The club celebrating decades of magic mow-ments

Posted 2nd May 2024

The club celebrating decades of magic mow-ments

On this month’s history pages, Keith Wootton speaks to Sammy Jones about the attraction of the humble grass cutter….

It’s the club that really is a cut above the rest; The Old Lawnmower Club is all about the collection, preservation and display of old mowers.
This month at Milton Keynes Museum the annual Lawnmower Festival will see fans of the machinery assemble to inspect the many different lawnmowers housed on site, and to show off their own collections.

This year, a light will be shone on more unusual mowers too; and with almost 200 years of lawn mower development there have naturally been some odd designs that never quite caught on – quirky, unusual and impractical choices will also be shown.

“Before I became a regular volunteer at the museum, volunteers Neil Loudon and Arthur Finbow had acquired and restored a fairly extensive collection of mowers,” remembers Keith Wootton, one of the clubs’ founders.

“In 1988 we were thinking of ideas for new events and I suggested “mowers” as something a bit different. We duly organised a get-together at the museum in May 1989 and this was attended by various people I had managed to find through local museums and vintage clubs. “One of these was Andrew Grout from Aspley Guise and in a chat with him at the event we came up with the idea of forming a club. Andrew has been a member from the start and is now our chairman.”

Back in those early days, the museum served as the base for the club, but while that hasn’t been so for the past couple of decades, the upcoming on-site rally remains an integral part of the museum’s event calendar, and the history hub owns its own sharp collection of retro mowers.

Keith’s own collection must surely make fellow hobbyists green with envy – he has amassed a large number of examples: “I have around 100 of them,” he says, “Twenty-five of which are motorised and the rest are hand-powered or push-along. Most of the mowers date from the 1920s and 30s and the hand mowers from the 1850s to the 1930s.

“Many members have several hundred machines in their collections and many of us have machines that are unique in some way and these are always interesting. However, there are plenty of members who are happy to have just one machine, perhaps a personal connection or memory prompts this, and for them that is enough.”

The sound of the mower and the smell of freshly cut grass epitomises hazy summer days, and even though we don’t all enjoy dragging the cutter around, we all love the results of a tidy and trim garden. But most of us relish the moment of putting the machines back in the shed. What is the attraction of mowers beyond that?

“Actually, my original interest was farming machinery and stationary engines. My first engine was given to me by my grandfather, a farmer at Deanshanger, and I took it to my first rally in 1978 a few days after my 15th birthday. When looking for the next ‘project’ my father suggested “that old mower” in the back of a shed at home. This turned out to be a 1921 Atco, the first year they were made, and when I took it to a steam rally with my engine it proved much more interesting to other exhibitors and visitors. I was offered several mowers as a result and that was how I started off.

“More generally, the interest is simply in the combination of old machinery and gardening. The variety of designs is relatively large and there are plenty of mowers to collect, many at sensible pocket money prices.”

While some mowers will be available for dare we say, cut price figures, are there any examples that hold real value?
“Some of them have become quite valuable – but only a few very select models where the collectors know that the mower is very rare and they are unlikely to find another one.

“Most of those mowers will date from the 1850s to 1900. High values rely on several members wanting to buy them when they are available. For these, we might be talking about a thousand pounds or two. However, the vast majority are nowhere near this value and it is still possible to get a mower made well over 100 years ago for £10 or £20. Motor mowers made in the 1920s can be bought for under £100.”

The club might exist to celebrate machinery which keeps things trim, but the club’s membership is something that is flourishing – it now boasts more than 800 people worldwide.

“Most are relatively passive in that they don’t actively participate in the activity of the club. In general, everyone is interested in mowers and the collection, preservation, and display of them. We attend a number of events around the country as a club; museums, garden shows, vintage/steam rallies, and these are supported by our members.”

While individuals can amass large collections of mowers, the club itself owns no mowers, and is unable to accept donations, so don’t start emptying out that garden shed in readiness. But if you do have aged examples to donate, the Old Lawnmower Club will certainly try to find the machines a new home among its membership.

And, just like many a collection, the holy grail of mowers varies from one person to another.

“Our members have varied interests so a dream mower for one might not be of much interest to someone else,” Keith explains, “However, many of our members are always looking for Victorian hand mowers. We are aware of several models that were made in the very early years – say 1830s to 1860s – where we have never seen an example. So unearthing one of these would cause quite a stir.

“One type that I know many would want – but we know of no examples – is a genuine steam mower. These were made c1900 by just one or two manufacturers and I guess there were not very many made. There is one real example in a museum in the UK and another which is a copy of the same machine, but that’s it.”

With so much passion for the retro garden machinery, how do you feel about modern life – today, remote control mowers are all the rage. Thoughts on those?

“No problem with this at all, especially if removing the need to mow the lawn leaves more time for something more interesting,” Keith thinks, “In fact, there were attempts to produce remote controlled mowers in the 1950s. At one of our early rallies one of our members brought along a solar powered mower made just a few years before which was the forerunner of modern machines.”

Keith and his fellow collectors are obviously passionate about his grass roots movement, but what would you say to anyone who might think it a bit of a geeky hobby?

“Of course it is,” Keith agrees, “But so is collecting or obsessing about anything!”

The club holds its annual rally at Milton Keynes Museum on Saturday, May 18 & Sunday, May 19.

To find out more about The Old Lawnmower Club click to

Milton Keynes Museum is one of the best interactive museums, a perfect outing for all ages, staffed by friendly volunteers, and highly recommended by visitors on TripAdvisor.

This feature was written by Milton Keynes Museum. Find out more about forthcoming events and see our opening times at: