Jason Clarke Antiques

Early Railway Workshop Presentation Gift by Ransomes & May Ipswich 1849


For sale, a rather unusual early railway relic from the workshops of Ransomes & May of Ipswich

Presumably gifted as a presentation to a vsitor of the works in 1849, the mahogany box contains a continuous piece of rolled cast iron which has been tied with silk ribbon. The paper inscription to the underside of the lid reads as follows:

“Shaving from the edge of a cast iron skeleton or centre of a railway wheel before fitting on the tyre. Ransomes & May, Ipswich 1849.”

To provide some context for such an unsual gift, the Ransome family began the business as ironmongers and brass founders in Norwich in 1779. The company moved to Ipswich in 1789 after it had become famed for the production of ploughs. In 1812, the family owned company took on the famed engineer William Cubbit as its Chief Engineer, a position that he held until 1817 and during this time, he invented the “human treadmill” for grinding corn” which was later adopted by the British Prison service examples of which were to be seen on Brighton beach a short distance from the original chain pier (see image of brighton chain pier on my website). His influence also encouraged Ransomes to involve themselves in larger projects such as bridge building.

The company remained wholly family owned until 1836 when Charles May joined the company. May was an astute businessman who started his career as a chemist, quickly rising to command a wholesale chemical business in London. He was mechanically minded and involved himself in his own production machinery and also worked with Professor Airy (the then Astonomer Royal) at the Greenwich Observatory.

During this partnership, the company exhibited at The Great Exhibition where it showed off numerous patent inventions for railways including a five horse power steam engine.

May moved away from the company in 1852 which succeeded in a change to Ransome & Sims whereafter it continued to produce railway, agricultural and heavy works machinery. It even opened a lawnmower work in 1872.

The company continued in numerous guises providing agricultural and eventually aircraft machinery until 1998 when it finally accepted a take over bid from the US Company, Textron Inc at which point the company name was discontinued.

 In respect to the object. It consists of a shaving of rolled cast iron, which was presumably produced during the process of fitting a steel tyre to a cast iron train wheel due to wear created by contact with the rails and braking. This process was common at the time and negated the need for replacement of an entire wheel. The original wheel would have been shaved in order to incorporate a steel tyre which would have been heated to expansion, fitted and then cooled around the original.

 This fragile and hugely interesting relic dated to 1849 means that it was gifted by Ransomes & May during a period which saw the huge initial expansion of early railways. A time when Governmental restrictions were in their infancy and anyone with enough capital could create a railway line. The period in railway history in which this was created is what makes this piece so fascinating. Although time (and exposure to air) has not been hugely kind, this piece would have been gifted as a simple roll of metal to its original recipient as an important keepsake of their visit. The technology that Ransomes & May were using at the time of its consruction was cutting edge.

A fascinating piece of early railwayiana pieces of which are rarely found from such an early date.

Dated 1849

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