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

The acquisition of Black-stone & Co. by R. A. Lister & Co. in 1936 brought together two long established firms, although Lister’s was the younger by thirty years.

Robert Ashton Lister an agricultural implement manufacturer founded Lister’s of Dursley, Gloucestershire, in 1867. Soon an eclectic range of products appeared under his name. Among them were milk churns, cream separators and other dairy equipment, sheep shearing machinery, wine coolers and wooden garden seats. Petrol engines based on the designs of the Southwell brothers and electric generators were added in 1909. Nineteen twenty-seven saw the introduction of the Lister Auto-Truck, a small, highly manoeuvrable, petrol- engined load carrier. These found a large market in docks, railway yards, airports, warehouses and factories all over the world. This was followed two years later a range of small diesel engines.

An arrangement with Ruston Hornsby Ltd. of Lincoln and Grantham was entered into in 1931 whereby each company would not produce engines within each other’s range. However, Lister’s wanted to get into the potentially profitable large engine market and the purchase of Blackstone & Co. in 1936 gave them that entry.

Lister’s decision was a sound one. The next thirty years would possibly be the Stamford firm’s most prosperous period. Blackstone’s board now consisted of C. P. Lister, Chairman and Director; R. B. Lister, H. V. Blackstone, E. E. Blackstone, T. L. Price, and A. E. Mellerup. It appears a well-balanced board with representatives from both companies. However all was not sweetness and light. Some unspecified dispute arose, possibly the appointment of Major Charles Pratt from Dursley as an additional director. “In view of the fact that certain other persons have been appointed directors it is desirable that Mr Harold Vaughan Blackstone and Mr Ernest Edward Blackstone should resign from the Board of Directors of the Company”. This they did having first agreed to receive compensation of £3,000 each. It was almost the end of the Blackstone family’s connection with the company. Only Frank Blackstone who later became Sales Director was to remain.

The last connection with Carter’s was severed at this time. ‘Tod’ Carter, the firm’s Chief Engineer, retired when Lister’s took over. His brother Frank, the Work’s Manager since 1904, had died in 1934. Between them they had had a profound effect on the development of the internal combustion engine. Among the more important were the vaporizing engine with automatic ignition, the camshaft governor, the spring injection system and the ‘cCc’ (Carter’s compound cam) injection system used on the high-speed general-purpose engines.

Curiously the company’s name can be found as either Blackstone & Co. Ltd. and as Lister Blackstone & Co. Ltd. There appears to be no set rule for this, although agricultural implements were usually inscribed ‘Lister Blackstone’, at least after the Massey-Harris agreement ran out. For the purpose of this narrative the title ‘Blackstone’ will continue to be used.

The period immediately following the take over was one of intense activity. One of the first tasks Lister’s set themselves was improving and modernising the Stamford factory. The internal tramways were uplifted and replaced with a number of Auto-trucks. Roadways resurfaced. In the machine and erecting shops the old sand and tarmac floors were concreted. The overhead line shafts which drove the machinery was removed and an electricity power supply installed for each machine. With these changes the workmen had a much cleaner and lighter environment.

Alongside these structural improvements Lister’s began a reorganisation of the production methods. Now the works was broken down into different departments each producing a particular item, connecting rods, pumps, cylinder heads, for example. All the machines, with the fitters, necessary for the production of these items would be within the department. The completed components then sent to the engine erecting shop where the engines were built up. It was a system, which may, in modern terms, be described as cellular production.

Tod Carter’s successor as Chief Engineer was Percy Jackson who joined the company from Petters of Yeovil. Since his apprenticeship with the Campbell Gas Engine Co. of Halifax, in 1914, he had worked with some of the most famous firms in the oil engine industry. He took up the development of the EPV, producing a range of industrial and marine applications in 2 to 8 cylinder variations. After Lister’s took over the Carter’s fuel injection system was dropped in favour of Bosch equipment. This gave them access to the world-wide service facilities offered by the German company.

Lister’s had originally acquired Blackstone’s in order to gain access to the large engine market through the EPV engine. However, they also needed to expand and modernise the range of small engines. To this end Jackson visited engine manufacturers Duetz of Cologne to see their hopper-cooled engines. On his return he told Percy Lister that he could design a better one. Lister agreed and Jackson was given the go-ahead.

The result was the P type range of totally enclosed horizontal engines. Curiously Jackson left the company during 1937. So how much of the P type was his design is open to speculation.

The first P type to go into production, in 1937, was the OP. This had a bore and stroke of 7¼ inches by 9½ inches. Running at 500 to 700 rpm it developed 18 to 26 bhp. The first production OP, no. 196515, was despatched in October. In February the following year the JP was introduced. Smaller than the OP with a bore and stroke of 5 inches by 7½ inches, the JP developed 10 to 16 hp at 500 to 800 rpm.

This range of engines was expanded to the RP and SP (introduced June 1938), the TP (May 1939), and the MP (July 1955). There was also a twin cylinder RP. The popularity of the P type engine was such that a line erection track was installed 1949 to keep up with demand. Component stores were arranged alongside the track to keep up a continuous supply of parts. By the end of 1954 production of the P type averaged nearly 600 engines per year. Most of these engines were sold abroad for all kinds of applications. The majority went to the Middle East driving irrigation systems. Production of the P type continued right up to the end of engine production at Stamford in 1993, but even then large numbers were supplied as knocked down kits.

In February 1939 Blackstone entered into a five year sales agreement with the Brush Electrical Company of Loughborough. This was to sell the M range of horizontally opposed engines; to be designated ‘Blackstone-Brush’. These were very low, compact multi-cylinder, low revving engines suitable for industrial and marine applications. In size they ranged from the four-cylinder 4M9 rated at 200 bhp to the sixteen cylinder 16M13 rated at 1520 hp. One of their selling points was their low height, seven of eight feet, which made them particularly suitable

for marine installations in between decks. In practise this was found by the Blackstone service engineers to be a major disadvantage. In some installations access to the crankshaft inspection covers was very restricted making work exceedingly difficult; especially if a piston needed to be removed. Among the maritime users was the Blue Star Line Ltd. who installed pairs of 4M9 engines in their refrigerated vessels to drive the refrigeration compressors.

Land based installations were generally much more accessible, particularly in power generating plants such as that of the Wisbech Electric Light and Power Co. Ltd. Here a six cylinder 550 hp engine drove a 350kw generator.

The coming of the Second World War gave the impetus for a radical rethink on the types of engines and machinery produced at Stamford. All the open crank spring injection engines, the small vertical petrol, kerosene and diesel engines and the BPV automotive engine were dropped. Only the DB, P and E ranges of engines were kept in production: All three in large numbers.

In particular, the production of EPV engines for base load installations was increased to meet the demand from all three Services. Stand-by generator sets powered by EPVs were installed in purpose-built trailers which were to be located at strategic points for use if the main power supply was destroyed by enemy action. They were also used to supply power for R.A.F. Barrage Balloon units and Royal Observer Corp searchlight units and listening posts. At Plymouth the Royal Navy radio communication network and Radar station was powered by an EPV. A four-cylinder version of the engine was produced with an integral gearbox to go into small wooden hulled minesweepers.

A large quantity of DB engines, painted grey, was supplied to the Air Ministry. (Above) Small bore Unchokeable pumps direct-coupled Lister petrol engines were mounted on trailers (these were purchased from outside the company) for the Civil Defence and National Fire services.

The agricultural department was not slack either. The demands for increased productivity from the land produced a similar demand for agricultural implements of all kinds. Large numbers of hay rakes and haymakers were built; how many is unclear at present, but it was claimed that around 5,000 potato lifters were made.

Because of the shortage of wood the company was unable to meet the need for elevators. So 1941, having gained permission from the Ministry of Supply, designed a steel version. What wood was available was used to make ladders for the fire services.

The production of stone and plate mills and kibblers was also dropped when the war began. There was, apparently, still one elderly craftsman at this time who could redress the stone mills, but this service came to an end on his death.

Apart from the engines and implements the Stamford factory turned out an extensive range of unrelated products. Among them were instrument stands for searchlight units and other uses, and breach blocks for two-pounder anti-tank guns. Slewing rings for tank gun turrets were turned on an old lathe that had formerly been used to turn ten-foot flywheels. Gearboxes for shell manufacturing lathes were built in the Heavy machine Shop for Alfred Herbert Ltd., of Coventry, who was then the country’s leading machine tool manufacturer.

When the war started some of the workmen were not conscripted into the Armed Forces because their particular skills were designated as “reserved occupation”. Most of the young draughtsmen, for example, were given the jobs of designing power station layouts for military installations, and in many cases were sent to assist site engineers with the assembly and commissioning of the equipment they had designed.

Among them was a young Ted Archer, later to become Chief Draughtsman, who recalled working three stories below ground under the Treasury building in Whitehall to install the two EPV engines that were to provide power for Winston Churchill’s War Room and Bunker. It was quite and undertaking, “alarming” was how Ted described it, getting the engine beds and housings down into the engine room.

Before the war there had been few women working for the firm, either in the drawing office as tracers, or as general office clerks. Now that men were being conscripted more women were brought onto the factory floor. It must have been a strange experience for young women, coming from shop work or from being service, having to get used to the noise and the smell of the factory. Most of them settled down to life in the works and took on taking on all manner of jobs. Some became inspectors, some drove the Lister-built Auto-Trucks moving parts around the works, and others found an aptitude for machine tools.

The company’s war effort was not confined to engines and machinery. There was also the important morale boosting exploits of the Blackstone Social Club. Apart from the usual activities one would expect of such a club, football, darts and so on, the members produced a small newspaper. This was sent to all employees serving in the Armed Forces. Called News of the Lads it carried news of what their friends and colleagues were doing all parts of the world and kept them in touch with events at home. It was published regularly during the war, the last issue celebrating the end of the war in the Far East.

Then there was the Blackstone Follies. This was a talented group of six men and women who put on concerts in the works canteen. They regularly gave up their free time to take their half hour song and dance shows out to local army and air force units. Occasionally they would be augmented with a full orchestra and additional entertainers for more ambitious shows. One such was at an airfield near Grantham when they entertained a thousand servicemen.

Although the Blackstone works was known by the German Luftwaffe to exist, (an aerial reconnaissance photograph in Stamford Museum confirms this), there was no serious attack on the works throughout the war. Two vague attempts were made, but both did little damage and no serious injuries were caused.

Late in the afternoon of 31st October 1940 a lone twin-engined bomber, possibly a Heinkel, made several passes over Stamford. Each time firing its guns, It then turned towards Blackstone’s and while still over the town released a single one-ton bomb. The bomb took a low trajectory and clipped a chimney before crashing into the kitchen at 17 Cornstall buildings. Amazingly there was no explosion.

The nearest the factory came to being hit was during a second raid in the early hours of 30th June 1942. Several one thousand pound bombs were dropped on house in the Drift Road and Rutland Road area of the town, a few hundred yards from the works. Two exploded, About 250 houses and Blackstone’s suffered minor damage, mostly broken windows, and a nearby sports ground pavilion was destroyed. A third bomb failed to explode. When defused by the bomb disposal team its detonator was found to be full of sand. An unknown factory worker had helped in a small way to hinder the German war effort.

While the factory was concentrating on its war effort research and development of new and improved designs carried on. Percy Jackson in 1937 and George Hallewell, who came to Stamford as Chief Draughtsman in 1935, took over as Chief Engineer. By 1944 Hallewell had produced the prototype EV engine. This was a logical development of Carter’s EPV and had the same bore and stroke; 8¾ inches by 11½ inches.

The EV had a single piece cylinder housing with an overhead valve cross-flow head, a crown piston and a stiffer crankshaft and camshaft. The output was initially not much more than the EPV at 45 bhp per cylinder at 600 rpm, but its great benefit was its economy of production.

One of the first EV4s.

The first EV engines, EV2 No. E49001 and EV4 No. E49040, were despatched in November 1950. The works were so confident in the new engine that its predecessor was quickly phased out, the last production EPV, EPV8 No. 47509 was sent out on 8th December the same year. Their confidence was not misplaced, as the EV became one of the firm’s most successful engines.

EV engines on test.

Turbo-charging was introduced in 1951 increasing output to 60 bhp per cylinder at 600 rpm. Available in 4 to 8 cylinder versions and designated EVS, the first of this series was despatched in February 1951, By 1953 the normally aspirated EV had been up rated to 56 bhp per cylinder at 750 pm and re-designated ER. By 1954 the turbo-charged version ERS was producing 75 bhp per cylinder at 750 rpm. Both versions of the EV were to be developed further by Hallewell until his death in 1962. However, his worked laid the foundation for further improvement and later for the development of the E type engine.

During this same period Hallewell also worked on producing a 20 bhp per cylinder engine to fit in the range just below the EV. The first attempt was the DPV, but it got no further than a prototype. The second was the CPV of which some were built; they appear to have mainly been exported to Russia.

With the ending, in 1944, of the ten-year agreement with Massey-Harris for the supply of agricultural implements, the name now appearing on the company’s products became ‘Lister Blackstone’. During this early post-war period many hundreds of implements, hay harvesters and potato lifters in particular, were produced for the U.N.R.A. (United Nations Recovery Assistance) programme. Most went to the Continent both to replace the machinery destroyed during the war and to help increase food production across Europe.

All pictures & text © 2003 Michael Key

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