Across the Merseyrail network there are hidden gems waiting to be discovered by adventurous rail travellers. In this series we uncover Merseyside’s too-often overlooked treasures. Our first exploration brought us to one of Southport’s most charming tourist traps.
Seaside towns are often fertile areas for the more eccentric side of the British character. Decades of capturing holiday-makers and weekend trippers with outlandish entertainment, thrill rides, and sickly snacks have shaped our beloved resorts. Southport is no different with it’s ridiculously long pier, Pleasureland amusements and quintessential modern railway village. But there is one attraction which stands more curious than most and continues to attract attention despite its not-altogether-glamorous subject matter.
A short walk from Lord Street thoroughfare you enter the beginnings of Southport suburbia. There’s no surprise to find dad and lad barbers, animal rescue charity shops and cramped newsagents. For the unprepared, the huge sign for The British Lawnmower Museum may raise an eyebrow or perhaps even a chuckle. However, the venue, situated within the larger ‘Lawnmower World’ complex has become part of the Southport furniture. Its heritage stretches back to 1945 and this history and dedication is evidenced inside.
It’s a warm but wet day in Southport, which seem the perfect conditions to visit what the Telegraph consider one of the “top ten most unusual British museums”, and one of the “top 100 places to visit before you die” according to the museum itself. Upon paying the minimal £3 entry fee, a play button is pressed and a novelty country and western song fills the museum's five rooms from a solitary speaker situated in the centre of the landing. A voice, presumably belonging to Brian Radam, then begins to take the visitor through the illustrious history of the lawnmower.
Brian Radam, the museum’s proprietor and foremost expert on all things lawnmower, is clearly passionate about the subject. Grass cutting tools, machines and implements in British Racing Green fill every corner of the two storeys, the extensive collection displays a commitment to quite a quirky tale of engineering. The collection of objects and Brian’s upbeat narrative tell the story of a machine which was first patented by Edwin Budding, who would test his innovation at night to avoid ridicule. We are then taken through the glory days of the Qualcast Concorde (The Lawnmower Museum lays claim to the six millionth edition of the family favourite), the excesses of lawnmower racing, then to the Fly Mo years and the eventual decline.
A melancholy mood is set early on in the recorded guided tour when Brian laments the death of lawnmower manufacture in Britain. There is a time capsule essence at the British Lawnmower Museum which adds to its charm. The ‘Lawnmowers Of The Rich And Famous’ room boasts machines donated by Paul ‘Lily Savage’ O’Grady as well as Richard and Judy. Then we have the piéce de résistance: Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s ride-on mower, gifted by manufacturers Atco in a curious act of generosity back in 1981.
An anecdote about Oliver Reed running someone over in a toilet stall at a lawnmower race keeps the mood up (“some believe he was half-cut”), as does a wall of inkjet-printed images of Brian with celebrity fans. The likes of Robbie Coltrane, Roger McGough and Micky Flanagan stand with a beaming Brian either in the museum or on TV show sets. The curators’ humour is best demonstrated by an object hung above other historic mowers in room three. The 10” JP 1960 was owned by famous hangman Albert Pierrepoint, who reportedly bought the machine for the exact sum he would receive per hanging: £15. This interesting titbit reveals another way social history is interwoven into the story of domestic lawnmower manufacture.
Brian’s narration lasts a generous 25 minutes, which admittedly requires repeated trips to the four rooms at each side of the flight of stairs, but it’s a handy rudder for what is on first glance a daunting collection of antique equipment. And although we probably looked at Joe Pasquale’s strimmer a couple more times than strictly necessary, the audio accompaniment is a key component to the experience, if only for Brian’s raft of mower puns at the close.
In our irony-soaked times, it is tempting to dismiss the British Lawnmower Museum as a wacky man’s pastime which has gotten out of hand, or even more cruelly, simply dull. However, looking over image after image of Brian’s smiling face alongside famous faces, the visitors showing a range of emotions - it is clear there are various ways to enjoy this museum. We like to think Brian doesn’t care how his passion project is taken as long as the lawnmower heritage - a cornerstone of British engineering - is alive and cutting.