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 chain 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

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.

In between 1934 and 1938 Stevens Brothers produced around 1,000 Stevens motorcycles. When production ended the company concentrated on general engineering work.

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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