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.

The Lister Petter foundry in 1998.

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.

Available light portrait.

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.

Working on top of the blast furnace.

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.

Pouring molten metal into a smaller vessel.

I’d like to think my pictures serve as a reminder of the town’s once-proud industrial past for future generations.

Very low light levels meant the film had to be push processed.

Thanks for reading, you can see more photos at

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18 thoughts on “Searching for light in the Lister foundry – By Matthew Bigwood”

  1. I love your images, especially the “Available Light Portrait”. This image tells such a story.
    Thank you for your most excellent work.


    Thank you very much for posting these photos. They give record to a closing episode in this community’s past and these records are to often lost to history.

      1. I used to work in these Dickension places in the 60s so Iknow exactly what u mean about no light. Its an excellent job as most photographers would be scared s—less in a foundry with all the noise and heat.

  3. Gerald Hutchings

    Hi Matt, fantastic work as usual. It brought back a lot of memories for me. Especially as I worked for Lister Shearing about 10 years ago.

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