's notebook for 1884-1901 (TR RAN/AC6/5) and a separate volume contains early business accounts 1804-1832 (TR RAN/AC6/1). As the majority of Ransomes' extensive business was done through agents, branch accounting was not significant (TR RAN/AC8). The branch accounts extant are the second volume of financial statements of the Odessa branch 1892-1919, and two general ledgers and two principal journals of the Ipswich town warehouse 1902-1946, which served as Ransomes' immediate retail and wholesale outlet.


The records of the internal governing body of the company, the board of directors (TR RAN/AD1), comprise the first directors' minute book 1884-1937 and the detailed private reports of proceedings at board meetings 1919-1939, which include information on sales, orders, marketing and capital. Loss formal summaries (TR RAN/AD2), comprise a directors' notebook of statistics 1884-1901 and an engineering department notebook. The breakdown of central administrative records, into those of labour (TR RAN/AD3), premises (TR RAN/AD4) and materials (TR RAN/AD5), means that a once large quantity of material is now represented by a body of records which, though small in number, contains several detailed items. It includes six registers of workmen 1859-1922, a register of apprentices 1838-1872 and a detailed list of workmen in 1859-1922 (TR RAN/AD3); works, plans and maps 1846-1847 (TR RAN/AD4) and two output analysis books 1866-1882 (TR RAN/AD5). According to Palmer's history (TR RAN/SP1/1 M) similar output analyses were compiled from 1897 onwards, but have apparently disappeared. Branch administration is principally represented by a regulations book (TR RAN/AD6/1) for the management of the Ipswich and Bury St. Edmunds town warehouses, compiled in 1892.


Commercial records (TR RAN/AD7), concerned with orders, sales and marketing must have comprised an enormous accumulation, especially as they would have included much of the routine business correspondence. General analyses were essential but only a selection now survives. According to Palmer (TR RAN/SP1/1 M), two series of export analysis books were once kept from 1863 onwards, one for customers, the other for each different country and also a yearly export diary from 1887 onwards. Although these have not been traced, there are individual export books for Peru and the United States of Columbia 1875-1889; Roumanian agencies 1868-1885 and Russian agencies 1861-1885. There is also a series of yearly sales analyses for 1871-1939 and some useful reference compilations concerning prices, but records of orders are very few, apart from the monthly summaries in the reports of proceedings at directors' meetings (TR RAN/AD1). Agents lists are preserved for the British Isles 1914-1950.


The manufacturing records (TR RAN/MP, TR RAN/DO and TR RAN/ET) are well represented in general, but are unevenly biased towards certain products, notably steam engines. This is probably due to the highly technical nature of such records, their retention for servicing discontinued lines and also to the growth of outside popular interest in steam engineering, especially traction engines. The bias is most noticeable in the records of the manufacturing processes (TR RAN/MP), which refer to the activities of the different departments of the firm. The five most important sections prior to the Second World War were those concerned with steam engineering; thrashing machinery; ploughs and implements; lawn and grass mowing machinery and electric vehicles. (The present division is fourfold - tillage, harvesting, industrial and grass-mowing). Each department (and often sub-department), tended to generate its own records, of which production registers (TR RAN/MP1), are the most prominent.


The majority of manufacturing records were generated by the now defunct engineering department which manufactured its last steam engine in 1942 and ceased to service engines after 1955. These records form a detailed and extensive accumulation. The general engine registers c.1850-1945 (TR RAN/MP1), are preserved complete and after 1877 consist of two separate series, one arranged by sales number (in order of sale) and the other by manufacturing number (in order of manufacture). There was also a separate series of six detailed traction engine registers, now lost, though their summaries, customer indexes and some detailed register notes survive, as do the detailed oil engine and steam wagon registers. Corn mills were registered independently of other engineering department products and although the register is not extant, the customer index survives.


The engineering department working papers (TR RAN/MP2), show the process of sub-departmental manufacture at work. Individual engine parts and components were made to standard or to order in the turnery (TR RAN/MP2/1-27) and the boiler plates likewise in the boiler shop (TR RAN/MP2/28-29); all components were then assembled by the engine erecting department and the completed engines given manufacturing numbers (TR RAN/MP2/33-4). The engines were tested during and after manufacture by the engine testing department (TR RAN/MP2/35-36), then partially dismantled and packaged (TR RAN/MP2/38-184) and finally dispatched (TR RAN/MP2/194-202). Corn mills also feature in the turnery records, in the reports of dismantling and package and in the dispatch books. There exist also some engineering department parts and servicing records (TR RAN/MP3).


The records of the thrashing machinery department are surprisingly few. (Production was terminated there in 1955 apart from outstanding orders). The five thrashing machine registers were apparently destroyed in the late 1960's. Customer indexes exist (TR RAN/MP1/45-49), but there are no working papers or parts and servicing records. The plough works records consist of two plough mark registers (TR RAN/MP1/50 and TR RAN/MP1/51), the principal one covering 1839-1943 and four plough and implement parts registers (TR RAN/MP3/14-17), all ceasing in the mid-1950's with the transfer of the plough works from Ipswich to Nacton. It is unlikely that many subsidiary records were kept, but probably there were registers, now lost, of different implement types. The electric vehicle department is represented by two trolley bus production lists 1925-1948 (TR RAN/MP1/53-4). Possibly the records disappeared in the move to Nacton or during the gradual phasing out of electric vehicle production. Finally, the lawn mower works records are not represented at all but as the department remains in production some material may still be with the firm.


The other manufacturing records relate to drawing and design (TR RAN/DO) and experimentation and technical reference (TR RAN/ET). The large number of drawings which were generated required registration from an early date c.1840 onwards. Eventually different drawings series were introduced, including after 1900, separate departmental series. (The different drawing series are explained in section TR RAN/DO1). However, their daunting physical bulk proved a constant problem. A memorandum of 6th April 1881 in the front of the first drawings ledger (TR RAN/DO2/1) reads:-


"To make some room to store current office and shop drawings we must clean out and destroy all the useless and obsolete drawings".


In October 1893 the following schedule was applied to the existing drawings and entered in the first two drawings ledgers (TR RAN/DO2/1, TR RAN/DO2/2):-


D = Destroyed


M = Missing


R = Reserved (of doubtful value)


PI = Preserved out of interest


The great majority of ledger entries have "D" codings. Periodic destruction continued thereafter, though on a smaller scale. A solution to the problem of size came in the early 1940's when 6½ x 4¾ inch barcograph transparencies were made of all drawings, initially as a security precaution, but continued thereafter to the present day. A further advantage of the process was that it enabled prints to be made from negative transparencies, thereby allowing the originals to be destroyed, while at the same time facilitating information retrieval.


Very few original drawings and tracings are therefore preserved at the University of Reading. Of the few early 'ledger series' drawings to survive, nearly all have the "PI" codings. The only complete survival is the standard list series (TR RAN/DO1/L) of drawings of standard steam engineering components. The barcograph transparencies cover most of the drawing series from the 1880's onwards, including positive transparencies of engineering and thrashing machinery drawings of Ruston & Hernsby Ltd. acquired in the inter-war period. The transparencies were numbered from N1 onwards in order of copying and their registers are still in the custody of Ransomes. The Institute currently holds all transparencies prior to N40,000 relating to the engineering and thrashing machinery departments, some 15,000 in all. Drawing registers (TR RAN/DO2) survive for certain series, together with some subject indexes. These are especially useful when they also record the transparency number.


The experimental and technical reference records (TR RAN/ET), are inevitably a miscellaneous accumulation preserved mainly out of technical interest. Principally they concern steam engineering and thrashing machinery, but include some detailed general compilations on lawn mowers 1830-1911 (TR RAN/ET3/28 and TR RAN/ET3/32) and reapers and mowers 1786-1871 (TR RAN/ET3/12-17). The latter possibly originated from the Hornsby side of Ruston & Hornsby Ltd., of Grantham, which was administered by Ransomes between the two World Wars. The material on plough and implement trials compiled by J. & F. Howard for the period 1905-1915 (TR RAN/ET1/10), probably came into Ransomes' possession when they took over the manufacture of Howard ploughs after that company's liquidation in 1932.


The publicising and promoting of Ransomes products (P), generated substantial quantities of printed records, commencing about 1800, which altogether make up about one third of the entire collection. The period prior to 1846 is covered by two guard albums (TR RAN/P1/A1,2), but by the late 1850's output had become so vast as to require a system of special registration with publication numbers, which resulted simultaneously in the compilation of mainly annual numerical reference volumes, the majority of which are preserved prior to 1940 (TR RAN/P1/A3-57). Some of the gaps in the series are filled by subsidiary compilations (TR RAN/P1/A58-122) and by individual publications (TR RAN/P2/A and card catalogues). The numbered publications include both advertising material (catalogues, leaflets, testimonials) and servicing literature (instruction books, parts lists), as part of the same numbered series which is still maintained by Ransomes. They are daunting in their quantity, chronology, variety of printing techniques, the range of products to which they refer and, not least, the many different languages in which they are published. Publication registers are preserved for 1931-1958 only (TR RAN/P9/1-2). A fine collection of posters 1882-1930 (TR RAN/P3/1-4), survives in four reference albums, while other publicity records include a selection of semi-current house journals (TR RAN/P4), news releases (TR RAN/P5) and records of advertising campaigns (TR RAN/P7). Production film (TR RAN/P6), has been retained by Ransomes. Records of art work and printing book proofs were also kept in the form of an unbroken run of seventeen reference albums from c.1850-1969.


Some publicity of Ransomes' competitors and fellow exhibitors appears to have been collected out of general interest and for reference purposes (TR RAN/P/B). Five bound compilations cover the years 1851-1869 (TR RAN/P1/B1-5), including two volumes of 174 exhibitors' literature, produced for the 1851 Great Exhibition and a selection of Howard publicity for 1851-1930 (TR RAN/P2/B11-32 and TR RAN/P1/B3), again possibly acquired on Howards' liquidation. Also of note is a 1773-1777 trade catalogue of James Sharp (TR RAN/P2/B51).


The official photographic records (TR RAN/PH), as distinct from the casual acquisition of photographs by the firm (TR RAN/SP), or their secondary use for technical illustration (TR RAN/ET2 and TR RAN/ET3), are well preserved due to registration and the compilation of reference print albums. The main series commencing in 1856, is still maintained by Ransomes and the Institute of Agricultural History has the first twenty seven albums prior to July 1947 PhN 1-11597 (TR RAN/PH2/1-27). There are, however, no negatives (TR RAN/PH1), their destruction according to a note in the first album, having commenced in 1896. The subsidiary "In Work" series (TR RAN/PH2/28-34) and thrashing machinery series (TR RAN/PH2/35-39), have complete album runs, but the register survives only for the former series (TR RAN/PH4/2).


The retention of a large number of show and exhibition records (TR RAN/SH), is a measure of the firm's pride of achievement. Although 112 certificates are preserved in a variety of languages and art styles (TR RAN/SH1/1-112), the prize register and prize list (TR RAN/SH2/1, TR RAN/SH2/2), indicate that many more awards were won though not retained. The subsidiary records (TR RAN/SH3), are also extensive if miscellaneous in nature. The very large number of social and personal records (TR RAN/SP), belong outside the firm's principal commercial concerns, but they reflect a long and continuing interest on the part of the management and employees in the history of a 'patriarchal' firm. The preservation and compilation of this material owes a great deal to C.J. Palmer and the company historians, C.W.H. Cullingford and L.J. Orvis. The real encouragement to the generation of such records came with C.J. Palmer's outstanding History of the Orwell Works 1774-1928 (TR RAN/SP/1), which includes eleven sets of notes, comprising over a thousand pages of typescript and documentary illustration, together with three sets of indexes and summaries. The history was continued for the period 1949-1969 by Cullingford and Orvis (TR RAN/SP1/2, TR RAN/SP1/3), whose yearly desk diaries were a primary source of information (TR RAN/SP1/12-19). The gap between 1928 and 1949 is partly filled by The Orwell Works Magazine, a bimonthly publication, running from 1931 to 1940, which was edited and produced by Ransomes' employees.


The remaining social and personal records are mainly typescript compilations, ephemera, material remitted to the firm, especially to the historian's office and press cuttings, either extracted from local papers or supplied by a cuttings bureau. Among this material can also be found items concerning the early development of the lawn mower which were collected by G.B.W. Scholefield in the 1950's (TR RAN/SP3/121-180).

Date: 1768-1971



TR RAN/AC1 Ledgers


TR RAN/AC5 Cost Accounts


TR RAN/AC6 Other Accounts


TR RAN/AC7 Financial Statements


TR RAN/AC8 Branch Accounts


TR RAN/AC9 Invoices and Accounting Papers




TR RAN/AD1 Minutes and Proceedings of Board Meetings


TR RAN/AD2 General Administrative and Commercial Records


TR RAN/AD3 Labour Records


TR RAN/AD4 Premises Records


TR RAN/AD5 Materials Records


TR RAN/AD6 Branch Records


TR RAN/AD7 Commercial Records


TR RAN/AD8 General Correspondence


TR RAN/AD9 Minor Administrative Records




TR RAN/CO1 Records of Partnerships, including Capital


TR RAN/CO2 Records of Registered Companies, including Capital


TR RAN/CO3 External Agreements


TR RAN/CO4 Real Estate Records


TR RAN/CO5 Patenting Records


TR RAN/CO6 Trade Mark Records




TR RAN/DO1 Drawings


TR RAN/DO2 Registers and Indexes


TR RAN/ET TECHNICAL RECORDS - Experimental and reference


TR RAN/ET1 Records of Experiments and Trials


TR RAN/ET2 Technical Reference Records - Ransomes Products


TR RAN/ET3 Technical Reference Records - General




TR RAN/MP1 Registers and Lists of Production


TR RAN/MP2 Manufacturing Working Papers


TR RAN/MP3 Parts, Repairs and Outworks Records




TR RAN/P1 General Compilations of Publications


TR RAN/P2 Individual Advertising and Servicing Publications


TR RAN/P3 Posters and Display Matter


TR RAN/P4 House Journals


TR RAN/P5 News Releases


TR RAN/P7 Records of Advertising Campaigns and Events


TR RAN/P8 Printing Proofs and Artworks


TR RAN/P9 Registers and Indexes




TR RAN/PH2 Compilations of Prints


TR RAN/PH3 Individual Prints


TR RAN/PH4 Registers and Indexes




TR RAN/SH1 Certificates


TR RAN/SH2 Registers and Lists of Awards


TR RAN/SH3 General Records




TR RAN/SP1 General Reference Records


TR RAN/SP2 Records of Events, Societies and Organisations


TR RAN/SP3 Records of Products


TR RAN/SP4 Personal Records


TR RAN/SP5 Other Records

Related material:

Other Records and Materials


i. Elsewhere


The remainder of Ransome records, principally current or semi-current material, are in the firm's own custody. These also include further barcograph transparencies of drawings of which earlier items may eventually be deposited at Reading. The firm also possess some 351 show and exhibition medals, a list of which is available here for consultation. Ransomes have ownership as well of the records of James Smyth & Sons Ltd. of Colchester. These were deposited at the Ipswich and East Suffolk Record Office in October 1969, deposit HC 23 and a copy of the office catalogue is also available at Reading for reference. Smyth's show and exhibition medals, numbering some 89, and those of Johnson's (Engineering) Ltd. and Catchpole Engineering Co. Ltd. are also listed and a copy available at Reading.


ii. Reading


Other records relating to Ransomes are mainly duplicate copies of Ransomes publications, given or deposited by various individuals or firms. Books, journals and objects, deposited by RSJ as distinct from records are listed in the appendices to this catalogue.

Held by: Museum of English Rural Life, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies Ltd, agricultural manufacturers

Physical description: 48 series
Immediate source of acquisition:

Material deposited on permanent loan, September 1969 T69/4


July 1970 T70/2


February 1972 T72/42


June 1973 T73/17


Temporary loan for copying, June 1973 T73/18

  • Ipswich, Suffolk
  • Agricultural machinery
Unpublished finding aids:

Card Catalogues


The firm's series of drawings, photographs and publications each run into many thousands of items. All three series were originally numbered by the firm but only partial registration is now extant. Therefore due to the bulk of documentation required, the information for the individual items has been organised in the form of separate card catalogues arranged in order of the firm's reference number. Where reference is made to such items in the principal catalogue, their respective item numbers are preceded by the following abbreviations:


DN = Drawing Number


PN = Publication Number


PhN = Photograph Number

Administrative / biographical background:

Located at Nacton, Ipswich, Suffolk.


The firm adopted various styles while in business at Ipswich. The following list indicates their dates of adoption and the abbreviations used in the catalogue:


1789 RR Robert Ransome


1809 RSn Ransome & Son


1818 RSs Ransome & Sons


1825 JRR J. & R. Ransome


1830 JRAR J. R. & A. Ransome


1846 RM Ransome & May


1852 RS Ransome & Sims


1869 RSH Ransome, Sims & Head


1881 RHJ Ransome, Head & Jefferies


1884 RSJ Ransome, Sims & Jefferies Ltd. (1884 Private Limited Company)


(1911 Public Limited Company)


Prior to 1789 Robert Ransome was in business at Norwich trading under the following styles:


1774 Robert Ransome


1784 Ransome & Co.

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