Willans & Robinson Ltd

The firm began as a partnership between Peter Willans and Mark Robinson in 1880 at Thames Ditton in Surrey, manufacturing high-speed steam engines using Willans’ design for river launches. Willans invented the central-valve steam engine that was crucial to the firm’s initial success but he died in 1892 after an accident, so didn’t see the company expansion that led to the move to Rugby in 1897. By the time of Willans’ death the company engines were driving almost 70% of the turbines generating Britain’s overall electricity output and demand was coming in from overseas.

Despite this success and pioneering developments in steam electric locomotives, motorcar parts production, boiler manufacture and steam turbines, the firm struggled with controlling its finances. This led to it being taken over by Dick, Kerr and Company Ltd in 1917, which then became part of English Electric a year later. This saw the name of the site changed to the Willans Works. English Electric came under the ownership of GEC in 1968, which also ran British Thomson-Houston, another power generation company that was also in Rugby. The Willans site eventually became part of the thermal power division for Alstom, but this activity has now been transferred to France.