Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Lost Blueprints for the First Tank Find a Home

Auctioneer Paul Laidlaw with the Blueprint

In 2021 the "lost" blueprint for the world's first tank, the British Mark-I, was  unearthed in an "astonishing" discovery. It was sold at auction in February 2022 by Cumbria auctioneer Paul Laidlaw.  The fascinating document is the only known blueprint for the British-made Mark I tank that exists. Sold alongside it was the 20-page patent specification for the tank. The Tank Museum in Dorset secured the plans and patent for the Mark-I tank for a hammer price of £14,600.

The highly detailed, large-scale technical plan is like an X-ray for the tracked vehicle that helped change the course of the First World War. The 44" x 28" blueprint, dated May 1916, came from a private vendor whose family have owned it for some considerable time.

British Mark-I tank, C.19 "Clan Leslie," at the
Battle of the Somme

The museum-quality documents have been described as the "birth certificate" for the tank, an invention that also changed the nature of modern warfare. The patent describes the tank as "transport vehicles propelled by an endless moving chain track" in the shape of a "lozenge or diamond".

It says they are adapted to traverse conditions that are "exceedingly difficult owing to the presence of obstructions, such as trenches, parapets, shell holes, craters and so forth". 

"The casing as seen in the side elevation, approximately in shape resembles a lozenge or diamond standing on its edge. The high end is the front, whilst the low end is the rear."

"The chain track or tracks extend entirely around the frame, so that the machine is arranged within the area enclosed by the track or tracks."

The Mark-I tank was designed and manufactured in 1916 by agricultural machinery company William Foster & Co of Lincoln. The documents bear the ink stamps of the designers and manufacturers of the tank "William Foster & Co Limited, Engineers, Lincoln, England" and "Metropolitan Carriage Wagon & Finance Co. Ltd."

Specifications That Accompany the Drawings

The historic documents were sold by Laidlaw Auctioneers of Carlisle, Cumbria. Mr. Paul Laidlaw, a star of the BBC's Bargain Hunt and Antiques Road Trip, said the blueprint is like a work of art in its own right.

He said: "It has always been thought that no original blueprint for the Mark-I tank exists. The Imperial War Museum and the Tank Museum in Dorset do not have one. . . When I laid eyes on the blueprint its immediate visual impact far exceeded my expectations. It's like seeing an X-ray of a mechanical leviathan and gives some insight into why these 'land ships' induced such shock and awe in the troops of 1916. . . The blueprint is a thing of beauty. It is a work of art as much as it is a historical document and with the original draft patent document, this is the birth certificate of the tank."                        .

Sources: Wales Online and the BBC


  1. This is a significant part of history that the Tank Museum owns ensuring that future generations could observe technological advances that led to future advancements in tank design. The Mark-1-Tank made an important contribution to solving problems that helped win the war such as traversing difficult terrains where trenches and shell hole was a constant problems for the allies.

  2. It's a shame that the Tank Museum had to bid for as it is.