R A Lister and Company

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R.A. Lister & Company Ltd
Industry Manufacturing
Fate Merged
Successor Lister Petter
Founded 1867
Defunct 1986
Headquarters Dursley, Gloucestershire, England
Products Engines
Parent Hawker Siddeley (1965-1999)
Subsidiaries Blackstone & Co
Website {{#property:P856}}
File:Lister engine sectioned.JPG
A sectioned Lister Engine

R A Lister & Company was founded in Dursley, Gloucestershire, England, in 1867 by Sir Robert Ashton Lister (1845–1929), to produce agricultural machinery.


Woollen industry[edit]

From the 16th century onwards, the Cotswolds were the centre of the world's woollen industry, but by the late 18th century this dominance was waning with the growth of the cotton mills of Lancashire and Yorkshire. The manufacturing technology for both materials was similar, and it was in the hope of learning a new skill that George Lister walked from his home town of Liversedge in the West Riding of Yorkshire to Dursley to learn more about the making of cards, which are used in the process of turning twisted fibre into yarn.

George learnt quickly and after his father's death invested his inheritance in buying the former Rivers Mill on Uley Road, which he turned into a card-making factory. After the death of his first wife, who bore him four children of whom two survived into adulthood, his second wife Louisa bore him four daughters and four sons.

1867-1906: Foundation and growth[edit]

The third youngest child, Robert Ashton Lister, was born in 1845 and educated in Germany and France. He led the exhibit of the family's products to the Paris Exhibition of 1867, but on return fell out with his father, and in the same year founded R.A.Lister and Company in the former Howard's Lower Mill, Water Street to manufacture agricultural machinery. Expanding his business by exhibiting at agricultural shows, Robert developed both a successful UK and international business, which quickly expanded throughout the British Empire.

In 1889 Robert acquired the UK rights to manufacture and sell Danish engineer Mikael Pedersen's new cream separator, which through a spinning centrifugal separator allowed the machine to run at a constant speed and hence create a regular consistency of cream. Marketed in the UK and British Empire as "The Alexandra Cream Separator", its success resulted in Pedersen moving to Dursley. In 1899, he founded the Dursley Pedersen Cycle Company with Ashton Lister.[1] Robert was a pioneer of business in Western Canada, and took the first cream separator in that region over the plains of Alberta in a journey made by horse buggy, before the railway developments in the Western provinces,.

After George Lister died in 1870, his company was run by Robert's brother-in-law William and his two youngest brothers. They developed the cloth manufacturing equipment range, and developed an electric light and power company, which for demonstration purposes brought electric lighting to Dursley. When William died in 1903, Robert's company bought the enterprise, renaming it the Lister Electrical Machinery Company. Because the main focus of RA Lister was on agriculture, the electric division was sold in 1907 to form the Mawdsley Company. During World War II, this became a lead shadow factory producing electric motors and dynamos for various military purposes, and included a top secret section which produced components for the Alan Turing designed Bombe computer which cracked the Nazi Germany Enigma machine coded messages.[2]

By the early 1900s, R.A. Listers had redesigned Pedersen's cream separator, expanded its lines of sheep shearing machinery, was producing milk churns and wood barrels for butter, and from the off-cuts developed a successful line of wood-based garden furniture.[1]

1907-1928: Petrol engines[edit]

Until this point, Lister's range of machinery had been designed to be powered by a drive belt, which itself relied on either water, steam or horse-drawn power to drive it. In 1909 the company acquired manufacturing rights from the London-based firm of F.C.Southwell & Co. for their design of petrol-driven engines (derived from the design of a range of imported engines made by the U.S. based Stover Manufacturing and Engine Company), allowing Listers to offer portable and independently powered farm machinery.

During World War I, the factory was focused solely on War Department production, producing petrol engines, lighting sets and munitions. Many of the men left for the front, meaning that a large portion of the workforce was female. After the war, Sir Robert Lister retired and turned management over to his sons Robert, Frank, Percy and George together with A.E. Mellerup. Inevitably this occasionally caused tensions: for example, George managed home sales and Frank was in charge of buying, while Cecil did not have a clearly defined role at all, and, although Robert was the eldest, it was Percy (later Sir Percy) who had by far the most significant impact.[1]

Developing foreign competition meant that the manufacturing of milk churns and barrels ceased, and the over supply of second-hand ex-military engines and lighting sets reduced the company's profit considerably. The company was eventually turned round under Percy's control, aided by the introduction in 1926 of the Lister Auto-Truck, used to move goods around factories, railway stations and dockyards the world over; production continued until 1973.

As managing director Percy led the firm through a period of significant growth and prosperity in the 1920s and 1930s. By 1926 the workforce was around 2000 and was growing rapidly; the company ran a 24-hour manufacturing operation, expanding its range of products and supplying retailers to around 6000 UK customers and many more worldwide.[3] Retailing revenues were particularly healthy in Australia and New Zealand, where sheep-shearing equipment was in great demand.

1929-1945: Diesel engines[edit]

In 1929, Sir Robert died at the age of 84, and in the same year the first of Lister's own design of "CS" (cold start) diesel engine was made. With one cylinder and producing 9 horsepower (6.7 kW), it became known as the Lister 9-1. This was quickly followed by: the 5-1, 10-2, 18-2 and 38-4 all in 1930; the 27-3 in 1931; and 3-1, CD and CE in 1933. Lister engines were traditionally painted a mid-range shade of Brunswick Green, which continues to be used today by Lister Petter.

The CS is a slow-running (600 rpm) reliable engine, suitable for driving electric generators or irrigation pumps. CS type engines gained a reputation for longevity and reliability, especially in Commonwealth countries, to which they were widely exported. Some CS engines ran practically continuously for decades in agricultural, industrial and electrical applications.

By 1936 Lister was producing 600 engines across a range of 80 different sizes and types of diesel and petrol models, most of which were small at around 1.5 to 3 hp. These could be bought stand alone (many were used in the construction industry), or powering a complementary range of pumps, churns, cream separators, autotrucks, generating plant and sheep shearing equipment. The branded Woodware Works continued to produce ornamental tubs, garden seats and other ornamental garden furniture.

The company headquarters were in an early 16th-century Priory building in Dursley. In the nearby valley was located a foundry, together with a number of other workshops necessary for the production of engines and the various other products offered, including a machining shop, capstan lathe shop, engine assembly lines, and a coopers' shop. Many goods were shipped out from the nearby Dursley railway station, which was located on land leased from Lister.

Lister continued to flourish during the 1930s, riding the economic financial crisis and building on its many earlier successes.[4] The Lister family, although not as highly religious as the Cadbury family or Terry's of York, had supplemented their workers' lifestyles through regular company-wide excursions. The firm was profitable in the 1930s, and able to provide town-wide medical services and a social club, which still exists.

The most successful Lister engine was the D-type engine, introduced from 1931, most of which were rated at 1.5 horsepower at 700 RPM. More than 250,000 'D' engines were built until 1964. They were used for a wide variety of light tasks such as pumping and small-scale electricity generation. The Lister 'D' is still one of the most widely seen vintage stationary engines in the UK. Hand-cranked Lister diesel engines were used in many early dumpers. Lister took over Blackstone & Co in 1937 to form Lister Blackstone.[5]

The factory returned to war production at the onset of World War II, producing engines, lighting sets, agricultural implements and shell cases. HM Queen Mary toured the factory in 1940, and Lister increased war production by opening components and sub-assembly plants in Nympsfield (1942), Wotton-under-Edge (1943) and Cinderford (1944).

1946-1965: Independent[edit]

After World War II, Lister's bought Marine Mountings of Swindon from the Admiralty, which became the home of the D Type production till 1963 when the SR range became its main product, together with SL and LD models in 1-4 cylinder versions. Marine Mountings was closed in 19??.<5>

Having survived World War II, Listers continued to benefit from its reputation for durable, reliable high-quality engines, and its pedigree as an old-established firm. However labour costs in the post-war period made a return to the heyday of the 1920s and 1930s impossible. Competition from rivals such as Petter and from overseas were also factors to be contended with, and unauthorized copycat engines ("Listeroids") were produced in other countries. Smallcreep's Day by Peter Currell Brown is a surrealist satire on modern industrial life. The 1965 novel was written while the author worked at R A Lister and Company, Dursley.

1967-1986: Purchase and merger[edit]

In 1965 Listers was acquired by Hawker Siddeley, who had bought its old rival Petter Diesels in 1957.

A large investment was made in 1966 when they also bought the old Gresham & Craven plant in Walkden, Lancashire. This plant had a large iron foundry, pattern shop and machine shop. It was reorganised to supply diesel engine parts that were previously bought from sub-contractors, including: cylinder heads, crankcases, flywheels, gearcases and a multitude of small parts for the parent plants. It also assembled moisture extraction units and the SR range of diesel generators employing 200-250 personnel until it was closed in 1971 because of a downturn in demand for diesel engines.<6>

1986-2013: Lister Petter[edit]

Main article: Lister Petter

In 1986 Hawker-Siddeley merged Lister and Petter to form a new company, Lister Petter Ltd. However, the changed economic situation of the 1990s, combined with their main market of Asia now industrialising itself and producing far cheaper often copied products, led to a quickly declining market and resultant profit margin.

In 1992, Hawker Siddeley was acquired by BTR plc for £1.5bn.[6] Burdened by debts after years of acquisition, in 1999 BTR merged with Siebe to form BTR Siebe plc, which was renamed Invensys plc.[7] In preparation, BTR reviewed and decided to sell-off any subsidiary operations, which included Lister Petter. The shearing and accessories business was sold to a management buyout, the core large engine products were acquired by Deutz AG, and the residual small engines business was cut down to a profitable concern and sold in 1996 to Schroders Venture Capital.[8]

In 2000, with Schroders looking to exit, the firm was bought through a £13.5M management buyout, enabled through selling the original 92 acres (37 ha) Lister factory site at Littlecombe to the South West Regional Development Agency. By this time, the core engine products were in demise, and the company was employing around 250 people on a turnover of £35M. Cost-cutting measures included closing the award-winning foundry in 2001, which had been one of the most advanced in Europe when it opened in 1937.

In the early years of the 21st century, small, durable, reliable industrial and marine engines continued to be a staple, notably the ALPHA water-cooled industrial and marine engines (2-, 3- or 4-cylinder) and the "T" air-cooled series (1-, 2- or 3-cylinder). Engines and diesel generating sets continued to be assembled and sold from a factory on the original Dursley site, with the product range expanded to include more powerful engines and a wider range of generating set specifications. In 2007 a new heavy-duty engine, the OMEGA, offering up to 268 kW, was added to the company's product range.

2014: Relocation[edit]

Sales continued to fall, and in 2003 the company fell into its first period of administration.[8] Rescued through another SWRDA-backed management buyout, the second company survived a further three years before again collapsing into administration. On this occasion, the workers via Unite the Union voted to remain in Dursley, but the company's registered headquarters were moved to Hardwicke, Stroud, 11 miles (18 km) away.

After SWRDC sold the original factory site for redevelopment to specialist St. Modwen Properties, the residual engineering group announced its intention in March 2013 to relocate from Dursley. In Autumn 2013, the company fell into a third period of administration. Rescued quickly through a pre-packaged administration - which avoided the company's legal obligations to pay the required 250 redundancy packages, which were instead paid by the Government - the company's association with Dursley ended in April 2014, when assembly production moved to Hardwicke and the parts supply store to a former Royal Air Force hangar at Aston Down.[9]

The supply of remanufactured Lister engines and parts[edit]

Although R A Lister ceased production of many of its well known models many years ago, many of these engine are still in use today all over the world. Some of the most prominent suppliers of parts and services for these engine in the UK are Listerparts.co.uk [10] Realdiesels, Parts and Engines [11] Marine Engine Services Ltd[12] and Sleeman & Hawken Ltd.[13] Another firm, Marine Power Services[14] specialise in the restoration and marinisation of Lister engines for the inland waterways and the manufacture of component castings including Lister JP marine exhaust and water system manifolds.

Listeroid engines[edit]

Production of CS engines in England ended in 1987 but the popularity and reputation of the design meant that a number of Indian manufacturers have since continued production of "Listeroids" or clones copied from the CS design. These engines are used in India and also exported to other countries, including Australia and the USA. There has been an upsurge in interest in these engines and their unique capabilities for long-term electrical generation or pumping, and the initially haphazard build quality of "Listeroids" had now largely reached the same level as the original Lister-built units[citation needed]. They are becoming increasingly popular for "off grid" or "remote" uses[citation needed], partially because of their ability to use a large variety of alternative fuels and ease of maintenance and repair. Indian companies have also taken out licenses on Petter diesel engines (naturally dubbed 'Petteroids'), as well as other Lister (and latterly Lister-Petter) designs, such as Indian-built versions of the air-cooled L-Series diesel engines.

Lister trucks and Industrial locomotives[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Lister Auto-Truck.

Lister also built light trucks fitted with their engines, for use around factories. From 1926 to 1968 they built light narrow gauge railway locomotives, weighing as little as 1½ tons, typically used by small brickworks and on peat bogs. The locos were often characterised by a total lack of bodywork; sometimes they had the luxury of an all over roof supported by four corner posts.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Gloucestershire Between the Wars: A Memoir, A. S. Bullock, 2009
  2. http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/story-factory-s-secret-role-war/story-11232156-detail/story.html
  3. Your Works and Ours, history produced for employees, 1926
  4. Gloucestershire Between the Wars: A Memoir, A. S. Bullock, 2009.
  5. "Lister Blackstone Advert from "The Lister Standard" (Winter 1949/50)". Dursleyglos.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-08-03. 
  6. Brush Traction: History
  7. Investors back BTR Siebe merger
  8. 8.0 8.1 http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-1523698/Top-engine-maker-grinds-to-halt.html
  9. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-gloucestershire-21336540
  10. "Lister Engines Parts and Spares Spare Parts". Listerparts.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-08-03. 
  11. "R A Lister and Lister-Petter Diesel Engines and Spare Parts Sales". Realdiesels.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-08-03. 
  12. Marine Engine Services Ltd - Lister Engine Parts and Services, Marine and Industrial engines and parts
  13. Sleeman & Hawken Ltd - Lister Engine Parts and Services
  14. Marine Power Services - Engine restorers and parts manufacturer

5 Listers The First Hundred Years. D Evans 1995 6 Alan (Spider)Webb Walkden Employee 1967-1971 Template:Help on References

External links[edit]