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British Industrial History

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Robert Ransome

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Robert Ransome (1753–1830) the founder of the company that became Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies.

1753 Born at Wells, Norfolk, son of Richard Ransome, a schoolmaster, and his wife Prudence. His grandfather, Richard Ransome, was a miller of North Walsham, Norfolk, and an early Quaker.

Thomas was his elder brother.

On leaving school Robert was apprenticed to an ironmonger.

c.1779 He began business at Norwich with his brother Thomas, establishing a small brass foundry and soon afterwards added an iron foundry. They traded as ironmongers and also advertised clock parts.

1782 He married Mary Raven in 1782

1782 Birth of son James

1789 Robert moved to Ipswich, establishing the business Ransome and Co. He opened a new foundry where he made ploughshares. His chilling process to produce cast iron was a technical breakthrough. He obtained several patents for his inventions.

1795 Birth of son Robert

1809 Robert's son, James, became a partner in the company, Ransome and Son.

1812-1826 William Cubitt, the famous engineer was employed by the company, which had started to build bridges and mill-wrighting.

1818 Robert joined the company which became Ransome and Sons

1825 Upon retiring from business, Robert 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.

1830 Robert Ransome died on 7 March.


Reminiscences of George Arthur Biddell[1]

"To touch on Mr. Robert Ransome's history briefly, he was apprenticed to an Ironmonger at Norwich, and soon after his apprenticeship he set up a little brass and iron Foundry in Norwich, as well as being an ironmonger, which however very soon came to grief. He then tried something in Yarmouth, but was again unsuccessful. He was a very persevering man. He came to Ipswich in 1789 and started a foundry in St. Margarets and that was really the commencement of the present concern. It was an iron and brass foundry combined.

Some little time after he started here [Ipswich foundry] an accident occurred through the bursting of a furnace, which gave way and all the molten metal ran out and some of it ran on to some iron plates and cooled rapidly,-of course much more quickly than that which ran on to the sandy ground of the foundry. When the metal had cooled down it was broken up and he observed that wherever it had run on to the iron plates, it had changed its character and the surface which had come immediately in contact with the iron plates was "chilled" and very hard and white in texture for quite a good way into the metal.

Mr. Robert Ransome was a man of great observation and in fact was a natural engineer and the idea struck him that the chilled metal possessed just the qualities for a good plough-share because the lower side being hard and the upper side soft, the friction of the upper soil would form a good cutting edge. Up to that time this class of shares were always made in wrot. iron. This, in the year 1803, is believed to be the first application of "chilling" for any purpose (a patent was granted for the invention). Palliser adopted the principle in his Chilled shot, but before his patent was taken out, I had written to the War Office offering to send them a chilled shot which I had made, but they pooh-poohed the idea as they did Palliser's at first, but at last through influence of friends he succeeded and was handsomely rewarded by the Government, who adopted the principle to some extent. Now, of course, these chilled shots have been superseded by steel entirely. The chilling principle was also applied to Railway Crossings patented by me many years ago,- in one of the fifties,-and worked successfully by the firm of Ransomes and Sims for many years and these held their own until superseded by the steel crossings.

Another application was most important, although somewhat limited. I mean the large Transit Circle, which was made for Greenwich under my direction and through the instructions of Sir George Biddell Airy in 1846. It was only after much perseverance and patience that we were able to get a perfectly true Cylinder " Pivot" 6 X 6, but at last true Cylinders were got to 1/ 30000th part of an inch, as tested by Sir George Biddell Airy and to this day they are as true as they were fifty years ago. The firm not only constructed much of the heavy instrumental work of the Greenwich Observatory, but they made a similar instrument to the above for the Government Observatory at the Cape of Good Hope. Soon after this the Firm made another large instrument for Greenwich called the Great Equatorial Instrument, also under the direction of the late Sir George Biddell Airy.

Previous to that, in the year 1845, there had been made at the Upper Works, under the direction of Mr. Chas. May and Mr. Jones (who was then Assistant Engineer to Mr. May), an Altazimuth instrument, designed by Sir George Biddell Airy, by which an observation could be taken of the altitude of a star and also the angle of a star in respect to the horizon. This was the first instrument of its kind made, but it has been improved upon latterly. Read More


Genealogy of the Company

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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1944