Hornsby-Ackroyd tractor of 1896 at Newby 09 - IMG 2188

The Hornsby Ackroyd tractor built in 1896 (note the Propane torch to pre heat the cylinder head) at Newby Hall Vintage Gathering 2009. This tractor is part of the R. Crawford collection from Lincolnshire

Richard Hornsby & Sons was an engine and machinery manufacturer in Lincolnshire, England from 1828 until 1918.


The company bearing the name of Richard Hornsby (1790-1864), the agricultural engineer, was founded when Richard opened a blacksmithy in Grantham, Lincolnshire in 1815 with Richard Seaman, after joining Seaman's business in 1810. The company became Richard Hornsby & Sons in 1828, when Richard bought out his partner's ownership, when Seaman retired.

Product range and inventionsEdit

R. Hornsby & Sons grew into a major manufacturer of agricultural machinery, at their Spittle Gate Works. The firm went on to produce steam engines used to drive threshing machines and other equipment such as traction engines; their portable steam engine was one of their most important products and the market leader. A farm was purchased nearby, where all their new products were tested before being produced.

Later a chain-track was added to an oil-engined tractor: the caterpillar track; these were developed and patented by Hornsby's chief engineer (and managing director), David Roberts, from July 1904. These were first used on tractors which served with the British Army towing artillery from 1910, but were later fitted to tanks which were used in the First World War from 1916. In 1909, a development model called the Little Caterpillar was demonstrated to the War Office. The army officers present at the demonstration believed it would frighten the horses.

First commercial filmEdit

In 1907, a chain-track was fitted to a 40hp petrol-engined car, and trialled in Aldershot, with film footage taken of the 15mph phenomenal machine. The film also showed a team of horses pulling a heavy carriage over a marsh. The horses, without much ceremony, sank. A caterpillar tractor then drove over the same marsh and avoided similarly sinking, and pulled out the horses. This film was shown to cinema audiences in summer 1908, who found it beguiling. It is thought to be the first (long-length) film made for commercial purposes. Shorter length film adverts had also been produced since the late 1890s.

Hornsby Akroyd engineEdit

Work with Herbert Akroyd Stuart in the 1890s lead to the world's first commercial vaporizing oil engines being made in Grantham (from July 8 1892). Other larger engineering companies had been offered the option of manufacturing the engine, but they saw it as a threat to their business instead. Only Hornsbys saw its possibilities. The first one was sold to the Newport Pagnell Sanitary Authority (later to be bought back by Hornsbys and displayed in their office). Later in 1892, T.H. Barton at Hornsbys replaced the engine's vaporiser with a cylinder head, increased the compression ratio, and the engine ran on compression alone for six hours; the first time this had been achieved. This was the first recognisable 'diesel engine', although it was built several years before Rudolf Diesel built his first prototype engines. 32,417 of the vapourising oil ('hot-bulb') engines were made by Hornsbys. They would provide electricity for lighting the Taj Mahal, Rock of Gibraltar, Statue of Liberty (chosen after Hornsbys won the oil engine prize at the Chicago World's Fair]] of 1893), many lighthouses and for powering Guglielmo Marconi's first trans-Atlantic radio broadcast.


After Richard's death in 1864, the firm was owned by his son, also Richard. He died at the early age of 50, quite suddenly, in 1877. The company became a public company, being valued at £235,000. Employing about 1,400 workers, it was managed by the two other sons - James and William. Throughout the First World War, Hornsbys were seconded to producing munitions and engines for the Admiralty. This left them little room for marketing or manufacturing other products - often needing years of development. The management realised their future was in doubt, so looked for a suitable (and preferably nearby) company to amalgamate with, choosing Ruston. On September 11th 1918 when employing about 3,000 people, the company was bought out by Ruston Proctor of Lincoln, Lincolnshire.

Preserved MachinesEdit


Sir John William - Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 6759 - Note the unusual regulator design

As an Early producer the machines are rare. The Traction Engine Register 2008 only lists 15 Hornsby machines in the UK and several of these have been repatriated from abroad.

Preserved machines built by Richard Hornsby and Sons Ltd 15 listed in TER
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Engine No. Name Build Date Type Weight Power nhp Reg No. Owner Image Other info
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. UP11 - circa 1870 PE weight power - Preston, Kent Image needed LHB

Misc info
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 1531 - 1870 PE  ? ton  ? nhp - Owner ? To add At Preston Services 2010
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 1851 - 1871 PE  ? ton 6 nhp - Science museum reserve collection Image needed LHB

In storage at The Science Museum, Wroughton Large object store.
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 2727 - date built PE weight power - Owner ?, Waterford ROI Image needed LHB

Engine number not Verified[4]
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 2958 - 1875 PE  ? ton 9 nhp - Newcastle Science Museum Richard Hornsby no. 2958 - PE at Beamish 2014 - IMG 8618 May be at Beamish Open Air Museum in Farm yard
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 3444 - 1878 PE weight 4 nhp - Owner ?, Stroud, Glos Image needed LHB

Misc info
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 3948 - 1880 PE weight 8 nhp - Owner ?, Blanford Image needed LHB

Repatriated from Tasmainia c.1995
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 4171 - 1883 SP weight 8 nhp - Owner ?, Taunton Image needed LHB

Semi-portable , Imported from Mozambique
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 4451 -  ? date built PE weight power - Owner, Co. Laose ROI Image needed LHB

Number requires verification
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 6239 - 1887 PE weight power - Owner Bucks Image needed LHB

Repatriated from Australia, ?
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 6469 - ~ 1880 PE  ? ton  ? nhp - Owner ? location ? Photo here On Steam scenes
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 6557 Maggie 1889 TE  ? ton 8 nhp FL 2598 C. Hartwright, Abingdon Oxon to add At Welland Steam and Country Rally 2011
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 6759 Sir John William 1899 TE  ? ton 8 nhp BS 8421 Owner ?, Yorkshire Richard Hornsby no.6759 - TE - Sir John William (BS8421) at Masham 16 - IMG 2040 At Masham Steam Engine and Fair Organ Rally 2016
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 7297 Bob 1892 TE 10 ton 8 nhp - In Museum of Lincolnshire Life collection Richard Hornsby no. 7297 - TE - Bob at Sheffield Rally 2017 - IMG 0713 Repatriated from Australia.
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 7815 - 1893 PE  ? ton 6 nhp - Preston Services To add (T87) At Preston Services 2010
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 8230 - - PE - - - - na Misreported is no.8623 [5]
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 8278 - 1899 PE  ? ton 10 nhp - Owner ?, Boston Image needed LHB

Semi-portable originally
Richard Hornsby and Sons no. 8623 - 1903 PE  ? ton 8 nhp - Owner ?, Cambridge Image needed LHB

Reboilered by Gower no. 2478 in 1960.
Several more survive in Australia and New Zealand Image needed LHB

Richard Hornsby and Sons no. ? Name ? date built type weight power Reg no. Owner ?, location Image needed LHB

Misc info
Key References / sources
Machine types Key: PE = Portable engine, PLG = Ploughing Engine, RR = Road Roller, SM = Showmans engine, SW = Steam Wagon, TE = Traction Engine
  1. TER 2008, p50
  2. Old Glory Magazine No. 226 page 18
  3. Sir John William web site
  4. TER 2016 edition
  5. TER 2016 edition

See alsoEdit


  • One Hundred Years of Good Company (history of R & H), by Bernard Newman, 1957, Northumberland Press.
  • Newby show guide and display board with the tractor.
  1. TER 2008, p50
  2. Old Glory Magazine No. 226 page 18
  3. Sir John William web site
  4. TER 2016 edition
  5. TER 2016 edition

External linksEdit

Video clipsEdit

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