A.J.S. Motorcycles

Beginnings

Joseph Stevens (senior) was born in Wednesfield in 1856 and became a self employed engineering blacksmith in 1874. His company was called J. Stevens & Co. with premises in Cross Street, Wednesfield. He undertook all kinds of metalwork from making horseshoes, parts for a horses harness and bridle, to repairing or making garden tools.  He also worked on such diverse things as bicycles and locks, and soon gained a reputation as a highly skilled craftsman. Joe and his wife had nine children.  All of them in time would be involved in the family business.

A simplified family tree showing Joseph senior's parents, family, children and grandchildren

Joseph's eldest son Harry joined him in the business and they moved to premises in Tempest Street near Wolverhampton town centre, where they were soon joined by Joseph's third son Joe junior. Harry soon acquired his fathers engineering skills and began to design all kinds of machines and tools for use in the lock industry. Joseph acquired a small American, 'Mitchell' single cylinder, 4 stroke petrol driven  engine for use at the works. It was poorly built and unreliable but interested Harry greatly. He decided that he could do better and set about designing and building his own engine. Rough castings were obtained from a company at Derby. These were machined by the two brothers who built the engine in their spare time. It was completed late in 1897 and was an instant success. It outperformed the 'Mitchell' engine in every way, being reliable and efficient, and delivered about 1.75h.p. Harry and his father were quick to realise that a large market existed for reliable petrol engines for use in industry.  They decided to manufacture engines and set up the Stevens Motor Manufacturing Company in 1899.


The photograph is from the Motor Cycle and Cycle Trader magazine, 2nd May, 1930. Courtesy of Jim Boulton.

Millie Stevens married Tommy Spann at St. Peter's Church in April 1930. She was given away by her father, George.  The page boy on the extreme left is none other than Murray Walker, the famous racing commentator. Large crowds gathered around the church and in nearby streets, and the reception was held at the Victoria Hotel.

This was to have far reaching consequences for Wolverhampton industry. Thanks to Harry who was the  mechanical genius of the family, Clyno would eventually move here to produce motorcycles and cars, Sunbeam would start to produce engines of its own, based on one of Harry's designs, and of course A.J.S. came along 15 years later. One wonders if Wolverhampton would have been such a large vehicle manufacturer without Harry starting it all. He is certainly one of the unsung heroes of the town. 

The following sections describe the company's motorcycle manufacturing history beginning with the manufacture of petrol engines. The other products produced by the company are described in different sections of the museum.

I would like to thank Geoff Stevens for all of his help and encouragement in producing this section.

I must make a mention of Steve Mill's excellent book - A.J.S. of Wolverhampton. It has been an essential reference in the production of this history and is the only completely accurate book so far written that is solely dedicated to A.J.S. Its 216 pages and 13 chapters cover the whole company history in remarkable detail. Many years of research went into the production of the book, which is a must for anyone who is interested in the company or its products. Descriptions are included of the early engines, motorbikes, sidecars, radios, cars and commercial vehicles, and precise details of  individual models are given in the 10 appendices. The well illustrated A4 sized book sells for 25.00 in the UK, and the price includes postage. Outside the UK postage is extra.

If anyone is interested in purchasing a copy please contact the author at the following address:

S. J. Mills
2 St. Andrews Road
Sutton Coldfield
West Midlands
B75 6UG
United Kingdom.

U.K. customers only, can send a cheque for 25.00, payable to S. J. Mills. Overseas customers can contact the author to find the cost of postage and package.
                                                                                                          
Bev Parker