A.J.S. Motorcycles


Joseph Stevens (senior) was born in Wednesfield in 1856, and became a self employed engineering blacksmith in 1874. His company, called J. Stevens & Company had premises in Cross Street, Wednesfield. He became a highly skilled craftsman who undertook all kinds of metalwork from making horseshoes, parts for a horses harness and bridle, to repairing or making garden tools.  He also worked on such diverse things as bicycles, and carried out work for the lock trades. Joseph and his wife Sarah had nine children.  All of them in time would be involved in the family business.

A simplified family tree showing Joseph senior's parents, family, children and grandchildren.

Joseph's eldest son Harry joined him in the business, and they moved to premises in Tempest Street near Wolverhampton town centre, where they were soon joined by Joseph's third son Joe junior. Harry soon acquired his fathers engineering skills and began to design all kinds of machines and tools for use in the lock industry. Joseph acquired a small American 'Mitchell' single cylinder, 4 stroke, petrol driven engine for use at the works. It was poorly built and unreliable, but interested Harry greatly.

He decided that he could do better and set about designing and building his own engine. Rough castings were obtained from a company at Derby. These were machined by the two brothers, who built the engine in their spare time. It was completed late in 1897 and became an instant success. It outperformed the 'Mitchell' engine in every way, being reliable and efficient, and delivered about 1¾hp. The carburettor was built from an old mustard tin. Harry and his father were quick to realise that a large market existed for reliable petrol engines for use in industry.  They decided to manufacture engines and set up the Stevens Motor Manufacturing Company in 1899.

This was to have far reaching consequences for Wolverhampton, thanks to Harry, who was the  mechanical genius of the family. Clyno would eventually move here to produce motorcycles and cars, Sunbeam would start to produce motorcycles of its own, based on one of Harry's designs, and of course A.J.S. was founded in 1909.

One wonders if Wolverhampton would have been such a large vehicle manufacturing centre without Harry starting it all. He is certainly one of the unsung heroes of the City. 

The photograph is from the Motor Cycle and Cycle Trader magazine, 2nd May, 1930.  Courtesy of Jim Boulton.
Millie Stevens married Tommy Spann at St. Peter's Church in April 1930. She was given away by her father, George. 

The page boy on the extreme left is none other than Murray Walker, the famous racing commentator.

Large crowds gathered around the church and in nearby streets, and the reception was held at the Victoria Hotel.

Some of the family's graves are in St. Thomas's Cemetery, Wednesfield. Joe junior is buried in St. Philips Graveyard, Penn Fields.
What remains of Harry and Annie's daughter's grave. The inscription reads:

"To the sweet memory of
Edna Mary
the beloved daughter of
Harry & Annie
who was called to Jesus
February 25th 1913,
aged 8 years
A little Sunbeam"

The badly vandalised grave of Joseph Stevens and his first wife Sarah Ann.

She died on 9th June, 1907 aged 52, and he died on 16th August, 1941, aged 87.

Joe junior's grave at St. Philips Graveyard, Penn Fields, Wolverhampton. His wife Lucy is also buried there.

He died on 9th October, 1957, aged 77, she died on 20th March, 1961, aged 79.

The following sections describe the company's motorcycle manufacturing history beginning with the manufacture of petrol engines. The other products produced by the company are described in different sections of the museum.

I would like to thank the late Geoff Stevens for all of his help and encouragement in producing this section.

I must make a mention of Steve Mill's excellent book - A.J.S. of Wolverhampton. It has been an essential reference in the production of this history and is the only completely accurate book so far written that is solely dedicated to A.J.S. in Wolverhampton.

Its 216 pages and 13 chapters cover the whole company history in remarkable detail. Many years of research went into the production of the book, which is a must for anyone who is interested in the company or its products.

Descriptions are included of the early engines, motorbikes, sidecars, radios, cars and commercial vehicles, and precise details of  individual models are given in the 10 appendices.

The well illustrated A4 sized book sells for £29.95 in the UK, and the price includes postage. Outside the UK postage is extra.

If anyone is interested in purchasing a copy, please contact the author at the following address:     

S. J. Mills
2 St. Andrews Road
Sutton Coldfield
West Midlands
B75 6UG
United Kingdom.
U.K. customers only, can send a cheque for £29.95, payable to S. J. Mills. Overseas customers can contact the author to find the cost of postage and package.
                                                                            Bev Parker

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