We are pleased to have an Atco Motor Mower in our collection that belonged to Sir Winston Churchill and was used for mowing the lawns at Chartwell, Westerham, Kent, his family home for over 40yrs.
Whilst we do not have the precise date of purchase, we would assume the mower was acquired ‘new’ by Churchill in 1926, this being the year Atco launched the 18-inch cutting width model.
The image below taken in 1929 shows head gardener Albert Hill using the Atco Motor Mower. Image courtesy of The National Trust.
It is more than likely that Winston Churchill would have used our mower at some stage, several Churchill historians have told us that he always liked to be hands-on with practical matters around his home. As to an interest in mowers, in 1937 he went to great lengths in choosing a new mower and personally examined a 30in Atco Motor Mower, an Albion, an Allen Motor Scythe, and a Pattisons Long Grass Cutter all of which were delivered to Chartwell for demonstration. He eventually opted for the Allen Scythe which cost him £40-10s.
A brochure from our museum archive indicates the selling price of a 30in Atco was in 1937 more than double at £95!
The Allen Scythe did not make our mower redundant as it would have been utilised for cutting the fine turf around the house and we have evidence that it was still being used in 1938.
The museum acquired the lawn mower in 2021 kindly donated to us by Robert Whitelegg who lived six miles north of Chartwell in Knockholt. The Whitelegg family had owned a horticultural business for many years and regularly exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show. Robert acquired the mower in 1980 from the local Blacksmith, the previous owner being the local vicar who we assume may have had it since it left Chartwell.
This is a quote provided by Robert Whitelegg when we accepted the lawn mower.
“Shortly after acquiring the mower in 1980, I was part of a group judging the ‘Westerham in Bloom’ annual competition and at the lunch for judges, I was sitting next to a retired head gardener from Chartwell, Victor Vincent, and of course told him about my newly acquired Chartwell mower. He remembered an Atco mower and described it with holes drilled in the rear roller for studs to stop it sliding on the sloping lawns and the welding together of the three sections of the rear roller. This tallied with the mower I had acquired. At this lunch, there were two others who had worked at Chartwell, and they also remembered the mower.
As it happened my own village was shortly having a best garden competition which I was involved with so invited the three ex-Chartwell gardeners to do the judging. They had their photographs taken with the mower and confirmed its provenance.”
See photograph Victor Vincent centre, flanked by Mr. Muddle and Brian?
Note by the author, the welding together of the rear rollers was unique and certainly not seen on any other surviving Atco mowers also not recommended! The three sections of the rear roller were designed to rotate at different speeds to assist in turning the mower! See the image of the welded roller below.
The Churchill Archives have confirmed the existence of an 18in Atco Motor Mower at Chartwell, having provided a copy of an invoice from 1937 addressed to Mrs. Winston Churchill in respect of the mower’s service and overhaul, see below.
Finally, Churchill had another Atco connection, Doreen Pugh his secretary from 1955 to his death in 1965. Doreen was the granddaughter of Charles H Pugh (1840-1901) who founded the Atlas Chain Co in 1865, and later in 1921 he created the first mass-produced petrol lawnmower forming the Atco Mower Co. Early Atco Motor Mowers including our mower above have Charles H Pugh Ltd cast in the handles.