A Hundred Years of Engineering Craftsmanship

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The Internal Combustion Engine


Despite their considerable success with steam engines Tangyes were ever vigorous in exploring new fields. The high standards of engineering craftsmanship throughout the works enabled them to undertake new lines of production and keep well abreast of the latest developments. Between 1880 and 1900, therefore, Tangyes established themselves as manufacturers of gas and oil engines. This early start with the internal combustion engine was due partly to foresight and partly to good fortune in finding another inventor to rank in the Company’s annals with Weston and Cameron.
Although experiments with gas engines had been conducted in Europe and America over a number of years, it was not until Dr. N. A. Otto built his successful Silent Gas Engine in 1876 that the engine became a practical manufacturing proposition. Otto had worked for twenty years before he produced the engine which was sufficiently economical and efficient to make the internal combustion engine a valuable prime mover — potentially as important to industrial history as the steam engine.
Adopting a system advocated by Beau de Rochas in 1862, Otto had worked out a four-stroke cycle with a good form of flame ignition, the compression and explosion of the gas and air mixture taking place within the one cylinder. While Crossleys of Manchester obtained the licence to manufacture the Otto in Great Britain rival designs were being rapidly developed, especially in the two-stroke field. The latter part of the ‘seventies was consequently a period of great excitement with new gas engines appearing every year. Of these the best-known was probably the two-stroke engine of Dugald Clerk which he patented in 1878. The main feature of this engine was a separate pump which compressed the gas and air mixture into a reservoir. The mixture was then admitted to the power cylinder and ignited during the first part of its stroke, exhaust gases being removed on the return stroke. This patent was superseded in 1881 by an engine in which the pump was used only as a displacer, the mixture entering the cylinder at about lb. per square inch above atmospheric pressure; the entering charge displaced the exhaust gases by way of ports overrun by the piston.
Meanwhile Tangyes were actively searching for a machine already perfected in design and suitable for manufacture in quantity. Various paper inventions had already been rejected when in April 1879 Gentle, of the London Office, saw H. Woolfe ‘re Gas Engine’ and arranged for one to be sent to Soho. This must have proved a failure for in the autumn the firm opened negotiations with Frederick Hurd, Engineer, of Edinburgh and Wakefield, for the exclusive licence to manufacture his Patent Silent Gas Engine. For several weeks Hurd was hesitant about terms and although in November he forwarded several orders he had still not produced his sample 6 horse-power engine.
A more promising agreement was next made with Horace Robinson of Manchester, who took Out a patent in June 1880 entitled ‘Improvements in Gas Motor Engines’. Tangyes undertook to make this engine and Robinson was to come to Soho to supervise the manufacture. George Tangye pressed him to send his prototype at the earliest convenience. Robinson, however, was as dilatory as Hurd and by December i88o his drawings for the engine had still not appeared.
Frustrated on two counts Tangyes now met a man whose work on the gas engine was fundamental and of long standing. This was not known to them when, in December 1880, George Haswell wrote to James Robson about a direct-acting pump to be driven by gas:


as that is an apparatus which would, I have every reason to suppose, be useful in many special cases where steam or air are not available. I would be glad to know if you have made one of these pumps, and if so where it could be seen.’


Haswell and Robson, both natives of North Shields, seem to have met during the Christmas holiday, for on 4thJanuary, 1881, Robson signed an agreement giving Tangyes sole right for the manufacture of his gas-operated pump and gas hammer.
The patent of 1880 which covered the pump and hammer also included an engine designed on the spring-type atmospheric pressure principle. R. Waygood & Co., of London, had already begun manufacture of this engine which was exhibited as the ‘London’ Gas Engine at the London Cattle Show in 1880. Soon after he had signed his agreement with Tangyes, Robson brought them two earlier patents which covered a different type of gas engine of the kind for which they had long been searching.


The value and originality of Robson’s work on the development of the internal combustion engine has been comparatively neglected for he was a man who sought no fame for himself nor publicity for his work. James Robson was born in North Shields in 1833, son of James Robson, builder and contractor. His lifelong study of problems of internal combustion began quite accidentally. On his return from a visit to the Great Exhibition of 1851, he set out to construct an incubator similar to one which he had seen exhibited. Using, for convenience, town gas instead of paraffin, he soon discovered the explosive nature of a gas and air mixture. He was immediately diverted from his original purpose to an investigation of the pressures exerted on a small closed cylinder— 24 in. long and 3 in. diameter — by the ignition of mixtures of gas and air in various proportions. The

maximum pressure which he obtained was between 6o and 70 lb. per sq. in. By 1857 Robson had built his first gas engine working on the direct-explosive atmospheric principle with an explosion at every revolution of the crankshaft. Designed entirely for experiment this engine furnished Robson with experience and information on which to base his plans for larger working engines. He spent, for example, some time on developing various systems of ignition.
Robson’s second engine was soon built in 1858-9. It was of three horse-power and was set to work driving a circular saw in his father’s workshop, where it was successfully employed, until frost burst the water jacket. Two more engines of similar design were also installed in North Shields; one for driving the printing machinery at the offices of the Shields Daily .News and the other — of one horse-power — at Simpson & Mustard’s Printing Works. These working engines establish Robson among the earliest pioneers of the internal combustion engine.
Although the designs incorporated several important features, such as cooling of the working cylinder by a water jacket and ignition by an electric spark, Robson took out no patents. His interests were now absorbed by the possibility of compressing the gases before ignition in order to improve the efficiency of the earlier engine. Unfortunately at this vital stage his experiments were interrupted; first, by the destruction of his workshop and experimental engine when the gable end of his ironmongery shop collapsed during excavations on the adjoining land. And secondly, by the death of his uncle which made it necessary for him to help his father with the building and quarry business in North Shields. Nothing, however, could quell Robson’s enthusiasm for the gas engine.
He was soon at work on a vacuum type of engine. This was followed by his Vertical Spring-Type Atmospheric Engine, later revived and included in the 1880 patent. From these he moved to his most important invention the ‘two-cycle’ gas engine. The first patent, which he took out in 1877, clearly shows Robson to have been the first to design a two-cycle engine, giving an impulse at every revolution of the crankshaft, in which compression was performed in the same cylinder as ignition, combustion and expulsion of the gases. Other two-cycle engines, like Dugald Clerk’s, had used a separate pump for compression and for charging the motor cylinder. Only the four-cycle engines of Otto’s design, giving an impulse for every two revolutions of the crankshaft, had previously compressed the mixture in the cylinder.
Robson improved the design and obtained a second patent for his two-cycle engine in 1879. This was the engine which he brought to Tangyes in 1881. An arrangement was quickly made between Tangyes, Robson and Messrs. Waygood & Co., giving to both companies equal rights to manufacture Robson’s engine and Robinson’s engine, the patent of which was now owned by Tangyes. Tangyes immediately concentrated upon Robson’s two-cycle engine and Robinson’s patents were allowed to lapse in 1885.
Knowledge and experience of gas-engine problems was still very limited, but the Robson engine enabled the firm to make an early and successful start with the internal combustion engine at a vital stage in its commercial development. The Robson engine was exhibited for the British Association Meeting in Birmingham in 1886. The first size, was a one horse-power engine built on the Tangye steam engine bed. Later half, two-and-a-half and four horse-power sizes were made. About 300 Robson engines were sent out from Cornwall Works to various markets, including Denmark, Sweden, Spain, New Zealand and Australia.
While Robson concentrated upon the gas engine his other inventions were put on one side. Eventually he returned to work on the Gas Forging Hammer, and by 1884 it was ready to be put into production. The first of its kind, it attracted considerable attention when first exhibited the next year. Although sales were limited — partly because of prevailing trade depression — credit is due to the skill and workmanship which made its development possible.


Throughout these years trials were also being made at Cornwall Works with various other types of gas engine. In 1886-7 Tangyes began building Clerk’s patent two-stroke gas engines. Meanwhile a new four-stroke engine was designed by Charles W. Pinkney, who had been with the firm since 1876. Working closely with Robson on his gas engine, and responsible for considerable improvements in the design of the gas hammer, Pinkney’s inventiveness and experience made him extremely valuable to Tangyes in these years. He was soon given charge of the gas engine ‘sheds’ and his opinion was relied upon for the assessment of new gas-engine inventions submitted to the firm.
Pinkney’s gas engine was ready by 1889 and in running was found to be slightly more economical than the ‘Otto’. The ‘Otto’ patent, however, was by this time rapidly running out and it was eventually decided in the Spring of 1891 to start manufacturing a four-cycle engine on the ‘Otto’ principle rather than to proceed with the unknown Pinkney model. Soho engines built on this plan brought a large increase in trade and soon extensions to the gas-engine department became necessary. Governed on the hit-and-miss principle, these engines produced that irregular running beat which was at one time so familiar. Many of them gave exceptionally long periods of service and some are still at work in Birmingham.
The value and use of the gas engine was greatly extended by the. introduction of the gas producer. As early as 1893 Tangyes investigated the possibilities of the ‘Blum’ Gas Producer, but decided not to start manufacture at that period. The following year Pinkney designed a ‘Hydro-carbon Gas Producer’, which was also laid aside. Not until 1905 was a gas producer introduced as part of the regular output at Cornwall Works. This was a ‘suction’ gas producer designed to work on three types of fuel; hard coals: soft fuels like bituminous coals and lignite; and vegetable fuels such as wood waste, sawdust, or anything combustible which the neighbourhood might have to offer.
The versatility of this gas producer widened the potential market for the gas engine both by reducing the cost of fuel and by enabling the engines to be used well away from a source of town’s gas. During the following twenty-five years large numbers of producers were made and the firm acquired great experience in their design and application. Many are still in use.

Apart from water-power, the gas producer in conjunction with the gas engine, gave the cheapest power in the world. In 1906 it was calculated that the suction gas producer using anthracite would develop 10 to 20 B.H.P. for a penny an hour. This was ideal for small concerns where power was required, and was an equally good investment for those dependent on erratic water supplies such as the Welsh woollen mills in the lower valleys.




On the heels of the gas engine, and as the natural development, came petroleum and oil engines. The Priestman paraffin or kerosene engines exhibited between 1885 and 1890; the work of Akroyd Stuart with heavy oil engines, which produced the Hornsby-Akroyd engine in 1894; and the first Diesel engine built by the Augsburg Company in 1897, were the major landmarks in this development which brought oil engines to the forefront in industrial development and mechanization.
Alongside his gas engine Pinkney was developing in the late ‘eighties a petroleum engine which he patented in 1891. This was the refined petroleum engine which Tangyes introduced in 1892. Work on these engines intensified as years went by — they were a strong selling line in many home and foreign markets.
A portable oil engine of Pinkney’s design was shown at the Royal Agricultural Show of 1898. This engine, which developed 6 B.H.P., incorporated an unusual arrangement for cooling the water:
The engine draws the water out of a tank that forms its base, and forces it through the cylinder jacket and thence through a pipe from the top of the cylinder, on to a canopy, where the water is split up and cooled while being exposed to the atmosphere. The water next passes on to the roof of the carriage where it is collected and allowed to drain back into the base or tank of the engine, and used over again.
Greater success was achieved by a new, lighter, and less expensive paraffin engine especially designed for agriculture which made its appearance some ten years later.
In 1910 Tangyes introduced a range of engines running on crude oil. These engines were of the semi-diesel type using blow-lamp heating for starting. The disadvantages of this system were overcome by the introduction in 1916 of a cold-starting oil engine. This engine started on petroleum and then turned over to the oil which it used as fuel. It was the immediate fore-runner of the present-day compression ignition engine which Tangyes began to make in 1920. This engine, which ran on a wide range of low-grade oils, was of a sturdy horizontal design and proved extremely popular for many overseas markets. Its ability to stand up to unskilled attention made it especially popular in Eastern countries where it was widely used in agriculture, for drainage and irrigation. Manufacture of a modern version of this engine still continues at Cornwall Works; general production of gas engines, however, ceased in 1939.


In the years between the end of the nineteenth century and the outbreak of the First World War, the foundations of the present age were laid not only in such applied scientific developments as the internal combustion engine, but also by increasing government

activity in social welfare. Public Health Acts administered by new local authorities, for example, made essential the construction of many large waterworks and sewage disposal schemes. The war accelerated these public health measures in many areas. Throughout the period Tangyes obtained many valuable contracts for this type of work at home and abroad. As manufacturers of a considerable range both of engines and pumps, they were particularly well placed to carry out complete installations. According to the requirements of the job, pumps of almost any type could be coupled with steam, gas or oil engines and serviced as a unit — facilities which very few competitors could equal.
Many of these plants are still giving excellent service and stand as a tribute to Tangye reliability. Two such installations which have been in use for over thirty years, are those designed and engineered in 1924 for the Leicester Corporation and the Mid-Kent Water Company. The first was one of the largest pumping plants ever built by Tangyes:
at the time the three 36 in. stroke Treble Ram Pumps, each weighing about ioo tons, were the largest of their kind in the country. They are still giving eighteen hours of trouble-free running every day. The second consisted of a pair of large deep-well pumps driven by oil engines. These, too, are still eminently satisfactory for their daily work and, moreover, cost less to run than many more recent plants.

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