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A Brief History of Blackstone & Co. Ltd. - Part Two.

In order to raise capital following the move to Ryhall Road, a limited liability company was formed on 29th January 1889. The old firm being renamed once more, this time to Blackstone and Company Limited, a name it held until the nineteen-thirties.

It was very much a family concern. The first directors were: Edward Christopher Blackstone, [on the right] the chairman; George Mills, of Chigwell, Essex, who was married to Blackstone’s sister Myra: Thomas Phillip Blyth, who was married to another of Blackstone’s sisters, Margaret: and William Widger Blackstone, of Camden Square, London, E. C. Blackstone’s brother. Also on the Board was George Hunt, of Tinwell, near Stamford, a wealthy local brewer unrelated to the family.

Since 1870 W. W. Blackstone and T. P. Blyth, who were lime and cement merchants in London, had been in partnership with George and Montague Nelson in the cement producing company of Charles Nelson and Co. Ltd., at Southam in Warwickshire. This company was founded early in the nineteenth century to supply the large quantities of lime required for the manufacture of gelatine. At the time Blackstone and Co. became a limited company W. W. Blackstone and Blyth were in charge of the local management of the cement works. Edward Blackstone had, for a time, been employed as resident engineer at Nelson’s works.

The original shareholders in the new company were E. C. Blackstone and George Mills (ob. 1897). Shares were allotted by them to family members; W. W. Blackstone (ob. 1890); T. P. Blyth (ob. 1896); Emma Blackstone, Blackstone’s widowed mother and Emma, Blackstone’s unmarried sister (ob. 1892); and to Blackstone’s eldest sister, Mary Burford (ob.1908), widow of Robert Burford. Other shares went to W. T. Beadsworth, the company’s Secretary and Manager and to Stamford brewers George and Charles Hunt. George Mills had joined E. C. Blackstone in 1882 on the retirement of George Jeffery. A dinner was held to mark the occasion during which many complimentary speeches of welcome were made.

Blackstone’s workforce gathered at the Ryhall Road entrance.

However, the harmony and unity expressed that evening seems to have dissipated during the first years of the new company’s life. The eighteen-nineties were plagued with a long dispute as the work force tried to gain a reduction in their working week from fifty-nine to fifty-four hours. The dispute had its roots in a decision taken some years before, when Ashby and Jeffery were the proprietors. During a period of economic depression the men were given the opportunity of taking a reduction in wages or of working an extra hour per day. The men preferred the extra hour thus raising the working week to fifty-nine hours. Subsequently, because of the continuation of the depression, the firm also reduced wages. A shilling, in some cases two shillings in the pound was taken from those earning standard wages and five per cent from those on piece-work. The present grievance was that these conditions were still in force.

Edward Blackstone conducted the negotiations with the men’s representatives himself and after protracted talks agreed to an increase in day wages, but only for those who were employed by the firm when the cut was made. The men agreed to forgo the piecework percentage. It was eventually also agreed that the working day for the firm’s 200 employees should be 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays to Fridays and 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Which, if the report is correct, gave a fifty-six hour week. Not what the men wanted at all. The outcome of this dispute, although settled amicably, was the first introduction into the company of a trades union, the Tyneside and National Labour Union. This later became the Amalgamated Engineering Union (A.E.U.).

Just before the move to the new Rutland Iron Works on Ryhall Road the first of Edward Blackstone’s highly successful grinding mills appeared. Then, in 1892, the first swath turner was introduced.

Blackstone’s Rutland Iron Works from the south.

Despite having built the new Ryhall Road works Blackstone seems to have needed more space and in 1892 acquired Newboult’s Rutland Plough Works at Great Casterton, a small village about two miles north of Stamford. During the same year Blackstone also acquired All Saint’s Iron Works in Scotgate, Stamford. Where these two works were situated is not completely certain. The former was probably on the right hand side of the old Great North Road, just before the road to Little Casterton. A terrace of cottages now stands on the site. The latter probably stood at the northern end of St John’s Terrace, a small lane which runs parallel to, and behind, the houses on the right of Casterton Road as one travels north. There appears to be no record of how long the firm held these sites.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century a powerful new rival to the steam engine came on the industrial scene when the internal combustion engine made its appearance. The evolution of this new power source began in the eighteen-sixties with the development of a gas-fuelled engine designed by Etienne Lenoir. It was based on the double acting steam engine whereby a mixture of air and coal gas was injected alternately on each side of the piston and ignited with an electric spark. The mixture was not compressed in this engine, the work of the piston depending on the force of the explosion of the air and gas. The engine worked well enough but was uneconomic.

The shortcomings of Lenoir’s engine were largely overcome in 1876 with the introduction of N. A. Otto’s engine. Working on the now familiar four-stroke principal, this engine compressed the air and gas mixture before ignition. The fuel efficiency was greatly improved and allowed the engine to run faster. With its greater economy the Otto engines was soon to be found in numerous industrial and agricultural installations.

Around 1880 experimenters, such as Karl Benz and others, turned their attention to petroleum-based products for use in their engines. Most were found to be too volatile for the purpose. It was 1886 before Benz introduced his petrol engine with its surface vaporiser. From then oil and petrol-fuelled engines took separate paths to success.

The Priestman brothers, William and Samuel, found lamp oil (paraffin), which needed to be vaporised before it would ignite, to be safer than petrol. The year before the Benz engine appeared they devised an engine in which pressurised paraffin was sprayed into a heated vaporising chamber and, with a charge of air, delivered into the cylinder on the suction stroke and compressed. A blowlamp was needed to heat the vaporising chamber before starting the engine. As in both the Lenoir and Otto engines, ignition was by electric spark.

A. F. Evans proposed that the Priestmans might be credited as “the inventors of the Diesel engine, or the semi-Diesel if this term may be used to include engines where the fuel is injected at maximum compression and ignited in an artificial manner. Unfortunately they abandoned this idea, even though they had . . . incorporated . . . the employment of blast air. If they had continued . . . the development of the diesel proper would have been accelerated.”

That may be so, but the Priestmans had set the scene for the next important stage in the evolution of the oil engine. One of the constraints on its development was the limit to which the explosive mixture could be compressed and therefore controlled. It was not until 1890 when Henry Akroyd-Stuart came up with the solution. His idea was to compress pure air that was drawn into the cylinder via an air valve on the narrow neck of a bulb-shaped vaporiser attached to the end of the cylinder. A charge of fuel oil was sprayed into the vaporiser on the suction stroke, timed to ignite on the hot surfaces of the combustion chamber. A blowlamp, as in the Priestman engine, heated the vaporiser. However, unlike the Priestman engine, once the engine was running the lamp could be removed, automatic ignition being maintained by compression and residual heat on the vaporiser bulb.

Two years later, in Germany, Rudolf Diesel produced a design for an engine in which pure air was compressed to such a degree that its temperature was higher than the fuel ignition temperature. When the fuel was injected at maximum compression, automatic self-ignition was established making the spark of hot bulb ignition unnecessary. Although Diesel’s engine was theoretically of great elegance it suffered from a number of practical problems. Starting from cold being a major one. It was several years before this was overcome. In the meantime the hot bulb and auxiliary engines continued to do the job.

By the eighteen-eighties gas and oil engines were accepted as reliable power source and numerous applications were found for them. Engines were generally simple to operate; providing fuel, lubricating oil and cooling water were available the maintenance was within the capabilities of most people

Like many other engineering concerns, Blackstone’s were attracted to this new, and potentially profitable product, and began to look for a suitable design to manufacture. Tom Price, then the firm’s head sales representative, later claimed he was told by Edward Blackstone to “find a good engine and somebody who knows all about them.” Price, who regularly attended the many agricultural shows around the country, found the combination required by Blackstone at the Darlington Royal Show in June 1895 in the form of Carter Brothers and their ‘Reliance’ oil engine.

The Carters; James (1859-1931), Sidney (1867-1948), Frank (1872-1934) and Evershed (1874-1950), had established themselves as general agricultural engineers in 1885 under the title Carter Brothers (Billingshurst) Ltd., at the village of Wisborough Green in West Sussex. They were members of a large family with its roots in farming and milling.

The Carters quickly built up a reputation that amply justified the title of their premises, ‘Reliance Works’. They tackled all manner of engineering work, whether it was steam engines, agricultural implements, farm wagons, even domestic appliances and later motorcars. To whatever they turned their collective hands they brought flair and inventiveness. They also ran an extensive and successful haulage business. As ploughing and threshing contractors their own steam engines could be seen all over Southern England.

When the Carters built their first oil engine is unknown, but, by May 1894 they had made their first patent application; “No. 9889: Improvements in and Connected with Petroleum Oil Engines.” Like several other makers the Carters used a tube vaporiser on their engine. This was difficult to keep hot enough to vaporise the oil and air mixture unless a continuous flame was applied.

The Carter's 1894 Patent

Their patent describes four methods of directing the engine’s exhaust gases through a passage surrounding the vaporising tube. Once the engine was running, it still (it still had to be started with a blowlamp to heat the ignition tube) the action of the exhaust kept the vaporiser at a sufficient temperature. In practice this was less efficient than had been hoped. However, in 1894 they put their engine on the market as the ‘Reliance’.

A second patent was obtained in 1896 for a much-needed improved vaporiser. The inlet valve now had proper valve guides and the oil inlet pipe had a one-way valve for the regulation of fuel.

For the Royal Counties Show at Eastbourne in June 1896, Carters produced a leaflet extolling the finer points of their engine. It was said to have little smell and to be clean working. There were three sizes available; 2½ hp, 4 hp and 8hp, ranging in price from £80 up to £135. In all case the cooling water tank was extra. It not known how many engines were built. The “unsolicited testimonials” published in the leaflet suggest that several engines had been sold

A licensing agreement, dated 18th September 1896, shows that Tom Price had succeeded in the task set him by Edward Blackstone. By this agreement Blackstone acquired the sole right to exploit the Carter’s patents. This right was to exist so long as the brothers, Frank and Evershed (he was always known as‘Tod’), were in his employ or so long as the patents continued. As licensee Blackstone was to pay a royalty of ten shillings per horse-power on each engine in which the Carter patents were used as they left the works: Whether they were sold or not. Payment was to be not less than fifteen shillings for any one engine. These terms would be renegotiated in due course. All royalties were to be divided equally between the four brothers, with a minimum of £50 to be paid for in 1897. In subsequent years this was raised to £70.

Blackstone purchased all the Carter Brothers’ oil engine patterns, castings, parts and fittings for £110. One may think that was a sound investment.

The decision to go ahead must have taken place quite early. At a Director’s meeting on 19th August 1896, Edward Blackstone reported the “we are about to take up the manufacture of … oil and gas engines.” Frank and Tod moved to Stamford soon after the September agreement was signed, but remained as partners in Carter Brothers until June 1910. In that year they gave up all claims to any share in the profits of the company while James and Sidney gave up any claims to royalty monies from the 1894 and 1896 patents. The four brothers were no doubt satisfied with the original arrangement. Since August 1897 they had each received £3,500 after tax.

By the exploitation of the Carter patents Blackstone’s were to become one of the country’s leading engine builders. The first engines left the Stamford works in October 1896. The first, a 4½ hp carrying number 10497, was sold to McCowan of Tralee. The second, number 11543, 1½hp went to Keightly of Birmingham. No more left the works until February the following year. If consideration is given to the time it would have taken to set up the works to produce the new engine, it is probable that these two engines were in fact Carter Reliance engines.

For what, even then, was a very important step for the company little appears in their records. In March 1897 it was resolved to increase the capital to £34,000 as “the company has recently taken up the manufacture of oil and gas engines.” In 1898 E. C. Blackstone reported “— that in consequence of the increasing demand for oil and gas engines it was necessary to enlarge the shops and put down new machines to facilitate the manufacture of these articles.” There followed a rapid decline in the manufacture of steam engines. The last was probably built in 1900.

There was no such decline in the manufacture of barn machinery and agricultural implements, nor of innovation in these products. An improved swath turner was introduced in 1900; a new land roller and pulveriser in 1904 and a new self-acting horse rake in 1905.

But it was on the engine side that the most innovative progress was made. A new vaporiser and igniter was introduced in 1903; the combined engine and water pump in 1906; an oil-engined traction engine in 1907; and a sectional engine in 1908. The most important step forward, however, was the introduction of Blackstone’s first hot-bulb dual-ignition oil engine in 1908. In this a wide range of heavy oils and residues could be used as fuel. A series of small vertical petroleum (paraffin) engines was introduced in 1913. In three sizes; 1½ hp, 3 hp and 5 hp, these four-stroke engines were to remain in production until about the end of 1915.

Sometime before 1913 Blackstone’s bought a group of old cottages and a shop in Stamford’s Broad Street, and there established what they called the “Town Offices” and retail department. During 1913 these buildings were demolished and on the site was built a modern showroom with offices above. Erected by a local builder, William Woolston, it was a spacious building with large display windows. In style it was similar to the larger departmental stores seen in fashionable city centres.

Blackstone’s Broad Street showroom and retail department. Barn machinery was
displayed on the upper floor with engines and agricultural implements on the lower.

This elegant building was sold in 1925 to the Cambridge Cinema Company who, during the following summer, transformed the former showroom into the luxurious Central Cinema. The seven hundred seat auditorium was reported to have cost £14,500. Sadly this building was gutted by fire in May 1937 and had to be demolished.

Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, the Rutland Iron Works became a government-controlled establishment. Production was turned over the manufacture of munitions; marine engines and spare parts for naval motor launches for the Admiralty. A special plant was designed and installed for the manufacture of 6” and 18 pounder shells. Women were recruited as machinists to replace men called up for the services and the skilled men who were sent to work in the shipyards of Newcastle on Tyne.

In the early hours of a January morning in 1916, a German Zeppelin dropped a small bomb as it passed over Stamford. A local schoolmaster, W. F. Marwick, recorded this event in his book Stamford in the Great War. “The airships [sic] appeared to come from the east or north-east by way of Newstead, the town being easily located owing to the bright lights which shone through the sides and roof of buildings on the well-known local works of Messrs Blackstone’s, and Martins Cultivator Co., both of which were in full swing.

It happened that just as the Zeppelin had passed Newstead a man stood ready to switch off the electric light at Messrs Blackstone’s, and at the identical moment that the light was extinguished a bomb exploded. As the two things took place simultaneously the skipper of the aircraft probably thought he had “put out” the factory, at which the bomb was evidently aimed.”

One wonders who was this man stationed at the main switchboard with hand poised in case of enemy attack. Was it a regular wartime duty for someone on the night shift? Fortunately the bomb fell harmlessly into the field behind the Blackstone works leaving only a small crater and the opportunity for local schoolboys to go souvenir hunting.

Some of Blackstone’s women workers and the 18 pound shells they have produced.
At the rear, in the centre, bare headed, stands George M. Blackstone.

Edward C. Blackstone died in 1916 after a short illness. For much of his time in Stamford he lived in Rock House, an elegant early Victorian building surrounded by attractive gardens and shrubberies, in Scotgate, but moved to newly built house in Peterborough a few years before his death. Although he took little active part in Stamford’s political life, he was for ten years a member of the Borough council.

His obituary tells of a very full life before coming to Stamford in 1877 at the age of 27.After an apprenticeship, followed by a period as draughtsman, at J. and H. Gwynne of Hammersmith he became an assistant engineer on the construction of Jersey waterworks. He was then resident engineer with Charles Nelson and Co., cement manufacturers, and later a draughtsman in the offices of Trinity House. He was said to have been a good and caring employer encouraging many social and sporting activities for the men and women. An annual work’s swimming gala was held in the nearby river Welland. The present Blackstone football team, the ‘Stones’ was founded during his ownership.

E.C. Blackstone had six children of whom George, Harold and Ernest came into the firm. Mr Blyth, a son of T. P. Blyth, became Chairman and George Blackstone became Managing Director. A new era was about to begin.

All pictures & text © 2003 Michael Key

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