Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,139 pages of information and 245,599 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Charles Burrell and Sons

From Graces Guide
1858. Traction engines and carriages.


1885.Compound Engines of the SS Mona.
1885.Transporting a Marine Boiler by Road.
1887. Combined traction engine and crane.
1887. Tramway locomotive.
1882. 6-hp Special Light Compound Traction Engines.
May 1896.
February 1899.
September 1902.
Light Traction Engine. 1906 .
January 1906.
January 1906.
December 1908.
Built in 2002 by J. Turner. 4.5 scale. Reg No. OY02 VYJ.
4.5 scale agricultural engine. Built by Mr Haines of Sussex in 1981. Single cylinder 10cwt called 'Nipper'. Reg No. CJV1.
'Missy' 4 inch scale agricultural engine. Exhibit seen at Boconnoc Steam Fair July 2011.
'Missy' miniature agricultural engine. Exhibit seen at Boconnoc Steam Fair July 2011.
D. C. C. Showman's engine.
D. C. C. Showman's engine.

Charles Burrell and Sons of St. Nicholas Works, Thetford were producers of Traction Engines, Rollers and Showman's Engines. 329 are known to be preserved.

Some of the St. Nicholas Works buildings, in the centre of Thetford, have been preserved, including the former paint shop, which now houses the Charles Burrell Museum

See also -

1770 Company established.

1793 The company of Charles Burrell and Sons is generally regarded as being founded by Joseph Burrell (1759-1831), who in 1793 took over the whitesmith’s and blacksmith’s business of his father Benjamin (1725-1793). In partnership with his brothers William (1766-1832) and James (1770-1837), he turned the firm into a small engineering business. From repairing agricultural implements, they moved to making them.

1803 They first attracted notice at the annual Holkham Sheep Shearing they exhibited a seed and manure drill of James’s own design.

1804 James filed a patent for an improved threshing machine.

1805 Showed a mowing machine at Holkham.

c1803 The firm moved to the St Nicholas Foundry c. 1803-4.

1832 James Burrell managed the business alone after his two brothers died, and on his death in 1837 control passed to his second son Charles Burrell (1817-1906), aged only 20. Charles turned what was a modest country engineering firm into one of the leading agricultural and steam engineers of the nineteenth century.

He changed the name of the business to Charles Burrell, engineers and agricultural machinists, and this later became Charles Burrell and Sons, as his sons Charles (1847-1929), Robert (1849-1904) and Frederick (1865-1927) became actively involved in the 1870s.

1846 Charles Burrell was one of the first firms to make portable steam engines.

In 1848 he produced the first that also dressed the grain. This type of combined threshing and dressing machine soon became the standard for all except the smallest machines.

1851 Exhibited at the 1851 Great Exhibition. Details of their products shown at at 1851 Great Exhibition: Official Catalogue: Class IX.: Charles Burrell.

1851 Award at the 1851 Great Exhibition. See details at 1851 Great Exhibition: Reports of the Juries: Class IX.

1851 Employing 52 men and 7 boys [1]

In the 1850s Burrell concentrated his technical abilities on the development of self-moving steam engines. In particular he collaborated with James Boydell, patentee of an ‘endless railway’ mechanism. This consisted of a series of flat feet attached to the outside of the engine's wheels. They were hinged in such a way that as the wheel revolved each succeeding foot would lie flat in contact with the ground, thus spreading the weight of the engine. The idea was that this arrangement would be more efficient for road-haulage engines, enabling them to deal with poor road surfaces and in 1855 Burrell became the licensed manufacturer of Boydell engines.

From 1856 to 1862 they made several types of Boydell engines for use on the roads and for ploughing by direct traction. Boydell engines proved to be unsuccessful, both technically and commercially, and Burrell turned instead to the development of conventional wheeled traction engines. In this he had considerable achievements, and his firm came to be known mainly for its traction engines and road locomotives.

1861 Employing 136 men and 24 boys [2]

1862 Exhibited at the 1862 London Exhibition. Details of their products shown at 1862 London Exhibition: Catalogue: Class IX.: Charles Burrell.

1871 Employing 180 men and 10 boys [3]

1870s He worked with Robert William Thomson in the production of his road steamers, steam tractors designed to haul passenger and goods vehicles on the roads.

1877 Exhibitors at the 1877 Royal Agricultural Show at Liverpool.[4].

1882 A Portable Engine, designed by Frederick Burrell was exhibited at 1882 Royal Agricultural Show, for full description see The Engineer 1882/07/14 Page 19.

1884 The business was incorporated as Charles Burrell and Sons Ltd. Charles Burrell was chairman, although by now he was not so actively engaged in day-to-day management. Under his leadership the firm grew from one employing about 200 in 1870 to 400 in 1913, comfortably the largest employer in Thetford. The firm established a good reputation for its traction engines and steam road locomotives, especially with travelling showmen. It also entered electrical engineering.

1886 Made steam tram engines which went to Birmingham and Bradford.

1889 Horizontal engine shown at the RASE show at Windsor. And a compound digging engine and other engines. [5]

1889 Patented a compound engine and over 1,000 were made.

1890 20 hp Semi-portable compound engine. Illustration in 'The Engineer'. [6]

1890 June. Royal Agricultural Society’s Disintegrator and Grist Mill Trials. [7]

1894 Catalogue on Agricultural Engines, Road Locomotives and rollers etc. [8]

1894 Ten-Horse power compound Traction Engine. [9]

In 1904 Charles Burrell retired completely, and was succeeded as chairman of the company by his eldest son Charles Burrell (1847-1929), one of three sons who entered actively into the business in the 1870s.

1907 Won the Gold Medal in the RAC Trials for a five-ton steam motor tractor.

1911 Smithfield Club Show. Exhibited agricultural locomotive and a steam tractor. [10]

1919 After the First World War the business was taken into the AGE - Agricultural and General Engineers combine, at which point Charles Burrell retired as chairman.

1920 Showed a steam road locomotive at the Darlington Agricultural Show. [11]

1928 The goodwill, drawings and patterns were transferred to Richard Garrett and Sons.

1929 Manufacture at Thetford ceases [12]

1929 Charles Burrell dies [13]

1932 AGE was wound up

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1851 census
  2. 1861 Census
  3. 1871 Census
  4. The Engineer 1877/07/13
  5. The Engineer of 21st June 1889 p529 & p544 & p545
  6. The Engineer of 3rd January 1890 p17
  7. The Engineer of 27th June 1890 p521
  8. The Engineer of 5th October 1894 p306
  9. The Engineer of 26th October 1894 p364 & p367
  10. The Engineer of 8th December 1911 p594
  11. The Engineer of 9th July 1920
  12. The Times, Wednesday, Jan 01, 1930
  13. The Times, Wednesday, Jan 01, 1930
  • [1] Museum of English Rural Life
  • Steam Engine Builders of Norfolk by Ronald H. Clark. Published 1948 by The Augustine Steward Press
  • Stationary Steam Engines of Great Britain by George Watkins. Vol 10