Celebrating Marshall’s 175th anniversary in style!

Posted by Chris Graham on 12th October 2023

The Marshall Club’s Ian Palmer reports on Marshall’s 175th anniversary celebrations that took place in Gainsborough recently.

Marshall's 175th anniversary

Paul Ducksbury’s 1900 steam roller was the oldest exhibit displaying on Saturday at Marshall’s 175th anniversary celebration weekend. The engine’s seen here with Paul driving and Ben Knowles steering as it takes part in a run around the farm. (Pic: Stewart Robertson)

William Marshall was born in Gainsborough in 1812 and, in 1848, he acquired the small engineering works of William Garland. William’s eldest son, James, entered the business in 1849 and Henry followed in 1853, both aged 13 years, as apprentices.

By 1855, the business had outgrown its premises, so William purchased the first 1½ acres of land which became known as Britannia Iron Works, on Beaumont Street, and built his new Smith Shop.

Marshall's 175th anniversary

This event saw the first outing for Richard Day’s 1910 ‘Gainsboro’ No 2 light traction engine, which is still under restoration. In the background is Neil Smith’s 1921 steam roller, Aries. (Pic: Andrew Birkitt)

Around 1856, James and Henry pestered their father to build portable steam engines to provide power for their threshing machines. It’s said that William opposed the idea at first but, under pressure, agreed by stating the now well-known phrase: “Well my lads, you must do as you like!” This would lead to Marshalls becoming one of the world’s leading steam manufacturers.

In 1861, William had a heart attack and died, aged 49, leaving a prosperous business – with a reputation for quality – in the reliable hands of his two sons, now employing 21 men and 10 boys. James concentrated on the engineering and manufacturing side, with Henry devoting his time to administration and commercial affairs. 

Marshall's 175th anniversary

The oldest exhibit at the event was Michael Davison’s 1889 traction engine, Mary Margaret. Here it’s seen arriving at Marshalls Yard, all the way from County Durham. (Pic: Andrew Birkitt)

Marshalls built its first traction engine in 1876, and its first steam road roller in 1894. Henry Marshall died in 1906, and it’s reported that 12,000-14,000 people attended his funeral and cortege.

The first Marshall oil tractor was built in 1908 for the UK market, and this was followed by larger tractors for export to the Colonies. During World War 1 a large proportion of the manufacturing at Britannia Works was turned over to the War Department. James died in 1922 and his cortege included 3,000 works employees, and an estimated 20,000 people in attendance.

Marshall's 175th anniversary

Always a welcome visitor, this 1923 Portable Hot Bulb Oil Engine is owned by Paul Willis. Paul attended the 150th anniversary event with his father and, this time it was his turn to teach his own son – the next generation. (Pic: Stewart Robertson)

Marshalls’ first single-cylinder diesel tractor, the 15/30, was introduced in 1930, but the Marshall board announced in 1934 that the company was to be put into receivership. In 1935, Thomas Ward came to the rescue, marking the end of the Marshall family’s involvement with the company.

Marshalls again concentrated on manufacturing armaments during World War 2 but, this time, at the end of the war, the company was in better health and a new range of products such as the Field Marshall, Road Marshall and Grain Marshall were introduced.

Marshall's 175th anniversary

Seen at the farm on Saturday this 15/30, owned by Robert Crawford, is the oldest, single-cylinder Marshall still in existence. (Pic: Stewart Robertson)

The acquisition of John Fowler by the Ward Group in 1946 resulted in the Fowler VF tractor, incorporating the Field Marshall engine. Subsequent multi-cylinder crawler tractors followed under the Fowler name and, in 1956, Marshalls introduced its Track Marshall range.

In 1968, the two companies merged to become Marshall-Fowler but, in 1975, the company was sold to Aveling-Barford. Aveling-Marshall employed over 1,000 workers, but was shut down at the end of 1979. However, the Track Marshall division managed to continue until 1998 – 150 years after William first established his company. 

The last steel-tracked Track Marshall model to be manufactured was the TM155. This example is owned by Jamie Clark and, in the background there’s an IMT-based Marshall 132 tractor, built in the late 1980s. (Pic: Stewart Robertson)

The 175th Anniversary Weekend
I was asked whether The Marshall Club could hold a weekend event in 2023, to celebrate the 175th anniversary of William setting up his business. It was agreed that there would be a social gathering at the Tomlinson’s farm for Marshall enthusiasts on Saturday, followed by a road run on Sunday to the club’s annual Father’s Day meeting at Marshalls Yard. 

In the 1940s and 1950s this would have been a common sight. James Chantry on his Model M pulling his SMM steel-framed threshing machine over Trent Bridge into Gainsborough, taking part on the event’s Sunday road run to Marshall’s Yard. (Pic: Bridget Laycock)

Gainsborough Heritage Association agreed to contribute 50% of the cost of purchasing a 175th Anniversary plaque, which would then be on permanent view at Marshall’s Yard. During Saturday at the farm, there was a good gathering of 44 Marshall products on display. In the afternoon there was a two-mile road run around the tracks of the farm and, in the evening, Bridget Laycock gave an hour-long presentation on the history of Marshalls.

Seen arriving at Marshalls Yard is Dave Pantry on the oldest-surviving Field Marshall, No. 2002 – the second of a batch of 12 that were sent to Marshall dealers for evaluation before the model went into production. It’s believed that this was the first public appearance for 2002, since it attended the 150th Anniversary meet. (Pic: Richard Pocklington)

Early on Sunday, participants set off on the six-mile road run to Marshall’s Yard. We were fortunate in that the nephew of the late Henry Marshall happened to arrive just in time to unveil the 175th plaque at Marshall’s Yard, where there were 48 exhibits on display.

The newest Marshall attending the weekend was James Chantry’s Steyr-based D844, that was built in 1989. (Pic: Andrew Birkitt)

The Marshall Club covers all the Marshall products manufactured, plus the Fowler crawler tractors. If anybody is interested in joining, please contact Ian Palmer via email at: or by phone on: 07543 379769.

Unveiling the 175th anniversary plaque at Marshalls Yard on 18th June, 2023. Left to right: Henry Marshall’s nephew, Gainsborough Heritage chairman Andrew Birkitt and head of the Marshall Club, Ian Palmer. (Pic: Stewart Robertson)

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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