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British Industrial History

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Herbert Akroyd Stuart

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Herbert Akroyd Stuart (1864-1927) who patented the world's first successful oil engine.

1864 January 28th. Born in Halifax. His father, Charles Stuart, was a Scotsman from Paisley who moved to Halifax and then taken over the Bletchley Ironworks, in Buckinghamshire.

1871 Living at 7 Drakes Building, Halifax: Charles Stuart (age 35 born Scotland), Pattern maker Foundry. With his wife Ann Stuart (age 34 born Halifax) and their three children; Herbert Stuart (age 7 born Halifax); Florence Stuart (age 5 born Halifax); and Jonathan W. Stuart (age 7 Months born Halifax).[1]

After working for a short time as junior assistant in the Mechanical Engineering Department of the City and Guilds of London Technical College, Finsbury, Herbert joined his father at Bletchley and commenced work experimenting with oil engines.

1881 Living at New Street, Fenny Stratford: Charles Stuart (age 45 born Halifax), Mechanical Engineer and Ironfounder employing 12 men and 1 boy. With his wife Ann Stuart (age 44 born Halifax) and their four children; Agnes Stuart (age 20 born Halifax); Herbert Ackroyd Stuart (age 17 born Halifax), Engineers Apprentice; Charles Henry Stuart (age 7 born Halifax); and Annie Stuart (age 4 born Halifax). [2]

Herbert’s first patent was taken out in 1886 after four years of experimenting, largely based on the ‘trial and error’ method of development. Other patents followed, jointly taken out with Charles Richard Binney. Their most important patent was taken out in May 1890 and describes the world’s first compression ignition engine.[3] The system described is known as solid injection; it is the principle that is used by most present day diesel engines and was a proven technique when Rudolph Diesel presented his designs for a patent in 1893.

Several experimental engines were built at the Bletchley factory, one of which was installed at the newspaper offices of the Fenny Stratford Times another went to the waterworks and a third to the brush factory of Messrs. Cooks. As the quality of the engineering on these engines was poor, George Wailes and Co, Euston Road, London built a subsequent batch of four. Unfortunately there are no known survivors of these early engines.

1891 Living at Denmark Street, Fenny Stratford: Anne Stewart (age 54 born Waxley?, Yks), Living on own means - Married. With her four children; Agnes Stewart (age 33 born Halifax); Herbert Akroyd Stewart (age 27 born Halifax), Civil Engineer; Florence Stewart (age 25 born Halifax); Chas H. Stewart (age 17 born Halifax), Civil Engineer Pupil. Also her grandson Cecil S. Cannon (age 8 months born Bicester.[4]

By 1891, Akroyd-Stuart realised that the engine was ready for quantity production and Richard Hornsby and Sons, at Grantham, was offered the manufacturing rights to develop and market the Hornsby-Akroyd engine. Two of the Akroyd designed engines were subsequently exhibited by Hornsbys at the Royal Agricultural Show, held at Doncaster in June 1891.

In May 1892 the first production engines, numbers 101 and 102, were installed at the Great Brickhill Waterworks, at Fenny Stratford. The engines worked regularly until 1923, when a Mr. Evans, a timber merchant in Bletchley, purchased No. 101. In 1939 the engine was returned to Hornsby's where it was restored and preserved as a museum piece. Today it is displayed in the works of MAN B&W Diesel Ltd, Ruston, at Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside.

The Hornsby-Akroyd was an instant success and a total of 32,417 engines of this type were built. Its uses were numerous, and they were produced in both horizontal and vertical form, stationary and portable. In 1896 this type of engine was used to power the first oil tractor and the first oil locomotive; and in 1905, a 20 h.p. Hornsby-Akroyd engined tractor was the worlds first 'caterpillar' tractor.

In 1892 Ruston, Burton and Proctor changed its name to Ruston, Proctor and Co and by the year 1894 they too had produced their first commercial oil engine.

1927 February 19th. Died at Akroydon, Claremont, Perth, Western Australia


1927 Obituary [5]

HERBERT AKROYD STUART died at the age of sixty-three years, early in 1927, in Australia., where he had lived for twenty-seven years.

His father, Charles Stuart, had a small engineering works at Fenny Stratford, where the son received his early training.

Between 1885 and 1890 he took out seven patents for the improvement of the oil-engine, which were undoubtedly the outcome of experience with a Spiel petroleum-engine which drove the works. To continue experimental work Mr. Akroyd Stuart became connected with Mr. Charles Richard Binney of London, and many more patents were taken out. That of 1889 was in respect of a tube containing a metal spiral whirls was kept hot by the repeated explosions in the cylinder and so served to ignite successive charges. Two patents in 1890 referred to a vaporizing chamber in direct communication with the engine cylinder, and constituted the "Akroyd " cycle.

An engine of this construction was tested satisfactorily in 1891. In that year also a modification was made whereby a mixture of air and oil vapour was drawn into the cylinder, compressed and automatically fired by the hot chamber. This became universally known as the "Hornsby-Akroyd" oil-engine, Mr. Akroyd Stuart having sold the manufacturing rights of his patents to Messrs. Richard Hornsby and Sons of Grantham. Many other improvements were made, and the achievements of Herbert Akroyd Stuart form a landmark in British engineering. The Institution has honoured his work by the grateful acceptance of a bequest of £500 which he left to found a Prize for Papers relating to the history and development of the oil-engine.

He became a Member in 1901.



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