Steam Traction: Alfred Dawson & Co Rushmere, Ipswich
By: Photography: Phil How Collection Thomas Baines Collection, Colin Tyson.
Thomas Baines, owner of just-restored Ruston & Hornsby roller No 122282 of 1924, sought to find out more about its old owners Alfred Dawson & Co.
During 2011, I was nearing the completion of the six-year rebuild of my Marshall ‘Britannia’ portable engine and having enjoyed the challenge of restoring a very worn repatriated engine, just miles from where it was built in 1903, my thoughts began to turn to something road steam.
Being raised in Lincoln, I’m a keen enthusiast of all ‘home makes’ but Ruston stands out as the favourite. I’d been asking around for some time hoping that a suitable Ruston engine would come available and fortunately, last April, the opportunity to acquire an ideal engine came up. However, at the time I was unaware of the fantastic history surrounding its first owners.
I purchased Ruston & Hornsby roller No 122282 in complete running order, partially repainted with the canopy boards displaying the name ‘Alfred Dawson and Co Rushmere Ipswich’. Having returned the engine to its new home in Lincoln, a number of people asked me if it’s a relation to another well-known Dawson family – of Bicker, Lincolnshire – who were themselves contractors in the steam era and well-renowned today. This started my interest in researching Alfred Dawson and Co of Ipswich... incidentally, there does not appear to be any relationship!
The Dawson family had owned a windmill at Rushmere since 1874 when William Dawson is listed as miller at Rushmere (wind & steam) He died on May 4 1896 aged 77 when the mill site passed to his son, Alfred. The Suffolk Mills Group archive indicated that the smock windmill had been built by Collins of Melton, millwrights, in around 1840 and was initially occupied by one Henry Betts. The all white octagonal smock mill was on a very low brick footing. There were four patent shuttered sails and a green painted fantail. It had a Collins pattern boatshaped cap and two pairs of overdriven millstones. A steam mill adjacent to the windmill was recorded from 1883. The sails on the windmill were removed in January 1928 and in 1936 it was recorded that although the cap, windshaft and brakewheel were in position, no other machinery remained. In March 2012 I made contact with Alfred Dawson’s great grandson, Phil How. Phil told me the story regarding Alfred getting his coat caught in the gearing when trying to hand crank the mill out of a tailwind. The stress endured in this accident caused him to have a stroke from which he never fully recovered and he resolved to pull the windmill down.
Alfred’s wife, Florence, came from a wealthy farming and thatching background. Through the mechanisation of the late 19th century it is conceivable that the extended family looked to link their land and crops. George Fiske and his wife Sophia were similarly of wealthy farming backgrounds in the area. A partnership between George Fiske and Alfred Dawson recorded in Kelly’s Directory in 1898 has them offering ‘steam haulage, ploughing and road rolling contract work’ and was to last 16 years. In the late 19th century three pairs of single ploughing engines were acquired and worked by the Dawson-Fiske partnership, which seemed to prosper and they bought a large quantity of engines. As time progressed road rolling seems to have become the strength of the firm. They did venture into haulage, both heavy and light, owning some interesting engines, showing no distinct bias to any specific manufacturer.
For light haulage a number of Garretts were purchased, a few tractors including a Garrett wagon in 1910 but it was sold in 1919. Garretts also provided two road engines but these seem to have stayed with the company for a very short period, just a year for each, both being returned to the works for resale. One of the Garretts returned to the works for resale was No 27160, a 6nhp ‘traction’ and converted to showman’s specification for Tom Shepherd and named Crimson Lady. By 1935 the engine was with John Rundle and entered preservation in 1956. Now named British Hero, it’s a regular on the rally fields and now in the Michael Oliver Collection.
A Burrell crane engine, reported to be single cylinder No 1221, also stayed with the company for a number of years – a useful tool to have. Similarly, Burrell 7nhp road loco No 2370, was acquired. A Yorkshire wagon was purchased much later in 1931 and sold on in 1938, perhaps showing that haulage was never a serious part of the business when compared to road rolling and contract ploughing.
In 1912 the company made a very significant purchase, buying four brand new consecutively numbered Ruston, Proctor & Co 10-ton single cylindered road rollers. It is unclear why Rustons were chosen given the locality of Garretts and some evidence that Alfred Dawson was related to Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies managing director, Ernest Ransome, but I would suggest it was clearly the quality and availability of the superior product!
With the departure of George Fiske in 1914 the company gained the identity that it would trade under until 1972. The new limited company being announced in the pages of the London Gazette on July 21 1914:
“Notice is hereby given, that the partnership heretofore subsisting between Alfred Dawson and George Fiske, carrying on business as Agricultural Machine Proprietors and Steam Rolling and Haulage Contractors, at Whitton and Rushmere, both in county of Suffolk under the style or firm of ALFRED DAWSON AND CO. Having been dissolved as from the first day of April 1914 by mutual consent, the said business having been acquired by a private company registered as ‘Alfred Dawson and Co (Rushmere) Limited’ All debts due to and owing by the said late firm will be received and paid respectively by the company who will continue to carry on the said business.”
Soon after this a brand new pair of Fowler BB1 ploughing engines were purchased, Nos 15177 and 15178 – and of course my own roller, Ruston No 122282.
END OF STEAM
An initial sale took place in 1931 when a large number of engines left the company, a sign perhaps that the age of steam in agriculture was drawing to an end. Alfred passed away in June 1938 and his son Douglas took over the business where steam was clearly no longer the future and a further dispersal sale was held in 1941, perhaps trimming the company down to a war footing, relinquishing unwanted plant to those who could use them/scrap for war use. This auction is where the third surviving engine departed Dawsons. This engine is Burrell 6nhp SCC No 2261, a genuine convertible engine which survives in a collection in the Chelmsford area but awaits full restoration. Only a handful of steam engines, mostly rollers, remained at this point as the company moved on to motor rollers. There were a couple of quick changes in the roller fleet; Aveling & Porter No 10391 of 1922, a 10-ton single piston valve roller, seems to tell a story familiar of the postwar pre-preservation era. The engine was purchased in 1950 but scrapped in 1952. No doubt very much the case with the other engines in the fleet. This story would seem so common to countless others throughout the country but here the tale of Dawsons and No 122282 becomes unique for just one engine of the fleet, No 7, was to survive the dispersal sales.
One driver refused to move on to a new roller, he enjoyed driving his engine and with the boiler in excellent condition he refused to drive anything else. For 32 years Billy Jeanes drove No 122282 for Dawsons commercially. Eventually they parted with the engine in 1970 and within two years Douglas wound the company up as reported in the London Evening Gazette and he and his wife, Daisy, retired to Mullion, Cornwall. Following Douglas’ death, Daisy returned to the cottage at the Mills, Rushmere. Today the yard is a housing development and the paddocks now form Ipswich Town FC’s training facility.
Fortunately 1970 was well into the preservation era and No 122282 didn’t part company with Billy despite being sold to Mr H Whipps. She began to grace the rally fields of Norfolk, being driven by road and maintained by Billy. Not venturing far from its commercial working home and remaining in the East Anglia area for its whole life. Many EATES members still have fond memories of him and the engine during this time and I am greatful for the stories I have recieved through the club.
In the 1980s No 122282 was sold to the Fleggburgh Collection and seemed to become infrequently used. When that collection was dispersed Roger Goulby purchased the engine. It later moved to the Lowestoft Transport Museum where she was dismantled and boiler repairs completed. The engine was assembled and sold via Preston Services to myself last year.
It is hoped to continue the restoration over the forthcoming years when the roller will be accompanied by a Ruston living van which I hope to start rebuilding when time allows!
I owe a debt of gratitude to Phil How, great grandson of Alfred Dawson, for filling gaps in the family history and provision of photos. It also would have not been possible without the assistance of Ron Dawe for kindly sharing the Road Locomotive Society records to help compile the records of engines. I would also like to thank Tom Attwood, Simon Cauldwell, Jim Stanley and Jonathan Wheeler for their help in filling the gaps!
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