Stevens Brothers (Wolverhampton) Limited

The Stevens brothers must have been devastated after the closure of A.J.S. in October 1931. They lost nearly everything in the process, and yet decided to roll up their sleeves and start all over again from the beginning. Luckily they still owned their old Retreat Street premises, which in the intervening years had been used by the Stevens Screw Company Limited.

Working on a shoestring they set up a new company called Stevens Brothers (Wolverhampton) Limited, in May 1932. The directors were the five Stevens brothers; Harry, George, Joe, Jack and Billie. Working around the clock, and assisted by a number of unpaid volunteers, they managed to design and develop the 'Stevens Light Commercial Vehicle', a three wheeled van.

Read about the Retreat Street factory

The Stevens 3-wheeled van that can be seen at the Black Country Living Museum.

It was based on a prototype three wheeled vehicle, built in 1921 at the A.J.S. works on Graiseley Hill, that had two wheels at the front and one at the rear.

The Stevens van used motorcycle technology, with a single wheel at the front, carried on heavy duty motorcycle forks.

There was a steering wheel, connected to the front wheel by two roller chains, and a water-cooled single-cylinder, side valve, Stevens 588c.c. engine, with dry sump lubrication.

The rear wheels were chain driven from a Burman 3 speed, plus reverse, gearbox.

The van was fitted with a foot operated kickstart lever, and a throttle, mounted in the centre of the steering wheel.

Initially a full-width bench seat was fitted but soon replaced by a large motorcycle saddle. The bodies were bought-in and had a capacity of 91cu.ft.

Initially no front doors were fitted, they became standard at a later date. The vehicle weighed 7.75cwt. and could carry 5cwt. It had a top speed of about 45m.p.h. and sold for £83.

From late in 1932 the vans were also built in London by Bowden (Engineers) Ltd., who had a manufacturing agreement with Stevens.

The vans sold quite well, and a building across the road in Retreat Street was rented from storage and furniture removers, S. Lloyd & Sons, so that production could be stepped-up.

The vans were assembled in batches of six. When one batch was sold, work could begin on the next batch.

Looking through the back doors of the Stevens van at the
Black Country Living Museum.

A close-up view of the steering wheel and engine in the Stevens van at the Black Country Living Museum.

An improved version was launched in October 1935 with an improved drive. The earlier chain had a habit of breaking, and so it was replaced by a drive shaft, which required the repositioning of the gearbox.

The improved van could now carry 8cwt. and sold for £93.9s.0d. and was also available as an open truck.

Read about the new version of the van

A recently discovered Stevens three-wheeler which is about to be restored. Courtesy of Ken Norton.

Because the company ran on a shoestring, the expensive up-to-date machinery that had been in use at Graiseley Hill, was not affordable. As a result everything had to be finished by hand.

The late Geoff Stevens, who worked at the company during the early days, remembered making cams by roughly cutting out a circle, then hand filing it to the correct profile.

Production continued until late in 1936, by which time sales declined, because customers preferred the comfort and convenience of a 4 wheeled van.

It is believed that around 500 Stevens vans were built, of which only a few are known to have survived. 

An advert from April 1933.

A drawing of the van. Courtesy of the late Geoff Stevens.


A front and rear view of the Stevens van that's in the collection at the Black Country Living Museum.

Stevens Brothers also produced a number of engines for E. C. Humphries of the O.K. Supreme Company, and A.J.W. using the 'Ajax' name.

It was clear that the Stevens company could not support all five directors, and so in 1934 Joe and Jack left to start their own company, Wolverhampton Auto-Machinists Limited, which carried out jig-boring, and produced jigs, and fixtures for the engineering trade.

The Stevens Motorcycle

The Stevens 250c.c., o.h.v. machine that's on display at the Black Country Living Museum, Dudley. The machine was built in 1934.
In March 1934 the three brothers re-entered the motorcycle market with two new machines, designed by Harry Stevens.

They were called the 'D.S.1' and the 'U.S.2', and were sold using the 'Stevens' name.

Luckily, after the sale of A.J.S., Matchless had left some jigs and parts behind, which were used in the manufacture of the new machines.

The machines were powered by a 250c.c., single cylinder, overhead valve engine, that was very similar to ones used in the later A.J.S. machines.

The 'D.S.1' had a down-swept, chromium plated exhaust pipe, whereas the 'U.S.2' had an un-swept exhaust.

The machines were fitted with a 4 speed Burman gearbox and a multiple plate clutch, Lucas 'Magdyno' ignition, with the magneto mounted behind the cylinder, and a 6 volt lighting system. Other features included an oil pump fitted in the fully enclosed oil bath chaincase, a 3 gallon black petrol tank with gold lining, and a total loss lubrication system, with the rockers lubricated by grease. The rockers were mounted on side plates like the much earlier A.J.S. ‘Big Port’ engines.
The engine was mounted vertically in a modern twin downtube frame. Both the handlebars and the seat were fully adjustable.

Both models were priced at £51.

Due to lack of money the company operated on a 'hand to mouth' basis and built the motorcycles in batches of 12.

The brothers couldn't afford to start work on a new batch until the last batch was sold.

The motorcycles were assembled in the building across the road that was rented from the furniture removers and storage company, S. Lloyd & Sons.

A close-up view of the Stevens machine at the Black Country Living Museum.

Another view of the Stevens machine at the Black Country Living Museum.

Harry Stevens had an office with a drawing board in the building, where he could work quietly without being disturbed.

The building was later acquired by Rediffusion, the original cable radio and television company.

The machines were road tested by a number of popular motorcycle magazines and given excellent reviews. They were described as ranking amongst the best, which is a tribute to the Stevens family, especially considering the primitive conditions at Retreat Street.

A small number of minor improvements were made for the 1935 season and two 350c.c. models were launched.  They were identical to the earlier machines except for a larger engine, and different gear ratios.

The first model, the 'H.L.3' had a high level exhaust system, the second, the 'L.L.4' had a low level exhaust. The machines had a top speed of 67m.p.h., and excellent brakes.  Both machines were priced at £52.

In April 1935 a 500c.c. machine was added to the product range. It had a heavier frame, a longer wheelbase, and fittings for the attachment of a sidecar. It sold for £63. A competition version was also available, for £69. It had a close ratio gearbox and narrow mudguards.

Trevor Davies astride the museum's Stevens machine.

Tommy Deadman on his Stevens motorcycle in 1935. That year he had a very successful season and is seen holding one of his many trophies. Courtesy of the late Jim Boulton.

In the autumn of 1935 cosmetic changes were made to the 500c.c. model. The lining on the tank was given a thin blue edging, as were the black centres of the chromed wheel rims, and the old fish-tailed silencer was changed to a less-swept megaphone silencer. The machines were proving to be popular, about 200 were produced each year.

The brothers decided to try and boost sales by entering their machines in competitions. Tommy Deadman, the chief tester, entered many competitions and was very successful on his Stevens machine.

The 1937 machines included a larger petrol tank, and a megaphone style silencer.  Motorcycle production reluctantly ended in the summer of 1938 when the country was preparing for an inevitable war. The brothers realised that during the war, civilian motorcycle production would cease, and a small company like theirs would not be able to obtain contracts to build motorcycles from the War Department. As a result they decided to concentrate on general engineering work.

During the five years or so of motorcycle production, around 1,000 Stevens machines had been built.

The last two Stevens motorcycles to leave the works were specially built for two members of the Stevens' family, Alec, who was Joe's son and Jim, Billie's son.

In 1938 Harry designed an engine for George Brough of Nottingham who built the famous Brough Superior motorcycles.

The engine was for a special high quality machine called the ‘Brough Dream’, later called the ‘Golden Dream’.

It was to be displayed at the 1938 Motor Cycle Show at Earls Court.

The 1,000c.c. engine and 4 speed gearbox was completed on time, but only a single prototype machine was built.

A Stevens engine. Courtesy of the late Jim Boulton.

A Stevens Brothers advert in the November 1938 edition of Flight Magazine lists the following trade services: light engineering work, machined parts, assemblies, wire & tube manipulators, welding, light presswork, etc.

By the late 1930s age was catching up with the brother’s father, Joseph Stevens and so his youngest son Billie took over the running of the Stevens Screw Company, which by the early 1950s employed over 70 staff. Production consisted of hundreds of different small parts including bolts, nuts and screws, in ferrous and non-ferrous metals, made from the bar.

In 1938 Billie’s son Jim began to work at Stevens Brothers after leaving school.

During the Second World War Stevens Brothers manufactured and machined components for most of the leading aircraft companies, including Bristol and Fairey Aviation, Avro, Handley Page, etc., and were sole manufacturers of the torpedo depth setting gear fitted to every Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber. At the time Stevens Brothers were much sought after to take on jobs that other businesses could not, or would not do.

After the war, the firm carried out light engineering work, and also produced office equipment for Ellams Duplicators, under licence.

In the 1950s Jim Stevens took the decision to sell Stevens Brothers (Wolverhampton) Limited. By this time his father and uncles had died, and the sale would allow him to concentrate on the running of the Stevens Screw Company Limited.

Stevens Brothers was acquired by Leo Davenport, a successful businessman, who had previously been a successful competition rider for A.J.S., both at home and abroad. His father Tom Davenport had also worked for A.J.S. at Graiseley Hill, where he held a managerial post.

Retreat Street Works in the 1980s. Courtesy of the late Geoff Stevens.

Stevens Brothers continued to be successful under Leo. Everything in the works had to be just right. In the machine shop stood a row of capstan lathes which were always kept in immaculate condition. Leo also did work for the Stevens Screw Company. Two other businesses were run from the Retreat Street premises. The first, Jones and Goodare was owned by the Stevens Screw Company, the second, Lombard Products, Midlands Limited was owned by Leo Davenport.

All of Stevens Brothers machinery was driven from overhead line shafting, powered by an electric motor that stood in the corner of the machine shop. Every Friday at 5 o’clock the machines were shut off, and thoroughly cleaned. Cleaning time ended at 5.30 when the foreman, Bill Priest made an inspection. Between 30 and 40 people worked in the machine shop. The stores were run by Jack Bennett who also drove the company’s van.

In 1992 it was all over, the end of an era. The factory was acquired by Engines Limited, and later W. Hopcraft & Son Limited, monumental masons. Although the buildings still survive, they have been empty for several years.

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