AS reluctant gardener PETER BARRON continues to analyse the benefits of having a robot cut his grass through the summer, he looks back at the history of the lawnmowers

LIFE before lawnmowers was very different. Until they came along, the poor grass-cutters of the past had to make do with scythes.

The first lawnmower was invented by Edwin Budding in 1830 in Thrupp, Gloucestershire, and it was originally designed to cut grass on sports grounds.

Pushed from behind, it had cast-iron gear wheels designed to power a rear roller, driving knives on the cutting cylinder, with cuttings thrown forward into a tray-like box. It was a start but the trouble was that it was so heavy an extra handle had to be fitted at the front to help pull it along.

Well, the lawnmower has come a very long way since those primitive beginnings. Fast forward to 2017 and robot lawnmowers are the fastest growing device produced by Husqvarna at Newton Aycliffe, in County Durham.

This year, the one millionth robotic lawnmower came off the production line at the Aycliffe Business Park in what was described as “a landmark for British manufacturing”.

The company had to take on 800 temporary staff to cope with seasonal demand and after-sales manager Paul Coates said: “The demand for our robotic lawnmowers is continuing to grow – they are by far our biggest grower.”

In summary, the robot lawnmowers are coming over the hill and they are here for good.

The one I’ve been testing over the summer is a Husqvarna Automower 430x, sold by Sam Turner & Sons, and retailing at just over £2,000. I’ve been so impressed that I’ve already decided that it won’t be going back once the trial is over in October. You can see it going about its business in my garden below.

Pre-programmed to suit yourself, it works by detecting a wire sensor, laid beneath the perimeter of the cutting area, and quietly gets on with its job no matter what the weather. And because it cuts so often and so finely, there are never any grass cuttings to see because they simply mulch back into the lawn.

It really is that good and one of the country’s leading lawnmower experts, Brian Radam, curator of the British Lawnmower Museum at Southport, has no doubt that demand for the robots will continue to soar.

“They will be undoubtedly become more commonplace as the technology develops and the price comes down,” he says. “At the moment, they are selling as a lifestyle product for people who want to get the time back. If you want to sit in a deck-chair or play more golf, it’s the answer.”

Brian argues that if you still want stripes on your lawn, a traditional mower remains preferable because robot mowers have rotor blades. However, if you just want to keep the grass short and tidy, without any effort, the robots come into their own.

“There’s a real split in the people who come into the museum. Half of them love cutting the grass manually and find it therapeutic, and the other half think it’s a pain,” says Brian.

Thousands of people all over the world flock to the museum at Southport to trace the history of a product which Brian describes as “quintessentially British”.

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“It is about preserving a little bit of British engineering and people love it,” says Brian.

There’s the added attraction of seeing the lawnmowers which once belonged to celebrities, including Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Queen guitarist Brian May, Nicholas Parsons, and Eric Morecambe. Pride of place goes to the lawnmower once owned by Southport’s favourite local actress, Jean Alexander, who played Hilda Ogden in Coronation Street.

The museum has 1,000 historic lawnmowers on display, including the first robotic lawnmower to be developed in 1995. Husqvarna spent £1m developing that first model and we are now into the second, much more advanced, generation.

The first remote controlled lawnmowers, produced by a Birmingham company called Webb, go back as far as the 1950s. However, safety technology wasn’t quite up to scratch back then and flower beds, fencing and neighbours’ gardens were demolished during trials so they never went into full production.

So where next in the evolution of the lawnmower? I have a vision of a robot lawnmower that, once it’s done the grass, can also take off into the air drone-like to trim your hedges.

“That certainly could be feasible in the future,” says Brian without any suggesting that I’m getting carried away. “They just have to be 101 per cent safe to the technology would have to be fool-proof but it will probably happen one day.”

In the meantime, I’ll just have to carry on cutting the hedges myself. Hurry up, Husqvarna!

  •  If you fancy visiting the British Lawnmower Museum at Southport, printout this article, take it with you, and you’ll get in for half-price.