Family Background

Geoff was born into a family of engineers, who originated in the hamlet of Hanbury in Worcestershire, and moved to Wednesfield in the first half of the 19th century.  His Great Grandfather, Joseph Stevens and his wife Mary lived in Hickman Street and Cross Street in Wednesfield and had 7 children, 3 boys and 4 girls. Their second eldest boy, also called Joseph, set himself up in business in 1874, at Cross Street, Wednesfield, as an engineering blacksmith, trading as J. Stevens & Company.

He was a very skilled man and turned out a wide range of products from garden tools, hinges, nuts, bolts, and nails; and would repair anything from wheelbarrows to bicycles. He also did a lot of work for the lock trade, and the traditional blacksmith's work of horse shoeing and bridleware.

The Stevens family tree.

He married Sarah, and they had 9 children, 5 boys and four girls. Their eldest son, Harry, joined his father in the business. He had a flair for engineering and was quick to learn. He showed an early skill at designing and manufacturing special purpose machines and tools.

In 1894 the business moved to Tempest Street in Wolverhampton and Harry's younger brother Joseph began to work there. Joseph Stevens Senior purchased an American 'Mitchell' single cylinder 4-stroke petrol engine, possibly to provide power for a blower for the forge hearth, or even just out of curiosity. It wasn't realised at the time, that the purchase would greatly change the family's fortunes.

Harry was not impressed with the engine and decided that he could build something far better. He bought some rough castings from a firm at Derby, and the two brothers machined them. The finished engine proved to be an efficient and reliable design.

Harry and his father were quick to realise the potential of the engine, which could provide power for many industrial applications. They further improved the design and decided to go into production.

Harry also saw the potential of using an engine for powered road transport. After reading an article about powered bicycles, he fitted the 'Mitchell' engine into an old B.S.A. bicycle that had been lying around the works. The motorised bicycle worked extremely well, apart from the temperamental engine.

In 1899 Harry and his three eldest brothers, Joseph, George, and Albert John (known as Jack) founded the Stevens Motor Manufacturing Company, a venture that ran alongside the existing family business. While Harry got the business underway, his three brothers took outside jobs in order to help to finance the venture.

The Stevens Motor Manufacturing Company in Pelham Street.

At the time J. Stevens & Company were making spokes and screws for the successful Wearwell Cycle Company of Wolverhampton. William Clarke who ran the company was keen to produce a motorised machine.

He was interested in Harry’s prototype and soon a contract was drawn up between Wearwell and the Stevens Motor Manufacturing Company for the production of a suitable engine.

The contract provided regular orders for engines, and the first Wearwell-Stevens machines appeared in 1901.

The new machine was a great success, and a range of Stevens engines were developed for a wide range of uses.

Larger premises soon became necessary, and in February 1904 the Tempest Street premises were vacated in favour of a larger site in Pelham Street.

Later that year the decision was taken to form a limited company to encompass the interests of both the Stevens Motor Manufacturing Company and J. Stevens and Company. The new business, known as the Stevens Motor Manufacturing Company Limited was registered on 10th December, 1904 with a maximum share capital of £5,000.

The shareholders were Joseph Stevens Senior; W. Barnett, a partner with Joseph Stevens in J. Stevens & Company; Harry Stevens; W. H. Haden, a gentleman; George Stevens; T. E. Lowe, accountant; and F. R. W. Haywood, a solicitor. The Company Directors were Joseph Stevens Senior, W. Barnett and W. H. Haden.

A wide range of petrol engines were produced for many applications, including driving machinery, and powering boats, and motorcycles. They also produced clutches and silencers.

Although things initially went very well, a reduction in sales led to financial difficulties during the summer of 1905. In order to safeguard the screw, rivet and turned-parts side of the business, a new company, The Stevens Screw Company Limited was formed early in 1906 and premises were acquired in Retreat Street. The company was run by Joseph Stevens Senior, and his daughters Lily and Daisy.

About half a dozen people were employed in the new factory producing small turned studs, rivets and screws, mainly for the lock trade. Another speciality was screwed engineer’s studs.

Unfortunately the demand for petrol engines fell in 1907, but the brothers struggled on. Things improved a little in 1908 and they started to make motorcycle frames as well as engines for Wearwell. The future looked bright, but the company was badly hit by the sudden demise of Wearwell in 1909.

The four brothers had been interested in making their own motorcycles for sometime and so they acquired premises in Retreat Street on the corner of Penn Street, across the road from The Stevens Screw Company's factory.

On the 14th November, 1909 they founded A. J. Stevens & Company Limited, named after Albert John Stevens, the only one of the four brothers to have two Christian names. Two motorcycles were designed by Harry and they quickly went into production. Initially the engines and frames were built at Pelham Street, with final assembly at Retreat Street. In 1910 they sold the Pelham Street factory to one of their customers, Clyno, and moved all production to Pelham Street.

A.J.S. machines began to be well-known as a result of many successes in trials and competitions, and orders flooded in, especially after the company's success in the 1914 Isle of Man T.T. Five A.J.S. machines were entered for the Junior T.T. race and they finished in  1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th and 29th place. A marvellous achievement. As a result sales rocketed and a good future seemed certain. The business soon moved to a large new factory at Graiseley Hill.

The reception at Wolverhampton High Level Railway Station after returning from the Isle of Man T.T. in 1914. Courtesy of the late Geoff Stevens.

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