James Allen Ransome was born in 1806 in Great Yarmouth as eldest son of the agricultural-implement maker James Ransome (1782–1849), and grandson of Robert Ransome (1753–1830), who co-founded Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies. In 1809 he moved with his father's family to Ipswich, dating from which town as his home, he completed his education at Colchester in 1820, after having spent four years there.
After leaving school, he became apprenticed to his grandfather, father, and uncle, who were then carrying on business in Ipswich as Ransome and Sons. From 1826 to 1839 he resided at Yoxford, Suffolk, where a branch of the business was established that he managed. He started a farmers' club there which was the precursor of many similar institutions, notably the Farmers' Club of London, of which Ransome was one of the founders. In 1829 he became partner in the firm then trading under the altered title of J. R. and A. Ransome, and he married.
In 1839 he moved permanently to Ipswich to reside as one of the leading partners of a firm now written as Ransomes and Sims. Under his direction the business assumed huge proportions. In 1843 he published an excellent history of 'The Implements of Agriculture,' part of which had been prepared as a prize essay for the Royal Agricultural Society.
He had joined the society in 1838, served on its council, and was one of the most popular figures at its annual shows (cf. Farmers' Magazine, 1857, with portrait). He was alderman of Ipswich from 1865 until his death in 1875.
Ransome died 29 April 1875 at his house in Carr Street, Ipswich. By his wife Catherine (d. 17 April 1868), daughter of James Neave of Fordingbridge, Hampshire, whom he married on 4 September 1829, he left two sons, Robert James and Allen Ransome, and three daughters, one of whom married J. R. Jefferies, an active member of the firm.
The energetic character of Ransome's labours first began to fairly develop itself during his second sojourn in Yoxford. Thoroughly feeling the advantages which should come from such associations, he became mainly instrumental in establishing the Yoxford Farmers' Club. He attempted this on something of a new, or at any rate on a principle very rarely tried up to that time. As secretary he organised the discussion, by the members, of questions of practical agriculture, with the view of publishing reports as to reliable results. The success of such plan is now well known. In his own and the adjoining counties it was almost immediate.
Closely following his example, and chiefly through his assistance, similar clubs were soon brought into action at Harleston, Beccles, Halesworth, Wrentham, Framlingham, Wickham Market, Hadleigh, and Ipswich. The good thus achieved was at once apparent; and similar institutions began to spring up, all over the county. Amongst the best of these, such clubs as the Harleston, the Hadleigh, and the Halesworth have always held a very high position. But Ransome did not stop here.
In conjunction with the agricultural writer William Shaw (1797–1853), Robert Baker, and one or two others, he set the London Farmers' Club first going, the main features of which still very much resemble those of the little Yoxford club, as established some ten years earlier—the discussion of practical results, and reporting the meetings. It was in this district, too, that he was one of the first to introduce the "allotment system" for labourers; a means, which, however coolly received at the outset, has also come to be gradually adopted. Need it to be told that when Ransome left Yoxford, in 1839, his friends and neighbours—and with Allen Ransome the terms are synonymous—presented him with a handsome and becoming testimonial in plate.
Some few years before this, Ransome had directly assisted in forming a Society of still greater influence in its effect on the agriculture of this country. He was one of the little knot from which it sprung; he was one of the very first members enrolled; and he still continues to take his seat as one of the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society of England. There is no frequenter of its meetings but must know him. Indeed, there have been few of any importance in the three kingdoms but which he has visited, and at which we trust he may be greeted for many years yet to come.
Very many who read this will themselves be able to speak to Allen Ransome as a man of business, who by his integrity and ability has justly reached the highest position. Many more will remember him, perhaps, as the most agreeable of companions and the most welcome of friends. Others, again, will associate his presence with those fluent, happy addresses he now and then rattles off; speeches so perfect in their style and delivery as to generally defy the art of the reporter. To appreciate such orations you must hear "Allen's" own musical voice, and watch the lighting up of his pleasant countenance. All, however, may not have enjoyed, as we have, the opportunity of seeing him in his own home, or following him through his own town. The kindly greeting and good word to everybody, and the deeds which carry out all these words imply. We question very much whether there be such another happy family in England as the thirteen or fourteen hundred men constantly employed in Messrs. Hansomes' works at Ipswich. What a treat it is to go over these—especially if you have the head of the house himself to guide you—and to note not only all the triumphs of art and skill, but to mark also how the heart has its due share in the business. To see, as you do, at every turn and in every face that the profits of the master are nowhere more studied than the comforts of his men!
If we say more, we shall but make our hero mortal, and chronicle him, like most of us, as not proof against some little weakness or other. That of Allen Ransome, if such it be, is a national one – the love of a horse. The neatest hack at the Suffolk shows is almost sure to be "Ransome's." Himself a good horseman, and a good judge, no wonder he confessed, in the openness of his heart, as we once heard him, that "much as he loved a steam-engine, he loved a horse still more!"
The firm of Ransomes was established in the last century by Mr. Robert Ransome, the grandfather of the subject of this notice. It was Robert Ransome who took out the first patent for manufacturing cast-iron chilled ploughshares, and thus by making the under-side much harder than the upper, preserving a sharp cutting edge to the share. The use of this process in turning out ploughshares is now almost universal, both in this country and America. The chief business of the establishment is still the manufacture of agricultural implements and machinery; although the firm is also extensively recognised in conjunction with railway works and improvements. Upwards of three thousand miles of " line" in the United Kingdom, and nearly two thousand more in other parts of the world, are now laid down and maintained on the patent known as Ransome and May's.James Allen Ransome. The Implements of Agriculture. J. Ridgway, 1843
James Allen Ransome. On Principle Strikes Wise & freeman. 1890