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

Blackstone engines: The First 10 Years.

In my researches into the history of Blackstone & Co. Ltd. I have been interested to know not only what the company produced, but also what was their output, where did their products go, to what uses were they put? And so on. This article is an attempt to satisfy my curiosity using the company’s surviving engine registers as my database. I am indebted to, and have been greatly assisted by, the staff members of MAN&BW for allowing unrestricted me access to their records.

A study of the first ten years of oil engine manufacture has produced some interesting sets of figures that are presented in a series of tables. There are in fact eleven years covered in the exercise, but in the first year only two engines were sold. Edward Blackstone acquired the sole right to exploit the Carter Brother’s engine patents in a licensing agreement dated 18th September 1896. A month later the first Stamford built engines left the works. These engines carried the serial numbers 10497 and 11543. The first, a 4˝ hp, was sold to a customer in Tralee, Ireland; the second, a 1˝ hp, to a customer in Birmingham. No more left the works until February the following year.

Table 1 helps to explain, or illustrate, some of the anomalies of the company’s engine numbering and dating. It can be seen that the serial numbers allocated do not match the quantity of engines produced. For the first three or four years the serial numbers appear in a random sequence. After this the numbers are usually found in short runs, from five to fifteen, with blocks of unused numbers between them. There is no obvious reason for allocating numbers in this way. It is possible that the missing numbers were used for other pieces of machinery, mills perhaps, but there is no evidence to suggest what these may be.

Year of Manf. Serial Number start Serial Number End Total Produced
1896 10497 11543 2
1897 10497A 16028 29
1898 16321 20821 48
1899 20912 25109 79
1900 25135 29199 105
1901 29200 32927 160
1902 32928 37101 216
1903 37121 41685 315
1904 41686 45877 352
1905 45994 50885 473
1906 50913 57445 796
Total Engines Produced 2575

Table 1. Number of Blackstone engines sold and the range of serial numbers used 1896 - 1906.

With the above table the engine owner can be sure in which year his engine was built. In the company’s old engine books it is the date of testing that is recorded, not the build date. As the test took place immediately after completion this is not critical. In these early years when production was small the engine numbers are confined within the year.

Later when production levels rose to much higher levels there was no definite cut-off, test dates overlapped into the following, often by several weeks: In some cases even longer. For example; three engines with consecutive numbers sold to Antoun Bros. Of Alexandria were each tested in a different year. No. 143731 was tested 21 December 1922, No.143732 tested 19 March 1923, and No. 143733 on 23 November 1924.

One sometimes hears an engine owner claim that his engine is very rare or the only one of its kind. Is he right or indulging in a flight of fancy? Table 2 shows how many of each size of engine was sold in the period under review. It should be noted that the table does not take into account the various changes in design or layout that took place during these early years. Few of these changes are recorded in the company’s engine registers. An exception to this was the change from the bent (forged) crank shaft to the slab (balanced) crank shaft. This took place gradually during 1904-1905. The first balanced crank was fitted to engine No. 43598 in June 1904; the last forged crank was installed in No. 47060 in March 1905.

Engine Size Qty Produced Engine Size Qty Produced
1/2 hp 3 12 hp 91
1 hp 1 12-1/2 hp 1
1-1/4 hp 41 13 hp 1
1-1/2 hp 49 13-1/2 hp 1
2 hp 127 14 hp 67
2-1/2 hp 2 15 hp 2
3 hp 170 16 hp 34
3-1/2 hp 84 17 hp 87
4 hp 97 20 hp 11
4-1/2 hp 1 21 hp 11
5 hp 383 22 hp 20
5-1/2 hp 1 26 hp 41
6 hp 1 30 hp 2
6-1/2 hp 559 35 hp 18
7 hp 12 42 hp 2
8 hp 489 50 hp 5
9 hp 7 55 hp 1
10 hp 106 60 hp 1
11 hp 53 ?? 1
Total Engines Produced 2575

Table 2. Quantity of each size (in HP) of Blackstone engines sold 1896 - 1906.

Gas-fuelled engines (of which there 25) are included in these figures, but no attempt has been made to differentiate portable engines from standard and concrete base engines, as these are not always clearly shown.

So where did these two and a half thousand engines go? Obviously the home market was the largest with 1,450 engines being sold in the UK. At this period Ireland was still a single country within the United Kingdom. As Table 3 shows, the British Empire and countries under British influence were a good source of export orders. The largest importers of Blackstone engines were Australia and New Zealand. Almost a quarter of the firm’s production went to these two countries. Three main agents were responsible: Clutterbuck Bros, whose Adelaide branch sold 412, McArthur & Co of Sidney, sold 141 and Andrews and Beavan of Christchurch, New Zealand sold 88. These figures are quite surprising, as the first engines did not go to Australia until 1901 and New Zealand until 1902. The remaining seven engines went to other dealers or direct to customers.

Country No of Engines Country No of Engines
Argentina 5 Japan 3
Australia 560 Malta 1
Belgium 30 New Zealand 88
Bermuda 1 Norway 3
Bulgaria 1 Portugal 3
Ceylon 2 Russia 9
China 3 Scotland 135
Denmark 2 South Africa 13
Egypt 74 South America 2
England** 1195 Sweden 1
France 26 Syria 13
Holland 15 Tunisia 6
Hungary 5 Turkey 30
India 13 Wales 169
Ireland 71 Unidentified 96
Total Engines 2575
** Includes Isle of Man, Isle of Wight and Channel Islands

Table 3. International distribution of Blackstone engines sold 1896 -1906.

Blackstone & Co. Ltd. had long developed a successful market in the eastern Mediterranean countries of Egypt, Syria and Turkey. In Egypt the firm’s main agents were Antoun Brothers of Alexandria who had for many years been selling Blackstone steam engines. In Syria, Daouk Freres of Beyrout (Beirut), and in Turkey, Choulain of Rodesto were the company’s agents.

North America does not feature at all, probably because of have an engine manufacturing industry of its own. South America, although only recording two sales in this period, was to develop in later years into a profitable market through the efforts of A.Pruden & Co. of Buenos Aires.

The accuracy of the table is obviously affected by the number of destinations that are not identified in the registers. Some agents such as Viethardt & Hall and Palmer & Co. may have been overseas agents but also to have had UK customers. The name Marshall causes some difficulty. It appears in the registers as Marshall, Marshall & Co., Marshall & Sons Ltd., Marshalls of Gainsborough, Marshall (G’boro) Bombay and Marshall Sons & Co. With some the destination appears to be obvious, in others it is not clear at all. This naturally effects how the distribution of engines in the United Kingdom (see Table 4 below) is calculated. For example the figure for Lincolnshire is much smaller than one would expect it to be.

County Engines County Engines County Engines County Engines
Aberdeenshire 2 County Limerick 3 Gloucestershire 12 Northamptonshire 24
Antrim 23 Co Londonderry 3 Hampshire 13 Northumberland 17
Armagh 4 County Mayo 1 Herefordshire 52 Nottinghamshire 8
Ayrshire 1 County Sligo 1 Hertfordshire 31 Oxfordshire 6
Bedfordshire 7 County Tyrone 2 Huntingdonshire 6 Pembrokeshire 22
Brecknockshire 20 Co Waterford 1 Isle of Man 2 Rutland 10
Buckinghamshire 2 County Wicklow 3 Isle of Wight 3 Shropshire 93
Caernarvonshire 16 Co Fermanagh 3 Kent 24 Somerset 56
Cambridgeshire 14 Cornwall 63 Kirkudbright 1 Staffordshire 21
Cardiganshire 2 Cumberland 7 Lanarkshire 99 Suffolk 38
Carmarthan 8 Denbighshire 5 Lancashire 25 Surrey 3
Cavan 1 Derbyshire 5 Leicestershire 11 Sussex 42
Channel Islands 3 Devon 125 Lincolnshire 59 Warwickshire 34
Cheshire 4 Dorset 15 London 41 Westmoreland 7
County Clare 1 Dublin 4 Merioneth 3 Wigtownshire 3
County Cork 2 Dumfrieshire 1 Middlesex 4 Worcestershire 15
County Down 5 Essex 11 Midlothian 4 Yorkshire 71
County Durham 81 Flintshire 4 Monmouthshire 4 Unidentified 120
County Kerry 4 Glamorgan 84 Norfolk 11
Total Engines 1450

Table 4. Distribution of Blackstone engines sold in the United Kingdom 1896 - 1906.
Note: the counties are as named during the period under review.

The clerk who made the early entries in the early engine registers has, with no thought for the future, left the historian with several problems. For instance he, or she, has failed to take into account the number of places within these islands that have the same name and has omitted the county name. For example Newtown and/ or Newton (both spellings have been found) occurs many times in all four countries of the United Kingdom. And there are no less than sixteen Prestons in England alone.

In addition some customers’ names have no address entered. So, from which of three Barhams did Mr Arter purchase a dozen engines of various sizes during these ten years? Who, and where, were Hearle & Son who bought a 12 hp engine in 1906?

Such details were of little importance to the clerk who made these records. Probably more detailed information was held elsewhere in the company’s files. Sadly these other files no longer exist. However, although such omissions are frustrating, they do not diminish the overall picture of Blackstone’s sales distribution.

All pictures & text © 2003 Michael Key

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