Everything you need to know about Cross Manufacturing

Based on descriptive notes written by Cyril James to accompany photographs based on the illustrated talk presented to the Vincent/HRD Owners Club on 17th September 2015, based on the History of Cross, taken from an illustrated presentation by Roland Claude Cross (1895 – 1970) and additional information from 3rd party sources such as the British Newspaper Archive, Wikipedia and more. No copyright infringement is intended, the use of material is non-commercial and for non-profit educational purposes with no intent to harm the copyright owner’s ability to profit from his or her original work. We believe that our use of materials constitutes “fair dealing” and “fair use”, under which certain uses of copyrighted material for, but not limited to, criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research may be considered fair.


Cross Manufacturing Co. (1938) Ltd. was founded in the late 1920s by Roland Claude Cross (1895 – 1970) inventor of the “Cross” Rotary Valve engine and the linerless aluminum cylinder.

Roland Claude Cross 1895  1970
Roland Claude Cross 1895 1970

It has offices and factories, in Bath (on Combe Down) and Devizes, employs over 500 people. and makes components used to provide a strong durable thread in soft materials such as aluminum or plastics.

The inserts are also used to repair stripped and damaged threads and have found application in all sections of industry.

Before WWII most of the work of the company was concerned with development and consulting engineering work.

During and after WWII manufacturing in production quantities was started, making use of the wire forming and coiling techniques which had been invented and patented by the company.

Today these coiling techniques are the basis of most of the firm’s production and give results which are unrivalled for accuracy and precision.

One of the most important products is the ” Cross’ Wire Thread Insert which comprises a coil of diamond shaped wire piston rings and sealing rings have always been an important part of the firm’s trade.

There has been an increase, not only in the numbers produced, but also in the diversity of sizes, shapes, and materials. Special types of sealing rings produced in Bath are being used on some of the most advanced engineering projects in Britain.

Over the years sealing rings and piston rings invented by Cross have saved the country millions of pounds in fuel costs.


From his early years Roland Claude Cross (1895 – 1970) who founded the company had a profound interest in everything mechanical.

He started the company in 1924 and established Cross Manufacturing Company (1938) Limited in the year prior to the outbreak of the Second World War.

Cross is probably best known for his design and development of the Cross rotary valve as an alternative to the poppet valves system for internal combustion engines.

Henry Cross 2 300x197
Henry Cross

His father was Henry Cross. He and his wife Eliza had eight children at the family home at 199 Wellsway. Henry was a painter and, with so many to support, not only would he paint a landscape but also decorate your front room or paint a shop front and do the sign writing. Roland was the seventh of his eight children.

A photograph of the Bath Model Aeroplane Club, probably taken at Lansdown on the outskirts of Bath circa 1908, shows members of the club vary from school age to quite mature and the young Roland Cross is kneeling on the extreme left of the front row with his model aeroplane.

Bath Model Aeroplane Club probably taken at Lansdown on the outskirts of Bath circa 1908
Bath Model Aeroplane Club probably taken at Lansdown on the outskirts of Bath circa 1908

Handwritten notes on the original photograph identify Horstmann as the young chap 2nd from the right in the front row. It’s interesting to note that both Cross and Horstmann were names destined to be very much associated with engineering in Bath.

Notably, a school-age Roland Cross was to be appointed Secretary or Treasurer of the Bath Model Aeroplane Club. At one model aeroplane competition young Roland, accompanied by his sister won a cash prize and this prompted his sister to suggest using some of the money for a tram ride home. Roland was not to be persuaded saying they could walk home, and he would then use the prize money to purchase new elastic rubber for the propeller of his model plane.

In 1909, a 14 year old Roland left school and was, initially, employed at Chesterman’s, a solicitors’ practice in Bath. A “respectable” job but the Partners at the firm realised that the legal profession was not where Roland wanted to be and that this young man was really an engineer in the making. There was the problem, as in the days of the early 1900s your parents would be required to pay the employer or “Master” for an apprenticeship and with several children to support (although some had left home by this time) this would possibly stretch the family finances.

By a stroke of good fortune this difficulty was resolved as one of Roland`s older sisters had married a church minister and was living in Dumfries. The good fortune aspect was, in Scotland, unlike England, apprenticeships were free.  Roland was successful in securing an apprenticeship at the Arrol Johnston Motor Works in Dumfries where the pre-World War One Arrol motor cars were designed and built.

His enthusiasm and engineering ability was soon noticed and with a desire to return to the West Country it was Mr W.H. Hopkins, Chief Designer at Arrol Johnston who wrote in very complimentary terms to Frank Barnwell at the British & Colonial Aeroplane Company based at Filton in Bristol. This introduction resulted in Roland Cross becoming a member of the Design Team at Filton.


Roland Cross c1916 astride his 450cc Triumph side valve engine motorcycle 300x196
Roland Cross c1916 astride his 450cc Triumph side valve engine motorcycle

Roland Cross, c1916, astride his 450cc Triumph side valve engine motorcycle, which he used as his transport from Bath to Filton each day. Being somewhat disillusioned with the engine performance and the road holding capabilities, modifications to both the engine and girder forks were very quickly designed, made, and installed. The motorcycle engine and forks are exhibition items in the Cross museum with the Roland Cross designed and manufactured hydraulic damping attachment to the forks being of considerable interest as too are the engine improvements.

A project to build a replica of the “Bristol” fighter used in the First World War was undertaken some years ago. When reviewing the original drawings as part of the project it was found that as a member of the design team at Filton it was Roland Cross who had designed the under-carriage, gun mountings and engine mountings and his name and signature was found to be on these original drawings.

The replica “Bristol” fighter in flight with the Roland Claude Cross designed undercarriage and machine gun mountings on the side of the `plane clearly visible.

Replica Bristol fighter in flight with the Roland Claude Cross designed undercarriage and machine gun mountings 300x195
Replica Bristol fighter in flight with the Roland Claude Cross designed undercarriage and machine gun mountings

From the first design in 1922 a later model Cross rotary valve. Chain driven from the main shaft there are no push rods, poppet valves or valve springs. It proved to be extremely efficient and greatly increased the power of the engine.

Roland Cross continued to develop his rotary valve engines for both motorcycles and motor cars until the 1950s. Characteristics of a Cross rotary valve engine were not limited to just an increase in power output, although that was clear.

It was the absence of conventional poppet valves and springs that facilitated a high revving capability with no risk of “valve bounce”. Engine speeds of 7,500 rpm were easily achieved and road speeds of almost 100 mph being recorded from 500cc single cylinder engines in the mid-1930s.


The Patrick Alexander Building now the museum on site at Cross Head Office & Works Office at Midford Road in Bath. Named after Patrick Young Alexander, the pioneer aeronaut who, in the late 1890s and early 1900s used the building as his workshop to construct his gas balloons. Roland Cross started his engineering business in this building in the 1920s.

Patrick Alexander (1867 -1943) benefitted from an inheritance upon the death of his father in 1890 of some £60,000, a considerable sum of money that would equate to some £5.96 million in 2016, Alexander used his inheritance to further his ideas and ambitions related to the development of his gas balloons. More space was required, and Patrick Alexander moved his workshop at Midford Road in Bath to larger premises situated at The Mount, Batheaston, on the other side of the city.

The Patrick Alexander Building
The Patrick Alexander Building
Workshop at Midford Road 1 300x196
Workshop at Midford Road

The interior of Alexander`s workshop at The Mount. Particular notice should be taken of the propellers suspended on the crossbeams, beautifully carved from presumably solid pieces of wood. One hundred years on the hand carved profile is very similar to what would be produced from a Computer Aided Design program of today.

The photograph below shows a group of local dignitaries assembled with Patrick Alexander, his gas balloon tethered and inflated just above the greenhouse. Many years later, with some excavation work in progress a cast cylindrical iron object was unearthed – the redundant gas supply pipe specifically installed for Alexander to inflate his balloons with town (coal) gas.

This was an historical occasion as the event was to celebrate the centenary of the very first “heavier than air” ascent by man in 1802. To the left of centre in the photograph wearing a straw boater hat is Patrick Alexander and in the very centre wearing the wide brimmed hat is Samuel Franklin Cody from America, famous for being the first man, in 1908, to pilot an aeroplane in this country.

Group of local dignitaries assembled with Patrick Alexander and his gas balloon tethered and inflated  218x300
Group of local dignitaries assembled with Patrick Alexander and his gas balloon tethered and inflated
1922 a later model Cross rotary valve
1922 a later model Cross rotary valve

Second from the left in the picture with bowler hat and walking stick is Charlie Rolls who, with Frederick Henry Royce founded Rolls Royce. Pictured to the left of Patrick Alexander wearing a bowler hat is the President of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Baden Fletcher Smyth Baden-Powell, the brother of Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden- Powell, founder of the Boy Scout movement.

Roland Cross designed the ingenious and revolutionary Cross Rotary Valve as an alternative to the standard “poppet valve” arrangement. The photograph shows the base of the Rotary Valve assembly on top of the cylinder, the Rotary Valve with the ports clearly visible and the top section of the cylinder head. Documents preserved in the company archives record Cross Rotary Valve engines in 1934 running at 7,500 rpm at 10.5 to 1 compression ratio on low octane fuel and achieving nearly 100 mph.

With the outstanding performance of Cross Rotary Valve engines, a problem emerged in that the conventional cast iron piston rings failed in the high revving powerful engines, damaging the aluminium liner-less cylinders and special pistons.

This persuaded Roland Cross to develop a process for making piston rings from drawn high carbon steel wire. This process has been further developed over time for the manufacture of sealing rings and piston rings used in the aerospace, power generation and automotive industries of today. Unquestionably, the success of Cross Manufacturing Company is a result of this.


After harbouring the idea of a rotary valve alternative to the poppet valve engine system for some time Roland Cross built his first Cross Rotary Valve engine in 1922 – it is now displayed in the Cross Museum.

Amazing torque characteristics of a Cross Rotary Valve engine
Amazing torque characteristics of a Cross Rotary Valve engine
Aluminium liner less barrel of 250cc capacity 1935
Motorcycle history aluminium liner less barrel of 250cc capacity 1935

The amazing torque characteristics of a Cross Rotary Valve engine has been mentioned quite regularly. This graph recording the B.M.E.P. (Brake Mean Effective Pressure) shows the comparison with a conventional “poppet valve” engine.

This is motorcycle history. An aluminium liner less barrel of 250cc capacity complete with a special piston and piston rings designed and manufactured by Roland Cross for Eric Crudgington Fernihough in1935.

Eric Fernihough was a very well-known racing motorcyclist with a garage and an Excelsior motorcycle franchise near to Brooklands, the famous racing circuit. Fernihough, as well as being a successful racing motorcyclist, also had a seemingly insatiable desire to break records.

In 1935 he decided to try on the 250cc World Motorcycle Speed Record from 500 kilometres to 10 hours at Brooklands circuit.

Knowing of the successes and achievements of Roland Cross with his aluminium liner-less cylinders, special pistons and almost unbreakable piston rings produced from drawn wire, it was Fernihough who commissioned Roland Cross to design and manufacture a special cylinder, piston, and rings. These components are pictured in this photograph and, having been removed from the engine for evaluation following the record-breaking event, they are exhibits at the Cross museum in Bath.

Eric Fernihough had a reputation for detail, precise planning, and engine preparation. The record attempt was arranged for 11th October 1935 to commence at 8.00 am and, if successful, finish the 10 hours at 6.00 pm. The resident tyre expert at Brooklands affectionately known as “Dunlop Mac” had been consulted and advised that although the concrete surface was known to prematurely wear tyres, they should last the distance.

One of the finest motorcycle engine tuners of the day, Dick Chapman, was to prepare the 250cc JAP engine fitted with the special Cross barrel, piston and rings and this photograph shows Chapman with the Cotton/JAP machine just before the record attempt began at 8.00 am.

Fernihough had persuaded Charles Mortimer, another well-known Brooklands circuit competitor, to be his co-rider for the event with both men riding in 2-hour stints. A large capacity petrol tank had been expertly produced for the record attempt by Dick Chapman.

It was questionable why Fernihough, having an Excelsior dealership, chose to use a Cotton motorcycle for the record attempt. One suggestion was that the Cotton frame had superior road holding characteristics, but others suspected that Frank Willoughby Cotton probably owed Fernihough money for development work carried out for Cotton Motorcycles and the supply of the bike was some form of settlement.

12 World Records for a 250cc motorcycle made on 11th October 1935 at Brooklands
12 World Records for a 250cc motorcycle made on 11th October 1935 at Brooklands

These are the details of the 12 World Records for a 250cc motorcycle made on 11th October 1935 at Brooklands.

The original plan was to try the 500 kilometres to 10-hour record but, with the machine and the Roland Cross components performing so well after 10 hours with all World Records broken, Fernihough approached George Reynolds the ACU Official Timekeeper to ask permission to continue for further 2 hours.

Reynolds agreed but with time passing and daylight fading it was becoming increasingly difficult to see on the unlit Brooklands circuit. Fernihough had recently had an appendectomy and although a sponge rubber pad had been fitted to the petrol tank to protect the incision it was Mortimer who was to ride the last 2 hours session. Mortimer returned to the pit area to say the failing light was making the ride dangerous and this resulted in Fernihough approaching George Reynolds to seek permission to allow his Railton sports car to be driven behind the bike to illuminate the track. This idea caused another problem as the Railton headlights created a shadow of the bike and rider onto the track.

The second solution was for the Railton to be driven beside the bike to which George Reynolds agreed provided the front wheel of the car was always behind the front wheel spindle of the Cotton JAP. This enabled an additional 2 hours to be completed and 12 World Records being made from 500 kilometres to 12 hours for a 250cc motorcycle. There is a further interesting “postscript” to this story relating to rabbits being lured onto the track by the car headlights, being run over by both the motorcycle and car to be then collected and sold by Fernihough to a local butcher.

Very sadly Eric Crudgington Fernihough suffered fatal injuries whilst attempting to break another world record at Gyon, Hungary on 23rd April 1938. He is buried at East Cemetery, Bournemouth in Dorset.

In the time following the record-breaking feat the bike was sold to David Whitworth, another T.T. rider, and this picture shows Whitworth astride his newly acquired Cotton JAP. Astute enthusiasts will note that the cylinder is not the record-breaking barrel but a parallel sided replacement for the one returned to Roland Cross for evaluation.

As a motorcycle of immense historical interest there have been many attempts to trace the bike and, although it was once owned by Norman Webb a well-known motorcycle enthusiast, the “trail” seems to have ended after it was sold to a Royal Air Force serviceman in Blackpool.


Halford Cross Rotary racing car 300x226
Halford Cross Rotary racing car

One should never be under the impression that Roland Cross only designed and built Cross Rotary Valve engines for motorcycles. This is a photograph of the Halford Cross Rotary racing car. HRG was a company that produced sports cars pre-World War Two.

The “HRG” name was derived from the first letter of the surnames of the three Directors and owners of the company, Ted Halford, Guy Robins and Ron Godfrey.

Ted Halford had a reputation as a “maverick” and not always in total unison with his fellow Directors. Keen to achieve racing success for HRG on the track and at hill climb events, Halford commissioned Roland Cross to design and build a 1.5 litre, 4 cylinders, all aluminium cylinder block with Cross Rotary Valve head to fit onto the Meadows “bottom end” usually used by HRG .

Guy Robins and Ron Godfrey, as fellow Directors, were not in favour of the project so Ted Halford decided to finance it himself. Prevented from using the HRG name due to opposition to the project from his fellow directors, the car was named the Halford Cross Rotary.

Henry Laird`s report was published in the “Motor Cycling” on 1st June 1938. Copies of the report are preserved in Cross company archives.

Henry Laird was complimentary indeed commenting on the “quietness” and “smoothness” of the engine. A very creditable 87 mph maximum speed was recorded at 6,250 rpm and amazingly this was achieved using low grade petrol. Power output of 25 BHP was recorded from bench tests.

Henry Laird carrying out the road test of the Cross Rotary Valve powered Rudge Ulster 300x227
Henry Laird carrying out the road test of the Cross Rotary Valve powered Rudge Ulster

Henry Laird carrying out the road test of the Cross Rotary Valve powered Rudge Ulster probably during May 1938, subsequently to be published 1st June 1938 in the “Motor Cycling” magazine.

Henry Laird during May 1938 riding the Rudge Ulster with 350cc Cross Rotary Valve engine  300x227
Henry Laird during May 1938 riding the Rudge Ulster with 350cc Cross Rotary Valve engine

Henry Laird during May 1938 riding the Rudge Ulster with 350cc Cross Rotary Valve engine “head down – going hard” on his way to achieving the 87 mph maximum speed as recorded in his magazine report.

An I.O.M. TT rider living in Bath and wearing his racing leathers, Frank Milsom was Chief Tester for Roland Cross. Purchased from HRD as a Model P “rolling chassis” (frame, wheels, petrol tank, handlebars, saddle, etc.), from information provided by the late John Mellor of Vincent HRD Owners Club, it was built by Ted Hampshire, known for producing their T.T. racing frames and “signed off” for delivery on 6th July 1934 by none other than Phil Irving himself. It was then fitted with a 500cc Cross Rotary Valve engine with drive through a Burman four speed foot-change gearbox. This motorcycle in its developed form mid-1930s was to achieve almost 100 mph at 7,500 rpm at 10.5 to 1 compression ratio.

Frank Milsom and Roland Cross with GL 1722 an HRD Cross 500cc Rotary Valve motorcycle 300x225
Frank Milsom and Roland Cross with GL 1722 an HRD Cross 500cc Rotary Valve motorcycle

This motorcycle, of immense historical importance, remains in the ownership of Cross Manufacturing Company and is exhibited in the Company Museum.

In 1935 Cross designed the Rudge 500cc Cross Rotary Valve engine machine to compete in the 1935 Isle of Man T.T. Although an established road racer, Les Martin was not in the “top order” of T.T. riders and the engine of the bike could not be completed and tested in time for shipping to the I.O.M. for the T.T.

Another older 500cc Cross Rotary Valve bike was sent as a substitute together with a 250cc model. The 250cc bike, competing in the Lightweight Class, performed well in practice with Martin ahead of Paddy Johnston on the Cotton Works machine and Omobono Tenni on the works Moto-Guzzi.

Unfortunately, Martin lost control and fell off, injuring his knee and this resulted in Roland Cross having to hurriedly arrange for Alf Brewin to ride the 500cc Cross Rotary Valve bike in the Senior race. This replacement bike suffered engine problems and is recorded as DNF (“did not finish”).

The 500cc Cross Rotary Valve engine designed and produced for the 1935 Isle of Man T.T. It is now an exhibit in the Cross museum.

Much is known regarding the exceptional torque of a Cross Rotary Valve engine and to prove this the steep hills around the village of Southstoke were used to demonstrate not only hill climbing capability but the fact it could be achieved in a high gear.

Rudge Ulster based bike with a Cross Rotary Valve engine of probably 500cc capacity being ridden up the hill at Southstoke
Rudge Ulster based bike with a Cross Rotary Valve engine of probably 500cc capacity being ridden up the hill at Southstoke
HRD Cross 500cc bike in top gear
HRD Cross 500cc bike in top gear

A photograph of the Rudge Ulster based bike with a Cross Rotary Valve engine of probably 500cc capacity being ridden up the hill at Southstoke. Carefully observe the photograph and you will clearly see the metal bars inserted across the road surface. This was to provide a system whereby horse transport could find “grip” on this exceptionally steep hill, but the Cross Rotary Valve powered bike climbs the gradient with ease and probably in third gear.

Cross Rotary Valve engines were known for their torque and the ability to accelerate from low speeds in a high gear. To demonstrate this, Cross has a picture of Roland Cross striding along Branch Road, Hinton Charterhouse at a brisk walking pace and his nephew Ted Cross riding GL 1722 the HRD/Cross 500cc bike in top gear. Look carefully at Ted`s left hand, he is not “slipping” the clutch.

500cc Cross RV powered HRD machine with two up rider and pillion 300x226
500cc Cross RV powered HRD machine with two up rider and pillion

The 500cc Cross R.V. powered HRD machine with “two-up” rider and pillion at the top of the hill in another example of the pulling power of the Cross engine. With a little imagination one can almost hear the mellow but distinct exhaust note as the engine easily powers the bike and two passengers on this steep and tortuous hill.

In the years of austerity following the Second World War the country was slowly recovering economically and Joe Fry, a gentleman of some financial ability as a descendant from the Fry`s Chocolate dynasty (sold many years previously to Cadbury`s), decided the time was right for the introduction of a sports car. With Richard “Bick” Bickerton as fellow Director, the Gordano Motor Company was formed at Alma Vale Road in Bristol.


The year is 1948 and it is a very attractive design. Roland Cross was well known and highly regarded by Joe Fry by way of the engines produced for the Freikaiserwagen. As with the Halford Cross Rotary, Roland was asked to design and build a 4-cylinder, 1.5 litre, all aluminium Cross Rotary Valve engine to power the car.

With engine design and build being a rather lengthy process, the two prototypes were fitted with “off the shelf” MG and Lea Francis engines. Unfortunately, Cross has no knowledge of these vehicles or whether they still exist.

Cross designed and built an engine for the Gordano Sports Car. Sadly, the engine was never completed,. Then at Blandford Hill Climb in July1950, whilst driving the Freikaiserwagen, a mechanical problem with the steering caused an accident in which Joe Fry was fatally injured. Without his technical input and most likely, his financial contribution, the Gordano Motor Company ceased trading and the various engines and unused components were distributed between the other Directors.

Cross Manufacturing Company had no knowledge of the engine or its existence but Philip Selwyn-Smith of Great Hinton near Trowbridge, approached Rodney to say, “I know where your Gordano engine is”. Apparently, the engine had been taken by Richard Bickerton following closure of the Gordano Motor Company and stored in his garage. After his death some decades later his widow Mrs Bickerton, not knowing what to do with the engine, gave it to Mike Fowler an acquaintance who had visions of getting the engine to run and installed in a vehicle of unknown make.

For various reasons this did not happen, and the Cross engine was moved again, this time to Kelsall in Cheshire to be cared for by Mr Robin Parker. Subsequently, because of his conversation with Mr Selwyn-Smith, Rodney contacted Cyril to discuss the “find” and then spoke to Mr Parker where the offer was made to loan the engine to Cross Manufacturing Company and to permanently display it in the Cross museum.

Mr Parker would retain ownership of the engine on the understanding that Cross would clean and care for it and return it if asked. From telephone conversations at the time of deciding its transportation from Kelsall to Bath it was revealed that in addition to the Cross engine there was also a Gordano Sports Car body shell in Mr Parker`s garage at Kelsall. Mr Parker had no intention of using the Cross engine. Cross Manufacturing with their engineering ability could make a car.

The Freikaiserwagen in a photograph of Joe Fry driving the car at Prescott Hill Climb in Gloucestershire. From the twin exhaust pipes the engine is a Blackburne vee twin of 1100cc capacity. Originally the car designed and built by cousins Joe and David Fry and was powered by a 500cc Cross Rotary Valve engine and it is listed as taking part in the 500cc supporting race at the British Grand Prix of 1948.

Prescott Hill Climb in Gloucestershire
Prescott Hill Climb in Gloucestershire

Few of the cars seemed to perform well in this event as most were powered by motorcycle engines, and this was the case with the Cross Rotary valve engine. Many suffered overheating problems as the driver was seated in front of the engine affecting the airflow to cool the unit.

As a hill climb car run over short distances the overheating problems diminished. The Freikaiserwagen using a 500cc Cross Rotary Valve and subsequently a JAP engine and ably driven by Joe Fry was very successful but, in a quest for more power, the 500cc JAP engine was removed and replaced by a 1100cc Blackburne vee twin as a power plant. Yet again, the expertise and ability of Roland Cross was called upon to design and manufacture aluminium liner-less cylinders, special pistons, and piston rings for the Blackburne Vee Twin engine.

The car was almost untouchable for hill climb speed with course records in its class at Boness, Shelsley Walsh and Wetherby. At Wetherby a very creditable result was recorded being only 0.45 of a second behind the fastest time of the day set by a 3.3 litre a Bugatti.

Tragically, a horrific accident occurred whilst Joe Fry was driving the Freikaiserwagen at Blandford Hill Climb in August 1950 and Joe did not survive the accident. After claiming the life of her husband in the tragic accident at Blandford it was on the instructions of his widow that the Freikaisewagen was destroyed.

Ironically, the Blackburne engine survived and by an amazing coincidence its eventual owner Steve Lister, living in Derbyshire, advertised in “The Radial” the magazine of the Rudge Owners Club seeking two front wheels from a Rudge motorcycle. This was for a project to build a replica Freikaiserwagen with the blessing and approval of the now very elderly Mrs Pat Allen, (formerly Fry) who had re-married following her husband`s untimely death.

The advertisement was seen by none other than Des Cormack, a Rudge Ulster owner and one time employee of Roland Cross. Des had joined Cross Manufacturing Company in 1940 and had worked closely with Roland Cross on so many of his engines designed and built until leaving in the Company in 1959.

Des Cormack, in carrying out a huge amount of development and engine build work on the Cross engines for the Freikaiserwagen, Gordano, the various motorcycles and cars, possessed extensive knowledge that is unsurpassed by anyone living today. Realising the importance of the advertisement, Des immediately contacted Cyril who, with Rodney’s approval, telephoned Steve Lister at his home in Derbyshire to make the make him aware of the Cross Manufacturing Company interest.

It was because of this conversation that information regarding a “Freikaiserwagen Reunion” emerged with Rodney, Cyril and Ken Rees being invited to the evening event held at The Compass Inn, Tormarton. Steve Lister also attended from Derbyshire and brought with him the original Cross aluminium liner-less cylinders from the Blackburne vee twin of 1950. It was quite nostalgic to see them displayed that evening on the dinner table no less.

Roland Cross was a Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and, because of this and in recognition of his knowledge, expertise, design, and development of the Cross Rotary Valve, he was elected Chairman of the Automobile Division of the Institution in 1957.

Copies of his Chairman’s Address to the Members, stored in the company archives make interesting reading indeed. In the late 1950s the distinct advantages of an aluminium liner-less cylinder together with piston rings manufactured by the very special “Cross” process were well known and development of these items continued.

For testing purposes, single cylinder motorcycle engines were favoured, as with all developments of this nature, there will inevitably be a failure at some stage. Clearly, a mechanical disaster involving a 4-cylinder car engine would be a huge financial cost.

Cross aluminium liner less cylinders from the Blackburne vee twin of 1950 2 300x232
Cross aluminium liner less cylinders from the Blackburne vee twin of 1950

Various motorcycles had been purchased and used for the development of the Cross Rotary Valve Engines during the 1930s and 40s and this trend continued. A Cross 250cc aluminium liner-less cylinder is shown together with a very special piston and piston rings designed by Roland Cross for fitting to a Royal Enfield Crusader engine.

JGL 257 was purchased from Royal Enfield in 1959 and over a two-year period until 1961 was ridden extensively by Bill and Cyril James to evaluate the many cylinder, piston, and piston ring designs. Performance with some assemblies tested was quite outstanding. The bike would have been fitted with components like those shown in the previous photograph.

JGL 257 clocked up a huge mileage as a road test machine, so much so that the cycle parts were completely worn out and the bike was scrapped, although the engine survives in the storeroom within the Cross museum.

OGL 54 is a Royal Enfield 250cc Crusader Sports 1963 model. Again, purchased new from the Royal Enfield factory at Redditch although there is some documentary evidence that it was delivered via the Royal Enfield works at Westwood, Bradford on Avon. Bought as a road test machine and, as its predecessor JGL 257, it covered a considerable mileage almost always being ridden at high speed, as and when road traffic conditions allowed.

JGL 257 clocked up a huge mileage as a road test machine 300x232
<br >OGL 54 clocked up a huge mileage as a road test machine

The engine developments of Roland Cross almost always resulted in increased power output and with the Cross Rotary Valve, much greater torque. This is a chart recording the speeds achieved with a Cross developed engine installed in the 250cc Crusader Sports OGL 54. In its “off the shelf” form the maximum speed achieved on road test was 78 mph. As you can see from the details displayed 92 mph was recorded with one Roland Cross barrel, piston and rings.

In 1957 Roland Cross was Chairman of the Automobile Division of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. In 1958 the new Chairman was Tony Wilson-Jones, Chief Engineer at Royal Enfield. It is fairly certain that Mr Cross and Mr Wilson-Jones were M.I.Mech E. colleagues and friends making Royal Enfield the obvious choice.

The days of Royal Enfield motorcycles being produced in this country are long gone but the machines are still manufactured in India. This is a bike belonging to Ken Rees and it looks almost identical to a Bullet model of 1960s UK manufacture.

The Cotton Cross Cougar Scrambler is the quite special aluminium liner-less barrel and piston with the coil arrangement piston “ring”. Note the exhaust flange manifold with four threaded holes to accept the Allen cap-screws that attach the exhaust pipe. This is a very easy way in which to recognise a Cotton Cross Cougar from the standard Villiers 34A competition engine.

Special aluminium liner less barrel and piston with the coil arrangement piston ring 2
Special aluminium liner less barrel and piston with the coil arrangement piston ring

During the 1950s and 60s most two-stroke motorcycle manufacturers were using Villiers engines. Whether that was Francis Barnett, James, Greeves, Ambassador, Sun, Cotton, etc., etc. They were all using standard Villiers engines for road bikes and “off the shelf” competition engines too.

The competition engines for trials and scrambles use would then be “fettled” in various ways to achieve the maximum power output. Each manufacturer would be desperate for their bike to “cross the line first” and make the headlines in the Motor Cycling, Motor Cycle News or The Motor Cycle, media productions of the day.

In 1961 an approach was made to Roland Cross by the people from E. Cotton Motorcycles based in Gloucester. Only some 40 miles from Bath, the Directors and engineers at Cotton Motorcycles in Gloucester were aware of the achievements of Roland Cross and this resulted in Mr Pat Onions, the Works Director, visiting Bath to plead with Mr Cross to design something to convert a Villiers engine that would “give them the edge” over the other manufacturers.

The result of this request was the barrel, piston, and spiral “ring” in the previous photograph. Was it successful?

It most certainly was. In this picture is Bryan “Badger” Goss, the Cotton Works scrambler, riding the resulting 250cc Cotton Cross Cougar. Bryan “Badger” Goss was known for his fearless riding style and the Cross developed engine was “quick”, very quick indeed. Success was immediate with “firsts” at various scrambles venues around the country.

Bryan Badger Goss the Cotton Works scrambler riding the resulting 250cc Cotton Cross Cougar 2 300x239
Bryan Badger Goss the Cotton Works scrambler riding the resulting 250cc Cotton Cross Cougar

With a reputation of fearlessness, Bryan Goss can be seen here. Success of the Cross engine can be measured by the results of the Somerset Grand National Scramble in 1961 held at Westbury Farm. The 250cc Cotton Cross Cougar ridden by Bryan “Badger” Goss “swept the board” by winning all five races from 250cc to the Unlimited Invitation on that day.

Even the 500cc Metisse machines of the Rickman brothers were unable to compete with the Cotton Cross. Sadly, the success was not to continue, and the project was terminated by Cotton Motorcycles. The reasons for this rather sudden cancellation of what was clearly a very successful engine project was, and still is, somewhat unclear.

A few years ago, at the annual Cotton Owners Club Rally held at the Folk Museum in Gloucester some subtle and cautious questions were put to one or two former employees of the E. Cotton Motorcycles factory in the city. Cross was very interested to know and understand the story behind the abrupt closure on the project.

The various answers Cross was given, all quite logical, made some sense of the situation more than five decades ago and the considered opinion of the people spoken to generally held the same view. The Roland Cross aluminium liner-less barrel together the special piston and very innovative and unusual spiral (coil) piston ring was undoubtedly a successful conversion to the Villiers engine well proven by the racing achievements of the Cotton Cross Cougar in the hands of “Badger” Goss.

The Villiers 34A competition engine had been in production for some years and a new and more powerful version called the “Starmaker” was to be introduced to the market by Villiers imminently.

The launch of the new engine would be comprehensively publicised and virtually all British two-stroke engine motorcycle manufacturers would be expected to use it in both competition and road- going bikes. Villiers position as the primary two-stroke motorcycle engine manufacturer would be maintained and secure. The success of the Cross Manufacturing Company conversion of the soon to be replaced Villiers 34A engine was a detraction and something that Villiers most certainly did not want.

Cross only has some verbal opinions of a few involved at the time, but seemingly, Villiers may have “suggested” to Cotton Motorcycles that their continued association with Cross and further development of the Cougar engine project would not be in their best interest.

Clearly, Cotton Motorcycles were completely reliant on Villiers for the continued supply of engines for their other models. Could it be that the people at Villiers “leaned” on Cotton to abandon the project? Possibly, and perhaps we will never know the whole story but, it all makes sense. We do know that Roland Cross was quite understandably very upset at what was for him a very unsatisfactory end to a most successful engine development project.

Around 2006 at a Cotton Owners Club reunion Cyril James met Bryan “Badger” Goss the former Cotton Works scrambler and a very interesting conversation and exchange of information took place.

Yes, the Cross engine was powerful and very “quick”, as “Badger” described it. It was most certainly a winning design with huge potential but interestingly the engineers at Cotton refused to reveal the technical details to Bryan Goss as it was such a closely guarded secret. His job as Works rider was, apparently to ride it and win, not to be concerned about the engineering aspects.


Bah Chronicle Friday 24 December 1943 494x1024
Bath Chronicle Friday 24 December 1943

But to understand Cross’ development we must return to the post war years to provide an insight into the progression from Cross Rotary Valve engines to the aircraft and eventually aerospace industry seals of today.

Roland Cross’ achievements as a schoolboy, young man and his progression to an extremely talented, innovative, skilled, and hugely respected engineer and onto him founding the Cross Manufacturing Company have been told.

In the mid to late 1930s Roland Cross continued with the design and development work for his rotary valve engines with the projects being financed by income gained from his services as a Consultant Design & Development Engineer.

In 1938 prior to the outbreak of World War Two he was visited by Government officials that with the probability of war with Germany a very real threat his design expertise and manufacturing capacity would be required for the war effort. Responding by saying he was not a “manufacturing engineer” the advice offered was that with the dark clouds of war forming that this would be his role without question for the next few years. There were to be difficult but rewarding times ahead.

Cross have a Bristol Centaurus engine as an exhibit in the Cross museum and it will take just a moment to provide you with some very interesting history regarding this engine.

Towards the end of the second World War the Bristol Centaurus an 18 cylinder two-row sleeve-valve engine came into service. Used for the Hawker Sea Fury and the Airspeed Ambassador airliner it was a powerful 3,000 hp engine also later to be used as the eight engines to power the ill-fated project the Bristol Brabazon. Although very much respected, this engine had a reputation for consuming large quantities of oil.

Approached by the Bristol Aeroplane Company as engine manufacturers Roland Cross was asked to try and resolve the problem of this excessive oil consumption. After investigating the design and identifying the problem, Roland believed the solution to the problem was a sleeve contracting ring. Having accepted the proposed sleeve contracting ring design, BAC produced Drawing No. FB 191469 and production of the rings commenced. The effect of the Roland Cross designed ring was immediate with oil consumption on both Centaurus and Hercules engines drastically reduced and efficiency improved.

With production of FB 191469 continuing into the early 1960s some 300,000 sleeve contracting rings were made and Cross Manufacturing Company was firmly established as sealing ring designers and manufacturers to the aircraft industry.

Popular and successful Snecma CFM56 300x227
Popular and successful Snecma CFM56

Before the end of the Second World War the aircraft industry was to see enormous advances in engine design with Frank Whittle working on his turbo-jet project since 1936.

The situation was much the same in Germany with the Messerschmitt Me 262 entering service with the Luftwaffe in 1944 although too late to affect the outcome of the war. About the same time the Gloster Meteor became operational with the R A F. This resulted in an industry requirement for seals made from heat-resisting alloys to supersede the materials used for piston engine aircraft.

Using the same processes developed by Roland Cross to produce piston rings for his motorcycle and motor car engines, the special alloy wire could be rolled to size and shape without too many problems, but the coiling operation was quite different.

Initially, hot winding as traditionally employed for carbon steels produced disastrous results, but with perseverance Cross developed processes that did work. The large diameter rings are components Cross produce from exotic heat-resisting alloys and made using production processes that are unique to Cross Manufacturing Company.

Cross produce piston rings for Siemens, a long-standing German customer, made from Stellite, a Cobalt Chrome alloy, with Siemens building coal-fired electricity producing power stations for the Chinese. These huge piston rings are 6 feet in diameter.

Diesel engines have steadily replaced their petrol-powered alternatives in cars, vans, trucks, buses, and earthmovers and are now becoming available for motorcycles too. It is unlikely that any of the modern diesel engines would not have a turbo, but it is a well-known fact that the turbo of a diesel engine will run hot, very hot. Therefore, the turbo manufacturers require a piston ring for the shaft seal that will withstand the very high temperatures involved.

The ideal material for these piston rings is the same heat-resisting alloy used for the gas turbine (jet) engine seals and this has enabled Cross to secure a considerable section of this market. Cross’ Devizes factory produce more than 84 million turbo piston rings sold all over the world including the USA, Japan and into China..

The very successful and much respected Rolls Royce Trent 1000 turbo-fan engine used to power the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. There are a considerable number of Cross sealing rings used in this engine.

Somerset Standard Friday 1 March 1971 272x300
Somerset Standard Friday 1 March 1971

The huge Airbus A380 “super-jumbo” with Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines. Cross Manufacturing Company has been entrusted with the supply of numerous seals for this engine, primarily produced from exotic heat resisting alloys. This is “Cross business”.

The very popular and successful Snecma CFM56 engine. Widely used as the power plant for over half of the commercial aircraft over the last ten years Cross are pleased to be manufacturers of sealing rings made from Waspaloy, a nickel chrome heat-resisting alloy, for this engine. Waspaloy has an advantage in that it can resist higher temperatures than Alloy 25.

Alloy 25, a cobalt/chrome alloy that is heat, corrosion and wear resisting in addition to being non-magnetic, has been one of the most popular alloys Cross have been asked to use for gas turbine engine sealing rings. Cross first started to use this alloy about 40 years ago and it presented considerable difficulties for us.

Traditionally, Cross had used production processes for retaining rings, circlips and sealing rings not dissimilar to those developed by Roland Cross in the 1930s to manufacture piston rings from high carbon steel wire for his very special motorcycle and motor car engines.

Although Cross’ long-established wire rolling process produced excellent results, Cross very quickly realised that Alloy 25, as a heat-resisting alloy, could not be “wound” or “coiled” by the existing hot winding method.

Over time a new system of “cold coiling” the rolled wire was developed and this together with a very innovative “ring & plug” high temperature heat forming method was developed resulting in Cross manufacturing a precision, high temperature sealing ring.

With gas turbine aircraft engines becoming ever more powerful, higher temperatures are evident in the engine and therefore sealing rings capable of operating in these conditions are required. Waspaloy as a nickel chrome heat-resisting alloy has a temperature advantage over and above Alloy 25.


Not everything Cross make is for the aerospace industry. In addition to seals produced for the aerospace industry Cross design, and manufacture piston rings and brush seals used for power generation.

Turbine generators to produce electricity throughout the world use Cross piston rings and such as a turbine generator made by ALSTOM Power. The size of the generator and in turn the piston ring dimensions are shown in comparison to the man overseeing the assembly. At present Cross are producing huge piston rings from wrought Stellite (Alloy 25) that are 6 feet (1.83 metres) in diameter for Siemens who in turn have been contracted to build electricity generating power stations in China.

On completion Cross ship the piston rings to Siemens, based in Shanghai. Originally, Cross was expecting to produce about 18 piston rings for nine turbine generators (2 rings per generator) but, at the last count have made well over two hundred.


Cross Head Office building at Midford Road in Bath, although it does not show the works or manufacturing departments which are to the left and at a slightly lower level, generally unseen from the road. It is here within the works complex that the Cross museum is located. The museum is the building where in1924 Roland Cross started his business as a Consultant Design & Development Engineer.

Head Office building at Midford Road in Bath
Head Office building at Midford Road in Bath
Hopton Industrial Estate London Road Devizes 300x207
Hopton Industrial Estate London Road Devizes

In the early 1960s with his business becoming ever more successful and busier, Roland Cross needed more space to expand and increase workspace and office capacity. There was little scope for this at Midford Road at that time so, being forced to look elsewhere the redundant Wiltshire Bacon Factory at Bath Road in Devizes was available and bought. Work was transferred from the Bath site and production commenced.

Orders and quantities increased, and an extension was built, but the site at Bath Road, Devizes although serving its purpose, was never ideal and further extension was not possible so, when land became available from the M.O.D. following the closure of Hopton Barracks a parcel of land was purchased for future development. This is a photograph of the new factory built at Hopton Industrial Estate, London Road, Devizes.

The situation was somewhat similar at Midford Road in Bath and when additional land eventually became available in the mid-1970s new workshops were built in the now former Union Quarry and on the adjacent Emery Brothers (Builders) site. A few years ago, Cross became aware that the factory owned by Mr Grist at Hopton Industrial Estate might be available upon his retirement and being ideally situated on the opposite side of the road to Cross’ existing factory this was an opportunity to secure the additional workspace so desperately required. With the factory purchased and converted within a very short timescale this was to become Cross’ Devizes South Site at pictured here.

Employees stay at Cross Manufacturing Company for some time, and it is not unusual for some to complete the whole of their working career.

Albert Coles received his Mayor’s Medal from Cllr. Tony Rhymes and his wife for 50 years of service with the company. Albert Coles joined Roland Cross in 1936 as a draughtsman to do six weeks work designing some cylinders and stayed for 53 years before taking “early retirement” when he was 80 years old. Albert Coles became General Manager of the Company and was hugely respected by all. He also possessed a huge encyclopaedic knowledge of almost all the engines and other components designed by Roland Cross.

Albert Coles receiving his Mayors Medal from CllrTony Rhymes and his wife for 50 years of service with the company
Albert Coles receiving his Mayor`s Medal from CllrTony Rhymes and his wife for 50 years of service with the company
Benny Hucks in late August 1911 piloted his Blackburn Mercury Two monoplane to Weston Super Mare 2
Benny Hucks in late August 1911 piloted his Blackburn Mercury Two monoplane to Weston Super Mare

Bentfield Charles Hucks (1884 – 1918) was given his name from the place of his birth, Bentfield End in Essex. Bentfield “Benny” Hucks was famous as a pilot during the very earliest days of aeroplane flight. A test pilot working for Blackburn Aircraft (founded by Robert Blackburn in 1908), “Benny” Hucks, in late August 1911, piloted his Blackburn Mercury Two monoplane to Weston Super Mare, landing in Mayleds Field off Locking Road.

This would not have been the first time the people of Weston had witnessed an aeroplane in their town as Samuel Franklyn Cody, the first person to fly an aeroplane in this country, in 1908 had attracted huge crowds as he landed his biplane on the beach on 3rd August 1911. (The tide was “out”, it usually is at W.S.M.).

After landing his Blackburn Mercury Two just outside of the town, Benny Hucks stayed in Weston for a week and on 1st September 1911 became the first aviator to cross the Bristol Channel from Weston Super Mare to Cardiff and back. Taking off very early at 5.10 am Hucks soon completed the round trip and was back in Weston again 40 minutes later.

During his stay in the town Benny Hucks did further demonstrations and, very much a celebrity, charged the gathering public one shilling (5p) to get up close to the aeroplane and talk to him.

The post card in the Cross museum with Hucks seated in his plane and written by him reads: “Weston S. Mare. Master Roland Cross, Bath. I have heard about your success as a model maker and hope one day to meet you high up in the air”. It is signed “B.C. Hucks”. Roland Cross would have been 15 years old at this time. There has been some mention of young Roland meeting Benny Hucks in Bath, and this may have been so but, with the post card clearly entitled Weston. S. Mare, it is logical that Roland travelled or was taken by his parent(s) or an older sibling to Weston Super Mare, paid his shilling, met and was personally given the signed card by Benny Hucks. Again, an important piece of history.

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