Searching for light in the Lister foundry – By Matthew Bigwood
Lister Petter, a manufacturer of diesel engines, was based in Dursley, Gloucestershire, on a site more than a mile in length and at its height employing thousands of people. The original business, R A Lister, was established in the 19th century and originally manufactured agricultural equipment before branching out into engine production in the 20th century.
Lister merged with Petter, also a diesel engine manufacturer, in 1986 to become Lister Petter. I was granted access to their foundry in 1998 to photograph the process of casting engine blocks and components.
The foundry building, which opened in 1937, was lined with decades of soot, which ‘sucked’ in the small amount of available light. This contrasted with the white-hot molten metal being poured into the moulds. I wasn’t expecting quite how dark it would be, so I used the fastest colour negative film I could find in my Rolleiflex 2.8F twin lens reflex, Kodak Gold 1000, as well as Tri-X black and white film in 120 and 35mm in the Nikon FM2 I also used. I was able to push process the black and white film to 1600 or 3200 but still the shutter speed was around 1/60 at f/2 in the darkest parts of the building. I used a somewhat mediocre Sigma 28mm f/1.8, and Nikkor 50mm f/1.8, 85mm f/2 and 135mm f/2.8 manual focus lenses.
It was a fabulous experience – I was shown around the foundry then left to my own devices to do what I wanted. It was a physically hard place to work and there were some great characters which I tried to convey in the pictures.
The business was bought and sold by various parent companies and in 2001 the foundry was closed and the whole Lister site in Dursley demolished to make way for the Littlecombe development, a mix of housing and businesses. Lister Petter left Dursley in 2013 for good and is still building diesel engines at a site near Gloucester.
I’d like to think my pictures serve as a reminder of the town’s once-proud industrial past for future generations.
Thanks for reading, you can see more photos at www.flickr.com/photos/mattbigwood/
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