Fantastic Richard Vernon collection sale

Posted by Chris Graham on 14th August 2023

David Read reports on the Cheffins-managed sale of the Richard Vernon collection, which saw plenty of interesting machinery sold.

Richard Vernon collection

Richard Vernon collection sale: There were large crowds gathered around the steam engines as they were being sold.

Many eyes in the steam world were on Cotesbach, near Lutterworth, in Leicestershire on June 3rd, when the Richard Vernon Collection went under the hammer. Richard died in December 2021 after a long battle with cancer. He was well-known in steam and vintage circles, and has been described as an early pioneer of steam and tractor preservation.

After his first clear-out (30 years ago!), Richard continued collecting veteran and vintage machinery, including purchasing some veteran tractors from the Oscar Dreamland sale in 1998. As for the auction itself, Cheffins was in charge of proceedings with Bill King and Oliver Godfrey taking it in turns to guide the bidders through the various lots in their usual efficient manner. 

Richard Vernon collection

Bill King was working hard when selling the steam engines at the auction.

There was a good crowd in attendance too and, with prospective bidders on site competing with those on the internet, there was brisk bidding all round. At 10am the traditional auction bell rang with a large number of sundries being sold, before attention switched to some vintage steam implements and ploughs. 

The Marshall Sons & Co Ltd straw elevator achieved £1,100, while a couple of Howard cultivators made £3,000 and £2,200 respectively. Then came a Walsh & Clarke four-furrow balance plough, which is believed to be the sole surviving example. That sold for £7,500, while other steam-related implements included a c1921 Fowler four-furrow steam anti-balance plough that sold for £18,500 and has headed to the USA. A c1920 set of Fowler reversible steam disc harrows that were mounted to a four-wheel steering carriage made £13,500. One of the oldest implements on offer was a rare set of Fowler reversible steam harrows that dated from approximately 1880. They sold for £3,500, while a set of Howard reversible steam harrows made £1,600.

Richard Vernon collection

This 1909 Fowler Class BAA Colonial traction engine No. 11717 was in the best condition of the engines in the sale. The bidding rose to £49,000, but that wasn’t enough for it to sell.

But it was the steam engines that were the highlight of the sale. The first to go under the hammer was the best, a 1909 Fowler Class BAA Colonial 6hp single-cylinder general purpose engine No. 11717. This is one of a total of only nine that were built; they were designed to be tall enough to cross a river, stream or rough ground. Most went to Australia, and this example was no exception, being shipped out in 1915 to spend most of its working life in New South Wales before returning to England in 1992. It was purchased by Richard in a semi-derelict condition in April 1995, at the last Cheffins Linton sale.

Richard Vernon collection

This 1884 Fowler double-drum ploughing engine No. 4223 Aethelflaed was a popular lot, but didn’t quite manage to meet its pre-sale estimate when it sold for £64,000. It’s gone back to Worcestershire where it lived until 1960.

It was restored to working order after a lengthy rebuild, which included a new firebox, smoke box, chimney and belly tanks, returning to steam in April 2005 and attending its first rally at Ashby Magna. It was stated that, despite the boiler certificates indicating that things were in good order, the engine required a hydraulic test. As it was, bidding soon got underway, with an expectant crowd following proceedings in absolute silence. The Fowler eventually achieving £49,000, but that was a little way short of its pre-sale estimate, and so it’s still for sale.

Richard Vernon collection

There was silence when the pair of 1918 Fowler BB1 ploughing engines Nos. 15170 and 15171 Princess Caroline and Princess Jayne were sold. Bidding continued to rise until the selling price of £156,000 was reached, and they were sold to a USA bidder.

Next up was 1884 Fowler 8hp single-cylinder, double-drum ploughing engine No. 4223 Aethelflaed that was unusual in having a vertical drum affixed to the boiler’s side – behind the running board – as well as the traditional, standard rope winding drum fitted beneath the boiler. The history of this engine is well documented; it was supplied new to J&H Tovey of Cirencester, Gloucestershire, in 1884 and paired with an earlier, similar engine No. 3896. The pair were sold to the well-known steam plough operators Bomford & Evershed of Salford Priors, Worcestershire, in 1919, and engaged on contract work.

Richard Vernon collection

Seen before the sale is No. 15171, Princess Jayne, one of the 1918 John Fowler BB1 ploughing engines.

It remained with the firm until 1960 when it was bought for preservation, although No. 3896 was scrapped, by Mr Remington of Nuneaton, Warwickshire, passing to Lloyd Jackson of Orton on the Hill, Leicestershire, where it remained for over 30 years and was then restored. Externally, the engine looks wonderful, but it’s possible that major boiler work remains necessary, and it sold for £64,000 to Paul Davis of Astwood Bank, Worcestershire, who I’m sure will have the engine put right. 

Richard Vernon collection

In great condition, this c1921 Fowler four-furrow steam anti-balance plough was a popular lot and sold for £18,500 to the USA.

Causing a lot of interest was the pair of 1918 Fowler BB1 16hp double-crank compound ploughing engines No. 15170 Princess Caroline and No. 15171 Princess Jayne. Again, the history of the engines is well-known, they were supplied new through Government Order K26255 to Thomas Powers, of Manor House, Barnwell, Leicestershire, on May 31st, 1918. They had a busy life and worked across Leicestershire and Warwickshire with their duties including cable ploughing, cultivating, mole draining and dredging. In 1921 they were registered NR 78 and NR 79 respectively, before being sold at auction on August 26th, 1932, to CH Cope-Arnold of Wolvey, Warwickshire, where they were used for cultivating and contract work as far south as Oxfordshire. 

This c1920 Fowler reversible steam disc harrows that were mounted to a four-wheel steering carriage in four circa 8ft sections. In very good condition, it sold for £13,500.

The engines saw some military service during WWII, being used on land clearing duties in preparation for the building of Bramcote Aerodrome. Later they were used as winch engines for the Wellington bombers based at Bitterswell Aerodrome. After hostilities ceased, though, their working days were numbered, with the engines last being used commercially at Wolvey, in 1949. Three years later they were sold to HJ Roads of Caxton, Cambridgeshire, but they remained exposed to the elements in a field for the following 20 years, slowly rotting away. Salvation was on hand, though, with the engines being bought by Andrew Fisher of Burbage, Leicestershire, in 1969 and, after a five-year rebuild, they were totally restored to a high standard, but always had worn fireboxes.

This Ransomes two-furrow Twinway reversible crawler-pulled plough is believed to have been used on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. It sold for £4,200.

They were well-known on the rally scene throughout the Midlands and Yorkshire during the 1970s and 1980s, before being sold to Richard in June, 1993. In his ownership, the engines continued to be exhibited occasionally on the rally scene, and completed a 40-mile road run for the Millennium celebrations. 

In great condition, this c1926 Rumely Oil Pull Type L 15-25 was sold by Cheffins back in April 2017. This time it made £17,000.

When it came to the auction itself, the engines were described as being in good mechanical condition, although both required boiler work. That didn’t put off the bidders, though, with the price of £156,000 being achieved for the pair which have been sold to the USA. Edward Mills was the under-bidder who tried to save the engines from leaving the county and going abroad, but it became impractical in the end with the amount of work needed boiler-wise on the engines.

The most expensive tractor in the sale was this c1925 Peterbro that went on to sell for £40,000.

The most expensive tractor on offer was a very tidy, c1925 Peterbro four-cylinder sleeve-valve petrol/paraffin tractor. Like many of its counterparts, it ended up in New Zealand before returning to the UK and becoming part of the Paul Rackham collection, it sold for £40,000. 

Also in the auction was a well-restored c1920 Sawyer Massey 11-22 four-cylinder petrol/paraffin tractor which was imported to the UK by Bob Parkes, from a 2009 sale in Dresden, Ontario. It was acquired by Richard from Bob’s sale in 2019, and sold here for £33,000.

In original-looking condition, this c1920 British Wallis worked in New Zealand. It sold for £28,000.

Then came an original-looking c1924 British Wallis four-cylinder petrol/paraffin tractor that worked in Australia before returning to the UK, eventually being acquired by Richard; it sold for £28,000. There was a Gray 18-36 Drum Drive tractor originally imported from Colorado and purchased by Derek Mellor. He replaced the original Hercules engine that was cracked with another said to have come from an early combine. This was the last tractor that Derek Mellor sold in October 2020 before he died, and the same for Richard. An unusual looking tractor was the ex-Derek Mellor 1916 J I Case 10/20 tricycle, that sold for £23,000.

In great restored condition, this c1918 International Titan 10-20 was with Richard Sturdy before passing into the Vernon collection. It sold for £17,000.

Also attracting attention was an interesting 1916 Parrett 12-25 that came from the 1998 Oscar Cooke Dreamland Collection sale in Montana. This made £20,000, while a superbly restored ex-Richard Sturdy 1918 International Titan 10-20 sold for £17,000, which was also the selling price for a c1926 Rumley Oil Pull Type L 15-25 four-cylinder petrol/paraffin tractor, again ex-Richard Sturdy. 

This c1916 Case 10/20 tricycle was previously owned by the late Derek Mellor. It sold for £23,000.

There were many other interesting tractors on offer, too, but the main draw had to be the steam engines. Many had been seen at rallies over the years; let’s hope that they will soon be on the rally circuit again in the not-too-distant future as, thanks to Robert Holt’s skills, nearly all the machines in the sale were runners.

In good restored condition, this c1920 Sawyer Massey 11-22 came from Ontario in 2009. It passed to Richard in 2019 and sold for £33,000.

This feature comes from the latest issue of Old Glory, and you can get a money-saving subscription to this magazine simply by clicking HERE


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