The Griffin Engineering Company,


Bath, Somerset.

Samuel Griffin was an innovative engineer who, in 1868 at the age of 27, started a business in Philip St. in the Southgate area of Bath approximately where the bus station now stands. He called it the Kingston Ironworks. His main business involved the repair of steam engines and agricultural machinery but by 1879 he was manufacturing steam and gas engines and at the same time was busy improving and inventing things. In 1883 he introduced his 'Patent slide valve'. At about this period the Otto patent four-stroke engine was introduced and Otto, keen to protect his interests, made it impossible for anyone to use this system without first obtaining a licence. This forced many early engineers like  Joseph Day, the Bath inventor of the ported two-stroke engine, (fig 1), to seek and develop alternative systems.

fig 1 - Joseph Day's first ported two-stroke engine which set the standard for other manufacturers for many years

The result was also the Samuel Griffin patent six-stroke, single-acting engine of 1883, and thus 1884/1885 saw the introduction of other stationary oil engines made to Griffin's patents. Griffin had an association with the Bath Electricity Generating Works and did much business with dynamos and generating engines.

In 1886, Dick Kerr (later to become part of English Electric) which was a well established steam locomotive manufacturer, saw a future in large oil engines. These were manufactured as double acting, tandem engines under the name "Kilmarnock" to Griffin patents. In 1881 Griffin had moved from his site in central Bath, firstly to Lower Bristol Rd, then to the Ambury, then in 1900 to a new red-brick factory "The New Kingston Iron Works" which still stands today, in Durley Park off Oldfield Lane. At this plant, employing some seventy people, he continued to produce various smaller engines including an order in 1898 for some of his patented 'Duplex' engines for the Bath firm of Charles Bayer which manufactured ladies corsetry. These engines were for the Bath factory and also its London one. By 1904 the Duplex range had been extended from 6hp. up to 60 hp. and sold to run on any oil.

During the early 1900's the company patented its 'Hydro' system in which a fine mist of water was sprayed into the engine along with the fuel. These were fitted to torpedo boats and a 25hp. version installed in a tug-boat on the Grand Union canal worked for 12 hrs a day for 12 months with minimal attention. Around the same time Griffin also invented a 'Bi-unial' screw propellor and licensed factories in Paris, Gothenberg,and Uruguay to produce these, as well as engines and other equipment. From 1909, a new suction-gas engine was designed. In 1910 the company announced a completely new range of oil engines of up to four cylinders and from 15hp. up to 350 hp. using any heavy or light oil.
Many varieties and combinations were also made, but the ruling principle of the "Griffin Simplex" was the exhaust-heated external vapouriser, (seen in the illustration fig2 below), into which the fuel was sprayed. The exhaust gases traversed an annular space surrounding the vapourising chamber, which was thus maintained at a temperature of 550 degrees F - sufficient to vapourise, but not to gasify, the oil; a physical and not a chemical change. It was in effect a fractional distillation, which left the undesirable refuse to be run out automatically in the form of tar or asphalte. Ignition was by a refractory body termed the Catathermic Igniter in a small isolated cavity communicating with the combustion chamber. The spray injector had an adjustable inner nozzle for the air supply, surrounded by an annular casing for the oil, both oil and air entering at 20 lbs. pressure, and being regulated by a governor.
The consumption of refined oil in engines of 20 B.H.P. and upwards was quoted as being "at the rate of from 5/8ths to 3/4ths of a pint per B.H.P.-hour at full load and with crude or fuel oils it is increased only about 15 per cent".
The engine was said to run absolutely light when working with ordinary crude oil or Scotch fuel oil having a density of 0.9, and flash point of 280 degrees F for hours together, and at any moment take full load, practically without the slightest halt or drop in speed, other than that necessary due to governor variation.

Sadly, the business was wound up in 1923 and Griffin died in 1924. Currently a search is on for a relative, Beatrice White, who may be able to shed some more light on the details of the history of the firm. The works was subsequently taken over by Stanley Engineering.

fig2 - The 1913 Griffin "Simplex" engine

In common with Joseph Day, Griffin was well known in his own time but is now little known except to those studying industrial archaeology. His products were regularly reviewed in the learned journals of the turn of the century. A Griffin six-stroke engine* can be seen in the Birmingham Museum of Science and Technology** and the four-stroke engine, formerly installed in 1881 at a cost of £55 in Bowlers Mineral Water Works near the old factory in Bath and which is currently in Bristol Industrial Museum, will shortly be moved to the Camden Works Museum back in its home city.

This article is based on one written by P.Caudle (WSEC Newsletter Nov. 1995), picture courtesy of Roland Craven, and the writer's own research.

** the Museum is sadly now closed and the exhibits have been dispersed

©Eric G. Brain Dec. 1995/Sept 2000

More Recent Information
*The six stroke double acting engine which was originally on display at Birmingham has been acquired by the Museum of Bath at Work and is presently in store in Yeovil whilst some space is being cleared for its display.  All attempts by the museum to trace any relatives of Samuel Griffin have proved fruitless and they are unable to find a photograph of him although they have a photograph of his grave(!).     There is however, a collection of material relating to Griffin at the museum   The six stroke engine is being looked after for them by a stationary engine collector who has been attempting to operate it using the original principle.

Many thanks to Stuart Burroughs (Curator, Museum of Bath at Work) for this additional information (June 6th 2002)


University of Bath

Museum of Bath at Work