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More than 100,000 Crossley oil and gas engines have been built.
Crossley Brothers was set up in 1867 by brothers Francis (1839-97) and William (1844-1911). Francis, with help from his uncle, bought the engineering business of John M Dunlop at Great Marlborough Street in Manchester city centre, including manufacturing pumps, presses, and small steam engines. William (Sir William from 1910) joined his brother shortly after the purchase. The company name was initially changed to Crossley Brothers and Dunlop. Each of the brothers had served engineering apprenticeships: Francis, known as Frank, at Robert Stephenson and Company; and William at W.G. Armstrong, both in Newcastle upon Tyne. William concentrated on the business side, Frank provided the engineering expertise.
The brothers were committed Christians and strictly teetotal, refusing to supply their products to companies such as breweries, whom they did not approve of. They adopted the early Christian symbol of the Coptic Cross (Coptic Christianity) as the emblem to use on their road vehicles.
In 1869 they had the foresight to acquire the UK and world (except German) rights to the patents of Otto and Langden of Cologne for the new gas fuelled atmospheric internal combustion engine and in 1876 these rights were extended to the famous Otto four-stroke cycle engine. The change over to four stroke engines was remarkably rapid with the last atmospheric engines being made in 1877.
The business flourished. In 1881, Crossley Brothers became a private limited company (i.e. Crossley Brothers Ltd.), and then in 1882 it moved to larger premises in Pottery Lane, Openshaw, in eastern Manchester.
Further technical improvements also followed, including the introduction of poppet valves and the hot-tube ignitor in 1888 and the introduction of the carburettor, allowing volatile liquid fuels to be used.
By adopting the heavier fuelled "oil" engine, the first one being demonstrated in 1891, the company's future was assured. Then in 1896, they obtained rights to the diesel system, which used the heat of compression alone to ignite the fuel. Their first diesel was built in 1898.
A major contribution to manufacturing was the introduction of the assembly line. The Crossley system even influenced Henry Ford, who visited Pottery Lane at the turn of the century.
In 1904 the company started production of motor cars and a separate company, Crossley Motors Ltd. was registered on the 11th April 1906. Vehicle production continued until 1958.
In 1919 Crossley Brothers bought Premier Gas Engines of Sandiacre, Nottingham, who built very large engines, and in 1935 changed their name to Crossley Premier Engines Ltd. The Nottingham factory was expanded, and production continued there until 1966.
By the 1960s, although sales remained reasonable, the company had moved into the red (i.e. was in debt or unprofitable). The design of the engines then being made was essentially 40 years old, so in 1962 agreement was reached to use the French Pielstick design. Production of these engines, intended for ships, railway locomotives and electricity generation, was initially carried out at Nottingham. But, before the engines could become established, the money ran out and the company had to call in the receivers. A purchaser was found in Bellis and Morcom Ltd. but the name Crossley-Premier was kept.
The market for engines was continuing to shrink, and in 1968 the new company joined the Amalgamated Power Engineering (APE) group and the name became APE-Crossley Ltd. For the first time the new company used the Coptic Cross logo on the engines. Previously, this had only appeared on Crossley Motors products — the rights to use it had to be bought from British Leyland. APE, in its turn, became part of Northern Engineering Industries (NEI), and the company name became the unwieldy NEI-Allen Limited – Crossley Engines.
Rolls-Royce Power Engineering
NEI themselves, in 1988, were taken over by Rolls Royce plc, and the company became part of the Allen Power Engineering - Crossley Engines division of the Rolls-Royce Industrial Power Group. This, in turn, became Crossley Engines division of Rolls-Royce Power Engineering, continuing to produce the Crossley-Pielstick range until 1995.
Today, engines are still being made (assembled from parts made elsewhere in the group) at the Pottery Lane factory, now known as Crossley Works. Crossley employs 80 people for assembly. Rolls-Royce still markets the Crossley-Pielstick range.
Crossley Brothers built diesel engines for marine and locomotive use. Examples include the HST V8, used in the British Rail Class 28, and the ESNT 6 used in British Railways shunting locomotives D3117-D3126. Both were two stroke engines equipped with Crossley's system of "exhaust-pulse pressure-charging" whereby surplus air in the exhaust manifold was forced back into the cylinder by the exhaust-pulse from a neighbouring cylinder.
- Eyre, Michael; Heaps, Chris; and Townsin, Alan: Crossley; OPC 2002; ISBN 0-86093-574-4