First ever history of British lubricants industry published

Tim Hill author of British Lubricants Industry

Eleven team Lubricants & Chemicals

First ever history of British lubricants industry published

The first ever academic history of lubricants, one of British manufacturing’s most vital industries has been compiled and written by Tim Hill, a retired Cambridge graduate who enjoyed a career in the oil industry, going ‘about as far downstream as possible’ when he entered the world of finished lubricants. In fact, Tim used to supply our parent company Ashley & Dumville with fuel from the Eastham refinery and remains a friend of the business today.

Touching every aspect of modern life, A History of the British Lubricants Industry celebrates lubricating oils and greases as the unsung heroes of commerce and industry, remarking that without them the world would have scarcely moved out of the Bronze Age. With little written about their contribution to civilisation, and less about the companies working in the sector, Tim admirably rectifies this situation in his telling of the industry’s story.

You can order your copy from Merton Priory Press

Below is a short extract of this valuable contribution to our technical and industrial heritage.

Most readers will be familiar with castor oil as either a conservatory plant or a laxative medicine, but it has a proud history as a lubricant. 

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Still the basis of the soap which forms the structure of a lubricating grease, a century ago it was of vital importance in the war effort. It was a good lubricant for the early internal combustion engines, especially because of its low temperature properties, or rather its stability under extreme temperatures; even though it did have a tendency to deposit carbon, this was the “soft” form and easily de-coked. 

Thus, it came to be the mainspring in the naming of more than one oil company – Wakefield’s Castrol – while Castorine as a brand name was used by Livett & Sons and Silkolene.  London company Parry’s works were fortuitously in Castor St. E 14.

For about 40 years blended castor oil held a special place in sporting (and racing) cars, even after the practical demise of the internal combustion engine in aviation, with which it had the closest of relations in the First World War. Many war planes were powered by the ‘Gnome’ engine, which was rotary and was lubricated via the fuel as a 2-stroke might be. 

This brings us back to the medicinal qualities of castor oil, for pilots were subjected to a mist of oil. As Rolls Royce delicately put it, “To sit behind an engine that is spraying you with unburnt castor oil is quite another matter… It would be impossible to expose oneself to such an atmosphere and not experience certain difficulties.”