The Nunn Story

Fifty Years’ Anniversary Brochure, issued in 1959 by Frank J. Nunn & Sons Ltd., Elmswell and Kennett

The Nunn Story

Fifty Years’ Service to the Farmer


ONE QUESTION I often ask myself is: If I could go back in time to any particular event or place, where would I go? To the signing of Magna Charta ? To the celebrations after Waterloo ? To hear Chopin playing the piano ? Sometimes I think I would go back to the Elmswell of the early nineteenth century, say, about 1830, before any signs of the industrial revolution had come, to walk along Green Road before the Eastern Union railway line had invaded its serenity in 1845. While the road wandered through the many waterlogged wastes. A road of varying levels, widths, and conditions. There are still several houses and old thatched cottages along this road that can help one grope into that delightful scene.

Set in the middle of this village green was the agricultural business called Blackbourne Ironworks. It must have been a blacksmith’s shop for many years before, probably part of an estate. It was established as a business in 1847, and incidentally the same year that Massey and Harris pooled their ideas and united to produce their first Massey-Harris reaper.

Not much factual information can be found about the works until Warrens sold the business to Frank Nunn in 1909. Things had then reached a bad state, and the local people called the new owner a fool who could not possibly last six months. The foundry had ceased to function because of difficulties in obtaining suitable moulding clay. One old man who died many years ago claimed that because of jealousy over the affections of a local barmaid, there was sabotage in the foundry shed and a rollring mould exploded. Apart from the damage to tiles on the roof, it brought down so much accumulated dust that the job of clearing up was beyond the inclinations of the staff or the management.

From 1909 the business centred round the forging shop and the carpenters shop, farm repairs being the main work. Other time was occupied by developing the manufacture of harrows, tumbrils, wagons, and an excellent Horse Hoe known through the Eastem Counties. The first World War focussed attention on home food production, and as a result this business became much more active after l9l7 in the distribution of farm implements such as self-binders, mowers, ploughs and drills.

In 1919 another sideline was introduced. A set of Fowler Steam Cable Ploughing Tackle was purchased. This system was considered the best in heavy land cultivation and draining. The quiet countryside accepted these giant engines, jangling their way through narrow village roads, with most of the population coming out to watch with awe the passage of the two monsters, with their polished brass-capped chimneys proudly belching smoke, and their train of shining ploughs, gleaming tines, and wheeled living quarters. Imagine this noisy procession going through Stowmarket on market day in 1961.

In an attempt to advance with the times, Frank Nunn spent a lot of money in converting these heavy steam engines over to diesel engine drive, thus eliminating the tiresome job of continuously carting coal and water to the engines in the fields. Using one of the water tanks as a fuel tank, the engines were able to run for a fortnight without refuelling. This conversion, completed in 1937, was comparatively short lived, for the introduction of heavy crawler tractors operated by one man outmoded the cable engine principle.


The 1920 to 30 decade was difficult for all businesses connected with agriculture, and this was no exception. Frank Nunn worked hard and long with very little progress. The marvel at that time was for anyone in the industry to keep paying twenty shillings to the pound. Many farmers were in the bankruptcy courts. Many left the land. Only those who really felt they belonged to the land stayed on through these precarious years with a hope for deserved improvement. One thing which illustrates those uncertain times was the changes in the ownership of the residence ” The Laurels “, adjacent to Blackbourne ironworks. Frank Nunn could see that ideal expansion would involve demolition of the old homestead to make way for a roadside showroom, and a pre-requisite was of course the purchase of ” The Laurels “. Twice he managed to buy this house, but twice he failed to move in before capital was urgently needed for another purpose, and ” The Laurels ” had to be sold again. However, third time lucky, and in 1929 the proprietor of Blackbourne moved into ” The Laurels “, the homestead was pulled down, and the present showroom built in 1930.

More demolition of several old buildings was directed by Frank Nunn in 1933, and then the locals wondered if an aeroplane hangar was being erected. But this large roof was to cover the future tractor workshop. A few Massey-Harris tractors had been sold from here, do you remember the old l2-20’s ?

At this time the sole proprietor was joined by two sons, in 1934 and 1937. Needless to say, a youthful outlook and new enthusiasm on the changing scene was a suitable recipe for the future. There was a quickening of life in British farming, the wheat subsidy, and the ploughing grant were two notable events. Combine Harvesters in 1938 came from America at a price the average farmer could afford. Nunns were offered a distributorship for the American ” M.M. ” range, and subsequently sold a large number of tractors and combines into Suffolk. In fact, Nunns became known as ” The Combine People”.

The second half of the nineteen-forties saw a rapidly expanding turnover in sales of farm machinery. There were seasons of fantastic records. Four-wheel trailers, stacking elevators, hammer mills, poultry houses, small petrol engines, and others.

This time also saw the formation of a special spares department. There was a big expansion in the need for spares, and this required scientific stores control. A new stores building was erected in 1947 on the site of the four forges and old roadside warehouse. This two-storeyed building was soon filled with spares, and a new stores staff came into being. Stock control systems were installed at this time, and at present there are records showing the history of more than 30,000 different spare parts.

The early fifties had very important events. Seeing a future need for Massey-Harris sales and service in the West of Suffolk, land was bought at Kennett, and a derelict site was transformed. A branch was opened there in 1950, and a very pleasing display of machinery has since been seen, day and night, by motorists passing along the A45 trunk road.

A private company was formed in 1951 including as director the third son, Peter, who came from military service and university to take charge of the Kennett branch.

Peak combine sales figures were reached about 1953, and rapid expansion in the range and quantity production of Massey- Harris machinery caused a corresponding increase in the business handled by Nunns. Ferguson Tractors were taken over the same year by Massey-Harris, and since then many hundreds of Ferguson Tractors have gone out from Elmswell and Kennett. Frank J. Nunn, the early proprietor and senior director, failed by four months to complete fifty years at Elmswell. He died suddenly in 1959, and a light went out in Elmswell. All during this time it was his quiet strength and integrity that gave an invaluable character to the whole business, and a reputation for fairness that it is hoped will always prevail.

Many customers and friends wonder at the close harmony achieved by the three Nunn brothers. Although very different in temperament and talents, they find it easy to work together, and the best ideas from the three are pooled. An advantage is that most farmers find that even if they can’t put up with one, they can get down to business happily with another.

In the many years they have been doing business, they and their staff have built up traditions, standards, and habits of which they are proud, and their competitors envious. They have staff who are spending a lifetime with them. They are like a large family, and the farmers whom they serve are another part of it. It is with this attitude of mind that they endeavour to give of their best. People say very often that there is no sentiment in business. That is not true yet, for here is a firm that believes there can be no pleasure in business where financial profit is the only motive. How refreshing to find this atmosphere in these 1960’s, when mergers and take-overs spread their crushing conformities into our daily lives.

The firm of Nunns looks forward to a long and happy future with their farmer friends and customers. Just as the farmers dedicate themselves to tend their acres, so Nunns dedicate themselves in the service of the farmers.

Best wishes to you Nunn Brothers, and your staff. May you long continue to serve agriculture. Keep the flag of your privately-owned business flying, and stick to your high standard of business principles.


Our Company

FRANK J. NUNN was born in 1883, son of the village blacksmith at Drinkstone, Suffolk. After running a bicycle shop, at the same time professionally driving and servicing some of the first cars that came into the district, he turned his attention to the mechanising of agriculture. In 1909, he was able to buy a business at Elmswell that was by no means flourishing, but which had been going for just over sixty years, offering forging, horse shoeing, and wheelwrighting to local farmers. By enterprise, and much enthusiastic hard work, his business expanded. Time was found for considerable public work, and service in local Methodism. Family life was also a great part of his life, and his three sons followed him into the business. His golden wedding was celebrated in 1957, but he died in his fiftieth year at Elmswell.

After academic education, followed by further training of a more technical nature, the three sons of Frank J. Nunn each joined the business and later became directors. Between them, they have amassed upwards of 60 years’ experience of mechanised agriculture.


Most of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire is covered by a team of salesmen who have been deeply rooted in agriculture since their very early days. It has always been a policy with the firm- never to sell a machine for which they cannot offer adequate service facilities, also-never to sell to a farm that is geographically situated in such a way that service would be uneconomic to the farmer. It is not uncommon for a sales representative to refuse an order for a machine that he knows his firm cannot support with appropriate ” after sales service “.


A main objective of our company has been always to give a competent and efficient repair service. During the years that have gone by, a tremendous reputation has been built up for honest and genuine service that is the envy of all the other agricultural engineers in the area. Most of the service men started their training in the firm’s workshops on leaving school, working under a fully qualified mechanic and gaining field experience right from the start. Their technical training is constantly being refreshed and advanced by courses held by the manufacturers of merchandise handled. The directors and administrators are convinced that by this method they are getting the very best type of mechanic, for during the long probationary period, the mechanics are being watched and guided, and adjustments made to ensure that they are being positioned correctly. At the same time he is getting to know the management, and their methods and standards, getting to know the customers, and what is more, getting to know the products and capabilities.


Many thousands of pounds have been invested in many thousands of spare parts for the tremendously wide range of im- plements sold and serviced. A very modern and cornprehensive system has been installed for the control of stocks, and to facilitate the immediate location of any one part. The firm’s executives are fully aware of the fact that many farmers year by year lose hun- dreds of pounds (unknowingly) in waiting for the supply of spare parts, and their efforts are geared for the removal of this vast ex- pense from the pockets of their regular customers.


The combination of the Sales, Technical, and Stores staffs, all recognising the value of a true team spirit, create an extremely strong force that can be called on at almost any time, and that can be relied upon to give of its best, with the interest of the customer in the forefront.