Ransome - the most internationally famous name from Ipswich, until a few years ago. Mr Michael Weaver in his talk to the Society explained how and why Ransomes engineering became so well known. It's not clear why Robert Ransome left Norwich to set up a foundry in Ipswich in 1789 with a borrowed £200 and one worker. Perhaps the ease of bringing raw materials up the Orwell was a big factor. Anyway, Robert Ransome's development of the chilled plough share gave the business great impetus at the very time that what we call the Industrial Revolution coincided with the Agrarian Revolution. Asa Quaker, Ransome was debarred from local and national government so like others of his faith he used his talents in a field where his trustworthiness and principles of long-term investment paid off. The firm itself took pride in "existing to give young men of Ipswich a job" and they ran the best apprentices scheme in the county according to Mr Weaver.
Ransomes moved from St Margaret's Ditches [i.e. what is now the Old Foundry Road area, where the Society's Blue Plaque marks the location of the original foundry -Editor] to the waterfront in 1841. From Orwell Works it was easy to export their products all over the world.
Taking on different highly able partners over the years, the firm eventually became Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies. [Ransome and Rapier at Waterside Works on the other side of the river also became internationally renowned.] Diversification was a big part of R S & Ys success. They made many types of agricultural machinery, steam rollers, fork-lift and other trucks, trolley buses and in the First World War 700 aeroplanes and in the Second World War field guns. The expansion to. the 140 acre site on Nacton Road after the Second World War must have suggested a continuing success but in the new era of greater specialisation and greater international competition, Ransome's diversification became a handicap. The company gave up many of its lines and concentrated on grass cutting equipment, which it still does. Grass cutting, we were reminded, is notiust about tending our lawns but has made possible public parks and now golf courses. Taken over by an American company, the name of Ransomes disappeared but has recently re-surfaced - presumably because it is still a selling point.
Mr Weaver was commissioned to write the history of the company to commemorate its bicentenary in 1989, so he was able to speak with affection about a company which was so well run for so long. He said that the company's archives now held in Reading are probably the best record of any 200 year old company in Britain - "these were very efficient people".