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


Carter Brothers (Billingshurst) Ltd

Frank Carter 1872 - 1934 Tod Carter 1874 - 1950

Carter Brothers (Billingshurst) Ltd., of Wisborough Green in West Sussex, was established in 1885 as general and agricultural engineers. The founders, James (1859-1931), Sidney (1867-1948), Frank (1872-1934) and Evershed (1874-1950), were members of a large family with its roots in farming and milling.

A family member has traced the ancestry of the Carters to an earlier James, a maltster, of Washington, which is about three miles north of Worthing. By 1775 James had moved to Okehurst, near Billingshurst. Here in 1784 his son, also James, married Ann Moore and took over Rowner Mill on the river Arun. James and Anne produced two sons and a daughter, but it is the second son, another James, who provides the link to the rest of our story.

James became a farmer and in a continuing search for improvement moved around the county of Sussex building up extensive landholdings. In 1822 he married Elizabeth Evershed and the following year, while living at Shalford they produced a son, William Evershed Carter. William, too, became a farmer and by 1850 had acquired Park Farm, Woking in Surrey. He married, in 1853, Ellen Hard with whom he had ten children; seven boys and three girls. With this large family William and Ellen moved to back to Sussex and built a new house, ‘Newfields’, at Wisborough Green, near Billingshurst.

The Carter family at Newfields; c1895. Frank at the rear leaning on a chair, Tod in centre front row, hands clasped round his ankle.
Photograph loaned by R.Carter

As they grew up three of the sons, William, Henry and Arthur took on the family farming and associated businesses. James, Sidney, Frank and Evershed set up the engineering business. Arthur also took an interest in this but it was neither an active or financial one.

The four Carter brothers quickly built up a reputation that fully warranted the title they gave their new premises, ‘Reliance Works’. They tackled all manner of engineering work, whether it was steam engines, agricultural implements, farm wagons, later even domestic appliances and motorcars. To whatever they turned their collective hands they brought flair and imagination. They also ran an extensive and successful road haulage business. In addition to road haulage they undertook road building and repair contracts; and provided men and machinery for clearing land for the building of Brooklands motor racing circuit at Weybridge. As ploughing and threshing contractors their own steam engines could be seen all over Southern England.

One of Carter Brothers’ steam engines in 1891 or 92.
Photograph loaned by R. Carter.

Carter Brothers Ltd was also inventive and a variety of innovations found their way out of the workshop. There was a keyway cutter, an extending chimney for traction engines, a tomato-grading machine, a ditch dredger and possibly a self propelled plough and bicycle called the ‘Runwell’. But their two really successful products were the ‘Unique’ stacking elevator and the ‘Reliance’ oil engine. The former introduced in about 1900 sold in their hundreds until the Second World War. The second was to be the basis for another company’s international reputation.

Carter Brothers’ Reliance elevator at the Burford rally 2001

It is unknown when the Carters built their first oil engine but, by 22nd May 1894 they had made their first patent application; “No. 9889: Improvements in and Connected with Petroleum Oil Engines.” The abridged description says —

“Oil is vaporized and mixed with air in a chamber b surrounding the chimney d of the lamp e that heats the igniting tube k. The oil is supplied through pipe f and a small quantity of air through the hole n, and the mixture enters the cylinder through the valve h with a supplementary charge of air entering through pipe i and valve q. The gases passing from the exhaust valve o to pipe p pas around the chamber b. The igniting tube may pas longitudinally through the chimney and the lamp be arranged at its side.”

Illustration from Carter Brother’s 1894 patent, No. 9889.

This is possibly the very first Carter Reliance oil engine. It has a similar vaporiser as that shown in the 1894 Patent.
The valve gear and vaporiser is very different to that in the 1896 leaflet.
Photograph loaned by R. Carter

Once the engine was running, (it had to be started with a blowlamp to heat the ignition tube) the action of the exhaust should have kept the vaporiser at a sufficient temperature. In practice this proved difficult to keep hot enough to vaporise the oil and air mixture unless a continuous flame was applied, and was less efficient than had been hoped. Despite this flaw, in 1894 the engine was put on the market as the ‘Reliance’.

An improved vaporiser was much needed, a need that led to patent number 12,446 in 1896. [See below] The inlet valve now had proper valve guides and the oil inlet pipe had a one-way valve for the regulation of fuel. The abridged description, which accompanied the patent, reads —

“The oil is supplied to the vaporizer b surrounding the igniting chimney c from a measuring cup i through a pipe k and valve l. It enters the separate combustion chamber h1 through valve h with air from pipe g, which is fitted with interchangeable perforated plates m for limiting the supply.”

This arrangement proved to be more reliable (even though a continuous flame was still needed) and convinced Blackstone to take over the Carters’ patent.

For the Royal Counties Show at Eastbourne in June 1896, Carters produced a leaflet praising the finer points of their engine. Included with this issue of The Blackstone Collection is a reduced reproduction of the Carter Brother’s 1896 ‘Reliance’ engine leaflet. 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; the cooling water tanks were extra.

The number of engines built is not known, but the “unsolicited testimonials” published in the leaflet suggest that several engines had been sold. By a lucky chance, just as the finishing touches to this issue were being put into place, the original letters from these satisfied customers were discovered.

Edward Blackstone, managing director of agricultural implement manufacturers Blackstone & Co, of Stamford, had been looking to enter what was still a new but potentially profitable oil engine market. His then head sales representative, Tom Price, was to claim later that he was instructed by Blackstone to “find a good engine and somebody who knows all about them.” Price, regularly attended the many agricultural shows around the country, and found the combination Blackstone required at the Darlington Royal Show in June 1895 in the form of Carter Brothers and their ‘Reliance’ oil engine. History shows that Tom Price succeeded in the task set him. At a Director’s meeting on 19th August 1896, Edward Blackstone reported “we are about to take up the manufacture of … oil and gas engines.” The decision to go ahead had taken place just over a year from Price and Carter’s first meeting.

Carter Brothers ‘Reliance’ engine No. 6 is the only survivor. It was used in the Carter’s works for some years
as a stand-by engine for the electrical generator. The flywheel is not original but was taken from a Blackstone engine of later vintage.
Photographs by Patrick Knight.

In a licensing agreement, dated 18th September 1896 Edward Blackstone acquired the sole right to exploit the Carter’s patents, a right that was to exist so long as Frank and Evershed Carter moved to Stamford as his employees or so long as the patents continued. Blackstone was to pay a royalty of ten shillings per horse-power on each engine in which the Carter patents were used. This was to be paid as each engine left the works: regardless as to whether they were sold not. Payment would be not less than fifteen shillings for any one engine. The royalties were to be divided equally between all four partners of Carter Brothers Ltd., with a minimum of £50 to be paid in 1897. These terms would be renegotiated in due course. In subsequent years this was raised to £70.

Edward Blackstone purchased all the Carter Brothers’ oil engine patterns, castings, parts and fittings etc. for £110. A decidedly sound investment.

Little seems to have been made of what must have been a very important move for a company producing agricultural machinery. The Company records have only this to say in March 1897; “the company has recently taken up the manufacture of oil and gas engines.” Because of this it was resolved to increase the capital to £34,000.

Soon after the September agreement was signed Frank and Evershed (generally known as Tod) moved to Stamford, 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 that 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.

It is noteworthy that at the time the September agreement was signed Frank was 24 years old and Tod was 22. These were remarkable young men.

The first Stamford built engines left the 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.

Carter/Blackstone 7hp engine of 1897.

By the exploitation of the Carter patents Blackstone’s were to become one of the country’s leading engine builders. The first indication of this was when E. C. Blackstone reported to the Board of Directors“— 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.”

Further patents were to follow, among them, in 1900, was a method of cooling the water from an engines’ water jacket. In this hot water from the engine was cooled by passing it over sacking suspended in a current of air. Passing the engine’s exhaust up through a funnel produced the necessary up draught.

By 1903 the hori-zontal vaporiser engine in which fuel was supplied by an inspirator to the vaporiser with a timing valve was introduced. Although still needing to be started with the aid of a blow lamp the engine did not need to be kept going with a continuous flame. About the same time the camshaft mounted direct-acting centrifugal governor had been introduced to replace the ‘fly-ball’ and hit and miss governors. This was significant advance in the efficient control of the engine.

The Carter engine became the basic Blackstone oil engine for the next twenty or so years. Frank and Tod, respectively works manager and chief engineer, produced many varied designs during their years (almost a hundred between them) with Blackstone & Co

The contribution these two men made to the development of the oil engine was considerable; a vaporising engine with automatic ignition; a crude oil engine with dual ignition spray; the start-from-cold engine; injector pump for high-speed diesel engines; and other patented improvements.

Probably their most important innovation was the spring injection system. Here they reversed the pump process by making the spring rather than the cam do the work of injecting fuel.

It was simple in design and operation; if not simple to explain!

A measured quantity of fuel was pumped to the fuel injection chamber at a pressure of 10 to 15 lbs p.s.i., the amount determined by the length of the pump stroke, which was in turn controlled by the governor. The pressure required for injection was applied by an injector spring through an injector plunger. The spring was compressed at 1000 lbs p.s.i. on the plunger. When the oil was pumped to the injection chamber it pushed the plunger unit against a light buffer spring, the extent depending on the quantity of oil. As soon as the delivery of oil ended the movement of the plunger stopped and the fuel return valves closed. When the piston approached in-dead centre the injector lever engaged giving the oil a pressure of 1000 lbs p.s.i. When the piston reached in-dead centre a projection engaged the injector lever, which in turn released the injector valve forcing the oil into the injection chamber. At this point the injection lever stopped exerting pressure and delivery of oil stopped. The mechanism returned to it original position ready for the next stroke.

Introduced in 1924 the spring injection system gave engines an efficiency and a smoothness not seen before. According to The Power Engineer in July 1934; “If Blackstone & Co. Ltd. had done nothing beyond introducing the spring injection fuel pump to the engine world, the firm would have justified its existence.”

Frank died in 1934, Tod retired in 1936 when Lister’s took over the Blackstone works and died in 1950. Their last design was the EPV, a totally enclosed vertical engine. This design was the base from which the future prosperity of the firm sprang. Under the control of Lister’s the EPV was developed into the EV and E types in a variety of forms.

Little is known of Frank's and Tod’s education other than they attended a school in Horsham. How they gained their extraordinary abilities is unknown. They probably absorbed many basic skills from their father and grandfather but where their knowledge of combustion engines came from is unknown. How or where matters not, what is certain is that without their talents Blackstone & Co may not have become the success it was.

All pictures & text © 2003 Michael Key


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