The Queen's tractor driver with a passion for drawing farm machinery

Tony Hardingham

Tractor driver Tony Hardingham, whose work on the land has inspired him to pick up his pencils and draw - Credit: Chris Bishop

When  farm worker Tony Hardingham sees a tractor with a trailer load of muck in tow or a plough slicing through the soil behind it, he sees beauty with the trained eye of an artist.

For the powerful machines he tills the land with have inspired him to pick up his pencils to draw them and led to parallel career committing farm machinery to canvas for art buyers around the world.

Born and raised at Babingley on the Sandringham Estate near King's Lynn, the 60-year-old originally decided to turn his back on the land his family had worked for generations and train to be an artist.

Tony Hardingham

A New Holland Smart Trax gets to grips with heavy soil in one of Tony Hardingham's drawings - Credit: Tony Hardingham

After leaving Dersingham Secondary Modern, he packed his bags and pitched up at the former Great Yarmouth Art College, on Trafalgar Road.

But he didn't hit it off with what was considered art in the late 1970s. Somehow minimalism, people throwing paint at walls and performance art didn't quite float his boat.

"I went to the Tate Modern in London one day," he said. "I had my first experience of what you'd call modern art and I just thought actually, you know what, this ain't for me.

Tony Hardingham

Tony Hardingham was inspired to draw by the tractors he drives on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk - Credit: Chris Bishop

"I just didn't get it at all. Art for me was all about pencils and drawing."

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He almost joined the army before returning home and finding work as a tractor driver.

Art took a back seat as he climbed into the cab and turned the keys. But as he set to work one day, a seed which had lain dormant sprouted in the back of his mind.

Tony Hardingham

A vintage Nuffield Universal drawn by Tony Hardingham - Credit: Tony Hardingham

"I'd worked on the land for a few years and because of my disappointing time at art college and that I just didn't pick my pencils up," he said.

"Then one day, I thought I'd draw a tractor just for fun, they're quite interesting really.  I guess this was the early 1990s, '93 or '94."

Tractor drivers are as partisan as football fans. You're a died-in-the-wool green if you like John Deeres, a blue if your prefer all things Ford or a red if your choice of motive power out in the fields is a Massey Ferguson.

Tony Hardingham

Tony Hardingham with the John Deere tractor he drives on the Sandringham Estate near King's Lynn - Credit: Chris Bishop

As Mr Hardingham's work began to come to the attention of tractor enthusiasts around the country and further afield, requests for pictures and commissions began to trickle in to his home in Lynn.

"I must have sold pictures just about everywhere there's organised agriculture," he said. "They've gone to America, they've gone to Australia, Germany, France, Ireland and Scotland, loads to Scotland."

A recent best-seller was a limited edition featuring four classic Massey Ferguson combine harvesters, aka the MF 760, 510, 625 and 9895, with its ground-breaking dual-helix double rotor system.

Tony Hardingham

A John Deere drawn by Tony Hardingham - Credit: Tony Hardingham

Vintage tractors are also popular, raging from Internationals to the legendary Grey Fergie, along with everything from boom crop sprayers to spud lorries.

Mr Hardingham still finds plenty of inspiration in his day job, having driven tractors on the Royal Estate for 45 years.

The view from his office sees the seasons change across fields of wheat, barley, beans and grains, amid the rolling hills and hedgerows.  

Tony Hardingham

Tony Hardingham, who has driven tractors at Sandringham for 45 years - Credit: Chris Bishop

The Queen awarded him a Gold Royal Victoria Medal (RVM) in her Platinum  New Year Honours list, to go with the Silver RVM he was previously awarded for his long service.

He believes he will be the last farm worker in the family, with his sons  Brett, 33 and Jordan, 31, electing to pursue careers elsewhere.

Driving tractors remains in his blood as much as drawing them.

Tony Hardinhgham

Tractor driver Tony Hardingham - Credit: Chris Bishop

"I think what it is, it's a very lonesome job,"he said. "You spend a lot of time with your machine and you appreciate the machine, it becomes like your friend."

Mr Hardingham's work can be found on his website