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John Head

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John Head (1832-1881) of Ransomes, Sims and Head and Ransomes, Head and Jefferies

1832 Born the son of Jeremiah Head

1848 John Head joined the Orwell Works of Ransomes and May as an apprentice [1].

1841 Living at Ipswich: Jeremiah Head (age c52), Independent. With his wife Mary Head (age c40) and their children John Head (age c9), Thomas Head (age c8), Henry Head (age c6), Jeremiah Head (age c5), George Head (age c4), Charles Head (age c3), and Mary Head (age c1).[2]

1851 Living at Hill House, Woodbridge Road, Ipswich (age 19 born Ipswich), Engineer (App). Living with his parents Jeremiah (age 62 born Ipswich) and Mary (age 50); and brothers / sisters Thomas (age 18), Engineer (App); Henry (age 16); Charles (age 12); Mary (age 11); Albert (age 6). Plus a governess, a visitor and three servants. [3]

1860 John Head, Ransomes and Sims, Orwell Works, Ipswich.[4]

1861 Living as a Lodger at Brook Street, Ipswich (age 29 born Ipswich), Engineer. [5]

1864 John Head became a partner in Ransomes and Sims

1871 Living at Allington House, Woodbridge Road, Ipswich (age 39 born Ipswich), Agricultural Implement Maker. Living with children Alice Mary (age 5), Edith Beatrice (age) and John Reginald (age 2). Four servants. [6]

1877 John Head elected full member of the Inst. of Civil Engineers. At some point was awarded the Telford Medal for papers he had submitted to the Institution.

1881 John Head died [7] [8].


1882 Obituary [9]

MR. JOHN HEAD, who died on the 19th of May, 1881, was born at Ipswich on the 8th of February, 1832.

He was the eldest son of Mr. Jeremiah Head, J.P., for many years one of the most respected and influential residents in the town, and an old and valued friend of the Ransome family. It seemed therefore but natural that, after completing his education at the Ipswich Grammar School, the Society of Friends' School at Grove House, Tottenham, and elsewhere, and having decided to adopt the engineering profession as his future career, young Head should become a pupil at the Orwell Works, then carried on by Messrs. Ransomes and May, and engaged on a large scale in general mechanical engineering. Accordingly in 1848 he was articled to the above firm.

During the next five years he passed through the various shops and drawing-office, diligently occupied in obtaining a practical knowledge of mechanical construction, and carrying out creditably whatever was entrusted to him.

At the close of his apprenticeship, desiring to extend his knowledge, Mr. Head obtained work as a fitter at the shipyard of Mr. John Scott Russell, M. Inst. C.E.; and in a short time was, on his merits, placed on the highest scale of wages current in the department.

A few months later a circumstance occurred which governed the whole future career of Mr. Head. Messrs. Ransomes and May had, prior to the outbreak of the war with Russia in 1853, undertaken a contract for pumping engines and pumps to supply the city of Warsaw with water from the Vistula, and had arranged with an experienced mechanic to go there and erect the machinery. He, however, being unwilling to leave his wife and family under such circumstances, declined to go, and the firm were left in a difficult position. Altogether unexpectedly Mr. John Head asked to be entrusted with the work; and, after some consideration, the firm placed the responsibility in his hands, feeling that, although he had not long completed his apprenticeship, his past career justified them in so doing. The sequel proved the wisdom of their decision.

There were some unexpected difficulties in the execution of the work itself; to these were added others due to the strained political relations then existing between England and Russia; but all were successfully overcome, and the works were started at the appointed time in presence of a vast concourse of the inhabitants of the country. Mr. Head subsequently received from the Emperor of Russia a diamond ring as a complimentary acknowledgement of his services.

After the conclusion of this engagement Mr. Head entered as works manager the service of Messrs. Evans, Lilpop and Rau, who had a large engineering establishment at Warsaw, devoted to government work, sugar-distilling machinery, and to some extent agricultural machinery. So much had Mr. Head acquired the confidence of all around him that, when on the outbreak of war all Englishmen were ordered to leave Russia, an exception was made in his favour; and he was allowed to remain in charge of the property and the interests of Messrs. Evans, who were obliged to retire beyond the frontier.

At the conclusion of the war in 1856, Messrs. Ransomes, who had previously exported some agricultural machinery to Russia, determined energetically to develop their continental business. Accordingly Mr. R. C. Ransome, son of the then senior partner, undertook a journey through the corn-producing countries of Europe. Alnong other places he visited Warsaw, and sought out his old friend and fellow-apprentice, Mr. Head. A conversation which then took place led to the return of the latter to Ipswich in the following year, and subsequently to his admission as a partner in the Ipswich firm.

From that time until his death Mr. Head's devotion to the interests of the firm and to the profession was incessant and untiring. He travelled repeatedly over nearly every country in Europe, carefully watching field operations and diligently searching out new applications of machinery to agriculture.

He took a leading part at the great International Exhibitions, having regard not only to the interests of his own firm but also to those of his country and of his fellow exhibitors, whom he was always ready to assist in every possible way.

Mr. Head manifested great interest in the attempt to develop the use of steam locomotive engines upon common roads, by means of Mr. Thomson’s system of india-rubber tires for the driving road-wheels, and in the use of straw and other vegetable substances as fuel for portable steam engines in lieu of coal or wood; and on both of these subjects he contributed papers to the Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution, and received for them a Telford Medal. Whilst an Associate of the Institution he served on the Council, and subsequently became a full Member.

In the course of the year 1878 Mr. Head’s naturally strong constitution began to give way under the long-continued severe strain to which his energetic temperament had subjected it. He made one or two expeditions to the South of Europe without deriving much benefit, and finally set out for the Cape of Good Hope in November 1880, determined to try the effect of wintering there. The result was, however, most disastrous. On his return to England in the following spring his case was found to be hopeless, and he died at Ipswich three weeks after.

The funeral took place on the 24th of May, and was attended by a large number of friends and relatives, and by the workmen from the Orwell Works.

Of a singularly active and cheerful temperament, Mr. Head possessed a most generous disposition; prompt to recognise merit, he was slow to censure the errors or actions of any one. He was an agreeable and accomplished companion, well acquainted with life, and a true and loyal friend. He left a memory which will not soon fade from the minds of those who were only slightly acquainted with him, and which will never grow dim to those who through long years of intimate association in work and friendship knew and loved him thoroughly.


1882 Obituary [10]

JOHN HEAD was born at Ipswich on 8th February 1832, and served his apprenticeship there in the engineering works of Messrs. Ransomes and May, afterwards Ransomes and Sims; by whom, after working for a time in Mr. Scott Russell's iron shipbuilding yard at Millwall, he was entrusted with the erection of some large pumping engines at Warsaw.

This service, rendered difficult by the political complications preceding the outbreak of the Crimean war, was volunteered for by him before the ago of twenty, and ably fulfilled.

For some years afterwards he was manager of metallurgical works at the same city.

In 1864 he became a partner with Messrs. Ransomes and Sims; and introduced several inventions, of which the most successful was the device for burning straw in portable engines.

An affection of the throat, from which he had latterly suffered, became more persistent in 1880, and led to his wintering at the Cape; but the change did not produce the desired benefit, and shortly after his return he died at Ipswich on 19th May 1881, at the age of forty-nine.

He became a Member of the Institution in 1860.


1881 Obituary [11]



1881 Obituary [12]

Mr. JOHN HEAD, of the firm of Ransomes, Head, & Jefferies, who died at Ipswich on the 19th ult., was the eldest son of the late Mr. Jeremiah Head, J.P., of the same town.

He was born at a suburb called Stoke on the 8th of February 1832. His father and grandfather, who were members of the Society of Friends, were intimately connected with the Ransomes of two generations anterior to the present one, and invested capital with them from the time when they, coming from Norwich, first established themselves in Ipswich as agricultural implement makers. It was this relationship which naturally gave the boy his engineering bent, and induced him from an early age to take a close interest in all that went on at the manufactory. The establishment, about the year 1842, of the Ipswich Paper Mills, and of the Ipswich Steam Navigation Company, which first placed regular passenger steamers upon the river Orwell to ply between Ipswich, Harwich, and London, interested him greatly. So did the construction of the Eastern Union Railway, which continued the line from London to Ipswich, and on to Bury St. Edmunds, about 1845.

At the age of sixteen and a half years, he entered the works of the then firm of Ransomes & May as an articled pupil, and passed through all the usual departments, including the drawing office. During the last year of his apprenticeship, he superintended the erection of some large stationary engines made by the firm for a company at Lowestoft. On completion of his indentures, and in order to gain a more varied experience, he engaged himself as an ordinary workman in the erecting department at Mr. J. Scott Russell's iron ship and marine engine building works at Millwall. He had not been there many months, however, when the Crimean war seemed imminent. His old masters, the Ipswich firm, had constructed a large pair of pumping engines for the municipality at Warsaw, and were under contract to erect them on the spot, and guarantee their working for a time. The question was how to complete the contract and obtain payment under such disturbing conditions. An experienced man, whom they had selected for the post, turned faint-hearted at the last moment and refused to proceed. In their extremity they sent for Mr. Head, who at once volunteered to undertake the task. He went to Warsaw, and had just commenced his work when the war broke out.

It was three years before he completed his work, and returned to England. Previous to his death, the late Emperor Nicholas, on hearing the circumstances of Mr. Head's sojourn in Russia during the war, sent him a diamond ring in generous recognition of the difficulty of his position, and of the tact, prudence, and ability which he had manifested throughout. But the completion of the waterworks contract did not occupy the whole period of his detention. The firm of Evans, Lilpop, & Raw, engineers and founders, of Warsaw, were greatly in need of a manager, and were glad to obtain the services of the energetic young Englishman. With them he occupied a confidential position. In 1864 he became a partner in the Ipswich firm. His experience of foreign life and manners, his knowledge of modern languages, his natural tact and common sense, combined with his excellent technical and commercial training, made it clearly evident that he could best serve his firm by pushing their trade in foreign countries, as well as at home.

In conjunction with M. Shemioth, he introduced straw burning portable engines with great success. He was elected an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1865, and a few years after, when it was decided that the associates should be directly represented upon the Council, he was one of those selected, and acted in that capacity for two or three years. In 1877, he was transferred from the class of associates to that of members, and so continued till his death.

He was a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers for more than twenty years, and joined the Iron and Steel Institute in 1879.


1881 Obituary [13]



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Times, 23 May 1881
  2. 1841 Census
  3. 1851 Census
  4. 1860 Institution of Mechanical Engineers
  5. 1861 Census
  6. 1871 Census
  7. The Times, 23 May 1881
  8. The Ipswich Journal, Saturday, May 28, 1881
  9. 1882 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  10. 1882 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  11. The Engineer 1881/06/03
  12. 1881 Iron and Steel Institute: Obituaries
  13. Engineering 1881 Jan-Jun: Index: General Index