Product Policy and
Company and Family Connections

Geoffrey W Bone

Background to This Page

During the summer of 2002, when researching the history of Paxman between 1945 and 1964, I met a number of times with Mr Geoffrey Bone, a former Paxman Managing Director. After one of our meetings, to aid my understanding of some of the events and issues we had discussed, Mr Bone kindly wrote (unsolicited) several pages of notes which arrived one morning in the post. After reading them, I felt the notes provided such a valuable personal insight into part of the industrial history of Eastern England that they should be preserved and made available to others. With Mr Bone's agreement I typed up the notes and he made some additions and minor amendments before the document was produced as a small booklet. The text of the booklet is reproduced here with the author's permission.

Richard Carr, November 2002

Geoffrey Bone worked for Davey, Paxman & Co of Colchester from 1945 to 1964, and was its Managing Director for ten years from 1954. He subsequently became Managing Director of Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies of Ipswich and later its Chairman.

This paper discusses aspects of product policy of the three major Eastern England engineering businesses of Ransomes Sims & Jeffries, Ruston & Hornsby of Lincoln, and Davey Paxman & Co, with particular emphasis on that of Paxman between the end of World War 2 and the mid-1960s. It also provides an insight into the close connections between the companies themselves, and between the companies, the author and his forebears.


Mr Bone, who died in May 2004, wished readers to be aware that his paper was based on the recollections of a man in his mid-eighties. The events to which it refers occurred, for the most part, more than forty years before the paper was written. Many of these events were still very clear in the author's memory and various facts have been confirmed by reference to other records. However, it was not possible or practical for him to check the accuracy of all details.

After the death of James Paxman, the product policy of the company which he had founded (Davey, Paxman & Co) was determined effectively by his relatives, notably Percy Sanders in the early 1900s and, until 1939, his son Edward. Product policy can be defined as the decisions taken at the top level of management as to the kind of products which should be designed and made, and where they should be sold.

After acquisition by Ruston & Hornsby Ltd of a controlling interest in the shares of Davey, Paxman & Co Ltd in 1940, product policy naturally became a concern of the Board of Directors of Ruston & Hornsby as well as that of Davey, Paxman & Co.

During the 1939-45 War this had little immediate effect, as wartime production of engines and other products was essentially based on products in respect of which Edward Paxman had been the arbiter in the late 1930s and those inherited from the days of James Paxman and Percy Sanders prior to this.

The events which led up to the involvement of Ruston & Hornsby Ltd (and ultimately to my own involvement) with the product policy of Davey, Paxman & Co Ltd are interesting for the light which they cast upon events in the engineering industry of East Anglia in the years between the 1914-18 war and the 1939-45 war.

To illustrate this, a bit of personal history of the Bone family will be seen to be relevant because the first contact between Edward Paxman and my father, Victor Bone, appears to have been at a Colchester Oyster Feast in October 1924 when they were clearly deliberately seated next to each other by the then Mayor of Colchester, Percy Sanders.

Edward (Ted) Paxman was at that time a young man in his early twenties, just graduated from Cambridge University and my father must have been invited as a former member of the Management Committee of the East Anglian Engineering Employers Association of which he and Percy Sanders (representing Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies Ltd of Ipswich and Davey, Paxman & Co Ltd of Colchester) had been founder members during and after the end of World War I, 1914-18.

Thus, in 1924, was established an acquaintance, and subsequent friendship, which led to several of the events to be subsequently mentioned in this paper.

It should be mentioned here that the East Anglian Engineering Employers Association covering engineering companies in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex, and "the Soke of Peterborough" was a very important and proud body in those days, and has remained influential in national affairs until recently, embracing as it did many large companies of international renown and many, many thousands of workers.

Both my father and Percy Sanders were leading lights in it ; and from the 1950s I had the privilege of serving on it both on behalf of Davey, Paxman and, later, Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies which later also caused me to serve on the Management Board of the (national) Engineering Employers Federation - subsequently as Chairman of its Health & Safety Committee and a Commissioner of the Health & Safety Commission.

The HQ of the EAEEA was in Ipswich as being convenient for persons travelling both from Chelmsford and Norwich as well as Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds, Colchester etc. Coincidentally, the office of the EAEEA was not far from the premises of the firm of Burton, Son & Sanders, confectionary manufacturers, near the dockside at Ipswich, to which Percy Sanders was related.

My father, Victor Bone, had come to represent Ransomes on this body because about 1840 his grandfather, William Bone, had 'emigrated' from Norfolk to establish himself as a repairer of agricultural machinery (and subsequently designer of it) in Suffolk. He thus came into contact substantially with Ransomes and when he had a son, George, born in 1852, naturally sent him for an apprenticeship at Ransomes in Ipswich, starting about 1870. George eventually retired in 1925 having travelled the world on the Company's behalf and ending up as Manager of the Threshing Machine department which had been his speciality.

He had five daughters and one son, my father Victor, who naturally also was sent as an apprentice to Ransomes during the 1890s, and also devoted himself to much further education in his own time at night school, etc.

This resulted in sufficient linguistic fluency and technical knowledge for him to be assigned during the period of approximately 1904 to 1914 to widespread travelling as a technical sales/service engineer throughout countries in Europe and the Middle East, including Russia, Egypt, North Africa, etc.

When World War I broke out on 4th August 1914 he had been in Sarajevo the day before and had considerable difficulty over many weeks in making his way back to the UK ; at one point being nearly swept onto a train repatriating Germans back to their 'Vaterland'.

On return to Ipswich he was assigned to the manufacturing side of the Company which was being inundated with orders for munitions as well as agricultural products.

Victor, apparently, soon made his mark and progressively rose during the war to become General Manager of manufacturing operations, which later included the building of a 'shadow factory' ('The White City') for the manufacture of RAE designed FE2B Fighter aircraft for the RFC (Royal Flying Corps).

These accomplishments caused Victor to be appointed a Director and member of the Board of RS&J in 1917 (reputed to be the first such person to be thus honoured who was not related either by blood or marriage to a 'Ransome').

In this capacity he had to deal with the problems of employment and labour relations with the many thousands of men and women at Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies during, and after the end of, World War I.

As Ransomes was the largest engineering employer in East Anglia at the time, he played an important role in the formation and policy management of the East Anglian Engineering Employers' Association ; and that must be where he first came into contact with Percy Sanders who also sat on the Management Committee of the EAEEA.

Victor Bone's position on the Board of Ransomes also led to his involvement with the post- World War I financial and product policy relationship between Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies of Ipswich and Ruston & Hornsby Ltd of Lincoln and Grantham (Ruston of Lincoln acquired Richard Hornsby & Sons of Grantham in 1918).

The aim of this relationship was to avoid duplication of effort on product design, manufacture, and marketing of similar products which pre-war had been competitive with each other, and to develop policies which would enhance the strength of both companies, both nationally and internationally, on a co-operative basis.

In order to achieve this some directors of each company were given rôles on the boards of the other ; and Victor Bone was asked to go to Ruston at Lincoln in an executive capacity because Ruston as the larger company was in particular need of his expertise in manufacture and rationalisation of the Ransome range of products with those of Ruston of Lincoln and Hornsby of Grantham, which included agricultural machinery as well as oil (diesel) engines, locomotives, excavators, cars, tractors, boilers, and road rollers.

Victor Bone accordingly moved to Lincoln in 1921, whilst remaining a non-executive director of Ransomes. He remained at Ruston until his death, which was tragically early because of ill-health caused by the intensity of his wartime pressures, becoming its Managing Director in 1944 and then Chairman in 1947, as well as serving from 1930 to 1944 as Managing Director of Ruston Bucyrus Ltd, excavator manufacturers, which he had caused to be formed in conjunction with Bucyrus-Erie Co of Milwaukee, USA.

He also played a part in facilitating the rationalisation of the road roller businesses of Aveling & Porter of Rochester, Barford & Perkins of Peterborough and Ruston & Hornsby of Lincoln - and the consequent establishment of Aveling & Barford Ltd at Grantham on a site provided by Ruston.

During these years there was no particular contact between the boards of Ruston and Paxman though no doubt each kept an eye on the happenings and prosperity or otherwise of each other.

When Greenwell & Co had 'rescued' Paxman from its financial troubles in the 1930s an approach was probably made to the reasonably prosperous Ruston regarding a possible take-over. And because of his acquaintance with Percy Sanders and his nephew Edward Paxman, Victor Bone presumably would have voted in favour of such a move. This came to fruition in 1940.

At that time I personally had never heard of the name Paxman, nor was I very interested in the diesel engine industry as such ; though I can remember that when I was at school I had been a bit of a fanatic about the future of diesel locomotives as the future successors of the Nigel Gresley 4-6-2 'Pacific' steam locomotives such as the Silver Link streamlined loco which then held the speed record of 108 mph on the LNER line between Grantham and Peterborough.

I had also spent several months in 1936 (my 'gap' year), and in vacations in 1937 and 1938, working as an apprentice on the shop floor at Ruston at 13 shillings and 4½d per week before going to Cambridge to study Mathematics and Engineering.

But after graduating at Cambridge with a first class degree I thought that diesel engines were "rather below me", and that only Rolls Royce aero engines were exciting enough for me, even though ICI offered me £350 per annum instead of only £250 per annum at Rolls Royce.

I will not repeat here how it was that I came to join the RAF and then became seconded first to RAE at Farnborough and then to Frank Whittle at Power Jets Ltd at Lutterworth ; but will skip the intervening years to a date in, I believe, autumn 1944 when my father phoned me to ask whether I could get leave for a sufficient time to join him and a friend (who turned out to be Ted Paxman) to meet him one evening for dinner in London (I believe that it was in the now disappeared Victoria Hotel in Northumberland Avenue). This was, of course, after the D Day invasion, but well before VE Day, and the purpose was to introduce me to Ted Paxman (who was himself that relative rarity in those days, another Cambridge engineering graduate) as a potential provider of a post-war job.

This meeting resulted, a few weeks later, in a 24 hour pass away from Lutterworth to visit Colchester to see the Paxman works - complete with coke braziers in the machine shop (and V1 buzz bombs still occasionally rattling down the Blackwater estuary!).

I was not impressed by the works as such, though the production line of TP engines at Britannia was an eye-opener. The dynamism and enthusiasm of Ted Paxman were infectious. A liberal application of gin then persuaded me that Colchester might conceivably be an alternative to Derby as the place for a future peacetime job, so I promised Ted to get in touch after the end of the war.

A year later both VE Day and VJ Day had been achieved, and I had just got engaged to my future wife, Wyn, with whom I had agreed that Colchester, being near the sea, would be preferable as a future place to live rather than staying on with a permanent commission in the RAF or going back to Rolls Royce at Derby, which were the apparent alternatives.

So we both got demobilised from the RAF in October and November 1945 respectively ; and I started at Paxman living in various 'digs' in Colchester until we got married in March 1946 and went to live in a house in Old Road, Frinton - which was one of the few habitable vacant houses in the town due to the damage sustained to the roofs from falling anti-aircraft shells fired by guns along the greensward.

It is perhaps relevant to mention that a difficult decision faced me at this time. Ruston & Hornsby Ltd had, at my instigation through my father, decided to embark on the design and development of an industrial gas turbine based upon the technology which had been developed as a consequence of Frank Whittle's work on the turbojet aero engine.

This had been commenced using Ruston's existing technical staff, with reference to Whittle's company, Power Jets, for technical advice. However, early in 1946 it became evident that the full-time employment and leadership of a member of Whittle's team would be desirable if Ruston was to make progress on its gas turbine project. I received an invitation to be that person - shortly after I had just taken up my job as Chief Experimental Engineer of Davey, Paxman & Co at Colchester. It did not however take me long to refuse this invitation because acceptance of it would inevitably have given rise to charges of nepotism ; and disappointment for my new wife in respect of the location of her first home.

I accordingly recommended to Ruston that it should approach G B R (Bob) Fielden, one of the brightest and most dynamic of the engineers who had been my colleagues at Power Jets Ltd. I am glad to say that he accepted the Ruston invitation and went on to achieve outstanding success in designing their first gas turbine, which led to the gas turbine division eventually becoming the standard bearer for the future of Ruston.

I felt like a fish out of water starting work at Paxman's Standard Road works after leaving the relatively high tech leading-edge technology world of RAE and Power Jets ; but the warmth of the welcome from Chief Engineer Albert Howe and the other Experimen-tal Department engineers was marvellous. Joe Hind in particular and others such as Roy Dingle, Bob Bensley, Doug Braund, Tony Gill, Brian Lawrence and others as well as Molly Flyn who married Doug Braund and Anne Gwinell who became my secretary and later married Brian Lawrence.

On the shop floor the bowler hat of senior foreman Bill Bolingbroke and the flat cap of his assistant Albert Prestney remain vivid in my memory as the 'powers that be' on the shop floor of the Experimental Department.

As far as I can recollect the main focus of attention when I started was the development of the 12RPL engines destined for dredgers No 26 and 27 for the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board, and hopefully also for future orders from the Royal Navy as their Admiralty Standard Range ASR1 if the RN could be persuaded that their own RN designed version of this ASR1 engine would not make economic sense.

I can recall no other coherent forward looking engine design policy in those early days, though there was more than enough experimental work to be done in 'de-bugging' existing models, and notably in thinking out how the TP engine design which had been suitable for relatively short life tank landing craft engines could be adapted for long life civilian use.

I can however remember that Ted Paxman had an urge to try and take Paxman into the automotive/tractor line of business, and felt that if Frank Perkins could 'stick his neck out' in this direction, so could Paxman.

In, I think, 1948 a special Ruston and Paxman Conference was held at the Felix Hotel, Felixstowe, at which the relevant engineers/managers from each company took up residence for two or three days in order to try and agree a coherent and complementary engine product policy for each company, notably the engine power range to be covered by each 'mark' of engine of specified bore and stroke and rotational speed.

It was at this conference that the new prefix 'Y' was introduced to denote engines emanating from the Paxman stable (viz. YH and YL) and V, K, and A for engines emanating from the Ruston stable. I do not recall any discussion having taken place at that time about combustion systems for the Paxman engines. The decision to go for four valve cylinder heads with direct injection followed as a result of events now described.

(a) In January/February 1948 I was privileged to spend several weeks visiting all the major USA diesel engine manufacturers. In this immediate post-war period 'Brits' were accorded a warm welcome everywhere in the USA, and one had only to ring up the Chief Executive of any company to say that you would like to see his works and talk about product development to be invited straight away and to be given red carpet treatment.

The report which I made after this visit must have had something to do with the Paxman design decision.

(b) possibly because of the 'cachet' which I enjoyed following my association with turbo jet aero engines, I found myself quite quickly appointed to the Council of the British Internal Combustion Engine Research Association, where I soon got to know the engineering bosses of Mirrlees Bickerton & Day, English Electric, Crossley Brothers, Blackstone, National Gas & Oil Engine Co, W H Allen, Doxford, Crossley Premier, and Tangye, as well as of course Ruston, Lister, Kelvin, etc.

This proved invaluable in getting a 'feel' about what not to do as well as hopefully a 'feel' for the preferred direction to go to maintain a competitive position in the uncertainties of the post-war world.

One must recall that these uncertainties were immensely compounded by politico-economic factors which, one after another, had a major effect in forcing policy decisions to be taken often without any real perspective as to what the world was going to be like five years, let alone ten years, hence.

Some of these factors during my time were at one time or another:

The consequence of this background of fluidity in the kind of markets at which British manufacturers should be aiming meant that most engineering companies tended to lack focus as to what their design policy ought to be. This certainly applied in the diesel engine industry where most companies tended simply to try and 'improve the breed' of the particular type of engine with which they had achieved pre-war success - and to compete with each other as much as with any foreign company. Paxman was a bit different because it had become the sole British protagonist of large high speed (up to 1,500 rpm) Vee engines - their principal competitors being either German or French (plus the derogatory remarks of British manufacturers, including Ruston, who favoured lower speed engines).

Paxman made quite good profits in the 1950s on the back of demand from the Royal Navy, the oil well drilling industry and the generally high level of demand in the marine and industrial markets to make up for wartime shortages. But clearly this situation was not going to last, and the general atmosphere encouraged the spending of relatively large sums of money on new product development in the hope that one of them would 'hit the jackpot' and bring in sufficient orders in future decades to keep the 2,500 workers at Paxman in full employment.

This development varied from the rather pedestrian approach of designing Vee 6, Vee 8, and even Vee 4 versions of the 12RPH (successor to the wartime 12TP) to take advantage of components already in production, and as power units for excavators, marine auxiliaries, etc. And at the other extreme to try to outdo Deutz who at that time were leaders in air-cooled engines, with air-cooled Vee engines of greater power.

The YH and YL ranges continued in their various forms to provide the main bread and butter for the diesel engine division, and they were of course being continually updated by improved turbo-charging etc. as well as in detail design.

But when at last a policy decision was taken by British Rail (albeit in a somewhat incoherent way) to go for diesel locomotives instead of steam, it became evident that neither the YH or the YL was likely to be a strong contender (despite the valiant efforts of Fell Developments Ltd) and the applications for which they might have been suitable became occupied by MAN, Maybach, and English Electric respectively.

A rather ill-conceived venture was undertaken to get in on the underfloor mounted horizontal engine business for rail cars with the ZH (of the same bore and stroke as the YH) ; but as we now know this was 'dead from the start' because of the pre-emptive promises given by BR to Rolls Royce. Paxman was unwise enough to accept an order from the Scottish division of British Rail for some of these engines (before they had been properly proven over an adequate test time) because their low height for ordinary locomotive use and consequent good visibility (from the cab) appeared to make them attractive to the user - but their reliability did not!

It thus became progressively more evident that the only real hope of a substantial Paxman entry into the market for diesel engines with British Railways was to design and produce an engine which could stand up to the German Maybach and MAN engines, and hopefully surpass them.

One day at a rather tense discussion at the Marylebone Headquarters of British Rail with Fred Harrison, their then Chief Engineer, I said that we could produce such an engine within 18 months but would only be prepared to do so if there was a tangible prospect of orders from BR, this to be evidenced by the re-engining of at least one locomotive by removal of the German engines and substitution by Paxman engines as soon as they were available.

He agreed to this proposition, and within two years a locomotive on the Western Region (Majestic) had been re-engined with two Ventura engines. This began the saga which led up to the present high speed diesel trains of British Rail and its successors - and indeed to the only products which still maintain the name Paxman in world markets.

As a matter of interest, before this Paxman engines did not have names, and I chose the name Ventura for two reasons. Firstly, because of its forward sounding connotation, and secondly because during World War 2 the Lockheed Ventura bomber and maritime reconnaissance aircraft had played a significant role in the war, and a great friend of mine had been the pilot of one of them!

Reverting to the subject of product policy in the 1950s and early 1960s, as I have said before, the overall strategy was to design products, not just diesel engines, which made use of the company's existing expertise but also embodied advances in available modern technology which would ensure profitable niches in likely markets - whether in the UK or overseas, to which the Company might expect to have access.

In retrospect it can be seen that some of these ventures - package boilers, sludge concentrators, ventures with the Cellulose Development Corporation, pulverizers, vapour compression sea water distillation plant, etc, as well as several innovative designs of diesel engines, were only supportable in the context of a trading situation which enabled adequate profits to be retained to fund high levels of development expenditure for many years ahead.

The big expenditure involved in development of gas turbines, large diesel engines for marine propulsion, and other projects, by Ruston presented a similar problem for them.

In both cases the ultimate outcome had to be that global competition caused the demise progressively of virtually all Paxman and Ruston products other than those at the top level of innovation and applicability to world markets of the future, such as Ruston's gas turbines, Paxman's Valenta and its successors and, surprisingly, control systems by Regulateurs Europa.

Whether or not these products continue to carry the names of the companies from which they originated will presumably be decided by marketing considerations irrespective of their place of manufacture - just like HP Sauce! - and the pride of their creators will be a matter of history.

© Geoffrey W Bone 2002

Page updated: 06 APR 2008