F J Nunn & Sons
No longer exists as such
Find other references to the Nunn family.
Frank J Nunn bought the firm of N Warren and Sons from Nathan Warren's executors in 1909, taking over not just the premises but the customer base [letter] and the staff, including two blacksmiths and two wheelwrights. It was a slow start, as some surviving daybooks show, but the opening of the new farmers' cooperative bacon factory just over the road must have brought many potential new customers past the door. Goods they might have wanted included (Peter Nunn): "pig troughs, fencing, barbed wire, nails, staples, coils of wire for fencing, fencing stakes, plough cords, ropes, hayforks, beet forks and hooks, potato forks, reap hooks, scythe blades, carborundum rubs, plough shares, cultivator points, galvanized bushel skips and pails, hoe blades, oil, sheep shearing accessories and many other items."
The subsequent development of the firm is well summarised by two articles available here:
Notes on the firm, and on Frank Nunn and his three sons, as well as some other past employees, are to be found below.
1. Thurlow Nunn Standen .. Full size
As well as the noise of horse hoofs on the cobbles, there was always the nostalgic memory of the smell of burning hoof as the hot shoe was offered up for size and shape, and of the horse droppings and urinations. All this, together with hoof shavings and filings were afterwards swept up to provide a useful 'cocktail' for the benefit of the nearest vegetable garden. !
In 1929 the family moved into The Laurels next door and the following year Blackbourn House was demolished to make way for a new steel-framed building. This became known as 'the showroom' and provided show space for new machinery as well as a small office.
By 1946 the decline of the blacksmith's side of the company and the increasing significance of the parts business led to the decision to demolish the old forges, the traverse and the front warehouse, the oldest buildings on the site and part of the original Blackbourn Iron Works. A new two-storey building was erected, devoted entirely to parts.
F J Nunn & Sons Ltd merged with Thurlows in 1970 to become Thurlow Nunn. In 1985 the firm of Standen was added, three more locations Cambridgeshire; although the Standen family was then no longer involved, the name was retained in the company name to identify it for its existing customer base.
The Elmswell location was closed in 2005; the site was developed for housing, adopting the name "Blacksmiths Way" to perpetuate the 160-year-old association with the trade.
The first motorised transport at the works was probably a Ford Model T car with the rear half removed and replaced with small open wooden truck body (looking like a wheelbarrow). This was augmented by the purchase of a Singer Car with a pair of brass lamps, a canvas top, outside battery in a wooden box and a dickey rear seat. This was followed by a Vauxhall Tourer, to which Frank fitted a truck-type rear end so that it could be used for the delivery of farming accessories and to carry supplies for the steam tackle.
When Fred Rush began to take on servicing work in 1937 he needed a vehicle but first had to learn to drive. A used Morris van was purchased which meant that the company now had two service vans - the beginnings of a fleet - and both were painted a chocolate brown colour giving the first indications of a company livery. The 'fleet' was further extended with the purchase of a Morris Commercial truck with a carrying capacity of 20 cwt. But the successful selling of Minneapolis-Moline tractors and machinery during the war led to the adoption of a new prairie gold livery associated with M-M products: the bodies of the vehicles were painted that colour and lettered with the trading title of Frank J Nunn & Sons while the mudguards were black.
Frank John Nunn was born on 15th December 1882, the third and youngest son of a Drinkstone blacksmith, William Nunn, who was also a local Methodist preacher, a very studious man [see Note 1 for further information on William and family]. Although Frank worked in his father's business for a few years, he was a trifle more ambitious and did in fact seek employment at Nathan Warren's Blackbourn Iron Works when he was 16 - he was turned down (but later returned as its boss! - q.v.).
When he was about 17, Woolpit GP Dr Wood approached his father with a job offer for Frank: he intended to give up his horse and trap and instead run a motor car, so needed an engineer-chauffeur. Frank spent six weeks in training in Northampton before driving the brand new De Dion Bouton down, thereafter "living in" at the doctor's (who might be called out at any hour). His first driving licence is only dated 1 January 1904.
But despite also running the doctor's wife around when requested, he had plenty of "spare" time, and asked if he could use it for a part-time bicycle business. Some years later, when he announced his intention to resign, the doctor's wife was upset at losing her perk and asked him why: it transpired that the doctor had neglected to pay Frank for over a year, a complaint which she immediately got rectified! The beneficial result was that he was better off by over 100 sovereigns, which he at once drove into Stowmarket to bank.
In 1907 he married Ethel Snell, daughter of a well-off Drinkstone farmer, and they lived over the surgery in Woolpit (now Pepys House). Then when in 1909 the Blackbourn Iron Works came up for sale, he was able, with his savings and probably some help from his father-in-law [Note 2], to purchase this asset and set up business [letter to customers].
Frank and Ethel moved into the thatched cottage Blackbourn House next to the Blackbourn Iron Works. There they had five children: first Olive (1911) and Dorothy (1914), and then Edward (1917), Bill (1920) and Peter (1928).
Frank bought The Laurels (next door but one to Blackbourn House) three times, but twice had to sell again as his business was short of cash. They eventually moved in to The Laurels in 1929, and the old house was demolished to make way for a new showroom. At the Laurels Frank had a lawn tennis court made for his very active family.
He became very friendly with Henry Sterne, the headmaster at the village school; Sterne was a great disciplinarian, an alumnus of the East Anglian School for Boys (later Culford School) and encouraged his best pupils to get scholarships to go there; his own eldest sons (Lawrence Sterne) went at about the same time as Edward Nunn, and eventually all three Nunn brothers went there.
Frank enjoyed going to farm sales. He had a keen eye for a bargain and often purchased an implement that he was convinced his skilled staff could repair and allow him to resell at a profit. This activity provided work during the winter months and went a long way to avoid the embarrassment of having to lay-off employees during that time. He also developed a peculiar passion for Smyth's seed drills, not just ones bought in farm sales for selling on but also new ones. He always insisted that before a new drill was delivered to its proud owner the lettering 'Frank J. Nunn, Agent, Elmswell' was clearly shown on the backboard. In fact, he himself would sometimes spend most of an afternoon with a paint-pot and brush carrying out that operation.
By 1934 when a dealership agreement was made with Massey-Harris Frank was carrying a very heavy workload. It was he who was expected to serve visiting customers, allocate work to each member of the staff, and visit the steam tackle at least a couple of times a week in order to give them their instructions as well as keep them supplied with oil, grease and plough or cultivator points. It was also essential for him to attend certain farm sales and put in regular appearances at afternoon markets in the corn exchanges at Ipswich, Bury St. Edmunds, Stowmarket and Diss. At home at night, he had to carry out a lot of paperwork and deal with accounts. As an additional responsibility, he had recently acquired a set of oxy-acetylene welding equipment and he was the only one who knew how to use it. It was becoming obvious that his health was beginning to suffer and his wife was greatly relieved when their eldest son, Edward, was persuaded to leave school and join his father.
On the advice of his accountant in about 1938, after Bill had also started work, Frank chose to take his two sons into a business partnership and henceforth trade as Frank J. Nunn & Sons.
By 1946, now sixty-four years old, he was moving gently into retirement while still retaining a very important and invaluable watching brief: Edward had virtually become the resident manager of the establishment, while Bill took on the specialist repairs, the manufacturers' meetings and shows and the demonstration and sale of new machines. In the early 1950s he (Frank) and Ethel moved from The Laurels to The Gables, further along Ashfield Road (swapping places with Edward's family).
All his life Frank was a strong supporter of the Methodist Church. When land along the west side of Rose Lane and adjacent to the church (including Rose Cottage) came up for sale (from Woolpit Brick Co.?) he arranged to purchase it all so that it could be available for the Wesley Hall, now such a valuable asset to the village. He desperately wanted the hall, worked hard for it, and was proud to take part in laying the foundation stone.
Frank J Nunn died in 1959.
Born in Elmswell 1917, Edward went to Elmswell Council School, where the excellent headmaster was Henry Sterne, and a very good staff. Here he is sitting front-left, and just behind him (2nd from left) is Fred Rush, who was to be a long-time member of staff at FJ Nunn. Edward won a W. Suffolk scholarship for free tuition at the East Anglian School for Boys, where he proved his academic bent; on leaving in 1934, his father persuaded him to enter the firm instead of taking his talent elsewhere. When Edward joined the firm there were about 25-30 employees, and 2 sets of ploughing engines. Agriculture had not been doing well, but was now picking up, and really boomed after the war, tractors imported. He had regular tuition from the rectors' wife (Mrs Harbourne) and became an accomplished pianist, and the war probably prevented him from qualifying as LRAM; and he became the regular organist at Elmswell Methodist Church. [Julia remembers that when he was playing it needed 2 lads to keep the organ pump going! Julian Keeble and John Snell came to mind.] He was also keen on astronomy.
After war broke out, Edward and Bill Nunn, together with George Gooderham and Fred Rush, although of military age, were so closely associated with agriculture and food production that they were considered to be in 'reserved occupations'. There was no sudden change in the way of life at the works. However, one imagined that bombs might be showered on us at any time so blackout restrictions were tactfully enforced and observed.
Edward married Evelyn in 1946 and they moved into The Gables, which Frank had purchased a few years before. Now Frank was handing over the reins, and Edward virtually became the resident manager of the establishment, responsible for all paperwork, work allocation, invoicing, accounts, personnel records and wages. They had three children: Geoff (1948), Julia (1951) and Richard. In the early 1950s the family moved into The Laurels (Frank and Ethel taking The Gables).
Edward remained with Nunns for over 20 years, until the merger with Thurlows in 1970, when he retired from the firm to seek a less stressful occupation.
Like his brothers he learned at a tender age how to drive, and went on to become a keen rally driver.
The Royal Show in 1948 was held at York. While enjoying an evening meal in a nearby hotel the night before visiting the show, Frank and Bill Nunn found themselves sitting at a table alongside that occupied by the sales team of the Ford Motor Company. Bill Nunn seized the opportunity to introduce himself and subsequent talks led to Nunns being appointed main sub-dealers for Fordson tractors.
By 1946 Frank was moving gently into retirement, and Edward had virtually become the resident manager of the establishment. Bill took on the specialist repairs; he loved getting out and about, enjoyed attending manufacturers' meetings and shows and especially the demonstration and sale of new machines.
Born on 22nd January 1928 in Blackbourn House, Peter's earliest memories are of The Laurels, adjacent to the F J Nunn works. The youngest of the family, he was so keen to take part in the family company that on Fridays after school he rushed back to sweep the carpenters' shop, where in those days they still made tumbrils and other horse-drawn wagons. Like his brothers before him, he went on from the village school to Culford; he went as a day boy for 3 years, then a boarder for another 6; John Baker (son of the milling family of Bakers) was a near-contemporary and school friend. Peter then deferred military service (1946) and signed up to do a metallurgy degree at Kings College Newcastle, part of Durham University. Before he left, he designed and made a metal sign carrying the trading title of "Frank J. Nunn & Sons" and positioned it on the main showroom building. This was the first time in the firm's 37-year history that the name of Nunn had been posted on the building. Entries in an old wage book indicate that Peter was then enjoying a weekly wage of 30 shillings.
During the school holidays and university vacations he helped the firm out in whatever capacity was currently needed - for example, as a driver during the busy time of August. After 2 years university Edward told him there would surely be a place for him in the firm, despite there being already two brothers heavily involved. He was delighted to know this, but asked his father to let him finish his degree first, and he duly graduated as BSc (Dunelm) in June 1949. Of course he also still had to do his military service, which he served (appropriately enough) in REME.
He was finally free to join F J Nunn & Sons permanently in 1952. He was put in charge of the Kennett branch location which was just being started up.
It was at this time until 1955 Peter ran a youth club in Elmswell, meeting in the old church hall (next to the school) - rather a cramped hall with a very narrow stage and when they played badminton they crashed into the walls; it had coke-fire heating and no toilet.
Peter married Anne in 1955; they lived for 3 years in Bury until a building plot near the firm became available and in 1958 they moved into a fine new house - they are still there. He retired in 1988, but as his son is now a director the company name of Thurlow Nunn Standen is still valid.
The works starting, meal break and finishing times were announced to the whole village by the ringing of a bell, fixed externally to the chimney of one of the forges, and operated internally by pulling a thin rod. Ted Nicholls was responsible for ringing this bell and could always be relied upon to start the six working days of each week with a peal at 6.30 am. The bell could easily be heard as far as a mile away if the wind was in the right direction and the local inhabitants depended on it to determine the pattern of their daily activities.
By the early autumn of 1936 there was an urgent need for a skilled tractor mechanic. Responding to a newspaper advertisement, 27-year-o1d George Gooderham was recruited from Birmingham at a wage of £3 for a forty-eight hour week, which was more than any other employee was paid at the time. He brought with him an extremely comprehensive set of tools, which included open-ended and ring spanners of both Whitworth and AF sizes. Ring spanners had never been seen before in Elmswell! All these tools were housed in a unique wooden toolbox with the spanners arranged on the opening lid. Other items, such as hammers, chisels, pliers and punches lay in compartments on the top section. Behind opening front doors, there was more space and drawers containing more commonly needed items of hardware. It was a very special unit that could be quickly lifted into a service van to attend an urgent field breakdown and was the envy of everyone. Each tool was dabbed with a brush of the same colour paint so as to avoid possible confusion of ownership. Initially George, who came from a farming background, and always wore a trilby hat, had no vehicle to use for outside service, but his cousin Alan, who was salesman at a local car dealership, was immediately approached and a second-hand Bedford van was purchased.
At the end of 1946, George decided that it was time he moved on and left Nunns.
Fred became senior mechanic in 1946 when George Gooderham left the firm. He remained loyal to the company ("1000% loyal", says Peter) throughout his working life.
George Russell: When the firm was owned by Frank Nunn it was one of the first to go out to farms during harvest to repair sailers and self-tying binders. Herbert Armstrong was the mechanic and he travelled round by horse and cart.
'Nunn's' also had a pair of steam ploughs, Walter Waller Junr. and Senr. were the drivers.
Fred and Cicely Buckle: Fred went to Nunn's as a fitter on tractor engines; he was there for 13-14 years.
Frank Nunn had been a chauffeur. Then he bought [Nathan Warren's] place and started making waggon/cart parts; he had a blacksmith there, Ted Nicholls, with a forge on the side of the road, where they came to shoe the horses.
They started to deal in tractors etc.
Cicely's brother Fred Rush (another Fred.) joined Nunns from school and stayed till he retired.
Frank was a very loyal Methodist.
Charles Nunn: (Charles is not knowingly related to the Frank Nunn family).
According to Charles recollection, Frank Nunn bought the business from Nathan Warren in about 1909 (?); previously he had been chauffeur to a Woolpit doctor; he was himself from Drinkstone, perhaps from a blacksmith's family there? There had been two blacksmiths, and Nunn retained one of them, Ted Nicholls, for many years.
Frank had three sons - Edward, Bill and Peter, who all took a hand in the business when they were old enough.
In the early days they had two oil-fired engines which pulled 10-12 furrow ploughs across a field, on a big drum of cable mounted underneath; the plough had two lots of ploughshares, and by tilting it they were used alternately for the two directions of ploughing across the field.
Charles himself joined the firm in 1947, not being very happy with his previous job in Thurston. At that time he was in the workshop (for which his wartime training served him well), where tractors brought in for repair; they had to fabricate a lot of the parts as they were unavailable. Nunn's was an agency for Minneapolis Moline tractors. Some things they couldn't do, such as cylinder boring or big ends, so these had to be sent out. There was no original product manufacture, (though they were probably still making horse-hoes when Charles started!).
Ted Nicholls was still there, very skilled he was too - he could do such jobs as the iron rims of cartwheels, etc. Sometimes Charles helped him: Ted taught him how to use a hammer properly, and swore at him one day for holding the hammer part-way up the handle.
Charles worked at Nunns till retirement; he had a van and went out on calls to do repairs at farms, and was 12 years in charge of all service; then Edward came to him one day: Derek Moys the rep is leaving - would he take his place? They sent him on a Massey Ferguson Sales training course to Stoneleigh Abbey. Charles didn't at all like the Americanised style being taught, but Edward encouraged him to just "be yourself!", and off he went, selling new tractors and combines over the period 1969-73.
Frank had died before this and the sons had expanded, first to Downham Market (Bill Nunn in charge) and then Kennet (Peter). Later on, John Thurlow in Stowmarket also had a Massey Ferguson franchise, and perhaps economy dictated merging; then a few years later Standen too.
Looking at the aerial photo of Nunn's, Charles recalls the various buildings, many made by shuttering - concrete poured between boards, using 6' scrap blades for reinforcing! All the buildings were built in Nunn's time, except the blacksmithy traverse and forge; previously at the roadside, when Charles joined it was taken down the yard to the Anderson shelter.
The old house (where Nathan Warren had lived) was 'The Laurels'. An overgrown tennis court can be seen in the middle: the Nunns played and Charles too, and other methodist folk (the Nunns were devout methodists).
They also built the three pairs of houses (grey brick) over the road from the site. Charles' family moved into the 3rd house along.
George Ling was an employee at Nunns, but later took over the Albatross garage and did motor repairs.
Note 2: Frank may also have had a loan from the Warren estate, as for a time he was making payments to Katherine Warren, then living at Ivydene.