Four Oaks Spraying Machine Company


The Four Oaks Spraying Machine Company (Thanks to David Wilcox for the following)

The Four Oaks Spraying Machine Co (FOSMC) was situated in Belwell Lane, Four Oaks, Sutton Coldfield. On its site are now Waitrose and the Lloyds British building with Flints on the ground floor. It was one of two spraying machine manufacturers in Sutton Coldfield; the other being J.A. Southerton, who used the trade name Martsmith.  The founder of the FOSMC, William Charles George Ludford, had been born in 1867 to William and Elizabeth Ludford; his father was from Middlesex, his mother was from Sutton Coldfield.  He purchased Fernlea, a house in Belwell Lane, just to the Mere Green side of the railway bridge in perhaps the late 1880’s or early 1890’s, his name appearing on the 1891 Burgess Roll and with his family on the 1891 Census, which recorded his occupation as an accountant’s clerk. 

It is understood that the Four Oaks Spraying Machine Company was established in 1895. This information came from a catalogue & price list dated 1954. The 1954 catalogue also suggests that before the FOSMCo there was another organization that was created as early as 1884. It is thought that this organization was known as The Four Oaks Nursery Co, however other than observing this name on two un-dentable syringe sprayers nothing is currently known about this body (October 2009). In September 1898 WCG Ludford purchased a plot of land, from a John Jones, in Belwell Lane situated next to his house, Fernlea, upon which he subsequently built his works and some offices fronting Belwell Lane. In 1909 he purchased the leases of some of the properties on the opposite side of Belwell Lane, subsequent acquisitions took place in later years. In time these led to the FOSMC owning the leases of the properties 1 through to 17 Belwell Lane.   

1909 saw a number of spraying machines entered into a demonstration of spraying machines, liquids and liming machines held on Thursday April 22nd and organized by the Wisbech and District Fruit Growers’ Association. The prizes to be awarded were six silver gilt and six silver medals and other firms taking part included Benton and Stone, Birmingham; Cooper & Nephew, Berkhampstead; Strawson & Son, Reading; Drake and Fletcher, Maidstone. Four competitions were arranged; Class A  - Knapsack Sprayers for liquids; Class B – Sprayers on wheels for liquids; Class C – Limewash Sprayers; Class D – Knapsacks for distributing dry powders.  The field opened at 10.30 a.m. and half an hour later when judging commenced reports indicated that there was a good attendance. The Four Oaks Spraying Machine Company succeeded in being awarded the silver gilt medal for Class A with their Knapsack sprayer for liquids. The judges noted that the machine shown by them was exceedingly simple in construction and very well made. A selection of their own nozzles were used and the ‘Marvellous’ nozzle was very much admired, giving a large spray with good force. While they were not successful in any of the other classes contemporary press reports mentioned their entry in Class C with two machines, their one with the thirty gallon tank being their best.  An advert placed in the Isle of Ely and Wisbech Advertiser of Wednesday April 28 1909 by M Herrod, a firm of chemists who were the agent for Four Oaks in Wisbech showed an image of the Four Oaks External Knapsack sprayer and attested to the success of the machine in the competition.

Entry into the Northern Fruit Congress competition in October 1910, held at Hexham, produced two gold medals. 

By 1911, the business was doing well enough to support advertisements in such publications as the Estate Book, issued by the Country Gentlemen’s Association. The 1911 advertisement boldly states that ‘The “Four Oaks” Syringes Spraying and Limewashing Machines are acknowledged by all users to be the best the world has ever seen. It featured their Undentable Syringe a range of syringes that were sold with a three-year guarantee against indentation of their working barrel; the working barrel is wrapped within a corrugated brass tube with the corrugations being on the outside. While I was at the Canwell Show in August 2006 displaying a number of sprayers, a former employee of the FOSMC advised me that when WCG Ludford was returning home one evening on the train he came across the idea while toying with some corrugated card packing with him. He realised that if turned with the corrugations out then the central working barrel would be protected. Prices for these in 1911 ranged from 12s 6d for a No 9 which was one-and-one-eighth in. by 20 in., to a No 5, best quality, teak handled example 1+3/4” by 20 in., 32s! 

Also featured was The “Four Oaks” Patent Knapsack Sprayer, No 101. This was a sprayer, with a capacity of 3 +1/4 gallons, was carried on the back with an operating arm on one side and a lance at the end of a 3-foot best India-rubber tube, fitted with the “Four Oaks” Patent spraying Nozzle and short brass tube with a stop cock. This cost 45s and the advert advised that in addition to spraying fruit trees and trees of all kinds, vines, hops, Coffee, Tea and Cocoa, also Potatoes and other crops, could also be used for Limewashing. 

Limewashing not surprisingly featured heavily in their range of equipment, as this was a regular activity to be undertaken and often very laborious. The spraying machines sold ranged from their “Farmer” Pattern, a 4gallon limewasher, a bucket with a powerful brass stirrup pump built into it and could be used for spraying any liquid, including limewash, costing £3 2s6d; to eventually in the 1950’s a mechanized sprayer the “Self Propelled”. This featured a 25-gallon drum with horizontal spray bars and lances. Powered by a single cylinder 4-stroke Villiers industrial engine coupled to a three-speed Albion motorcycle gearbox and double reduction chain drive to the single axle, it required minimal effort to operate. The liquid was drawn simultaneously from both tanks and passed through a filter before entering a Brook pump driven via a V-belt directly off the engine and thence via an adjusting valve to the spray bars at the front of the machine. The liquid could be delivered either in a horizontal style across a 10 foot spread of the bars could be altered to deliver it vertically to bushes etc. In 1959 the cost was £135.  In January 2007 I was lucky enough to purchase an example of this machine. It was purchased from a person who was employed early in his career by a company called H.M. Hutchinson, who it appears took over the business of Matthew Herrod when that business closed in the 1940's-50's. He recalled a new Four Oaks Self Propelled Machine being sold in the Wisbech area and some years later he was given the opportunity of acquiring an example which he feels was the one he saw being sold new.

The range of machines they offered was to say the least extensive; many of the names given to their models had local connections; i.e. “Yenton”; “Weeford”, “Shenstone” and “Streetly” patterns were just a few. As one would expect the FOSMC produced a number of accessories that could be fitted to all of the machines they produced, as the thread used was standard throughout the range.     A letter dated 19th September 1942 makes reference on the letterhead of a competition held by the Royal Horticultural Society at their Wisley grounds in July 1935, at which the FOSMC secured 5 out of 12 awards given for manually operated sprayers.

Communication with the RHS resulted in full details of the competition being provided, lists of the competition classes, entrants and awards given. The trials that took place on Friday 12 July 1935 resulted in a total of 28 awards given in 9 classes. The FOSMC managed to be awarded a total of 11 awards in 8 of the 9 classes.

The manufactory created by WCG Ludford was situated initially next door to his house Fernlea, photographs show a building with ivy or creeper growing up the front, the building had the name in large gold coloured letters just under the first floor windows. This was originally a four gabled building though photographs taken in the early 1970’s show a fifth gable over a garage door entrance with the addition of Ltd after the name. From the photographs can be made out the two gable ends of what would have been the main factory. Plans submitted to the Borough of Sutton Coldfield in 1911 for offices & 1912 for a warehouse, both on the north side of Belwell Lane and further plans for storage sheds on the south side submitted in 1918 & 1919 suggested that business was improving. 

Application to Companies House a while ago resulted in a microfiche of statutory documents supplied. This has revealed some of the history of the FOSMC after WWII. In 1950 a document was drawn up that resulted in the change of trading style of the company from being solely owned by WCG Ludford, to that of a Limited Company with the directors being WCG Ludford and his son Lawrance Ludford. At this time WCG was in his 83rd year and given that he passed away early in 1951 this change may well have been him putting things in order while able to. He is buried with his wife who predeceased him in 1937, aged 77, in the graveyard at Canwell, Staffordshire.  It appears as a consequence of his death that the day to day running of the business was taken over by his son Lawrance and the business continued onwards. Production of some sprayers was moved to Southern Ireland and a company called Sprayers Ltd was created in order to manufacture various models under licence. Outwardly the only difference to sprayers manufactured there was a different plate affixed to the sprayers. 

With the introduction of plastics into industry in the late 1950’s and throughout the 1960’s together with a more throwaway society developing this inevitably had a detrimental effect on the company.  Added to this as many of the products were designed for large estates and country gardens, which too had seen a large decline after the war, the once profitable business appeared to falter. New companies were coming along, Hozelock appeared in 1959. The accounts of year ended 31 December, 1971 show the result with a net loss for the year of £1581.79 to which had to be added the cumulative loss from previous years of £21022.31, resulting in a debit balance of £22604.10 carried forward. The report also reported the impending sale of the freehold premises comprising of the works and offices of the Company, with a book value of £1719 for the sum of approximately £45,000. 1972 saw the trading situation appear to deteriorate further with a loss of £4569.27; 1974 saw the death of Lawrence Ludford and his son E.N. Ludford become a director. During 1975 the freeholds of some of the properties on the south side of Belwell Lane were sold, these included the remaining assembly shop and offices at 11 Belwell Lane. The 14th January 1977 saw the effective closure of the FOSMC as a manufacturing concern as the Company’s stock in trade was sold to the purchaser of the company’s business for £7,750.00. Investigation has revealed that The Willcox Group purchased the business, they were manufacturers of machine tools with premises in Kings Road Tyseley, Birmingham. One of their subsidiaries was The Phillip B Waldron Co. Ltd, using the brand name Dronwal. This date also saw the cancellation of the Company’s VAT registration by H.M Customs and Excise. The only income then became that derived from the letting of certain of its remaining Freehold properties combined with ground rents receivable. This continued until 24th March 1986 when the remaining freehold investment property was sold for the sum of £76,500, after selling expenses were deducted. 

This drew the line under what had been probably the most well known brand of spraying machines made in the Midlands, possibly the country maybe the world. This was confirmed in December 1986 when the directors recommended to the members that the company be placed into voluntary liquidation, this took place and the process was completed with the company being fully wound up on 15 September 1987. What remains is a wonderful heritage based upon the surviving examples of their products together with the detailed literature that was used in promoting the business while trading.

Below are a few items of advertising material that illustrate the extent of the range plus some other material. Below: 1912 Instructions for use.

1930 Invoice

Thanks (again) to David Wilcox I have the following images of The Four Oaks  Spraying Machine Company Products. The originals can be
found on the following web site:

Above is an example of a larger spraying machine, designed for use by Fruit Growers and the like. It is a Four Oaks Gold Medal "Bridgwater" Pattern. It consists of a 18-gallon, originally galvanised tank, with a powerful brass pump, agitator and 15ft of armoured hose. In 1942 this would have set the purchaser back £22 3s 0d, a quite considerable rise from the 1937 cost of £17 10s 0d.  The company also offer a somewhat larger version with a tank capacity of 30-gallons and a much more powerful pump.

The tall brass cylinder rising out of the tank top is an air cylinder and air trapped in the cylinder during operation became pressurised by the liquid being pumped and helped to balance out the pumping impulses resulting in a constant delivery at the lance. The pump is remarkably efficient and after receiving some attention to free off a couple of seized points pumps air quite freely.  As can be seen the design of the machine also permitted the fitting of a second hose and lance to speed up the work required.

Interestingly the tyres show the same tread pattern as those on a Little Giant, see below. You can just make out the name Dunlop on the tyre above, the D is at three o'clock position.
The tyres on the machine below are branded India which if memory serves me correct was a brand also used by the Dunlop company.

 Below is an example of a drain testing pump made by the Four Oaks Spraying Machine Company for The Murphy Chemical Company.

   Challenger   Bridgwater   Conqueror


This image above shows a slightly closer view of the machine. The tank itself featured the tap at the front together with a large plug in the base to facilitate complete draining and removal of any waste solid material. The agitators inside the tank are in this example made from wood as opposed to bronze as on the "Conqueror" pattern sprayer below.

The benefit to the operator in having a machine with a wooden tank, this is made from oak & was of 10-gallon capacity, was that being made of wood any kind of wash could be used whereas with the galvanised containers one could not use say a sulphuric acid wash as the acid would eat away the metal. Indeed one or two models of Four Oaks sprayers were offered with lead linings so that they could safely use sulphuric acid washes.

The Kent sprayer, supplied to the military, shown above arrived in the box. Application of a brass wire brush removed the accumulated dust and detritus to reveal the above markings. Upon opening the box the sight above awaits. Removal of the main tank then showed a small box with hinged lid containing a variety of spares for the machine, all but two of the packs are still sealed!

The hose is kept within the section at the left hand side of the case. The machine fitted with the hose and one section of the delivery lance. The "Kent" range of pneumatic knapsack sprayers were offered in three sizes, the No.2 with a capacity of 3 gallons, the No.4 with 2 gallons and the No.6 with a 1 gallon capacity. 

This machine, a No.2, was recently donated to the site owners collection by a lady whose grandparents used to work at the Four Oaks Spraying Machine Company. Although missing the webbing straps with hooks it is a very fine example of the largest version and came with an extension to the lance as well as a spanner.

The knapsack, subsequent closer examination of the lance has shown this to be of another make. Although it may not be obvious from the image the tank has an appreciable 'lean' towards the right thus ensuing that as much liquid as possible is captured by the pump - which is remarkably powerful and capable of delivering a fair air pressure when dry never mind liquids when wet.  


Dairyman De Luxe pattern sprayer that shows clear evidence of being used for Lime-washing application. Unfortunately the controlling tap on the lance has some damage. The De Luxe patterns normally had an armoured hose as this one does whereas standard machines had non-armoured hoses.

Canwell Show August 2018

This is the gent who has this collection