The First Hundred Years (1870 - 1970)

This period was fully chronicled in the 1970 Centenary Booklet, a precis appears below.

In 1870, when Britain's prosperity under Queen Victoria was approaching its height, a talented young engineer of staunch Congregationalist background, by the name of William Henry Dorman, founded a relatively modest enterprise with the object of producing sole and heel cutting knives for the local boot and shoe industry in the county town of Stafford — on the site of a monastery formerly occupied by monks of the Order of Grey Friars.
 The premises were at No 45 Foregate Street. His partner at this time was a Mr M Walker. William was by now a staunch supporter of the Plymouth Brethren. His father had left the Congregational Church, and had become a leading light in the Brethren in the 1840s.
 The firm he created, later to be known as W. H. Dorman and Company Limited, has during the intervening century developed into a diesel enterprise producing over 6,000 diesel and gas engines annually of which 60% are exported through 170 overseas distributors, to meet all marine and industrial requirements within a power range of up to 1,000 b.h.p., in countries throughout the world; a further 30% re exported following their initial supply to some 75 leading manufacturers in this country alone who produce equipment relying on Dorman's for diesel and gas engined power.
  The story of the development of the business which W. H. Dorman brought into being into what today is that of an orderly and gradual process and its telling requires to begin at the beginning — one hundred years ago.
 What was the man who founded Dorman like? History reveals that not merely was he a skilled engineer, but a man with a fortunate gift of inspiring his employees to dedicate themselves to attain his own remarkable exacting standards of craftsmanship and quality.
 Mr. Dorman was able, in addition, to demand, and receive, from his employees the same high degree of sterling personal conduct and self discipline which he had, as the son of one of Stafford's leading Congregational ministers, himself inherited..
 That William Dorman could impress his own nature on that of his workmen and apprentices so successfully was due to the general attested strength of his character and personality; however, he was not just the self-assured late Victorian businessman that his photograph reveals but the possessor of an eager, curious and inquiring temperament which led Dorman's along ever more fruitful lines of endeavour in the engineering field.
 Stories have come down to illustrate this side of his nature; for example his predilection for suddenly materialising in person to inspect the handiwork of employees, or of rising by night to make his way from his house into the adjoining works where he would stand clad in nightgown and candle in hand gazing in fond pride at some successful item of new machinery or engrossed in the solution of problems which had arisen during the day.
Within a few years of its foundation the firm launched into the manufacture of a wide range of specialised machinery including cutting tools for the footwear industry, bag-making machines, and machines for making horse shoe nails, to say nothing of the earliest meat refrigeration plant to be installed at Smithfield Market in London. In all this the skill and competence of he firm's craftsmen was of direct or indirect service to other Stafford industries. Dorman grinders utilised the local grinding wheel industry which had existed since 1865; Dorman cutting tools were used   extensively in the local factories of the boot and shoe industry.
  Ultimately at about the turn of the century all manufacturing rights for the cutting tools and other implements for the footwear industry were transferred to what is now the British United Shoe Manufacturing Company; it was at approximately this time, in 1897, that the firm became a private Limited Liability Company.
   William’s partner in the 1897 Company was Mr William Ingram James, a local Ironfounder. The first major decision of the new Company was to reject a bid for the outright purchase of the Foregate Street Company by American owners of Leicester-based BUSM Co. The bid by the Boston-based United Shoe Machinery Co was made in 1900, with the allocation of patents to BUSM made the following year.
  With the opening of the new century an important development came to take place: the concentration of the firm's activities into two principal fields, the production of printing and grinding machines, although the production of both general and specialised machine tools continued unabated. In the former category contemporary catalogues including rotary perforating and page numbering equipment and stitching machinery as used "in binderies throughout the civilised world". These were made for such names as "Elliott", "Partridge" and "Caxton" as by now the company had secured the manufacturing rights of their equipment from these original companies; but the grinding machines were produced in Dorman's own name and included equipments to perform a wide variety of applications ranging from compact and inexpensive grinders of simple design to automatic multi-speed internal grinders capable of carrying out the most difficult tasks accurately and rapidly. In these machines Dorman's successfully blended modern design elements with the most practical concern possible for the convenience of the operator and profit margin of the customer - seventy years on these features are still being expertly combined in the most modern Dorman engines of today.
   It was during these years that machines produced by Dorman, to customers' design, were to win awards of merit in the United States and on the Continent.
 Having transferred the patents for Shoe machines, Dorman acquired patents for improvements in knitwear machinery. In April 1901, an agreement was signed with the Automatic Knitting Machine Co. of London for the manufacture of 1000 machines. This was followed in 1903 by a further order for 1000.
 Meanwhile with their eye ever on the requirements of local industry, Dorman included amongst these machines, locomotive link and bush grinders of which at least two were supplied to the factory beside the old L.&N.W.R. main line from Euston to Crewe where another Stafford firm, that of W. G. Bagnall Limited  had been producing locomotives since 1875. When in 1959 Bagnalls in fact were to be absorbed by Dorman two of these machines were still to be found on the inventory of their machinery.
      It was almost, perhaps, inevitably following upon the development of these sophisticated internal grinding machines that the company should begin to manufacture and market tools to be used in the grinding of cylinders for the new internal combustion engine — so it was, that, beginning in 1903, the company should commence the design, production and sales of petrol and paraffin fuelled car engines.
  From that moment internal combustion engine manufacture was to increase steadily to dominate the company's activities. To imagine that all other Dorman activities became defunct overnight would be very reverse of the case, as remains to be seen.
By 1925 the Dorman reputation had reached the point where other manufacturing concerns thought it worthwhile to borrow the name for use in the descriptions of their goods, it is pleasant to be able to report that the wrong doers were detected and rapped sharply over the knuckles, by Mr. Justice Astbury in High Court, and his worship then granted to perpetual injunctions with costs against any further misuse of Dorman's name.
The injunction was made following the case WH Dorman v Meadows in 1922. William’s son, John E Dorman, had joined Henry Meadows of Wolverhampton. Meadows of Fallings Park had commenced manufacture of gearboxes for the automotive industry in 1920. Also recruited was Dorman design engineer, a Mr Crump. Gearboxes, and later petrol engines, appeared with ‘Meadows-Dorman’ on the castings. Walter Haddon viewed this as a misuse of the Dorman name and reputation, hence the injunction.It was at this point at mid-decade that the country’s industrial recession caused Dorman to reluctantly halt the production of car engines which it had first taken up in 1903, however, by the time it became necessary to take this sad decision, the name of popular makers employing Dorman engines in addition to those of Westwood and Autocrat already mentioned included, Abingdon, Airedale, Belsize, Crouch, Clyno, Hampton, Hand, Palladium, Rob Roy, Stafford, Vulcan and Waverley. The firm of Ruston & Hornsby of Lincoln, whose destiny has 40 years later to link still more closely with Dorman, made extremely wide use of Dorman engines in high quality cars which they manufactured from 1919 to 1924; one of these sold in 1921 to an Australian taxi owner was still, it seems, plying for hire, around the streets of Melbourne thirty years later literally without having had a single breakdown.
The early twenties slump had also seriously inhibited Dorman's plans for expansion after the end of the war; a 48 acre site had been purchased at Tixall Road, on the north eastern side of town and construction began on a new factory laid out on mass-production principals. New foundry facilities were to be included on the site as the lease on the company's existing foundry premises at Newport Road was to expire in 1929.  The Foundry was in the name of ‘Rudge & Griffiths’ situated at the junction of Newport Road and Station Road. In more recent years this became the site of the ‘Bethany’ Hostel. As these had had as early as July 1919 to be extended to meet the demands of the immediate peace time boom it was clear that ample provision would have to be made to maintain the existing level of foundry work in the new premises.
 The major investment of 1949 was the construction of a new foundry. The new 2-bay building can be seen in darker shade on the aerial photograph below. The foundry incorporated a greater degree of mechanisation, able to cope with all demands for production of the ‘50s, with capacity for other Company’s demands.
    The building was erected on a concrete ‘raft’ to avoid subsidence in the Sow flood plain. The foundry was one of the few in the country certified to ‘Meehanite’ standards, thus ensuring the highest quality iron castings
 At this time, Dorman had introduced the first air cooled engines. The DWA was a 10hp single-cylinder engine, originally built in 1939; in addition was the 4DLRA, and the 2-cylinder DLA which included an integral compressing cylinder.    
   As the decade turned a significant pattern emerged for Dorman's post war trade. Prior to 1920, a list of Dorman's foreign customers would have been relatively small, a decade later the boast could be made that tens of thousands of Dorman engines are in use all the world over; and by 1952 85% of Dorman engines were directly or indirectly exported. An agency organisation had now been developed to cover every important trading centre in the world; a consequence was that Dorman was now doing very well. In the first five complete trading years of the peace the company's turnover by value increased annually to 58% by the end of the financial year 1952; this was achieved by a corresponding increase in staff of 45%. Judged by sheer output, productivity in 1952 had reached an all time level, which was surpassed again the following year, in the simplest terms, the order book was full, and the factory was working to full capacity. This is still the situation to this present day.
   The ghosts of the twenties slump and the thirties depression had been laid to rest, never to walk again. As if to usher in the new era, Dorman engined machinery was to be seen, in plenty, during the years 1950-51 helping to prepare the site for the Festival of Britain.
   The most significant feature of the nineteen fifties was the development of the new engine series which were to greatly expand the available Dorman power range, this was the consequence of a decision taken as early as 1946 when as many as four basic engine series had been provisionally outlined, ranging from a single cylinder 6 b.h.p. model to a sixteen cylinder diesel to produce 2,000 b.h.p.     The essential
requirements for the new engine ranges was that their design should provide for the complete interchangeability of the maximum possible number of components common to all models, thus perfecting to a high degree the standardisation and interchangeability at which Dorman had set their sights and greatly facilitating the after sales spares service.
   The present Dorman 'L' range was initiated in 1953 with the 'LA' engine; 17 years later a significant proportion of Dorman sales is accounted for by the 'LD' and 'LE' engines, its direct descendants. The power outputs covered by the 'L' range run from 20 to 250 b.h.p. approximately twice both the minimum and maximum output figures for the whole of the Dorman engine range in 1946.
    The largest order for L engines was received in 1955. Hundreds were to be supplied for the ‘DEW-Line’ radar stations across Northern Canada. These unmanned Stations were set up every 90 miles in a chain following the 69th Parallel. The generators, mainly powered by 4L engines, were assembled by Mechron for the Canadian Defence Department. Being well inside the Arctic Circle, the engines would be working in harsh sub-zero weather conditions.  A further major contract for L series engines was for Malasian Telecommunications. Here, unmanned stations stretched from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, later extended to Penang.
    The Flextel product was still being produced, benefiting from improved casting quality. The largest order was for pipework jointing being supplied to BP. This was  for incorporation in the Aden Harbour project which came into operation during 1958.
    The 'Q' range was introduced in 1957 and comprised vertical, in-line, six cylinder, also eight and twelve cylinder, vee-form models, this is by no means an unusual choice of configuration but earlier it had been intended to produce horizontal five and six cylinder models, and even a vee sixteen.
In 1962-63 Dorman introduced turbocharged air to air charge cooling for the Q range of engines. In this system the charge air travels from the turbocharger via an intercooler, which is integral with, and cooled by, the same fan as the radiator; after being cooled the air then passes to the cylinders. The principle of charge cooling is that with the introduction of the cooled air, the air is rendered more dense resulting in a greater charge of air into the cylinders which enables more fuel to be burnt with a resultant increase in power.
    Air to water charge cooled engines require a constant flow of water with the necessary pump and an assortment of pipes; these are eliminated in air to air charge cooled engines thus permitting them to be a portable, self contained unit, hence the value of the work pioneered by Dorman, in this field.
 Dorman have never in fact, up to the present date,   chosen to launch into production of the largest engine range considered in 1946, the smallest three cylinder model in this range would have been at least a 25 litre engine, and the largest sixteen cylinder model would have weighed about 15 tons! The 12QTCW engines for the ‘Haulpak’ were supplied by Fairbanks-Morse of Beloit, USA. During the mid-60s, they were ‘badged’ as the Fairbanks-Morse 50A model. Many were supplied in Gen-sets for USA Government Buildings, such as Libraries, Sports Centres, Police and Fire stations. The 50A model was also supplied to US Navy ships at Norfolk, and for ‘SealandAir’ vessels which were early versions of Container Ships.
  However, a far more vital concern for Dorman engineers in the years after the introduction of the 'L' and 'Q' ranges was to fill the power gap left below 20 b.h.p. as earlier models were slowly being phased out, the solution found to this problem will be seen later. Naturally there is no pressing call for the company to expand into what could effectively be a new field where the competition had long been established.
    Meanwhile Dorman engines were appearing on the scene of many major engineering projects throughout the world; in the fifties these included the Snowy Mountains and Kieiva Hydro Electric Projects in Australia, the construction of a 2,500 foot barrage by Indian Government to irrigate the West Punjab, the Owen Falls Project, Uganda, airfield construction contracts in Hong Kong and the Cocos Islands and the Colombo Harbour Development Scheme in Ceylon; this is only, it should be stated, an extremely selective list taken from an extensive survey made in 1956. Since then one might mention that Dorman involvement via the use of their engines in many different types of plant in the development of Britain's Nuclear Power Stations at Wylfa and Daresbury, on the CJB contract for laying a 500 mile oil pipe line in Algeria, the installation of base load sets powering radio-navigational equipment in isolated sites throughout Iran, Orange River Dams projects in South Africa and the giant new Forth, Severn and Tay road bridges.     
The "fifties" closed with the merger of Dorman and one of their closest customers, the locomotive firm of W. G. Bagnall Limited, located on the other side of Stafford about a mile away, who had been incorporating Dorman diesels in their locomotives for a considerable time. The company had many other good customers in the rail traction industry, some of whose Dorman engined products from this period we are able to illustrate; possibly it was felt that this market could only improve given the spur of competition. Naturally there were also considerable advantages for Dorman in being able to manufacture a complex product such as a diesel locomotive. On the other hand engine sales to other locomotive manufacturers did not cease and Bagnalls preserved sufficient autonomy, under the Dorman wing, to install other manufacturers' engines should this be specified by customer. At about this point in time the manufacturer of Flexstel was transferred to the newly acquired works of Bagnalls where it was to remain until 1961.
After the merging of Dorman with the English Electric Group, in August of that year Flexstel production returned to Tixall Road works, meanwhile necessity had unfortunately to bring about the demise of W. G. Bagnall Limited as a separate entity, and its experience and skills were ultimately directed into English Electric's other considerable interests in this field, while Castle Works was utilised as an extension of their light engineering activities. Dorman, it should be stressed, were adversely affected in no degree, the order book remained full and indeed sufficient orders were being obtained to maintain this healthy state. By 1960 a situation had in fact arisen whereby Dorman were winning more orders than they could reasonably handle and there was a distinct apprehension that a peak had been reached from which there could only be a descent.
  1963 saw the rebirth of the historic Brixham Trawler Race, the first since World War II. This event dates back to the days of 'sail' and the desire then, as now, was a sporting event for the trawlermen in the mother port of trawl fishing — Brixham. The race of bygone days, and now, meant the home-coming, from various fishing ports and grounds, of old Brixhamites amongst them sons and daughters of long ago fisherfolk of Devon, back to their home port to take part in, or to watch the great festival.
    To chronicle the talk of actual sailing would take too long but memories of many decades, memories of the great battles of aunts, uncles and cousins, from Hull, Grimsby, Lowestoft, Ramsgate, Fleetwood, Plymouth, Newlyn and Milford Haven, all ex-natives of Brixham and their descendants, are relived each year.  By 1970, Dorman engines played a prominent part in the race as a high percentage of the local trawlers were powered by Dorman units, and for the last three years a Dorman engined trawler — The Angele Emiel has won the George Jackson Cup for the fastest boat.
   This vessel in a 'pair trawl' with the Angele Erika, also Dorman engined, recently recorded a record catch of over twenty tons of mackerel and pilchards, in an operation lasting 40 minutes. Both skippers had nothing but praise for Dorman. From 1963 onwards Dorman were to concentrate on the marine industry, at home, as ironically foreign markets were better developed.
   Another notable contract was in 1967, when Dorman engines were used to power the ‘road-train’ which was to tour Canada with the 1967 Centenary Exhibition. Again Mechron supplied and installed the Gen-sets. The ability of Dorman engines to operate in extreme conditions was again proven in 1967, with the supply of 3 6Q-powered Gen-sets to a base in Antarctica.
    In 1964 the company launched its new air cooled 'DA' range of engines on to the market, besides the existing 'Q' and 'L' ranges. These are the three ranges of Dorman diesel engines whose production still continues, at Tixall Road works to this very day. The DA range was developed for many applications, such as snow-blowers, grain driers and Compressors. Working with Block Compressors, the DA’s were used in variants of the ‘Monair’ compressor. This utilised ‘driving’ and ‘compression’ cylinders on a common crankshaft in a single engine block.    The company had been perhaps the first British manufacturers to take the commercial possibilities of this type of engine seriously as far back as 1939, when the 6—11 b.h.p. single cylinder DWA engine had been introduced, and was praised by "Gas and Oil Power" as a well thought, robust little unit . . . capable of standing up to hard work. This judgment, made in December of that year, was to prove aptly fitting for the 200 engines produced; unfortunately wartime manpower problems forced the abandonment of this promising line. Later in the war however, a quantity of air-cooled variants of the water-cooled ‘DL' range were sold to Holman's for installation in their compressors, and at least one of these early experiments is still running in the Holman Fctory in Cornwall. By the way of illustration we are able to compare two types of plant, powered by Dorman air-cooled engines, 20 years apart from each other.
In the mid sixties all the group's diesel engine interests, comprising Dorman, the Liverpool concern of D. Napier &-Son Limited and the large diesels produced under English Electric's own name by the latter's Diesel Engine Division, were sectionalised into a single trading company. In November 1966 English Electric were to acquire the large Ruston Group, as a result of which it became possible in January 1968 to form English Electric Diesels Limited, carrying on under this one heading the production of Dorman, Kelvin, Ruston, Paxman, Napier and English Electric diesels, in addition to that of many ancillary products.
   The first of a series of the variants of the established engine range, the 6Q appeared in 1968 as the 6QG, this is basically the 6Q engine modified to operate on several types of gas. Since the advent of the 6QG, three more tpes have become available as gas fuelled engines and the 6LDG, 6DAG and 8DAG have already enjoyed considerable advanced sales to the rich natural gas oil fields of North America, Middle East and Australia. Meanwhile the first 6QG engine to be sold had already brought mains electricity to the Iranian village of Guyum for the first time in its history in late 1968.
Guyum is also supplied with water by a Dorman engined pump, one of many helping small communities in their struggle for existance in the more arid regions of the Middle East.

    The DA  range was developed for many applications, such as snow-blowers, grain driers and Compressors. Working with Block Compressors, the DAs were used in variants of the ‘Monair’  compressor. This utilised ‘driving’ and ‘compression’ cylinders on a common crankshaft in a single engine block.
    In 1970 the name rose to its former prominence as Dorman Diesels Limited and became a management company of English Electric Diesels Limited, under the guidance of Mr. L. Johnson as Managing Director. In the meantime as a result of the merger with the Ruston Group, Dorman now had under their wing the sale and production of Kelvin marine engines, the smaller Ruston diesels, and more recently of Ruston Hydraulic Motors. Thus 100 years after William Dorman conceived his healthy infant, it has itself grown to flourishing maturity and adopted equally healthy children, domiciled in Glasgow, the home of Kelvin, and in Lincoln, where Ruston's have been established since 1857.
 One of the beneficial effects of the new grouping was to increase the power range of engines which Dorman could now offer to their customers; the Ruston YWA series now filled a gap between 6 and 20 b.h.p. In addition the company now enjoys strong though informal links with Ruston-Bucyrus, who as previously explained have long flourished as a purely independent concern outside the main Ruston Group. The association of the Dorman and Ruston names which was significant for both companies in the "twenties" and "thirties" has thus come to prominence once again and holds great promise for the future.

Return to Home page