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Ailsa Craig Ltd

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Ailsa Craig logo, Ailsa Craig Archive

Ailsa Craig Ltd was a successful niche manufacturer of high quality marine engines, which originated in 1891 and finally ceased trading in 1972.

Although the business was ultimately based in England, the company name was originally derived from both the island of Ailsa Craig, which lies off the west coast of Scotland (also known as Paddy's Milestone), and the name of the original founder, who came from Glasgow, Alistair Edward Stuart Craig, also known as Arthur.

Ailsa Craig from Girvan, 2006
Ailsa Craig from Girvan
© Neil Cunningham

Arthur Craig had started his business in Glasgow, where he established Craig Bicycles, and manufactured his own quality bicycle which had the registered trademark of a man standing on the peak of Ailsa Craig, holding a Craig bicycle at arm's length, and with the slogan "As strong as the rock of Ailsa Craig".

For the sake of simplicity, this article generally refers to the company by its final name, Ailsa Craig Ltd, however it operated under a number of names during its life:

  • Ailsa Craig Bicycle Company, Glasgow pre 1891, Putney London post 1891.
  • Ailsa Craig Machine Tool Company
  • Putney Motor Company (Craig-Dörwald)
  • Ailsa Craig Motor Company Ltd
  • Ailsa Craig Ltd
  • Complete Motor Boats
  • Ailsa Craig Ltd, part of the Warsop-Fram Group of companies.

The Ailsa Craig Archives

Ailsa Craig Archives, Book One, The History
Book One, The History

The majority of the information provided on this page has been sourced from the Ailsa Craig Archives, and we are grateful for their permission to include material from the archive in the presentation of this page.

Much of the information has been recorded in an eBook, The Ailsa Craig Archives, Book One, The History, which is available for download [1]).

The book is also to be printed and bound, and made available for reference in the reading room of the Caird Library at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. This process is underway as of 2009, and may take some time before it is completed

Chronology of the company until Arthur Craig's departure

Pre 1891 Bicycles were manufactured. Glasgow, Scotland.
1891 – 1894 Bicycles and machine tools. Putney, London.
1895 – 1902 Machine tools, engine designs and parts.
1902 – 1904 Motor vehicles (road). Cars, lorries, tractors, vans and a bus developed.
1904 ‘S’ series petrol 1, 2, 4, & 6 cylinder models. (Available up to early 1920s).
1904 The World’s first V12 side valve 4 stroke engine.
1904 Work with H Cecil Booth to produce a petrol engine vacuum cleaner.
1904 Joint work with university boat builders Clark, produce CLACRADOR.
1904 ‘LS4’ prototype engine.
1905 ‘R4’ and ‘R6’ petrol ohc (4, 6 cylinder prototypes) 4 stroke engines.
1905 – 1906 Boat engines and other protype designs. Racing boat TOGO produced.
1906 New backers found, Craig & Dörwald leave, Ellis Kisch takes over.
1906 Company became the Ailsa Craig Motor Company Ltd. Chiswick.

Extended chronology

Clicking the button below will show or hide an extended chronology of the company:

Pre 1891

  • Bicycles were manufactured. Glasgow, Scotland.

1891 – 1894

  • Bicycles and machine tools. Putney, London.

1895 – 1902

  • Machine tools, engine designs and parts.

1902 – 1904

  • Motor vehicles (road). Cars, lorries, tractors, vans and a bus developed.


  • ‘S’ series petrol 1,2,4,& 6 cylinder models. (available up to early 1920’s).
  • The World’s first V12 side valve 4 stroke engine.
  • Work with H Cecil Booth to produce a petrol engine vacuum cleaner.
  • Joint work with university boat builders Clark, produce CLACRADOR.
  • ‘LS4’ prototype engine.


  • ‘R4’ and ‘R6’ petrol o.h.c. (4,6 cylinder prototypes) 4 stroke engines.

1905 – 1906

  • Boat engines and other protype designs. Racing boat TOGO produced.


  • New backers found, Craig & Dorwald leave, Ellis Kisch takes over.
  • Company became the Ailsa Craig Motor Company Ltd. Chiswick.


  • Hydroplane Sleuth Hound produced for John Wilesmith & Co.

1907 – 1914

  • ‘D’ series, 1,2,4 & 6 cylinder models, side valve 4 stroke. (up to 1920’s).


  • ‘Y’ series produced.

1914 – 1918

  • War effort additional works at new Dominion Factory. (WW1).
  • ‘K’ series 2 stroke semi-diesel (Kirkaldy manufactured) 1,2 & 4 cylinder.
  • ‘H’ series developed out of the ‘K’ series with an Ailsa Craig gearbox.
  • ‘L’ series investigation for the Admiralty, as ‘LS1,2 & 4’ cylinder.

1914 – 1919

  • ‘E’ series 4 stroke paraffin (Kirkaldy manufactured) 1,2,3 & 4 cylinder.


  • ‘F1’ stationary 2 stroke single cylinder version only. (available to 1925).


  • ‘L’, ‘LA’, ‘LB’ series petrol / paraffin 2,4 & 6 cylinder. (up to 1940).

1922 – 1923

  • ‘M4 & 6’ cylinder series petrol / paraffin. (available up to 1940).

1923 – 1925

  • ‘SM’ 4 & 6 cylinder special petrol racing model. (available up to 1940).


  • ‘KM’ and ‘KMR’ series produced.


  • ‘R2’ PUP two stroke opposed twin cylinder. (available up to 1940).


  • Granted Royal Appointment. Became Ailsa Craig Ltd.
  • ‘Z4’ Silent Seven petrol 4 stroke engine. (available up to 1940).


  • ‘VA4 & 6’ cylinder series petrol / paraffin 4 stroke, o.h.v.. (up to 1940).
  • ‘LV4’ prototype.


  • ‘A2’ petrol opposed twin cylinder. (available to 1940).


  • ‘T4’ side valve version of the prototype VA4 petrol paraffin engine.
  • Complete Motor Boats Ltd. To work with Thames Boat builders.

1929 – 1930

  • ‘VD4’, ‘VD6’ diesel. (Conversion of VA series petrol / Paraffin version).


  • ‘P6’ prototype petrol side valve engine.
  • ‘XL6’ petrol (aluminium crankcase indicated by L).


  • ‘DD2’, ‘DF’, ‘CF1’, ‘CF2’ (available up to 1963).
  • ‘DF’, ‘RF1,2,3,4 & 6 cylinder vesions.

1932 – 1933

  • ‘XD6’ diesel version of XL6.


  • ‘CD1,2,3,4 & 6’ cylinder versions (available up to 1962).


  • ‘DF’ series expanded to include straight 8,V8, V12, V16 diesel 4 stroke.

1934 – 1937

  • General diversification to the use of engines in industrial roles.


  • ‘CF2’ diesel engines supplied to the Hudson Hunslet Railways Group.

1937 – 1938

  • Ailsa Craig Ltd. marinised Fordson tractor engines. (‘CFS2’ substituted).


  • ‘DFV16’ is developed.
  • Ricardo whirlpool combustion chamber design adopted. ‘RF’ series.


  • Massive war time commitment to supply 5000 ‘RL2’ engines.

1939 – 1940

  • ‘RFR4’ engines produced for Royal Army Service Corps launches.


  • ‘RF’ versions revised to ‘RFR’, ‘RFS1,2,3,4 & 6’ versions only.


  • Chiswick factory bombed, chief designer Harold Linford killed.


  • World market showed upturn in marine engine sales.

1947 – 1948

  • Moved all work to Ashford in Kent.

1949 – 1959

  • ‘RA3 & 6’ cylinder versions series produced as prototypes.


  • ‘RK3,4 & 6’ cylinder versions produced up to 1963.


  • ‘RLSF2’ high speed locomotive version produced (up to 1963).


  • Company sold to the Warsop’s Fram Group.

1963 – 1972

  • Production of spares and re-branded Albin & Tomos engines only.


  • Ailsa Craig ceases trading.

1972 – 2007

  • Dr Robert Kisch offered customer advice on Ailsa Craig products.


  • Revised historical book and support offered.
  • New website created

Craig Bicycles - Glasgow

Little detail is known of Arthur Craig's early Glasgow based company, Craig Bicycles, other its trademark (referred to above), and the likelihood that he did not sell his bicycles directly to the public under his own name, but supplied them to a wholesaler, who then sold them on under another name.

Any further information readers may be able to provide would be gratefully received, and may be passed on using the Contact Form.

Prior to 1891, Craig Bicycles had been based in Glasgow but, in that year, Arthur appears to have followed his father (a Glasgow solicitor who left the city in 1890, to set up his own practice in the outskirts of Kent) and moved to 18 Grand Parade, Putney, London, where he set up the Ailsa Craig Bicycle Company to manufacture bicycles and machine tools, for which he earned a reputation for quality manufacturing. Although it seems he nurtured plans to motorise his bicycles, this idea was overtaken by the desire to build larger engines for four-wheeled motor cars, which were then beginning to becoming more popular.

Ailsa Craig Machine Tool Company - Putney Motor Company

About 1894, Craig met Gottfried Ludwig Dörwald, who owned the neighbouring premises in Putney, and had also set up his own engineering business. Little detail is known about Dörwald's history, but he is reported to have spent some time working for Daimler, and then later to have joined the German Navy, where he worked on prototype submarines. This past provided him with experience in heavy engineering and manufacturing, and by 1900 Craig and Dörwald had joined forces and moved their companies into 17 Grand Parade, where they traded as the Putney Motor Company.

From 1895 to 1902, Craig became involved in the design of engines, and the manufacture of machine tools and parts.

From 1902 to 1904, the company worked on motor vehicles, including cars, lorries, tractors, and vans, and developed a bus.

In 1904, the company created the Craig-Dörwald V12, which has come to be acknowledged as the world’s first V12 side-valve 4-stroke engine. The 18.3-litre 150-BHP Craig-Dörwald engine was built to power a 40-foot racing boat.

Ailsa Craig Motor Company Ltd

In 1906, new backers were found for the business, and the Putney Motor Company was wound up in November 1906 when both Craig and Dörwald left. At this point, the Ailsa Craig Motor Company was formed as a limited company to take over the remaining assets, and Ellis Kisch took over the new company.

Kisch had become involved with the business in 1902, having known Dörwald from his early travels through Germany, where he first met the German engineer at work in the Apollinaris spring water bottling plant on the Rhine, where the first fully automated bottling plant was installed. In 1904, he formalised the arrangement, bringing considerable investment to the venture, and satisfying his desire to become involved in engineering. The son of a doctor, his father had frowned on his choice of engineering as a career, but agreed a compromise whereby Ellis would learn business practice in Europe, otherwise he would have probably have been packed off to the Far East - until he grew out of his errant desire to become involved in what was considered to be labourer's work.

The scrapping of Ailsa Craig

In 1962, the company suffered a major blow when the bank called in its overdraft. This was done without warning when the bank manager, who had been willing to assist the company was changed, leading to a change in policy. Owner Robert Kisch (son of Ellis Kisch noted above) collapsed at the news, and never really recovered. Later that same year the company was acquired by Warsop Fram Group for a bargain price, as shown by their sale of the factory building alone to the Rimmel Cosmetic Company for the same amount as they had paid for the whole company.

The new owners had no real concern for the history or heritage of Ailsa Craig, and when the business eventually ceased trading in 1972, they simply allowed the remaining components to be scrapped, while the drawings of the diesel engines and all the other surviving paperwork were dumped and burnt.

Despite the burning, many records of the company survived - some having been rescued and pulled from flames as the incineration was being carried out - and a number are now stored in the archives of the Science Museum (London and Swindon), while the vast majority, including some example engines and other artefacts, have been preserved in the Internal Fire and Power Museum (Wales), together with the majority of the remaining working drawings for the company's petrol engines.

Hillman Imp name

Imp oil engine, Ailsa Craig Archive
Original Imp oil engine advert
Courtesy of the Ailsa Craig Archive

With the calling in of the company's overdraft in 1962, and the company's acquisition by an owner that seemed to have no real concern for its past, it appears that all assets were up for disposal.

The Ailsa Craig "F" series of engines included the name Imp, and the new new owners traded the Imp name to the Rootes Group in exchange for one brand new Humber Super Snipe motor car. Rootes then went on to use the name on its new small car, the Hillman Imp, being produced in a purpose built factory at Linwood from 1963, in response to the Mini.

Hillman Imp, Glasgow Museum of Transport
Hillman Imp

James Kirkaldy

Reference is made within the Ailsa Craig Archives to the manufacture of semi-diesel engines for the Admiralty during the time the company was nationalised under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 (DORA) during World War I. (The first person to be arrested under DORA was John Maclean, a Marxist and Clydeside revolutionary, for uttering statements deemed prejudiced against recruiting. He was fined £5 but refused to pay and so spent five nights in prison). These engines were manufactured for Ailsa Craig by the John Kirkaldy steam engine company of Scotland, in a partnership which seems to have existed for at least the duration of the war, and into 1919.

Little appears to be known of John Kirkaldy and his steam engine company, most information describes the later operation of his business, when he became a marine engineer and government contractor based in London, therefore we would be grateful for any earlier information which may be available. Please use the Contact Form if you can help.


1 The Ailsa Craig Archives. May 2009 version.

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