Motorcycle Building in Wolverhampton

Motorcycle Development

Drawings still exist of a German-built steam velocipede from 1818, and a number of steam powered bicycles were built in France and America in the late 1860's. In 1883 Gottlieb Daimler and William Maybach designed the internal combustion engine which was soon used to power bicycles. In England, Edward Butler built a petrol cycle in 1887 and J.D. Roots developed a motor powered tricycle in 1892. Motorcycles were first produced commercially in Germany, in 1894, by Henry and Wilhelm Hildebrand, Alois Wolfmuller and Hans Greisenhof. They manufactured machines under the name of Hildebrand & Wolfmuller 'Motorrad'. The first U.K. producer was Colonel H. Capel Holden who started manufacturing machines in 1897.

The Local Industry

Wolverhampton became well known throughout the world for its motorcycles. Its possible that the Stevens brothers built the first motorcycle in the area, when they fitted an American Mitchell engine to a B.S.A. cycle, in the late 1890's. Wolverhampton motorcycles achieved success in every type of competition, such as racing,  trials, sprints, and record breaking. A.J.S. held 118 world speed records, and Howard Davies of H.R.D. broke the 500c.c. speed record, at 104.41m.p.h., in 1926. A.J.S. won the junior Isle of Man T.T. five times, the senior T.T. once, and the lightweight T.T. once. Sunbeam won the senior T.T. four times, and took the manufacturers team prize for the sprints, four times.

The front cover of the June 15th, 1921 edition of 'Motor Cycling'. Courtesy of the late Jim Boulton.

The industry was a big employer in the town. There were the large, well known companies such as A.J.S., Clyno and Sunbeam that produced large numbers of quality machines, which were sold world-wide. Many of the companies were very small and only produced a few machines. Often they worked in cramped conditions in some of the tiny workshops, which were plentiful in the town.

Some of the smaller companies assembled motorcycles from the many freely available parts, that could be purchased from the larger manufacturers, or from the service companies.

By the second World War it was more or less all over, with just a few exceptions. In the late 1940's DMW started production, which was to last for over 30 years. D.K.R. started building motor scooters in 1957. These were very fashionable at the time and production continued for the next nine years.

In the 1960's Norton motorcycles were built for a while at the Villiers works, and finally it all ended when the last DMW was built in the late 1970s.

We owe it all to the inventive genius of Harry Stevens, who built what was possibly the first motorcycle to be made in Wolverhampton. Harry designed the engines that were used in the Wearwell-Stevens machines, completely designed the A.J.S. machines and also produced the first Sunbeam motorcycle engine, and the engines that were used in the Clyno motorcycles.

Some of the information on the following pages was taken from the late Jim Boulton and Harold Parsons excellent book, Powered Vehicles Made in the Black Country, Black Country Society, 1990. 
ISBN No. 0 904015 30 0

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