Ransome, Robert (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 47
Ransome, Robert

by Charlotte Fell Smith
Contains subarticles James Ransome (1782–1849) & James Allen Ransome (1806–1875).

RANSOME, ROBERT (1753–1830), agricultural-implement maker born at Wells, Norfolk, in 1753, was son of Richard Ransome, a schoolmaster there. His grandfather, Richard Ransome, was a miller of North Walsham, Norfolk, and an early quaker who suffered frequent imprisonment while on preaching journeys in various parts of England, Ireland, and Holland. He died at Bristol on 8 Nov. 1716.

On leaving school Robert was apprenticed to an ironmonger, and commenced business for himself at Norwich with a small brass-foundry, which afterwards expanded into an iron-foundry. He possessed inventive skill, and as early as 1783 took out a patent for cast-iron roofing plates, and published ‘Directions for Laying Ransome's Patent Cast-iron Coverings,’ printed for the patentees, 1784, 4to. On 18 March 1785 he took out his first patent for tempering cast-iron ploughshares by wetting the mould with salt water. This was followed in 1803 by the most important invention ever made in connection with ploughs—viz. the chilling of the under side of ploughshares by casting them on an iron mould, the upper part of the mould being of sand. In this manner the under side of the share was chilled and made harder than steel, while the upper part remained soft and tough. The upper part wearing away faster than the lower, a sharp cutting edge was thus maintained, and less draught required. By the use of these shares the necessity of continually laying and sharpening of wrought-iron shares was avoided. This invention was at once adopted, has never been superseded, and is in universal use at the present day. In 1789 Ransome removed to Ipswich, and there laid the foundation of the now extensive and well-known Orwell Works, in which fifteen hundred men are employed. He took out a further patent on 30 May 1808 for improvements in the wheel and swing ploughs.

Ransome was joined in business by his two sons, and the firm, known as Ransome & Sons, was one of the earliest to build cast-iron bridges, the Stoke Bridge at Ipswich being constructed by them in 1819.

Upon retiring from business in 1825, Ransome learned copperplate engraving as an amusement, and constructed a telescope for his own use, for which he ground the speculum himself. The later years of his life were spent at Woodbridge in Suffolk, where he died on 7 March 1830.

Of his two sons the younger, Robert (1795–1864), became a partner in 1819, and was widely known in Ipswich as a philanthropist; he left two sons, Robert Charles (d. 1886) and James Edward, who became head of the firm (Suffolk Chronicle, 15 Nov. 1864).

The original Robert's elder son, James Ransome (1782–1849), entered his father's business in 1795. He, with his brother, took out several patents for improvements in ploughs. Threshing-machines, scarifiers, and other agricultural implements were also improved by his firm. James and his brother Robert were among the earliest members of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, which was founded in 1838, and they gained in later years many of the society's chief medals and prizes (see Farmers' Magazine, 1857, vol. xi.). Upon the introduction of the railway system the Ransomes became the largest manufacturers of railway chairs, for the casting of which a patent was secured. A patent was also taken out for compressed wood keys and treenails for securing the chairs and rails, and many millions of these were turned out. James Ransome died at Rushmere, Ipswich, on 22 Nov. 1849, his wife Hannah, daughter of Samuel Hunton of Southwold, having predeceased him on 8 Dec. 1826. He left a numerous family, of whom

James Allen Ransome (1806–1875), the eldest son, born in 1806, was, after being educated at Colchester, apprenticed to the firm of Ransome & Sons; he became a partner in 1829. For several years from that date he resided at Yoxford, Suffolk, where a branch of the business was established. He started a farmers' club there which was the precursor of many similar institutions, notably the Farmers' Club of London, of which Ransome was one of the founders. In 1839 he moved permanently to Ipswich, and under his direction the business assumed huge proportions. In 1843 he published an excellent history of ‘The Implements of Agriculture,’ part of which had been prepared as a prize essay for the Royal Agricultural Society. He had joined the society in 1838, served on its council, and was one of the most popular figures at its annual shows (cf. Farmers' Magazine, 1857, with portrait). He was alderman of Ipswich from 1865 until his death, which took place on 29 April 1875 at his house in Carr Street, Ipswich. By his wife Catherine (d. 17 April 1868), daughter of James Neave of Fordingbridge, Hampshire, whom he married on 4 Sept. 1829, he left two sons, Robert James and Allen Ransome, and three daughters, one of whom married J. R. Jefferies, an active member of the firm (Suffolk Chronicle for 1 and 8 May 1875; Journals of Royal Agricultural Society, 1st ser. passim, 3rd ser. vol. v. (1894); Annual Monitor, 1869 p. 147, 1876 p. 146).

[Bacon's Agriculture of Norfolk, 1844; Biographical Cat. of Portraits at Devonshire House, pp. 545–58; J. Allen Ransome's Implements of Agriculture, p. 17; J. E. Ransome's Ploughs and Ploughing, publ. in ‘Practice with Science,’ a series of agricultural papers, 1867, pp. 54, 55, 59; Ransome and May's Catalogue, 1848 p. 5; Bennet Woodcroft's Titles of Patents of Invention, 1617–1852, 15 and 16 Vict. cap. 83, sec. xxxii. pp. 256, 270, 564, 712; Journals of the Royal Agric. Soc. i. 145; Suffolk Chronicle, 13 March 1830; Raynbird's Agriculture of Suffolk, pp. 188, 198; Annual Monitor for 1828 p. 28, 1851 p. 51, 1865 p. 149, 1866 p. 148; Registers at Devonshire House; useful information kindly supplied by (Sir) Ernest Clarke, formerly secretary of the Royal Agricultural Society.]

C. F. S.