EXCURSION / Blade runners: In Southport, old lawnmowers are never put out to grass. Siobhan Dolan meets one man sent to mow

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
I just like lawnmowers,' Brian Radam says. 'I was brought up with them.' In a room above a locksmith's and discount mower warehouse in Southport, Radam is the creator and curator of Britain's only lawnmower museum. The displays feature more than 100 exhibits, from an 1870 cast-iron Green's mower to a 1972 Flymo, together with toy lawnmowers and other garden accessories.

Radam's enthusiasm is inherited. Inspired by his father's interest in lawnmowers, by the age of 15 he was scouring local scrap-metal yards in search of discarded machines. He was surprised at what he found - perfectly good mowers which simply needed repairs or servicing. 'It's like getting an old Rolls Royce and just because it's 60 years old and a bit rusty, throwing it away.'

Unlike cars and trains of similar vintage, lawnmowers are not seen to be worth preserving. Radam, however, believes that a well-made lawnmower is a masterpiece of functional design. 'Some of them are beautifully made. Before the Industrial Revolution, each mower was individually hand-crafted out of cast iron. There was no plastic or aluminium, and the chain hadn't even been invented,' he says. 'The mowers had intricate mechanisms and are fine examples of old machinery.'

Too fine, in some cases. The durability of early machines meant that one mower would last a lifetime. Companies went bust and classic designs were lost. Radam set out to rediscover them, repairing where necessary and plundering from one machine to renovate another. 'I could restore cars, but I'm not interested in them.'

An early manufacturer was Shanks, of Arbroath, whose pony-pulled mower also demanded considerable effort from its human operator, who pushed as the horse pulled. Anyone cutting a lawn in this way was soon said to be on Shanks's pony. Leyland, the motor manufacturer, also tried to enter the market in 1890. 'They made a steam mower. It was revolutionary and much cheaper to run than a horse and a man, but unfortunately it was just when petrol engines were starting and it became a dinosaur within a few years.'

Radam's personal favourite from the collection is the Swedish designed Flexa, manufactured by Wilkinson Sword in the Fifties. 'It's the best design in the world as far as I'm concerned, beautifully made, extremely simple and it works better than anything else powered by hand,' Radam says. 'The Flexa is also one of the few machines ever to cut long, wet grass. It could have lasted forever.'

Radam shows similar affection for his collection of toy lawnmowers - the largest in the world - which includes a 2in working model. 'In the Fifties they used to make proper ones that worked and encouraged children to cut the grass, just like Dad,' he says. 'Unfortunately they're banned now because they've got revolving blades. There were hundreds made and I never heard of anyone hurting themselves.'

Lawnmower racing, another aspect of the exhibition and of Radam's obsession, is not so safe. The vehicles, designed to run at about six or seven mph, are souped up to reach about 40mph, which often results in competitors taking a tumble. Radam, a former champion, insists that strict rules and protective gear ensure that accidents are kept to a minimum. 'The vehicles must have originally been bought to cut grass,' he says, 'the blades must be removed and they must still look like lawnmowers, although this rule does get bent.'

The sport is less cut-throat and cheaper than other motorsports. 'Most people buy an old mower and spend a few hundred pounds on it,' Radam says. He is currently working behind shed doors on a machine in which he hopes to create a lawnmower land-speed record of more than 100mph for the Guinness Book of Records.

While actor Oliver Reed and former racing hero Stirling Moss are known to be keen lawnmower racers, they haven't yet donated their vehicles to the museum's collection. A section on celebrity mowers is Brian Radam's next project, prompted by Jean Alexander's recent donation. 'I want it to be like the Hard Rock Cafe, only with lawnmowers.'

The Lawnmower Museum open day is on 4 May, 9.30am-5.30pm, 106-114 Shakespeare St, Southport, Lancs

(Photograph omitted)

Comments