The All Electric Farm at Greater Felcourt

The All Electric Farm at Greater Felcourt

The farm at Greater Felcourt Farm is situated between East Grinstead in Sussex and Lingfield in Surrey and was part of the manor of Felcourt, originally held by Hyde Abbey.  Although just outside the Felbridge area the farm used water from the lake at Wiremill to generate its electricity and one of the pioneering engineers and a Director of Felcourt Products Ltd. lived in Furnace Wood, Felbridge, between 1936 and his death in 1976.


This document talks about the life and times of Richard Borlase Matthews, the break-up of the Felcourt Estate in 1919 and the purchase of the farm and other properties at Greater Felcourt by Matthews as an experimental All-Electric farm.  It also covers the practise of Matthew’s farming theories with the use of electricity together with the lives of his two engineers that helped him with his experimental ideas.


Richard Borlase Matthews Wh. EX, AMICE, MIEE, FRAeS

[Whitworth Engineering Scholar, Associate Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society]

Richard Borlase Matthews, known as Borlase Matthews, was born in Swansea in 1878, the son of Richard John Matthews and his wife Margaret née Curtis.  Tracing the Matthews family backwards, Richard John had been born in 1851 in Merthyr Tydfil, the son of Richard Matthews and his wife Jane née Jenkins (granddaughter of Jenkins Borlase from where Richard Borlase acquired the family name Borlase).  Richard was a Master Mariner and fathered three children before his untimely death in 1856.  Richard John was the youngest child of Richard and Jane and there were also two older sisters, Mary Ann born about 1846 and Jane Jenkins Matthews was born in 1842.  In 1851 Jane Matthews and her two daughters were living in Swansea and Jane was recorded as a master mariner’s wife.  The absent Richard must have commanded a reasonable wage as there was a servant living within the household; however, shortly after the birth of Richard in 1851 his father had died leaving Jane with three young children to support. 


In 1861 the Matthews family had moved to 2 Melbourne Place, Swansea, and Jane, recorded as a widow, was employed as a School Teacher.  Ten years later Jane, Jane junior and Richard had moved to 3, Stockwell Villas, Swansea, where Jane was employed as a School Mistress and her daughter was employed as a Governess.  Also, living within the household was Elizabeth Davies, an Assistant Teacher and Martha Owen, a general servant.  Richard, still living at home, was employed as a Ship Broker’s Clerk.  It would seem that despite the untimely death of Richard senior, Jane Matthews had managed to bring up the three children and provide a fairly decent life for them.


Richard John Matthews married Margaret Curtis in 1877; Margaret having been born in 1877, the daughter of George and Elizabeth Curtis, who were Coffee House Keepers in Bristol.  In 1871 Margaret was employed as an English Governess at a school in Chatham, Kent, run by Dora Hathaway.  It has not been established how Richard J Matthews and Margaret met, perhaps she took employment as a Governess or School Teacher in Swansea.


In 1881 Richard J and Margaret were living at 47, Mansel Street, Swansea, and Richard J was working as a Colliery Agent.  By 1881 Richard J and Margaret had two children, Richard Borlase (known as Borlase) born in 1878 and Margaret Jane born in 1880, joined two years later by Trevor Jenkins Matthews born in 1882.  By 1891 the Matthews family had moved to 6, Bryn Road, Swansea, where Richard J Matthews was now listed as a Ship Broker’s Agent and the three children were recorded as scholars. 


Borlase was educated at SwanseaGrammar School, an all-boys school founded in 1682.  At the age of twelve he spent a short time at sea with the shipping company his father was a broker for. Later he continued his studies at the SwanseaTechnicalCollege at Mount Pleasant, a well respected technical college founded in 1897 offering vocational qualifications in business, engineering and construction.  By 1901 Borlase had moved to 51, Ladbroke Grove, Kensington, continuing his education at the Royal College of Science, a higher educational institution located in South Kensington.  He then returned to Swansea and took up an apprenticeship with the Millbrook Engineering Company.


The Millbrook Engineering Works, Landore [Glandwr], was established in 1825.  The works began as a general engineering concern but quickly started to see the advantages of being located near the neighbouring metal industries.  The company began to manufacture plant for the copper industry and later became renowned for the manufacture of plant and equipment for the tinplate industry.  The works became particularly well-known for the Millbrook Pickling Machine which was installed in many tinplate works both in the Swansea and Llanelli districts.  The firm operating the works when it was founded was the Millbrook Iron Company, being registered as the Millbrook Engineering Company in 1901.  After serving his apprenticeship with Millbrook, Borlase was granted a Whitworth Scholarship Award and completed his training in mechanical engineering at the CentralTechnicalCollege, founded in 1878 in the City of London.


Whitworth Scholarships originate from the foresight of one man, former apprentice and engineer Sir Joseph Whitworth.  In 1868 he left a legacy to found engineering scholarships to assist technicians and apprentices wanting to pursue an academic engineering degree.  Whitworth Scholarships are awarded to the brightest and most tenacious apprentices.  To pursue an award, applicants must have spent a minimum of two years as an apprentice and possess excellent academic abilities, as well as the personal qualities that will enable scholars to succeed in industry.


After completing his academic studies Borlase became ‘an assistant to Robert Blackwell and Co. [no further information available] and then secured a departmental appointment with the General Electric Co., at Schenectady, U.S.A., later becoming an electrical engineer at Amsterdam for the Edison Electric Light and Power Co.’  The ‘General Electric Co., at Schenectady, U.S.A’ was General Electric or GE [not to be confused with the General Electric Company or GEC of Britain], the American corporation incorporated in Schenectady in 1892, formed by the merger of the Edison General Electric Company of Schenectady, New York, and the Thomson-Houston Electric Company of Lynn, Massachusetts. 


It has not yet been established when Borlase joined either company but shipping records show that he travelled to America in September 1904 as a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers to visit the Edison Electric Light Company.  Borlase must also have been in America in 1909 when he filed for a patent with the US Patent Office (see below), although shipping records do not obviously show him travelling to and from America at any other time. 


The Edison Electric Light and Power Co. that Borlase joined as an electrical engineer in Amsterdam was in Amsterdam, New York (not to be confused with Amsterdam, Holland).  This was another of Thomas Edison’s companies, which specialised in electric lighting as the following advertisements proclaim:




THE MOTOR ON THE SHELF will work for you quietly

but surely; out of the way power, with no dirt or noise.

SMALL MOTORS find a place in every business. Is there not

a place for them' in yours ?



Office F., J. & G. R. R. Depot.


Auto Phone 83.            60 East Main Street, Amsterdam, N. Y.           Bell 'Phone 19-J


(Appeared in the Amsterdam Evening Recorder, Thursday, March 8, and Friday, March 9, 1906)


The Matchless light

Is Edison Electric Light!

 Homes once equipped never discard it.





Cheaper than most home folks think for.

Estimates and ideas Cheerfully and Freely Given.

Why Not Ask Us About it Before SPRING CLEANING TIME?



Office: F., J. & G. R Depot.

(Just Under the New Electric Sign.)


Bell 'Phone 19-J.          60 East Main Street, Amsterdam, N. Y.          Auto 'Phone 83.


(Appeared in the Amsterdam Evening Recorder, Saturday, March 24, 1906)


On his return to England, Borlase began to practise as a consulting engineer and amongst other employment he worked for the London Underground for a period of time.  Beside engineering consultancy work, Borlase also wrote articles and in 1906 and 1907 he had a couple published, one entitled Some Practical Notes on the Commercial Development of Electricity Supply Undertakings, in which he discussed ‘the need in England of a business campaign for getting in the electrical field’, and the other The Possibilities of Electrical Development, a discussion on the methods that should be employed in England.  He was elected an Associate Member of the Institute of Engineering and Technology in 1907 and transferred to full membership in 1911, serving as Chairman of the Transmission Section in 1934/5.  He also published his first book called Electricity for Everybody, which was revised and reprinted from 1912 up until at least 1932. 


In 1911, Borlase was living at 22, Kingswood Avenue, QueensPark, Willesden, visiting the Harris household with his mother Margaret.  Two years later he married Esther Annie Barrett in Kensington.  Esther had been born in Marylebone in 1888, the daughter of Robert Barrett and his wife Hester Ann née Hacking.  Robert had been born in Chelsea and his father brush maker, whilst Hester (known as Annie) had been born in Lancashire the daughter of an iron monger.  Robert initially followed his father’s career path as a brush manufacturer but by 1901 had made a career move and was working as a silver and goldsmith.  From the memories of a daughter of a former employee at Greater Felcourt Farm, ‘Mrs Matthews’ family had connection with Mappin & Webb’, so it is possible that Robert Barrett was employed by them.


Borlase and Esther had five children; Mary Elizabeth B born in 1914, Ethel Freda B born in 1916, John B born in 1918, David H B born in 1924 and Anna M B born in 1926.  The births of the first four children were all registered in either Swansea or Gower, but the last birth was registered in Godstone, and the B in each child’s name stood for Borlase.


Returning to Borlase, in 1908, according to his obituary, he ‘claimed to be one of the first aeronautical consultants’.  It is not clear where he gained his knowledge of aeronautics but he was in America when the Wright brothers were experimenting with powered flight and, possessing a ‘modern’ and an enquiring mind, he must have paid a lot of attention to the new found science of powered flight.  His knowledge must have been genuine and quite extensive as Borlase published a book in 1912 called the Aviation Pocket Book containing ‘the theory and design of the aeroplane, structural material, examples of actual machines, meteorological data, military information and signalling’.  This book was reprinted no less than five times between 1914 and 1920, and during World War I Borlase was attached to the Air Ministry in Britain where he worked on aircraft design.  After the War, Borlase published The Aircraft Identification Book, a ‘concise guide to the recognition of different types and makes of all kinds of aeroplanes and airships’.


However, it was electricity that captured his imagination, devoting his life to the possible applications of it, especially in farming practises, although he also turned his hand to domestic aids as is evident from an advertisement that appeared in the New Zealand newspaper the Horowhenua Chronicle, dated 6th August 1910:

Electric Mary Ann

The name of a curious little electric motor which has been invented by Mr R Borlase Matthews to help solve the perennial servant problem. The Mary Ann in question is as small as an ordinary typewriter but is possessed of extraordinary powers when put in gear and set driving at those tasks which are the despair of the maidless housewife.  This pleasing substitute revels in black-leading, plate cleaning, pots to pealing, washing, wringing and so forth.  She never strikes for higher wages, wants [illegible] and never leaves when unexpected guests arrive.


In Britain in the early 20th century there was a growing interest in the subject of electro-culture, the use of electricity to induce growth in crops with the consequence of increased yield.  Trials had been carried out on the continent since the 1880’s but it wasn’t until after World War I that the Ministry of Agriculture appointed an Electro-Culture Committee to investigate the theories.  It was found that where electrical current was used there was generally a substantial increase in yield, but interest in the experimental work soon waned because although the electrical effect was real, economically the cost of installing the system on a large scale was too high, so the project was abandoned.  However, to establish, expand and evaluate his own theories on the use of electricity and farming, Borlase purchased several Lots of the 772 acre Felcourt Estate that had been put up for auction by Hubert Sturdy in 1919.  The purchase included; Lot 2 – 19a 2r 24p of pasture, Lot 6 – Felcourt Farm, Lot 7 –  Little Felcourt an ‘old-world’ residence [now known as Pine Croft] and associated stabling and a Gardener’s Cottage [now known as Pine Croft Cottage] set in grounds of 13a 3r 30p, Lot 8 – Oaklands, another ‘old-world’ residence with associated stabling and a modern cottage set in grounds of 5a 0r 14p Lot 9 – a pair of recently constructed cottages set in 0a 1r 2p, and  Lot 10 – 65a 0r 28p of woodland and heath together with a Keeper’s Cottage.


The purchase amounts to 480a 0r 33p, some 120 acres smaller than the 600 acres quoted in contemporary news articles about the farm at Greater Felcourt.  It is known that Borlase purchased a strip of woodland, being part of Wire Mill Wood (part of the Wire Mill Estate) that had been purchased by Hubert Sturdy in 1918, to gain access to the waters of WireMillLake and thus the power source for his hydro electric farm.  However, this acreage does not account for the missing 120 acres that Borlase would eventually own and it has not yet been possible to determine when he acquired the remaining land to make the 600 acre farm at Greater Felcourt.


Greater Felcourt Farm

Greater Felcourt Farm formed part of the manor of Felcourt that had passed to the Earl of Cottenham by the mid 1800’s being purchased by Hubert Sturdy in 1907.  The farm buildings date to 1910 being based on a combination of two designs submitted in competition to the Royal Agricultural Society by J W Hepton and John Markwell in 1908.  The competition asked for designs for mixed farms extending to between 330 and 400 acres to be submitted with the brief of paying special attention to the building costs, ease of working, lighting, ventilation and drainage of livestock.  The farm at Greater Felcourt bears similarities to the prize winning design and that which came in fourth position together with a double-sized cow house to compensate for the fact that the farm was some 200 acres larger. 


In July 1919, Lot 6 – Felcourt Farm with Model Farm Buildings, part of the Felcourt Estate put up for auction by Hubert Sturdy, was described thus:


in the Parishes of Lingfield, Tandridge and Godstone,


376a. 0r. 15p.


of which 138a. 3r. 3p. are pasture, 119a. 3r. 18p. arable, the remainder being Woodland and Farm buildings.


There is a

Pretty Old-World Farmhouse

built of brick and half-timber work, partially covered with ivy, having tiled roof, and containing two Sitting Rooms, Kitchen, Back Kitchen, Scullery, Larder etc., and six to eight Bedrooms over.  adjoining are Gardens and Outbuildings.

A compact block of

Most Substantially Built Farm buildings an adaptation of a MODEL DESIGN, brick and tiled.


These Buildings are exceptionally well planned and in excellent Repair, and were erected about nine years ago, embodying the most modern design for compactness and convenience, with sound construction.


They include covered Yards for Stock and Milking cows, with Feeding Passages, enclosed by Ranges of Store Buildings, Workshops, Calf Pens, Bull house, Dairy and Stabling, of modern intercommunication design, planned to afford every convenience for economic management and

health of stock, with drainage system to covered manure yard, and with hard road surrounding.


The accommodation comprises


Large Cow House for 60 Milking Cows

with Paved Flooring, rows of substantially-built Stalls, fitted with low half-round Mangers, Water Troughs and continuous Water Supply.


The drainage is to the Manure Shed with sewage tank and pump attached.  Each row of stalls is served by both a feeding and cleaning passage, and the yard is well lighted and ventilated.  On either side of this yard are

Span Roofed Cattle Yards

Each housing 15 to 20 head of Cattle, fitted with Mangers, Water Troughs and Supply, with Feeding Passages communicating with the Surrounding range of well-built Farm buildings, which afford Capital Accommodation, each compartment opening on to road, also to interior Passage way, with sliding Doors, Windows, Fittings and Flooring.


Four-Bay Cart or Implement House, Carpenter’s Shop, Tool House (or Loose Box), Stabling for six horses and large Harness Room, Engine Room, Root House, Mixing Room, Cooling Room, spacious Cake and Artificial Manure House, Calf Pens with passage way, Bull House, or Loose Box for Calving Cows.  Above are Granary, large Hay And Straw Lofts, Chaff Room, Store Room, large Storage Tanks.


Separated by the roadway are

Two Long and Lofty Iron Built Dutch Barns


Also an

Iron Built Granary

40ft. by 20ft. on straddles.  A strongly-constructed nine-bay Cart Shed with galvanised iron roof.  Timber-built Stabling on brick foundations for Brood mares, with four boxes and hay store, well fitted in every aspect. Brick and tile solidly-built Piggery with four Sties and brick flooring,

also two brick and tile Privies.


Excellent and ample Water Supply, derived from a spring and conducted by gravitation through pipes to two large storage tanks on the top floor of the farm buildings.  In addition, company’s water is laid on, and three is a large Underground Tank for Rain Water Storage.


A short distance from the Homestead and with frontages to the private road are


Four Attractive Cottages

Most substantially built of brick and tile in two pairs, of most pleasant appearance and elevation, erected a few years ago and with company’s Water laid on to each cottage.  They ach contain Sitting Room, Kitchen, Scullery, Larder, and three Bedrooms, with Outbuildings and Garden.


Adjoining near Home Wood is a large

Completely Covered Fold Yard

capable of housing 25 to 30 cattle, substantially erected, modern, and Water Supply laid on, with brick and tile Feeding House.


Also another

Cattle Yard and Shedding

in enclosure (Tandridge) No. 435, by Eden Brook,



Excellent brick and timber and tiled Cattle Shed, with well of water, Pump, and trough, opening upon large yard strongly enclosed by high brick and timber wall.  Galvanised iron Fodder Store.



The Farm is in Excellent Condition

The arable land is in good heart, and produces heavy crops of corn and roots, while the grass land is extremely healthy, well watered, and carries a large head of stock.


The Superior Homestead

affords unusually good accommodation, is centrally placed and approached by a good road, and has ample water supply.


The Farm

is well sheltered and protected, pleasantly situated close to Lingfield and East Grinstead railway stations, and is eminently suited for a herd of Pedigree Cattle or large Dairy Farm.  The land has been for many years farmed by the owner, who has kept the whole in excellent repair and carried out numerous improvements.

Schedule of Acreage


Field No.










Pt. 687















Pt. 711




















Pt. 715









































Pasture and Fold Yard






























Arable and Fold Yard









Pt. 437





Pt. 437















Pt.  441















Pt. 104





















Fish Pond










Farmhouse and Garden




Pt. 1399

Occupation road




Pt. 1400






Four Cottages and Gardens










Buildings and wood





























Pt.  715

Devil’s Wood




Pt.  723

Collier’s Wood




Pt.  746





Pt.  746

Felcourt Wood





Fishpond Shaw





Home Wood





Heath and wood















Green Wood




Pt.  441

High Wood










Gunshot Shaw









Pt.  123

Wire Mill Wood















The All-Electric Farm, Greater Felcourt

Felcourt Farm, together with ‘two small old-fashioned residences with grounds’ called Oaklands and Little Felcourt and a pair of ‘modern cottages’ that were purchased by Borlase in 1919, appear in an article written by Roy Brigden for the Historic Farm Buildings Group.  The farm buildings were described as ‘constructed of brick and has a functional, business-like appearance, lacking any ornamentation’ and the ‘Electro Farm’ complex was described as:

The buildings have a south-facing aspect and centre round two partially enclosed stock yards.  A long-running debate in the nineteenth century about the relative merits of open and closed yards seems often by this period to have been settled in favour of a combination of both to provide shelter and access to the open air in equal measure.  The block dividing the yards was originally composed of cow and calf housings while the two outlying wings accommodated some pigs, implements and working-horse stables.  Running along the northern side, and linked to the yards by a cross feeding-passage, is a processing building where areas for mixing and preparing feed were situated beneath a first-floor granary.  A small barn for straw was located at the eastern end.  This part of the steading most resembles in layout and appearance the design submitted by Holes.  Centrally placed in this building was the oil engine which drove all the necessary feed-preparing machinery, and water pump, through belts and line shafting.  A stack yard occupied the open northern side of the site.


As has been established, Borlase did not commission the farm buildings (they were built by the former owner) and he did not come from a farming background and viewed agriculture as a business, one in great need of modernisation and use of up-to-date technology.  Borlase saw the use of electricity as a means for improving the profitability of farming, not only through electro-culture but also as a means to run labour-saving devises, and thus the cost of labour.  Borlase was convinced that the use of electricity was the way forward for farming and developed and implemented nearly seventy different uses for electricity in farming practise.  Some of the resulting developments were marketed by the British General Electric Company (not to be confused with American General Electric, the company with whom he worked at the turn of the 20th century), but some were inevitably dropped from farming practise.


Thus the farm Borlase developed at Greater Felcourt was not run as a conventional farm using conventional farming practises of the time and staff were not paid in the conventional manner.  Like the system used in factory work, staff were required to clock in and out and were paid an hourly rate with an added system of bonus payments to reward productivity.  Their wages were so fixed that each farm worker was able to pay 7s 6d a week for rent and wholesale prices were charged for all commodities required and were available on the farm.  Farm workers were also afforded the luxury of electricity in their own homes, with the idea that the whole family could benefit, in so much as household chores carried could be aided by the use of labour saving electrically powered appliances. 


Being a businessman, Borlase also looked into book keeping practises in farming and found that very few farmers had a proper system of keeping accounts, fundamental for maximising the profitability of a farm.  A solution he arrived at was an improved system of book keeping that was called Auto-Countancy, based on a double entry system carried out with the aid of an electrically operated book keeping machine.


Under Borlase the management and working of the 600-acre farm at Greater Felcourt was divided into three sections, 200 acres devoted to arable, 200 acres under grass and 200 acres of woodland.  The general aim of the farm was to become as self-supporting as possible.  This was outlined in an article about the farm that appeared in Country Life in 1926:

… the arable land is cropped with the object of supplying as much food as possible for home consumption among poultry, pigs and dairy cows.  Similarly, the idea of the woodland has enabled considerable dependence to be placed upon home-constructed buildings, especially in the pig and poultry departments.  This has led to the establishment of a small saw mill plant, in which two carpenters are employed.


The electrical supply for the farm was generated by utilising water power from WiremillLake to drive a turbine.  The current was carried some distance to the farm by overhead cables and although the initial cost of installation was high, the power supplied was ‘satisfactory’ and was practically the last cost made on supplying electric power.  This created a 400 volt, three-phase current which could be supplemented by an engine driven dynamo on the farm.  Some years later when a mains electricity supply became available in the early 1930’s, Borlase still chose to use his initial electricity supply in preference to the mains supply which was only used at night when it was at its cheapest.


Running hand in hand with his experimental use of electricity in farming practises, Borlase also became a consultant electrical engineer, delivering several lectures on the subject, his message reaching all over the world with newspaper articles on his farming practises appearing as far away as Australia and New Zealand.  Borlase also wrote several books on the use of electricity, particularly in farming practises, which included Electricity for Everybody, already on its third reprint in 1924, Electro-Farming, or the Applications of Electricity to Agriculture published in 1926, and Electricity, Civilisation and the Countryside published in 1927.  Borlase also contributed articles to such publications as The Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England.


Closer to home, Borlase became a member of the Electricity Commissioners’ Rural Electrification Conference and Chairman of the Rural Reconstruction Association (RRA), which was established in 1926 as a British agricultural reform movement.  The main aims of the RRA were to revive agriculture, standardise prices and produce grading, regulate imports, encourage more of a balance between agriculture and industry and decentralise the population of Britain.  The RRA believed that a revived agricultural sector was central to the national well-being of the country as it would encourage fresh organic produce.  In 1926, at the height of his experimentation of farming with the use of electricity he wrote a book called Electro-Farming, or the Applications of Electricity to Agriculture, which was the most comprehensive report on the subject, compiled from information he had gathered from extensive trips abroad and from his own farming practises at Greater Felcourt.  However, support for Electro-Farming had waned by the early 1930’s, primarily due to the cost and feasibility of installing an electrical supply to farms, many of which were situated in isolated locations.  At the same time, further active developmental work on the Farm at Greater Felcourt ceased and Borlase leased it to tenants on the condition that they continued to use his established electrical apparatus and methods of farming. 


Experimental Applications at the All-Electric Farm, Greater Felcourt

By 1921 Borlase had given some considerable thought to the uses of electricity on farms, producing a table of uses broken into four sections.

I. In the farm buildings

a) Electric light

In cow barns, or byres

For intensive feeding of sheep, pigs, poultry and other stock during winter

General lighting of buildings and yards

b) Food preparation for live stock

Electric driving of chaff cutters

Electric driving of chaff dust extractors

Electric driving of root puplers, slicers and cutter

Electric driving of cattle cake breakers

Electric driving of corn crushers, kibblers, rollers, grinders and grist mills

Electric driving of disintegrators for ditto

Electric driving of corn or maize shellers, huskers and shredders

Electric driving of food sifting and mixing machine

Electric driving of meat grinders and mincers

c) Dairy

Electric driving of milk or cream separators

Electric driving of cream ripeners

Electric driving of butter churns

Electric driving of butter workers

Electric driving of butter cutting and printing machines

Electric driving of butter tampers

Electric driving of refrigerators

Electric driving of ice breakers

Electric driving of ice cream making machine

Electric driving of milk circulators and pumps

Electric driving of cheese curd breakers and curd grinders

Electric driving of casein grinders

Electric driving of milk churn transporters

Electric driving of milk churn elevators

Electric driving of milk bottle cleaners and fillers

Electric driving of milk shakers

Electric driving of milk and cream pasteurisers

Electric driving of milk clarifiers or centrifuges

Electric driving of centrifugal fat testers

Electric driving of milk cooling and circulation pumps

Electric sterilisation of milk by:

a)      electrolytic bath and

b)      mercury vapour lamp

Electric heating of incubators for testing bacterial content of milk etc.

d) Poultry

Electric light in laying houses (to increase egg production)

Electrically heated incubators, hovers and foster mothers

High tension electrical treatment

Electric fans for circulating air in incubators

Testing eggs

Bone grinders

Grain crushers, grinders, kibblers and grist mills

Seed cleaners and sorters

Mixing machine

e) General electric power

Electric pumping of water for domestic use and for stock (open tank and pressure system)

Electric pumping of liquid manure

Electric pumping of sewage

Electric white-washing machines

Portable electric winch

Electric hay hoists

Electric hay elevators and transporters

Electrically operated food transporters

Electrically operated cart loaders

Electric horse clippers and groomers

Electric horse tooth grinder

Electric sheep shearers

Electric milking machines

Electric grindstone (also mower knife grinder)

Electrically operated workshop for repairs to farm machinery (including grindstone, emery wheel, drilling machine, portable electric drilling machine, lathe, forge, blower electric soldering iron, electric glue pot, etc.

Electric thermo-couple long distance thermometer for tuberculosis test of cows and pigs

Electric branders for marking cattle

Electric clocks, bells and signals


II. On the farm land


a) General

b) shallow root crop

c) deep root


Liquid manure distribution

Artificial manure distribution

Ploughing by electric tractor or electric haulage set

Cultivation and harrowing by electric tractor or electric haulage set

Hay mowing with electrically operated mower

Hay making with electrically operated machines

Hay drying with electrically operated blower

Corn cutting and binding with electrically operated harvesting machine

Electrically operated potato digger

Electrically operated fence post driver

Electrically operated stump and root pullers

Treatment of growing crops

Electro-culture by high tension and high frequency electrical discharge; ozone treatment, mercury vapour lamp treatment

a) for better growth

b) to destroy insect pests

c) to strengthen the plants and so enable them to better resist the vagaries of the weather

Wet and dry spraying of hop vines, fruit trees etc.


Electric tractors

Electric milk vans and electric lorries for general transport


III. Crop Treatment

Preparation of seed

Electrolytic seed bath (to produce heavier crops)

Treatment of seeds with ozone

Treatment of seeds with mercury vapour lamp

Electrical germination of seeds

Electrical seed dressing

Electrical heat treatment of seeds

Gathered crops

Hay drying by aid of electrically driven fan

Desiccation of vegetables and fruits

Pulping of fruits for supply of jam makers

Silage, automatic silage stackers

Cutting and delivery by blowing up elevator

Threshing machine feeders


Trussing straw

Bailing straw

Bailing hay

Chafing straw and hay

Grain grading

Potato sorting

Winnower or tanner for crushing and grinding cereals

Hop drying shredders and dryers (centrifugal)

Alfalfa mills

Flailing machines


Clover pea and bean pullers

Killing mould growths

Seed cleaning and dressing

Grain elevators

Sack elevators

Rural Industries

Peat and timber, drying and seasoning, sawing and working

Cider milling and pressing

Wool spinning and pressing, weaving and knitting

Clog making

Toy making

Hop drying

Drying of spent hops for litter

Drying of spent cider apples refuse for cattle food

Drying of spent sugar beat refuse, potatoes etc.

Concrete mixers

Stone crushing

Preparation of nitrogenous manures by electrical discharge

Brewing beer

Manufacture of alcohol


IV. In the farm house

Electric light, electric heating, electric cooking and domestic electric power.


Borlase believed that ‘any farm machine that revolves or has revolving parts can be operated by an electric motor, more effectively and more economically than by any other means’.  His vision of farming was far ahead of his time and by the mid 1920’s he had implemented over forty electric applications on his farm at Greater Felcourt and many more were to follow.  Many of his ideas are now taken for granted such as electric lighting in buildings, electrically powered machines for animal feed preparation and milking, but put in context, all work on farms in the early 20th century was done by hand and horse power and it would not be until fifty years later that most farms in Britain experienced the labour and time saving effects of electricity.  Some of Borlase’s ideas did not stand the test of time but he systematically implemented them, ran them and analysed them, discarding those which he considered impractical or of little benefit to the productivity of farming. 


Many of experiments that Borlase pursued at his All-electric Farm were included in the papers he delivered at various Institutes and Societies around the world, debating the merits of their usage in farm work.  The following is a small selection of applications from the above list in more detail, of the use of electricity in farming practises:


A high-tension and high frequency electrical discharge apparatus had been installed on the farm by the early 1920’s which allowed Borlase to conduct experiments into the effects of electricity used as a stimulant for crop growth and improved yield.  This was achieved by better growth, the destruction of insect pests and strengthening of the plants.  It is not clear why this experiment was abandoned but a contributing factor could have been a fire that destroyed the equipment that was stored in a wooden shed a short distance from the north east corner of the farm complex.  The only visible evidence left was the concrete block on which the Petter oil-engine generator was mounted.


Borlase adapted the 19th century system of ploughing with a single steam plough in which it was hauled back and forth across the filed by a cable that ran between two traction engines.  The all electric version used a 12hp motor that received current from lines running on poles by the side of the field.  This form of ploughing was already practised in a number of European countries but the farm at Greater Felcourt was only the second farm in Britain to adopt the system.   In papers delivered by Borlase at Nijmegen, Holland, in 1921 and Cardiff in 1922, Borlase outlined several methods of electrical ploughing but by 1925 concluded that if pursuing ploughing by the use of electricity a small electric plough must be controllable by one man, advocating the use of a tractor type machine with an attached cable drum, with large pneumatic tyres on the front wheels and creeper tracks on the back to prevent pressure on the surface of the ground, instead of poles supporting cables.  A tractor of this type, he concluded, would plough an area of 40 to 60 acres from a single contact in the middle of the field.  The concept of ploughing by electricity had been abandoned by the early 1930’s and it would not be until some time after World War II before tractors replaced horse power on the British farm.

Hay making                                                                                                                            

This generally relied on good weather and a large, available workforce but not on the All-Electric farm as Borlase devised a method for drying hay, even cut during wet periods, by building the stack round a drying system where air was blown into the stack through a duct at the base by the use of an electric fan.  Hay making is not a simple operation and a good deal of vapour is given off, together with an aromatic smell before the hay turns a light brown colour.  If not controlled properly the stack heats up, destroying the nutritive value of the hay and eventually combusts.  Controlling the drying of hay by the use of an electric fan gives the hay a better look and aroma and the nutritive value is greater, but the biggest bonus was that it was not weather reliant. 

Poultry keeping

Borlase’s use of electricity in poultry keeping not only increased egg production by the use of lighting to fool the hens into thinking the day was longer and thus lay more eggs but electricity could also be used in the incubation of eggs.  Incubators could be produced to hold up to 10,368 eggs, thermostatically controlled and heated by the use electricity.  Even the most simple of operation in egg production, testing eggs, could be done more quickly and efficiently by the flick of a switch instead of candle light.  Today these methods are taken for granted.

Dairy farming

Again, electricity is today taken for granted in the production of milk but in the 1920’s when Borlase was using electrically operated milking machines on his farm, most cows were milked by hand, a practise that continued until after the War years.


The All-Electric farm also attracted many visitors who came to view and report on the experimental applications in use at Greater Felcourt.  Country Life produced a 3-page, illustrated article on the farm in 1926, and numerous articles appeared in several Antipodean newspapers, such as the following two that appeared in the Western Mail, Perth, Western Australia on Thursday 5th February 1925 and The Brisbane Courier, Queen’s Land, on Saturday 7th February 1925:




(By Leonard Matters.)

I was privileged to spend last week-end on Greater Felcourt Farm, East Grinstead, as the guest of Mr. R. Borlase Matthews, C.E. M.I.E.E., a man who is heading a revolution in English farming methods. The methods may not be adapted to Western Australia, but it cannot fail to be interesting to note the advances science is making.

Mr, Matthews, who did not become a farmer till five years ago, is an electrical engineer by profession, and a farmer by provocation. When he determined that farming was about the least progressive of industries, and in England was languishing because of antiquated, uneconomic methods; when he told farmers this and urged them to apply the power of electricity to their problems, Mr. Matthews met all the old objections and heard all the old proverbial sarcastic references were made to the impertinence of instructing one's grand- mother in the process of extracting nutriment from eggs; of the wisdom of a cobbler sticking to his last, and of absurd attempts to interfere with Nature.

Mr. Matthews, in desperation, became a farmer just to show “it could be done.” He purchased Greater Felcourt, a property of about 600 acres, adaptable for mixed farming, and proceeded to put his theories to the test. After five years he is able to answer the question "Does farming pay?" with the answer, “Handsomely, if you farm properly,” and venerable Sussex and other county farmers flock to crowded meetings to learn from a new mentor something about a business they once thought they had mastered half a century ago.

Power from a Mill Pond

The first difficulty Mr. Matthews had to solve when he decided to become a scientific farmer was to secure a supply of electrical energy.  No public supply was available, so a small plant was installed on the banks of an old mill pond where a fall of 8ft. gave the necessary force to develop about 24 horse power of energy. The power is conveyed about a mile across the fields, and the overhead wires can be tapped at any point to drive agricultural machinery.

Of the details of the installation I am not able to speak, but from what I saw at Greater Felcourt there does not appear to be anything within reason that electrical energy will not do or a direction in which it cannot be applied on a farm. The dairy is electrically operated in all details; hen houses are artificially lighted; incubators are electrically fanned; ploughing, hay curing and practically everything else seems to be performed or controlled by electricity. A better, neater farm was never seen.

Apart from the electrical installation of which something further may be said presently. Mr. Matthews has also brought to bear on farming the most thorough business methods in dealing with labour costs and statistics. He directs his farming operations from a central office where he has his bookkeeper, his typists, his costing and filing clerks and his records, charts, blue-prints, filing systems, all suggest the most, highly organised business office in a city. Mr Matthews can see at a glance whether ‘Dewdrop,’ the cow is giving all the milk she should give on a particular day, and whether it is of the proper richness in butter fat. If ‘Dewdrop’ is to blame she is sold. If a dairy hand has not been feeding her properly, out he goes. The man in the office knows. He doesn't have to hang over the said chewing cow ‘Dewdrop's’ ration of hay while pondering over the mystery of ‘Dewdrop's’ shortcomings.

Method, system, and control are everywhere, as they should be, if farming is a business, and not a blind game of chance. It was Henry Ford who said “Farming must be the most profitable business in the world, or it could never have kept out of the bankruptcy court where other businesses so badly managed inevitably go.”

Independence of Weather

This year happens to have been a particularly bad one so far as weather is concerned. Farmers generally have complained that constant rains have made harvesting almost impossible. Crops have remained uncut, or, if harvested, have rotted in the stook. Mr Matthews has reaped everything he had sown, and, what is more, he has stored it in prime condition in the stack or the barn. Bad weather makes no difference under his methods of farming, though he would prefer bright and sunny conditions. He makes hay without sunshine.

Hay, as every farmer knows, must be dried, or cured. At Greater Felcourt, if the sun will not shine and do the job, electricity is called upon to do it. Wet sheaves are carted off the fields and stacked. Narrow vertical chambers are left in the stack, and, leading beneath it are channels through which air is blown by an electrically driven fan. Wet hay so stacked packs very tightly, and necessarily bacterial action begins. The stack begins to heat at the bottom, and spontaneous combustion would follow if no action were taken. Thermometers introduced into the stack in pipes, indicate when the heat is getting to the danger point. The electrical fan is set in motion, and in half an hour the stack is well ventilated, and the temperature reduced to that of the air. From day to day, as necessity requires, the fan is turned on, the air is blown through the stack, and after about seven hours blowing altogether, the hay is ‘cured.’

I examined two stacks, one of which had been sun-dried and the other artificially treated as described. Mr. Matthews stated that the second had been sopping wet when put in the rick and, though I could see no difference between them, I am prepared to believe that the treated hay had packed better, was sweeter, and more nutritious, and would cut cleaner than the other lot.

The Problem of Winter Eggs

What interested me more than anything else was the method by which Mr. Matthews gets several thousand beautiful crossbred White Leghorn-Wyandotte hens to work overtime in winter, when eggs are scarce and dear. The hens (have plenty of field space, and are provided with warm, glass-fronted houses, designed in accordance with the best ideas of the experienced poultry keeper. What Mr. Matthews has also provided for his poultry is a complete system of electric lighting in the houses. The system is controlled by a self-winding electrical clock that automatically adjusts itself to the changing time of dawn and sunset, and, by its control of the lights, gives the hens three or four hours more light daily, during which to run about and attend seriously to what is a hen's proper business of egg production.

During the English winter the hours of daylight are reduced to less than eight. If the hens observed nature's time-table they would spend 16 hours on the perches, huddled together and dreaming - if they do dream - about the golden summer. During this time they would, of course, go hungry. The electric clock, however, prolongs the active hours for the hens. An hour before dawn it switches on one set of dim lights. The hens stir themselves and the cocks ‘Trumpet the coming day.’ Ten minutes later, a set of brilliant lights is turned on, and real business begins in the ‘hennery.’ Dry food is there in self-working bins, and while neighbouring hens are still slumbering on their .perches the Greater Felcourt colony is fed and beginning to queue-up for the nests. Day comes, and the lights go out. At dewy eve the clock takes charge again, and lights up the houses. An hour after dusk, the bright lights fade and the twilight glimmers in the houses. The hens have ten minutes in which to get to roost, and then all is dark.

By this system Mr. Matthews keeps his poultry active and alert hours longer than would naturally be the case. There is no increase in the number of eggs laid by his hens throughout the year, but there is a most marked increase in the production of winter eggs. Carefully compiled records show that a pen of 300 White Leghorns, working overtime in winter, will produce 46 per cent, more eggs than a similar pen unlighted. That spells profits. More light, more eggs? I asked Mr. Matthews if it did not amount, as a method, to obtaining eggs under false pretences and might, therefore, be considered, in a sense, cruel. He laughed and said that somebody had requested attention to the matter by the S.P.C.A. and an Inspector had appeared, but his verdict was that he had never seen a healthier, happier, or better cared-for lot of birds in all his official career. “My hens don't sleep and starve sixteen hours a day,” said Mr. Matthews: “that’s the difference, that and more winter eggs at the highest market prices.”

Electrical Farming Not Novel

Mr. Matthews has never set up a claim to be the inventor of electrical farming equipment. As a consulting engineer he spent many years in the United States, and it was largely what he saw there that directed his attention to the need for more scientific methods of farming in England.

Actually there are three-quarters of a million farms in the world electrically operated. In Sweden alone there are over twenty thousand effectively equipped farms. What I have been largely responsible for has been the introduction and demonstration of the system on a fairly large scale in England. Some of my plan is actually of my own invention or design, and it seems clear that as a farmer I have been fortunate in being also an electrical engineer. The man who is only a farmer must necessarily have the assistance of the engineer, and that is what I have been endeavouring to establish in any public lectures.

Mr. Matthews stated that at Greater Felcourt on over 600 acres, he had only three horses. There was no fetching in and harnessing of teams for ploughing, harvesting, or carting. “In the dairy,” said Mr. Matthews, “we use electricity for every operation. The place is electrically lighted, and that alone saves us infinite trouble. The milking machines are worked by motors. We churn, bottle, and capsule by electricity and all food is chaffed or otherwise prepared by the some agency or power.”

Cost and Consequences

“To say what the cost of equipping a farm would be is not easy unless one knows all the conditions,” said Mr. Matthews. “I have been asked that question publicly and have stated that on an average mixed farm in England, after selling off unsuitable existing plant, the cost would be approximately £600 for 300 acres, and £1,100 for 600 acres.  The net result of spending the new capital would mean an increased annual profit of about £300 on the 300-arce farm and about £350 on the larger one”.

“Apart from direct profit.” said Mr Matthews, “there are other considerations. Farming generally is made easy and more attractive by the use of electrical equipment. The standard of agriculture is raised. Better work is done by better workmen. In this particular district the average wage of the farm hand is 26s. a week, but on this farm no man is paid less than 35s. a week. I have found that on this and similarly operated farms the workers develop into a superior type to whom it is possible to pay higher wages because of their higher intelligence, keener interest, their work, and an increased output. They also live under happier conditions with their cottages electrically lighted and their womenfolk helped in their home work by the mechanical contrivances that an available supply of electrical energy enables them to use.”

“There is no shadow of doubt in my mind,” said Mr. Matthews in conclusion “that the future will witness a great extension of the system. Farming methods must change all over the world. In many respects these methods are antiquated, stupid and wasteful. In all other industries progress is being made, and it is inconceivable that the oldest industry in farming shall lag behind the times. Electrical energy is the new power. It can be applied to farming as to any other industry. Its efficiency has been demonstrated beyond cavil. It is practical and profitable and those two facts being established nothing can stop the revolution."

The illustrations show: -

1. -High tension generator of pulsating current for electro-culture of crops in wet, sunless weather.

2. -Haymaking without sunshine. Portable motor driving ventilating fan that dries and ‘cures’' wet hay. The temperature of the stack is being taken,

3. -Portable haulage plant for double-ended plough. Current is tapped from the overhead main system.

4. -Plough being operated with electric haulage.

5. -Motor-tractor with dynamo supplying power to the harvesting machine.

6. -Tractor and disc cultivator.

7.-Electrically worked milking machines.

8.-Hens busy in lighted house long after the sun has gone down.



"Nothing Can Stop the Revolution."



Last Saturday the "Courier" published the first of two articles de-scribing the use of electricity on a farm conducted by Mr. R. Borlase Matthews, C.E., M.I.E.E. In the accompanying article the views of Mr. Matthews are set out as to the practicability of applying electricity to farms other than his own.

WHAT is being done at Greater Felcourt Form, East Grinstead, by Mr. R. Borlase Matthews, has attracted keen attention throughout, the United Kingdom. As I explained in a former article, Mr. Matthews became a farmer after the war, largely, if not entirely, because he was determined to demonstrate that ordinary farming methods were uneconomic, and that electrical power could be employed in agriculture practically in the same extent that it is used in other industries. Just at this moment a controversy is raging in certain technical journals as to the warranty for Mr. Matthew's claim that he originated the system in use on his farm, and my contribution to a London journal regarding his electric lighting arrangements in poultry houses seems to have stirred up an argument. A good deal might be granted to the critics if Sir. Matthews had ever set up a claim to be the inventor of electrical farming equipment, but that he has not done. As a Consulting Engineer he spent many years in the United States, and it was largely what he saw there that directed his attention to the need for more scientific methods of farming in England.


After inspecting the installation at Greater Felcourt, I asked Mr. Matthews to discuss the entire question with me, and, as far as we could do so, consider some aspects of it from the point of view of the Australian farmer. “That is a little difficult, I am afraid” said Mr. Matthews.  “In the first place, conditions are so vastly different, and the general problem of farming for profit is not, I understand, such a complex one in Australia as it is here. Still I presume the general principles are the same, though I am convinced that unless farming on our small areas, under climatic conditions such as we have had this year is to cease altogether, we in this country must revolutionise our methods while Australian farmers may yet carry on under theirs. I make no claim to having originated the system in operation on my farm. Actually there are three-quarters of a million farms in the world electrically operated. In Sweden alone there are over twenty thousand effectively equipped farms. What I have been largely responsible for has been the introduction and demonstration of the system on a fairly large scale in England. Some of my plant is actually of my own invention or design, and it seems clear that, as a farmer, I have been fortunate in being also an electrical engineer. The man who is only a farmer must necessarily have the help the engineer, and that is what I have been endeavouring to establish in my public lectures.”


“I believe that most farms in England could be electrically operated,” said Mr. Matthews in answer to the question, “'though probably that is not possible in Australia. The best plan, of course, would be for a number of adjoining farms to have a common source of supply of electrical energy, and that preferably a public service. I have shown in my own case that it is possible to be independent, although at a greater cost than otherwise would be necessary.”

And where precisely is the gain to the farmer? “The scientific use of electrical energy on the farm means many things,” Mr. Matthews replied. “To begin with, it means higher profits through the employment of less labour, or, better still, turning out more work with the existing labour, by the fact that in England, at any rate, farming operations become more independent of the weather, and because all troubles and difficulties are reduced to a minimum. A twitch of the switch is the only necessary preparation required to put most electrically operated npparatus1 into operation. Let me cite instances on my own farm.”

Mr. Matthews went on to state that at Greater Felcourt, on over 600 acres, he had only three horses. There was no fetching in and harnessing of teams for ploughing, harvesting, or carting. For threshing operations a converted London bus is utilised. This can be run anywhere in the farm, or to other farms. With the thresher goes a portable motor which, connected in a few seconds to the power wires of the main generating system, drives the thresher. For harvesting a tractor pulls the machine and also generates its own electrical energy, which is transferred to operate the harvester.

“In the dairy,” said Mr. Matthews, “we use electricity for every operation. The place is electrically lighted, and that alone saves us infinite trouble. The milking machines are worked by motors. We churn, bottle, and capsule by electricity, and all food is chaffed or otherwise prepared by the same agency or power. It is now well established that we get better milling wheat by curing our stacks by electricity. What results we get in our poultry yards you have seen.”


Mr. Matthews has demonstrated also that in thee absence of sufficient sunshine and warmth to bring crops on a high-tension electrical generator will give remarkable results. This apparatus consists of a motor with numerous valves like those of a wireless set, but much larger. From what resembles a huge X-ray machine a pulsating current is distributed through fine wires, supported over backward crops such as wheat, beet, and strawberries, and what is known as electro-culture produces the same result as sunshine and warmth would do.

“In a dry season.” said Mr. Matthews, “this apparatus will mean an additional benefit. In a normally wet season it will show an improvement of at least 10 per cent, and under what would be considered worse growing conditions there would be an increase of up to 50 per cent in the crop”


“To say what the cost of equipping a farm would be is not easy unless one knows all the conditions” said Mr Matthews “I have been asked that question publicly and have stated that on an average sized farm in England, after selling off unsuitable existing plant, the cost would be approximated £600 for 300 acres and £1100 for 600 acres

The net result of spending the new capital would mean an increased annual profit of about £300 on the 300 acre farm, and about £350 on the larger one.  If the weather adversely affected neighbouring farmers working under old conditions the profits of the electrically equipped farm would rise 50 per cent, due to hay making, corn-sheafing, ploughing &c. being carried on regardless of weather conditions”.

“Apart from direct profit” said Mr Matthews, “There are other considerations, farming generally is made easier and more attractive by the use of electric equipment. His standard of agriculture is raised.  Better work is done by better workmen. In this particular district the average wage of the farm hand is 26s. a week but on this farm no man is paid less than 36s. a week. I have found that on this and similarly operated farms the workers develop into a superior type to whom it is possible to pay higher wages because of their higher intelligence, keener interest in their work and in more increased output.  They also live under happier conditions with their cottages electrically lighted and their womenfolk helped in their home work by the mechanical contrivances that available supply of electric energy enables them to use.

“There is no shadow of doubt my mind” said Mr Matthews in conclusion “that the future will witness a great extension of the system. Farming methods must change all over the world. In many aspects these methods are antiquated, stupid and wasteful.  In all other industries progress is being made and it is inconceivable that the oldest industry in the world shall be left behind the times. Electrical energy is the new power.   It can be applied to farming as to any other industry. Its efficiency has been demonstrated beyond cavil.  It is practical and profitable, and those two facts, being established, nothing can stop the revolution.”


The above articles give an insight into the farming practices at Greater Felcourt in the early 1920’s but it should be remembered that to farm in this new way using electricity, new equipment had to be designed and made, or old established equipment modified.



To safe guard his ideas and equipment Borlase took out numerous patents both in America and Britain.  One of the earliest patents applied for by Borlase was in America in July 1909 for a ‘portable driving apparatus’, this was eventually approved in February 1911.  Back in Britain, Borlase, along with two engineers, William and Harry Pike, worked on creating the equipment required to run the All-Electric farm at Greater Felcourt and one of these patents was filed in November 1920 being approved in February 1922, when Borlase registered ‘improvements in or relating to dust caps for pneumatic tyre valves and the like’.  Although this had applications that could also benefit vehicles outside the farming environment it should be remembered that the pneumatic tyre fitted to farming machinery was not commonplace until after World War II. 

In 1923 Borlase filed his patent for the ‘improved means of curing hay and cereal crops in ricks’, this was approved in November 1924.  The patent outlines the method’s used on the farm at Greater Felcourt:

Stacked crops of grass, cereals, &c. are dried or cured under controlled bacterial action, by forcing or drawing air through closed shafts formed in the material by the use of removable formers. A channel 2 cut in the ground or otherwise arranged below the stack distributes the air to vertical shafts 8 formed in the stack from which it escapes to the surface or to auxiliary shafts 5. The shafts are formed by building the stack around polygonal or cylindrical formers that are raised as the building proceeds and are withdrawn when the eaves level is reached. A grating or lattice is placed over each shaft and the upper part of the stack completed. Valves 3, 4 operated manually or by ropes control the distribution of air. The stack may be treated in sections as it is built, and, if the formers are closed at one end or both, the treatment with air may be commenced before the formers are withdrawn. Condensing curtains or surfaces which may be cooled by water-sprays &c., may be arranged in proximity to the outer surface of the stack or within the auxiliary shafts.  

In July 1925, in conjunction with Harry Pike, Borlase filed for a patent relating to ‘improvements in receiving sets for wireless telephony’, this was approved in April 1926.  As a point of interest Harry Pike also came up with the idea of a push button radio and approached Borlase for his opinion on whether to patent it or not, after consideration Borlase decided it would ‘never catch on’ and the patent was never registered! 

In May 1935 Borlase applied for a patent for ‘improvements in electric water heaters’ which was approved in November 1936.  One of the last patents that Borlase applied for was in December 1942 for ‘improvements in or relating to framework for portable and semi-portable structures’.  This was approved in May 1944.  It is not clear when Borlase made the originally application of patent for the idea but some of these structures are still standing at Greater Felcourt. 

W H & W H R Pike

William Henry Pike was born on 9th August 1865 at 3, Southend Villas, MumblesVillage, Gower, Wales.  He was one of at least seven children born of George Pike and his wife Mary Ann née Pearce, and his siblings included; Sydney George born in 1863, George Robert born in 1867, Beatrice Ellen born in 1869, Richard James born in 1870, Sophia Mirrnill born in 1871 and Mary Anne Emily Jane born in 1873.  Sydney was baptised in Norton, Sophia was baptised in Swansea and the remaining four children were baptised in Newton. 

The Pike family had originated from Poole in Dorset, where George had been born, the son of George Pike, a farmer.  By the late 1850’s the Pike family had moved to the Gower peninsula in Wales where by 1862 William’s father George was listed as a lime manufacturer living in Oystermouth, before moving to Norton by 1963.  In 1865 George and his brother Richard sold their partnership as lime burners and quarrymen to Thomas Lloyd.  Two years later George was again listed as a lime burner of the Mumbles, Oystermouth, living at 3, Southend Villas.  By 1867 the Pike family had moved to a Kilne Parke Cottages at Newton, and George was listed as a lime merchant and lime burner of Newton.  However, by 1873 George was listed as a haulier of Newton and by 1881 the Pike family had moved to 20, Philips Parade, Swansea, and in 1888 the family had moved to New Oxford Street, Swansea, George listed as a steward. 

William Henry Pike was educated at the NationalHigherGrade School in Swansea (now known as Oxford Street Church of England School), which had opened in 1848.  In 1881 he had become an apprentice to a fitter (engineer), and was still living with his parents.  On 2nd September 1888 William married Marion Elizabeth Reed in Swansea, and at the time of their marriage he was listed as an engine fitter.  Marion (known as Lillie) had been born on 12th June 1866 in Barnstaple, Devon, the daughter of John Bowden Reed, a framer, and his wife Elizabeth Perryman née Dunn.  

After their marriage, William and Marion set up home in Llandilotalybont where their first two children were born, Gladys Mary born in 1890 and Daisy Beatrice born in 1892.  In 1891 the Pike family were living at 178, Bryn Street, Penvillia, William working as a fitter, before moving to 21, Norfolk Street, Swansea.  By 1900 the Pike family had moved again, this time to Rogerston where William had taken work as a foreman (engine fitters) at the Pontymister Iron Foundry, and where William and Marion had their third child, William Henry Reed Pike (known as Harry). 

The Pontymister Iron Foundry was started in 1830 and had a chequered existence and several owners.  In 1897 the works were taken over by Henry White & Co. of the Britannia Foundry becoming the Pontymister & Britannia Foundry.   

Between 1901 and 1915, whilst William was working at the Foundry, the Pike family had several addresses in the Risca area, 1903 – Forge Trip, Pontymister, 1905-07 – Jubilee Cottages, Pontymister, 1909 – 1, Clyde Street, Risca and 1911-15 – 8, Commercial Street, Risca.  However, in 1915 William and Marion, together with their son Harry, moved to 19, Ashburham Grove, Greenwich, after Harry was awarded a scholarship to Haberdashers’ Aske’s HatchamSchool at Pepys Road, New Cross.  The School had been founded by a bequest made by Robert Aske to the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers on his death in 1689.  Whilst living in Greenwich, William worked, in the capacity of a mechanical engineer, at the Woolwich Arsenal where he was employed as an inspector for the Howitzer guns. 

It is known that in 1918 Harry had returned to Wales to continue his training but it has not yet been possible to determine whether William and Marion also returned.  However, in 1922 William, Marion and Harry moved to 1, Felcourt Cottages, Felcourt, where William had secured employment as a mechanical engineer on the All Electric farm at Greater Felcourt run by Borlase Matthews.  How William met Borlase is unclear but both families originate from the Swansea area and both had a background in engineering. 

William was to spend the rest of his life at Felcourt with the occasional trip back to Wales with Marion to visit one of their daughters who had married and settled there.  Like Borlase, William was an avid photographer and made his first camera out of an old cigar box with a pin hole in it.  He left a wealth of photographs relating to the Pike family, holidays in Wales and life at the All Electric farm at Greater Felcourt, many of which he had developed and printed himself.  Marion, a stern woman, was an avid postcard collector and supplier of fresh egg custard tarts with ground nutmeg on top, according to her granddaughter.   She also kept birds, a dove in a cage outdoors and greenfinches indoors that sang.  

William died on 28th December 1937, aged seventy-three and was buried in the churchyard of St Peter’s & St. Paul’s Church, Lingfield, near the family graves of the Matthews family with whom he had worked for many years.  Marion died on 21st February 1955, aged eight-nine years, and was buried with William at St Peter’s & St Paul’s Church. 

William Henry Reed Pike, known as Harry as previously established, was the son of William Henry Pike.  At the age of twelve, Harry won a scholarship to Pontywaun County School in Commercial Road, Pontymister.  This was the local grammar school that had opened on 2nd November 1900 and tuition fees were £3 3/- per annum.  From his school reports, Harry appears to have been weak in French, Latin and Geography but excelled in mathematics and the physical sciences. 

In October 1915 Harry enrolled at the Haberdashers’ Aske’s HatchamSchool, having won a scholarship there.  The school was the guild school for Haberdashers and they wore what Harry called ‘bum freezers’, a short, waist length jacket and stiff collars, like the Eton uniform.  Harry did not improve his language skills or geography but maintained his mathematics and physical sciences, excelling at technical drawing.  Whilst at Aske’s Hatcham, Harry enrolled in the School Cadet Corps from October 1915 until February 1918, when he was discharged as a consequence of him ‘leaving the school and the district’.  One of Harry’s friends whilst at Aske’s Hatcham was Donald Soper (later to become Lord Soper) renowned for his ‘soap box’ speeches at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. 

In 1918 Harry trained as a wireless operator at NavalCollege and in December 1918 passed his radiotelegraphy examination.  Harry’s training must have taken him back to Wales as whilst studying he was living at Gayla, Broad Walk, Carleon, Wales.  Harry’s early employment is a bit of a mystery but by 1922 he joined his father William, as a wireless engineer, at the All Electric farm at Greater Felcourt run by Borlase Matthews, where he was to remain until 1936. 

On 19th September 1925 Harry married his long-time sweetheart Vera Jane Simpson, the first girl he had met at the Baptist Chapel in South Street, Greenwich, in 1917.  Harry and Vera started their married life at Oaklands Cottage, Felcourt Road, Felcourt, a small cottage owned by the Matthews family for whom Harry worked.  

In January 1930 Harry enrolled at the Technical Institute of Great Britain to be trained in combined electrical engineering, advanced electrical installation, electrical apparatus and French!  This must have been a correspondence course as he was still employed at the All Electric farm at Greater Felcourt.  Apart from being the wireless engineer and manager on the farm, he also taught magnetism and electricity at FelcourtSchool, a school founded by Borlase and his wife Esther.  

In August 1937 Harry left the All Electric farm and moved to a new house he’d had built on a three acre plot in Furnace Wood, which he and Vera called Oaklands.  In November 1936 Harry applied for the post of Assistant II in the Admiralty Technical Pool.  It is unclear whether he was appointed to this position as in February 1937 he went for an interview for a MTE [Manufacturing/Technical Engineering?] Supervisor with the Air Ministry.  Again it is unclear whether he got this position because in April 1939 he successfully secured the position of Assistant Examiner with the Aeronautical Inspection Department in the Air Ministry.  During the Second World War, Harry spent the years inspecting and repairing planes that had been damaged in action, on discharge from this in December 1945 he was offered the position of Chief Inspector working at Gatwick. 

Harry spent the last years of employment working for the electrical component company Hellermann Deutsch in East Grinstead before retiring in 1965 to maintain his extensive garden and woodland at Oaklands and ‘tinkering’ in his workshop.  Harry died on 31st October 1976 and his ashes were scattered at Worth Crematorium.   

Felcourt Products Ltd.

With all the new electrical equipment being designed, made or adapted to run the farm at Greater Felcourt there was obviously a business venture to sell products to other farms that were or were considering using electricity on their farms.  In 1925, Borlase founded a company called Felcourt Products Ltd. with William and Harry Pike, all three as Directors and equal share holders.  The aim of the company was:

To manufacture, buy, sell, deal in, repair, exchanges, let out on hire, act as agents and factors for and generally trade with, plant machinery, apparatus, appliances, tools, components, fittings, foods, wares, and accessories necessary or convenient for agricultural, horticultural, electrical, radio, automobile, aerial, engineering, building, cabinet-making, furniture-manufacturing, chemical and other businesses and undertakings, also for brick, tile, pottery and other works, laboratories, factories and the like, including any descriptions of scientific appliances, instruments and equipment, also any chemical, fertilising, research and other materials, ingredients, fluids, gases and things ordinarily, or which can advantageously and conveniently be, stocked or supplied by machinery and general engineering store proprietors and other carrying on any businesses as herein mentioned, with full power to engage in and pursue, after the manner of merchants or otherwise, any such businesses. 

During the late 1920’s and early 1930’s Borlase also toured Europe, possibly the world, giving lectures on the use of electricity in farming practise and shot several lengths of film on some of the electrical farms he visited on these tours.  In his absence William and Harry Pike ran the All Electric Farm at Greater Felcourt as farm managers.


Back in Britain, Borlase’s ideas had finally attracted the attention of the General Electric Company (GEC, not to be confused with the American company GE [see above]) and in 1931 GEC published a brochure entitled Electrical Equipment for the Farm and Market Garden.  The illustrated brochure featured nearly fifty photographs taken in and around the farm at Greater Felcourt with a text that covered the benefits of farming with the use of electricity as tried and tested at the farm at Greater Felcourt.  GEC proudly proclaimed that:

Farmers, like other business men, are always on the look-out for means whereby they can educe their costs and obtain increased efficiency.  The General Electric Co. Ltd., has made a careful study of farming conditions, and in this booklet farmers are told how electricity will assist them to achieve this end. 

In this country electricity for farming is, comparatively speaking, a novelty.  In almost eve3ry other industry it is used for all sorts of purposes as a matter of course and within the last thirty years or so the bulk of British industry has been electrified. 

Agriculture has lagged behind not because farmers lack enterprise but simply because cheap electricity was first provided in towns, and supplies in rural areas have not been available.  

Now, thanks to great developments in the distribution of electricity, by means of overhead lines, which greatly reduce the cost when compared with underground cables, the time is rapidly approaching when farmers will be able to obtain a supply off electricity with the same facility as city dwellers. 

Electricity will, therefore, soon become as familiar in service to the farmer as it is today to the manufacturer and the engineer in industrial centres. 

The use of electricity on the farm will be a big step in agricultural progress; but its introduction will not be in any way revolutionary in the sense that it will entail radical departure from existing practise with elements of risk.  It will not cause any violent disturbance of present procedure, any forsaking of the tried and tested experiences on which agriculture depends. 

Although electricity has been adopted with enthusiasm in other occupations, the farmer need not take it wholly on trust.  He can, if he so chooses. Give it a trial on a small scale and at a small cost. 

To electrify a farm a farmer can proceed step by step, making sure of each step before he goes on the next. 

In every other industry electricity has made its way, by paying its way, and once it has been adopted its uses have developed and multiplied.  It will do the same in agriculture whenever and wherever it is put to the test. 

Perhaps what is interesting here is that Borlase had adopted the use of electricity in farming practise since 1919, a full twelve years before the GEC was advocating its use.  

The brochure, after defining what electricity would offer the farmer and how the farmer would be supplied with electricity, carefully set out all the uses on the farm where electricity would benefit farming practise:

Electricity for Power

Electricity on the General Farm

Electricity on the Dairy Farm

Electricity on the Poultry Farm

Electricity for Crop Treatment

Electricity for Soil Heating

Electro-Culture and Insect Traps

Electricity in the Greenhouse

Electricity for Apiculture

Electricity in the Farmhouse


This was followed by sections on:

Electric Lighting Fittings and Accessories for use in Farm Buildings

GEC ‘Witton’ Motors

Poultry Farm Equipment

Applications of Electricity to Agriculture

Brief Specifications for the Wiring of Farm Buildings

Farm Machinery- Particulars of Electric Motors and the cost of operating Electrical Appliances.


One of the ‘Witton’ Motors advertised in the brochure was called the ‘Drumotor’, designed and perfected by Borlase and his engineers at the farm at Greater Felcourt.  The description states:

In designing this Power unit special attention has been given to making its transport as simple as possible and reducing the time for transporting and connecting it up, to a minimum. 

Push button control with full protective devices is incorporated in the drum.  The absence of complicated speed reduction gearing and the extremely simple and robust design of the ‘Drumotor’ result in a very convenient, straightforward and reliable machine for use on the farm.   

The name sums up exactly what the ‘Drumotor’ was.  It looked very like a large version of a cotton reel with the motor inside the central shaft and an electric cable that led from the motor, wrapped around the shaft that could be unrolled and rolled back up.  The whole apparatus being manoeuvred by rolling the drum to the position required on the farm by one man. 

Around the time of the publication of the GEC brochure, Borlase decided to give up the farm at Greater Felcourt and passed it over to tenant farmers on the condition that they continued to use his tried and tested All-Electric farming apparatus and practises.  It is not clear whether William and Harry Pike assumed this role but they were still employed there until 1937.  

Borlase now divided his time between writing articles on the use of electricity, giving lectures on the principles of the all electric farm, consultancy work, the Rural Reconstruction Association (see above), his political aspirations and running Felcourt School, the school he had founded with his wife Esther in 1923 (but that is a whole story in itself) where he was Hon, Treasurer and later Acting Chairman, of the International Montessori Educational Association and Chairman of the Governors of Felcourt School (both Little and Greater). 


The time spent lecturing and Borlase’s consultancy work took him all over the world.  However, in 1928 Borlase’s interest in politics first appears when he stood as the Liberal candidate for Henley in the General Election, taking second place and 32.1% of the votes.  In the 1931 General Election, Borlase stood again for the Liberal party but again came second to the Conservative candidate, Robert Ronald Henderson, who won with 24,015 votes.  A year later Henley held a by-election after the death of Robert Ronald Henderson, and again Borlase stood as the Liberal candidate.  Borlase took second place, this time with 7,129 votes (an increase of 13.8% on the previous election), being beaten by the Conservative candidate, Sir Gifford Wheaton Grey Fox.  In the 1935 General Election, Borlase stood as the Liberal candidate for Ashford, again coming second to the Conservative candidate, William Patrick Spens KC.  It has not yet been possible to determine the political activity of Borlase after 1935 until 1942 when he stood as the candidate for the National Independent and Agricultural party in the Maldon by-election held on 25th June 1942.  This by-election saw the Independent Labour candidate, Tom Driberg, win with 12,219 votes, knocking the Conservative candidate, RJ Hunt, into second place with just 6,226 votes and Borlase into third place with 1,476.   

In his spare time Borlase continued to travel, motoring everywhere, both at home and abroad.  He also pursued his interest in film making and photography and the Matthews family have several reels of film that he shot on electric farms abroad, the All-Electric farm at Greater Felcourt in action, several productions and events staged by Felcourt School and the Matthews’ family at home and on holiday.  One of Borlase’s chief recreational activities was ice skating, also captured on film, for which he was also an experienced judge. 

Sadly, Borlase died of heart failure on 21st August 1943 at the age of just sixty-seven following an unsuccessful attempt to save his youngest son David who had got into difficulties whilst swimming at Port Daifech beach, near Holyhead.  Borlase was buried in the grounds of the small chapel at Priory Farm, Ramsdell, near Basingstoke, Hampshire, on the farm that was farmed by his son John Borlase Matthews.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       


Borlase Matthews was obviously a man ahead of his time, born with an open and enquiring mind.  He looked to the future, specialising in the use of electricity and its applications, especially when applied to the most traditional of British industries, farming.  As a businessman his approach to farming was the same as it would have been to industry and to perfect his forward thinking ideas on the application of electricity to farming practise he purchased a suitable farm to experiment and improve his ideas.  His vision of farming was far ahead of his time and by the mid 1920’s he had implemented over forty electric applications on his farm at Greater Felcourt, all labour and time saving devices to increase the productivity of farming. 


Many of his ideas are now taken for granted such as electric lighting, electrically powered machines for such things as animal feed preparation, milking and the making of dairy produce such as butter and cheese making and electric incubators, but put in context, work on nearly all farms in the early 20th century was done by hand and horse power and it would not be until after the Second World War that most farms in Britain experienced the labour and time saving effects of electricity. 


Some of Borlase’s ideas did not stand the test of time or the equipment proved to be too cumbersome and impractical to use but he systematically implemented all his ideas, ran them and analysed them, discarding those which he considered impractical or of little benefit to the productivity of farming.  However, Borlase Matthews’ pioneering work at the All Electric farm at Greater Felcourt has been the topic of numerous subsequent studies and publications and forms the backbone of modern farming practise today.



Census records, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911

Birth, Marriage, Death Indexes,

Richard Borlase Matthews Obituary, IET Digital Library

Millbrook Engineering Company Limited, Archive Wales

Amsterdam Evening Recorder, Thursday, March 8, and Friday, March 9, 1906, FHA

Amsterdam Evening Recorder, Saturday, March 24, 1906, FHA

Some Practical Notes on the Commercial Development of Electricity Supply Undertakings by R B Matthews

The Possibilities of Electrical Development, by R B Matthews

Documented memories of M Jones, FHA

Aviation Pocket Book, by R B Matthews

The Aircraft Identification Book, by R B Matthews

Horowhenua Chronicle, 6 August 1910, FHA

The Felcourt Estate Sale Catalogue and plan, 1907, Ref: SC/1039, SHC

The Felcourt Estate Sale Catalogue, 1919. Ref: CC99/83/1, SHC

Richard Borlase Matthews and his Greater Felcourt ‘Electro Farm’, by Roy Brigden

A History of Lingfield, by Hayward and Hazell

Greater Felcourt Farm now Felcourt Dairy Farm, by Mike Chappell

Business Farming, article from Country Life, 17 April, 1926

Paper: Electro-Farming by R Borlase Matthews, 21Oct 1921, FHA

Paper: Electro-Farming by R Borlase Matthews, 24 Nov 1922, FHA

Paper: Electro-Farming by R Borlase Matthews, 20 Nov 1925, FHA

Electricity on the Farm, newspaper article, Western Mail, Perth, Western Australia, 5 Feb 1925, FHA

Electrically worked farms, newspaper article, The Brisbane Courier, Queen’s Land, 7 Feb 1925, FHA

Patent 1911, US Patent Office

Patents 1922, 1924, 1926, 1936, 1944, UK Patent Office

Felcourt Products, 1925, FHA

An electrified Farm equipped by General Electric Co. Ltd, 1931, FHA

GEC Electrical Equipment for the Farm and Market Garden, 1931, FHA


Texts of all Handouts referred to in this document can be found on FHG website:

Grateful thanks are extended to the current Richard Borlase Matthews for his help and information about the Matthews family and the All-Electric farm at Greater Felcourt established by his grandfather R Borlase Matthews. 

SJC 07/13