Marshall Sons & Co, was founded in 1848 by William Marshall who by trade was a Millwright and Engineer who purchased the land to build premises on Beaumont Street. The company produced agricultural machinery in the form of threshing machines and due to the encouragement from William’s two sons, the company expanded and developed portable engines. By 1913, 1,300 engines were sold with the great majority going to overseas customers.
By 1865, the new iron foundry, smithy and boiler shop were completed and for the first time the number of employees on the company’s books exceeded 100. In 1870, the manufacture of tea preparing machinery and road rollers also began. In the six years following 1870 the workforce more than doubled to 1,190. The influx of workers from the surrounding countryside caused a serious housing shortage in Gainsborough. In 1876, James and Henry Marshall formed the Gainsborough Building Society in an endeavour to alleviate the situation, by enabling employees to purchase their own homes by instalments. Following the passing of the Education Act in 1870, James and Henry took a keen interest in local education and classes in engineering, drawing, mechanics and physics, and commercial subjects such as English, French and book-keeping were arranged and provided by the company. In 1876 the manufacture of a self-moving traction engine began and was developed and by 1885 there were many improved designs and models of the road locomotive.
Paul Dawson worked at the Marshall factory from 1972 and recalls in great detail the layout of the Gainsborough firm. In the video below Paul talks you through his memories as if he was walking around the factory.
Paul Dawson in the video above interviewed as part of the Gainsborough Heritage Centre’s Oral history project in 2015.
The works were divided into two parts, known as the north and south sides, and were connected by a tunnel under Station Road which led to the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Station, later to become a part of the Great Central Railway, on the east side of the site. The north side of the factory comprised commodious modern offices completed in 1873, the engineering department, a large well equipped foundry and the boiler shop. The buildings on the south side of the site covered a larger area than the north and included the machine shop, erecting shop, paint shop, smithy and the wood-working departments. In 1892 the firm occupied 20 acres with 2,200 employees.
After the commencement of the First World War, the factory was converted to war production which focused on producing 8,000 military vehicles, 1,597 four inch Naval Gun Mountings and Bristol aircraft fuselages.
James Marshall died in 1922 causing the election of Herbert J. Marshall as Chairman of the Board and Herman D. Marshall as Managing Director. After the war there was a decline in the profitability of all types of steam engine products as well as threshing machines and combine harvesters. The company was struggling during the 1930s and in 1935 Thos. W. Ward Ltd of Sheffield came to the rescue and in March 1936 an entirely new company was formed.
In 1938 the company produced the Model ‘M’ diesel agricultural tractor and they proved suitable for driving threshing machines and they could cope with a 4-furrow plough on heavy land. During the Second World War, the company again was converted to war production which included building gun mountings and midget submarines. Read more about the story of the midget submarines in a blog post titled The Daring Exploits of a Gainsborough Built Machine.
In 1941 the Ministry of Agriculture announced that it wished to place an order for 2,000 agricultural tractors to assist its programme of boosting home-grown food production. In 1944, it was agreed that the company would manufacture 2,000 of the new tractors which became known as the Field Marshall, Series 1. The tractor’s reliability and performance was soon acknowledged by the farming fraternity and there was a great demand for the new models.
In 1956 the production of Track Marshall Tractors began. By 1963 there was the introduction of the new diesel road rollers and by 1964 the production of a new range of boilers called the Wickes Watertube Boilers commenced.
In 1975, Thos. W. Ward sold their interest in the Company to British Leyland and the company was renamed Aveling Marshall Ltd. The main products the company then produced were crawler tractors and wheeled shovel Loaders.
In 1979, British Leyland sold off their share in the company to a Lincolnshire farmer and businessman called Mr. Charles Nickerson who continued the manufacture of crawler tractors under the name of Track Marshall Ltd.
1986 saw the final conclusion of production on the former site of Marshall Sons & Co Ltd as the Track Marshall Company ceased to exist. In 1999, on the south side of the former site many workshops were demolished including the Veterans Club and boiler shop to make way for the new Tesco’s supermarket. In 1999 the new Tesco’s was officially opened by former Marshall’s foremen Fred (Duckie) Darwin.
The north side of the former site was occupied for many years by a company called Nettleham Engineering who maintained and sold off old machinery. In 1994, the Gainsborough Heritage Association’s first Heritage Centre was also situated on the site. The former site of Marshall’s formed part of the regeneration of the town as 2007 saw the opening of Marshall’s Yard. As part of the plans to build a shopping centre in Gainsborough, the history of Marshall’s was restored through the buildings and the statue of Britannia which still stands proud above the entrance of the former main doors to the factory today.
Unfortunately, the special event that takes place every year on Father’s Day is not taking place this weekend due to the Coronavirus pandemic. However, I’ve created a video (shown below) to celebrate years gone by of my photographs and memories of what is my favourite event to celebrate the history of the factory and the amazing tractors that the Gainsborough firm produced, enjoy!
Read more about past tractor events at Marshall’s Yard with a blog post on the Marshall Gathering and Father’s Day from 2018 and an article from 2019 called 85 years on still going strong – Marshall’s come home.
We hope to see you all next year!! Don’t forget to visit the Centre’s new Youtube channel.