Land of Machines and Men

Land of Machines and Men

The rolling Lincolnshire countryside has two faces; farmland that stretches as far as the eye can see and huge factories, mainly built around Lincoln, that were the powerhouses that supplied the military through two World Wars and built agricultural machinery that was sold around the globe. It is hard to imagine today that the often rural and remote countryside was where military aircraft, tanks, agricultural machinery and cranes, were manufactured to feed and mechanise the world. All this effort needed an efficient infrastructure in the shape of warehouses, sawmills, mills and factories, and rural Lincolnshire rose to the emerging challenge.

The message was driven home that the county was important to the development of Britain, when Lincoln hosted the Royal Agricultural Show in 1907. The city made a bold statement to celebrate the occasion with huge columns and gantries across the main thoroughfare, which in effect said: “This is what we do in Lincolnshire”.

Steam awakened the Lincolnshire industrial revolution during the 1880’s when local businessmen, engineers and entrepreneurs, including far seeing farmers, started to build steam thrashing machines, or sets as they were known – a moveable steam engine, which provided the power, a thrashing machine and an elevator, which worked as one unit to thrash the wheat and stack the straw. Lincolnshire had always grown barley and as the demand grew from the brewing industry, so did the size of the maltings. Their construction created work for bricklayers masons and carpenters as the county moved into a golden age.

The boom continued to gather momentum as more windmills were built; the early ones were smaller and designed to pump out the drains that kept the Lincolnshire lowlands dry. With trade expanding, much of it worldwide, the infrastructure had to expand to carry what was being grown and manufactured. Boston blossomed as warehouses, designed to hold thousands of tonnes of grain, sprung up virtually overnight.

Waterways like the Welland and Witham became super highways, with attendant new lock systems, to help move grain, coal, timber, building materials and farm produce. When the rivers couldn’t handle the traffic, they were inter-connected with canals supported by the building of massive sluices to control the flow and height of the rivers for the benefit of shipping. The rapid expansion meant that huge steam and then diesel powered pumping stations had to be built to control water flows and prevent the interruption of trade, and this has left us with some often unique buildings, which still stand today.
One of the downsides of the expansion was the capital cost of the large building programmes.

The next phase in the county’s expansion saw the county’s road network being upgraded during the 1800s, and this is when the first toll houses appeared as a way of recouping some of the money needed to build and improve the roads. At this time Lincolnshire could be said to be still rural – then the railways arrived in 1846 and this opened up the county, with Grimsby being one of the main railway hubs. Today we still see railway crossing control boxes, massive warehouses, many now redeveloped as dwellings, sitting beside often-redundant tracks. Lincolnshire docks became choked with traffic, and often they silted up, which kept dredgers busy trying to keep the channel open, and in the end a new dock had to be built at Immingham to take the expanding traffic.

Small engineering companies grew, and then were swallowed up by bigger companies, which again were sold on to become even larger, many becoming famous names worldwide, especially in the field of agriculture. Lincoln’s Bacon and Shuttleworth are a case in example. They lead the field in thrashing machine manufacture becoming one of the biggest engineering companies in the world. They owned huge factories; one being the Titanic works in Lincoln, and at one time employed around 2000 people.

Other famous companies included Ruston Proctor and Co, which built oil engines – we call them diesel engines today. Scunthorpe expanded too with the huge smelting works and iron ore mines dominating the landscape. There’s also one other interesting fact; factories around Lincoln not only built tanks to fight on the Western Front during the First World War, but also manufactured more aircraft during the war than any other city in the world.

So as you travel the roads of Lincolnshire marvel at the waterways, the mills, the warehouses, often now deserted docks and the turn of the century factories because they are all important industrial stepping-stones, which form part of the county’s rich archaeology.

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MOS Admin