General Metalware and Holloware
John Marston is best remembered as the manufacturer of Sunbeam bicycles, cars and motorbikes. Further details of these, as well as of his life, can be found in the Transport Hall of this Museum. But his first efforts were in domestic wares.
John was born in 1836. According to Robert Cordon Champ, in 1851 John and his father Richard "signed indentures with Edward Perry of Richard Perry, Son & Co., tinsmiths and japanners of Wolverhampton"; and that their Jeddo works, which were founded in 1790, were on the south side of Jeddo Street, next to the site that would later become Sunbeamland. But according to W. H Jones, Edward Perry had, at the time, a separate firm from that of Richard Perry, with works in Paul Street. Richard Perry was in Great Brickkiln Street but seems later to have moved to Temple Street.
When his apprenticeship was over John Marston purchased Daniel Smith Lester's japanning business at Bilston in 1859. John was just 23 years old. Nothing seems to be known about this business but, whilst Wolverhampton japanners generally worked on papier mache, Bilston japanners generally worked on tin plate. Richard Perry, and probably Edward Perry, also worked in tin plate. So John Marston's background would have included metalworking as well as metal finishing.
Edward Perry had no children to carry on the business after his death in 1871. Jones says: "His trade, after his death, was transferred to his nephews, Messrs. Lees, who at that period were carrying on the business of Richard Perry & Sons, in Temple Street. At the present time [sc.1899] the same concern is being carried on by William Lees, under the title Richard Perry, Sons and Co.". The Jeddo works themselves were sold to John Marston. What seems to have happened is that Richard Perry took over the business of Edward Perry but sold the buildings (though whether with or without the machinery and materials is not known) to John Marston. Presumably Marston sold the Lester works in Bilston and moved his entire operation to the Jeddo works.
In 1877 John Marston's works were extended into Paul Street. The product range included bread dishes, dish covers, pots, pans, kettles, spirit lamps, foot warmers and black enamel ware. The company became one of the two largest makers of black enamelled ware in the country.
In 1883 Frederick Walton's Old Hall japanning works were demolished. His firm must have closed sometime before but why and when is not known. At the time the japanning business, particularly the fancier side of it, was in the doldrums. Frederick Walton may have died or decided to retire. But the goodwill of his business, though not, of course, the premises, seems to have been bought out by John Marston.
At some point John Marston also moved into brass and copperware. Such items have recently been positively identified as being made by Marston: Andrew Everett has been able to link a number of marks which connect the "JM" mark with Paul Street. Whether John Marston took up manufacturing in these metals upon taking over Walton's, or whether this was an independent development, is not known, but the latter seems more likely.
The jugs and the kettle shown above are important evidence in the question of the extent of Christopher Dresser's design work in Wolverhampton. This general issue will be dealt elsewhere in this Museum in due course; but suffice it to say here that the close connection between John Marston and Richard Perry Son & Co. - known users of Dresser's services - should be noted.
But John Marston had started making bikes, with great success, and was making a start on cars. He decided to concentrate his business in these areas and in 1902 he sold off the japanning and metalware side of the business to Orme Evans, who were large producers of domestic enamel wares. Some brass and copperware by them has been identified but whether or not they produced these sorts of good before they took over John Marston's trade is not known.