Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 138,146 pages of information and 223,038 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.


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1893. The Yeovil Engine. Steam engine designed by Benjamin Joseph Jacobs. Exhibit at Internal Fire Museum of Power.
1896. Petter and Hill and Boll's Autocar. From Left to Right: (Front) James B. Petter, H. W. Southcombe, (Back) G B Petter and E W Petter.
1903. Agricultural Tractor.
1903. Agricultural Tractor.
October 1912.
1921. Petter VD 16 hp semi-diesel engine. Exhibit at Internal Fire Museum of Power.
1922.3 H.P. Lighting and Pumping Set.
1925. Farm Engine.
1925. Auxiliary Lighting Set.
1925. Marin Oil Engine.
1928. 36 bhp for Egyptian ferry boat.
1929. Roller bearings.
December 1929.
c1930. Petter Type TX1. 27.5 hp at 450 rpm. Exhibit at Internal Fire Museum of Power.
1931. 24 B.H.P. Marine Oil Engine with Reversing Gear.
1933.40-5 B.H.P.Atomic Engine.
1933. 40 B.H.P. Four Cylinder Marine Engine.
1933. 1 kw Lighting Set.
1933. 4 B.H.P. Marine Petrol Engine.
1933. One Ton Auto Truck.
1936. Petter S Type. VS 8/10 hp. Exhibit at National Waterways Museum, Gloucester.
Petter S Type. 12/14 hp. Exhibit at National Waterways Museum, Gloucester.
December 1950.
May 1955.
June 1955.

Petters Limited of Nautilus Works, Yeovil (known as James B. Petter and Sons of Yeovil until 1910), were makers of stationary petrol and diesel engines from 1896 onwards.


1865 James Bazeley Petter received the ironmongery firm Harman and Gillett in Yeovil as a wedding present from his father. He later acquired the Yeovil Foundry and Engineering Works. Had premises in the Borough, Yeovil. It was there that two of his children, the twins Ernest and Percival, designed and built a self propelled oil engine in 1892 [1].

1895 Percival became manager of the foundry. He developed an interest in the horseless carriage [2].

1895 They designed the first internal combustion engined motor car to be made in the United Kingdom. The car, using a converted four-wheel horse-drawn phaeton and a 3 hp horizontal oil engine, had a top speed of 12 miles per hour. The vehicle was constructed at the Park Road carriage works of Hill and Boll. It weighed 9 cwt including the 120 lb of the Petter engine with its flywheel and side bars. A contemporary report said: The carriage is intended for two persons, with which a speed of ten miles an hour is obtained on level road. It will mount the hills of the neighbourhood with two persons, but larger power would be used for four persons … The exhaust is, we are informed, quite invisible, and the engine almost noiseless'. The removable handle (indicated in the plan drawing) was used to start the engine in the first place, and an arrangement is made so that the handle, when put in position, automatically opens the exhaust valve which closes instantly when, a good impulse being given, the handle is withdrawn and the engine starts … Tube ignition is adopted, and a small heating lamp is used … The engine starts in ten minutes and runs, we are told, without attention. The larger road wheels of the vehicle were 42 in (1.07 m.) in diameter.

1897 The twins continued to develop vehicles, the twelfth of which they entered to a competition at Crystal Palace in 1897, without success. Sometime used the name of Yeovil Motor Carriage Co. Failing to achieve the commercial success that they hoped, they adapted the engines for agricultural and industrial use.

1899 Petter Patent Oil Engine (1.25 hp) exhibited at the Royal Show.

1900 June. Royal Agricultural Show at York. Showed various small engines. [3]

1901 Ernest and Percival purchased the business from their father [4]. Reorganized as James B. Petter and Sons Ltd; Ernest and Percy (Percival) were joint managing directors.

The Nautilus Works was named after the fire grates that had made James Petter's fortune in Reckleford

The first engines made by Petters were the Standard oil engines which were horizontal open crank engines made to very high standards. Later these were designated the type A engine. They ranged from the AF (1.5 hp) to the LL (50 hp). The Standard oil engine ceased production in 1917 and the last were sold in 1919. [5]

1902 They produced the first agricultural tractor, the Petter's Patent Agricultura Tractor, powered by a 30 hp horizontal oil engine.

Around 1903 cheap American imports, including the "Jack of all Trades" manufactured by the Fairbanks Morse Company, threatened the English stationary engine industry, and unlike most companies at the time Petter decided to produce a cheaper engine of their own to combat the threat. This engine was called the Petter Handyman which was sold around 20% lower in price than the 'Petter Standard' in batches of 50 or more.

1910 Registered as a public company: Petters Ltd [6].

1910 the first Petter two-stroke cycle engines were placed on the market, adding to the four-stroke engines which had been manufactured up to then

1911 Smithfield Club Show. Spring-mounted oil traction engine for hauling loads from 8 to 10 tons. Engine is 30 bhp. [7]

1912 a large site was purchased on the outskirts of Yeovil and the first buildings of a new factory were erected on the land which became known as the Westland Works.

1912 the company began engine production in the new factory. Its workforce of 500 men produced 1500 engines a year.

1912 Detailed description of their works in The Engineer [8]

1913 Sidney Zaleski Hall appointed chief engineer

1913 Existing foundry unable to meet the demand. New site obtained at West Hendford (west of Yeovil). Garden village established for the employees which became known as Westland.

1914 Ashford Vincent Clarke appointed chief engineer

1913-1917 For a list of the models and prices of Marine Motors see the 1917 Red Book

1913-1917 For a list of the models and prices of Petrol Motor Commercial Vehicles see the 1917 Red Book

In 1915 the chairman, W. R. Moore, resigned as a result of deep religious convictions that did not allow him to become involved in the manufacture of war munitions [9]. In his place, Ernest Petter became chairman. The board decided to put its manufacturing resources at the disposal of government. Petters was asked to build aeroplanes. Westland Aircraft Works (renamed "Westland Aircraft" in 1935) was founded as a subsidiary.

WW1 Percy was managing director of Petters; production of engines, shell cases and gun carriage equipment.

1915 Discontinued manufacture of four-stroke cycle engines.

1919 Petters entered into an agreement with Vickers to build Petters' diesel engines. Ranged from 10 bhp (single) to 510 bhp (six-cylinder).[10]

At the 1920 Darlington Royal Agricultural Show they exhibited two-stroke engines from 2.5 to 8 hp of a simple design. These were petrol-paraffin types. They also showed 13.5, 35 and 54 bhp oil engines.

1921 Formed Vickers-Petters Ltd in conjunction with Vickers Ltd [11], who had purchased a facility at Ipswich during WW1 and equipped it for engine manufacture. Manufactured oil engines up to 500 h.p. Advertisement [12]

1922 Supplier of electricity generators and lighting systems.

1922 'A freehold works at Yeovil' advertised for sale by Petters [13]

1922 Annual meeting told about poor financial position. The aircraft works had sufficient work in hand to justify retaining this business [14]

1923 They were awarded a diploma of honour in the prime movers class for their exhibit at the Brazilian Centenary Exhibition.[15]

1925 Annual meeting told that engines business was profitable - a small profit from each of a large number of transactions; the aircraft business suffered from gaps between orders when there was no revenue; Vickers-Petters with its larger engines continued to make losses due to industrial depression [16].

1926 Vickers sold their interest in Vickers-Petters

1927 Vickers-Petters renamed Petters (Ipswich) Ltd.

1928 Petters (Ipswich) closed at end of year; manufacture of larger engines transferred to Yeovil[17].

In the 1930s the company manufactured mechanical calculators. The company obtained a patent on calculator technology in 1923 and two more in 1930. Guy Bazeley Petter then took out equivalent US patents and assigned the rights to the company. The company subsequently sold its calculator designs to the Bell Punch Co.

1935? Westland Aircraft separated as a business.

1938 Development of Super Scavenge diesel engine in sizes 125 to 375 h.p. These were actually produced by Mirrlees, Bickerton and Day and continued until 1951

1938 Acquired 90% of shares of Liverpool Refrigeration and Engineering Co. Exchanged one director each with the board of Mirrlees, Bickerton and Day Ltd to achieve benefit for both companies. Three directors joined the board of Brush Electrical Engineering Co; the managing director, Mr Keep, has freed some time to give attention to Brush Engineering business [18].

1938 Brush Electrical Engineering Co acquired the oil-engine business based at Yeovil in exchange for shares in Brush; Brush Electrical Engineering Co acquired the right to form a new company Petters Ltd, to preserve the name and goodwill. The land and buildings at Yeovil sold to Westland Aircraft Ltd. The greater part of the shares in the Westland business were sold to John Brown and Co with an option on the remainder. Petters became a holding company with most of its income derived from its shares in Brush and its other investments[19].

1938 Acquired the oil engine part of the business of Fielding and Platt; the diesel engines were known as Petter-Fielding.

1939 Petters' name was changed to Associated British Engineering. Essentially a holding company with aim of consolidating the oil-engine industry [20].

A new Petters

1939 A new company was registered by Brush called Petters Ltd[21] to take on the business of manufacture, sale and servicing of engines based at Yeovil.

Production and manufacture of Petters diesels continued as part of Brush.

In 1957 this company was acquired by Hawker Siddeley Group. Some Petters production was moved to Hamble as the reorganized company was split into several groups[22]:

  • Petter Staines (small engines),
  • Petter Generator Divisions,
  • Petter Marine Division,
  • Petter Service Division
  • Thermo-King Division (building refrigeration units under license from the US firm Thermo-King).

1961 Manufacturers of air and water-cooled industrial and marine diesel engines in a range of 1.5 to 108 bhp and air-cooled industrial petrol or vaporising oil engines of 1.5 to 10 bhp. 1,500 employees.

In 1986 Petters merged with one-time rivals R. A. Lister and Co, also part of the Hawker Siddeley Group to form Lister-Petter.

1988 The Staines site was sold. Production was concentrated at Dursley, Gloucestershire.


  • P2 range (1911 - ) Ranging from the P2B (3.5 bhp) to the PG2 (20 bhp)
  • V Type (1911 - ) Vertical two-stroke crude oil engine. Over the years these became the VC, VD, VE, VG, VJ, VK and VN from one to six cylinders and outputs from 8 to 480 hp.
  • Junior VF (1913 - ). Paraffin engine for the agricultural market initially in a 5 hp size. Later added the VA, VB and VZ series ranging from 2.5 to 8 hp.
  • Series 1 (1922 - ) 1.5 hp. Not successful and discontinued with possibly 300 were made.
  • S Type (c1923 - ) (Surface ignition) engine in the 5 to 21 bhp
  • Series 2 engine
  • M type (1925? - ) oil engine. By 1930s more than 50,000 'M' type engines had been sold.
  • Atomic solid injection diesel engine (1928 - 1940). One to six cylinders. 5 to 500 bhp. Over 5,000 built
  • PU air-cooled model (1931 - 1945) Single and twin cylinders. 2 to 8 bhp
  • Harmonic two-stroke diesel engine (1936 - ) One to eight cylinders. 16 bhp per cylinder. Just 100 were built.
  • Model A Series (1936 - 1946) Air-cooled four-stroke engine ranging from 1.5 to 3 hp. More than 50,000 were built
  • Model A Series II (AII) engine. (1947 - 1967). In 1952 introduced the W1, W1H, W1HP and W2 water-cooled versions of the A Series engine
  • Model B diesel engine (c1948 - 1952) Introduced the in 2, 3 and 4 cylinder formats.
  • Model B Series II engine (1952 - ). In 1955 the Model B production moved to Mclaren where it became the Petter-Mclaren
  • PC range (1957 - ) 5 to 50 hp. One to four cylinders.
  • AA1 Engine (1964 - )

Small Engines

See Petters: Small Engines

Lighting Units

See Petters: Lighting Units

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Wikipedia [1]
  2. Sir Ernest Willoughby Petter, by Anne Pimlott Baker, ODNB
  3. The Engineer of 22nd June 1900 p650
  4. Sir Ernest Willoughby Petter, by Anne Pimlott Baker, ODNB
  5. A-Z of British Stationary Engines by Patrick Knight. Published 1996. ISBN 1 873098 37 5
  6. Sir Ernest Willoughby Petter, by Anne Pimlott Baker, ODNB
  7. The Engineer of 8th December 1911 p593
  8. The Engineer 1912/04/05 p358
  9. The Times, 29 May 1915
  10. A-Z of British Stationary Engines by Patrick Knight. Published 1999. ISBN 1 873098 50 2
  11. Report on the meeting of Vickers Ltd, The Times, 23 December 1921
  12. The Times, 1 June 1921
  13. The Times, 22 February 1922
  14. The Times, 21 August 1922
  15. The Engineer 1923/07/13
  16. The Times, 24 July 1925
  17. The Times, 3 July 1928
  18. The Times, 18 July 1938
  19. The Times, 9 September 1938
  20. The Times, 9 December 1938
  21. The Times, 5 January 1939
  22. [2] Wikipedia