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Richard Hornsby (1790–1864)

Hornsby came from a farming family, the son of William and Sarah, who lived in Elsham, four miles from Brigg in north Lincolnshire. His apprenticeship was with a wheelwright called Havercroft in Barnetby, less than three miles south-east of Elsham.

In 1810, when just twenty years old, Richard came to Barrowby. Quite why is not known. But it was common for young tradesmen who had completed their apprenticeship to go 'walkabout' from village to village until they found employment.

What we do know is he approached one of the blacksmiths in Barrowby, Richard Seaman. Indeed Seaman may have been the only blacksmith in the village at the time. His smithy was on the corner of Casthorpe Road and The Posts, and now called 'The Old Smithy'. It is a Listed building. Like Hornsby, Seaman was a Methodist.

Hornsby and Seaman's former forge in 2021.

Seaman was well-known locally for his workmanship. He was impressed when young Richard had the idea to put a set of wheels on an adjustable harrow. Seaman and Hornsby soon became business partners and their forge prospered. But they decided that they would do better if they were somewhere busier so sold up and took on new premises on the Great North road, just to the south of Grantham in the then-separate village of Spittlegate.

With the move Hornsby's Barrowby connections seemingly cease, although at some point he or his sons must have owned land in the parish. But as Hornsby is famous for his many achievements after he and Seaman left the village I'll provide a summary.

A series of major innovations

Initially trading as Seaman and Hornsby, when Seaman retired in 1828 the firm became Richard Hornsby and Sons. Hornsby continued to invent and improve farm machinery. Initially making ploughs and seed drills, by 1840, the workshop was also making steam engines. These were used for traction engines in the 1850s. 'Tractors' had arrived!

After Hornsby's death in 1864, his firm built its first working (experimental) internal combustion engine in 1892. The company was a pioneer in the manufacture of the oil ('diesel') engine developed by Herbert Akroyd Stuart; it was sold under the Hornsby-Akroyd name. Operating on the same principles as the engines developed subsequently by Rudolf Diesel (1858–1913), Ruston and Hornsby were selling their engines eight years before Rudolf Diesel was able to develop a saleable product. Reportedly staff at Hornsby were very offended if their engines were referred to as 'Diesel engines'. Understandably.

In 1905 the company developed an early track system for agricultural vehicles, although before it took off for farming it had revolutionised land warfare. After the end of the First World War the patent was sold to Holt & Co. in America, who later became Caterpillar Inc.

During the First World War a second factory was established in Lincoln, where there was already at least one other prominent manufacturer of agricultural equipment whose machinery was now producing armaments.

In 1918, Richard Hornsby & Sons became a subsidiary of the neighbouring engineering firm Rustons of Lincoln, to create Ruston & Hornsby. The cancellation of military contracts at the end of the war led to the Grantham premises being sold after about a hundred years of manufacturing.

Who was Ruston?

Joseph Ruston (1835 –1897) started his business career with Burton and Proctor of Lincoln, becoming head of the firm then renamed Ruston, Proctor and Company. Like Hornsby they were agricultural implement makers and engineers. The company grew in size until it employed some 2,000 people and in his lifetime produced 20,800 engines, 19,700 boilers, 10,900 threshing machines, and 1,350 corn mills. In later years Joseph Ruston was a Liberal politician, though he split from the party in 1886 (because he disapproved of Gladstone's proposals for Home Rule in Ireland) and retired.

Ruston and Hornsby continued to innovate

Ruston and Hornsby went on to become best-known for narrow and standard gauge diesel locomotives and also steam shovels. Many were used in the ironstone quarries which straddle the Leicestershire-Lincolnshire border. Other products included cars, steam locomotives and a range of internal combustion engines, and later gas turbines. It is now a subsidiary of Siemens.

The family retained Barrowby connections

Apparently by the time of Richard Hornsby's death the family (which included three sons) owned 421 acres of land. Some was almost certainly in Barrowby, although not necessarily all of it.

One of Richard Hornsby's great-grandsons – Richard William Hornsby – is listed on the war memorial in Barrowby. He died in Greece during the First World War.


Wikipedia: Richard Hornsby

Grace's Guide: Richard Hornsby (includes a very long obituary)

Wikipedia: Richard Hornsby and sons

Wikipedia: Ruston (engine builder)

Wikipedia: Joseph Ruston

Wikipedia: Rudolf Diesel

If you think I've got something wrong – or can add additional information or photographs – then please email me:– bobtrubs@indigogroup.co.uk.

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what's new?

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Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

Nineteenth century

nineteenth and twentieth century population

Twentieth century

guided walks in and around Barrowby

there's more could be said...


index of surnames in Cryer 1979

Articles and web links for nearby places

rare seventeenth fonts at Muston, Bottesford and Orston from Project Gargoyle Newsletter 2020

Ironstone quarries of Leicestershire
YouTube video

Wyville's wells

Harston's Anglo-Saxon carvings

Bottesford's effigies

Grantham Canal Society

The Grantham Canal
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photos and brief details from Leicester Mercury.
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Grantham Archaeology Group

Bottesford History Group

Grantham Civic Society

Grantham Museum

Heritage Lincolnshire