Mowing the lawn has been a constant feature of my life for as long as I can remember; yet it is so mundane a task that I can recall so little about it. Obviously I was too young at first to do anything in the garden but watch others at work, but by the time I moved into my teenage years I was helping my father to cut the grass, and particularly to do the edges with shears. Dad’s contribution was to install ever more complicated motors to drive the simple Qualcast push mower that he started off with.
His first attempt was to fit a 34 cc 2 stroke JAP engine, which only powered the cutting cylinder and not the roller, which would have made the machine self-propelled. Even so it was a little under-powered, so he moved on to a TVO 4 stroke BSA engine. TVO (tractor vaporising oil) is otherwise called kerosene or paraffin. The engine had to be warm to vaporise the oil, so it had a small subsidiary petrol tank for starting. We used to run our engine mostly on petrol, because by the time it had warmed up enough to switch over to paraffin the lawn was cut and it was time to put the mower way.
At 120 cc this BSA motor was quite adequate for the cutting the lawn, and next my father wanted to make his mower self-propelled. The meant adding a clutch and a belt drive to power the roller. This added a complication, because the mower ran a little too fast and poor Daddy had almost to run to keep up with the machine. Rather than adjust the gearing he decided to remove the petrol engine and go electric instead; so next it was off to Hagg’s shop in King Street to select an electric motor. He tried both mains (which meant a long cable) and battery power that needed a heavy 12 volt car battery. You may wonder why he did not simply buy a motor mower, but the fact is that he loved the experiments he was making; he said that buying a motor mower was too expensive, but he must have spent much more on his schemes than several off-the-shelf mowers would have cost. The hours he spent on the work bench devising solutions to mechanical problems were much more interesting to him than the boring business of actually cutting the grass.
Eventually he did buy a Mountfield petrol rotary mower. The design of this machine (illustrated above) has not changed in fifty years. Our front lawn at Poringland was quite large, so as my father got older and more frail a reliable motor mower was becoming needed. For one thing the Montfield was much easier to start than the JAP or BSA engines, as it had an automatic rewind on the starting rope, which the others did not. With those engines you had to wind the rope by hand, and if it misfired (as often was the case) you had the tedious business to do again.
While my father was busy experimenting with his lawn mower I had moved on through school to university, and you might think that the study of Anglo-Saxon England and Baroque architecture had pushed all thoughts of mowing the lawn to one side, but this was not so. My landlady had to get up early in the morning to catch the train from Oxford to London, where she was librarian at Imperial College. This left me alone to make my own breakfast, read history books and incidentally to cut the grass in front of her house!
We briefly lived in a second floor flat when I was first married, and there was of course no lawn to mow. Soon we moved into a bungalow which had both a front and a back lawn, and out came the mower again. Our next house (where we still live) also has grass to cut, but now we have gardener to it for us. Now I just clip a bit here and there with garden shears which, as you may recall, is how I started all those years ago.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA