Marstons bought pedals that were often not up to the high standards they expected. To overcome this problem John Marston sent his son Charles to America to find the best pedals and buy the machinery to make them.

Charles ended up at Pratt & Whitney of Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.A. and after discussions he returned with patterns of pedals, and the necessary machinery specifications for making them. The new machinery was duly ordered, but when it arrived it was too big to fit into the existing workshop and so John Marston purchased a larger workshop from tinner and japanner, Edward Bullivant.

The new factory, situated at 5 Villiers Street, consisted of three terraced houses that had been joined together to give a total working space of 5,400 square feet. After the machinery had been moved, Charles was put in charge and 8 men were employed to produce the high quality pedals that were required. The new works, named after Villiers Street, became the Villiers Cycle Components Company, founded in July 1898.

A Villiers 2 speed gear.

John Marston frequently visited Villiers Street to check on the quality of the pedals. The new factory produced far more pedals than were required for Sunbeam cycles  alone and so Charles looked for an outlet to sell them to the cycle trade. He approached Frank H. Farrer, manager of the Coventry branch of the Palmer Tyre Company who agreed to sell Villiers pedals. He opened his own wholesale business supplying cycle parts to the trade. At the time Villiers made the best pedals and soon most of the cycle makers were using them.

In 1902 Farrer sold his business and came to work for Villiers, who now had a workforce of 30. In the same year the freewheel was developed and Villiers decided to produce their own lightweight version. Around this time John Marston decided to sell Villiers to his son Charles for £6,000, the value of the company's machinery.

A plan of the Upper Villiers Street factory from a property auction catalogue, dated September 1935. Courtesy of David Clare.
The new freewheels were so successful that pedal production ceased and Villiers concentrated on freewheel production alone. The company also developed a cycle gear change mechanism. Around this time motorcycles were becoming popular and Villiers also developed a gear change mechanism for them, entering what would become their most important market.

In 1912 Villiers became a private limited company with Frank Farrer as a shareholder. As more motorcycles were produced the company went into engine production and the famous Villiers 2 stroke was born. The company were to become one of the country's largest manufacturers of motorcycle engines.

Courtesy of Jim Boulton.

Cycle components were not forgotten. In the early 1920s freewheels were made with a double row of ball bearings. Frank Pountney, one of Villiers' design engineers invented a freewheel using only a single row of ball bearings. This allowed a larger ball to be used to give truer running and to allow heavier weights to be carried.

By the 1930s Villiers' freewheels were used by almost all of the British bicycle makers and exported world wide. The company also began to produce fixed hub sprockets and large numbers were made. Cycle components continued in production for many years but were eventually dropped in favour of engines.


“Wolverhampton Cycles and Cycling” by Jim Boulton. Published in 1988 by Brian Publications.

“The History of the Villiers Engineering Company and its Motorcycle Engines” by Jack Sizer. Published by Jack Sizer.

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