'Heritage Open Days' Guided Tour, Wolverhampton
Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th September 2009
HERITAGE OPEN DAYS
10–13 September 2009
Every year in September ‘Heritage
Open Days‘ celebrates England’s diverse heritage by offering free access
to every age and type of building usually closed to the public or that
normally charge for admission. There are also tours, events and
activities which aim to bring local heritage and history to life.
Co-ordinated this year by English
Heritage, the event taps into the enthusiasm and expertise of local
people. With thousands of volunteers and some 800,000 visitors every
year, Heritage Open Days is by far England’s largest heritage
WOLVERHAMPTON’S MOTOR MANUFACTURING MILE
To mark the centenary of AJS Motor
Cycles this year’s Heritage Open Days events in Wolverhampton will
include a guided, one-mile, walking tour through the town’s historic
motor manufacturing heartland with its many surviving factory buildings.
The tour will celebrate the
internationally significant contribution of the town’s vehicle makers to
the history of the 20th century and the Modern Age of speed, mass
personal transport and the freedom to travel. To be followed by an
optional half-hour film about AJS and Sunbeam motor cycles.
Saturday 12 September 2009
Sunday 13 September 2009
Walking tour 12.30 – 2.00pm
Film showing 2.30 – 3.00 pm
Outside Central Library, Snow Hill, Wolverhampton
Heritage Open Days: Tour up-date
The tour will be
longer than the one mile originally advertised - there's more to see! (see
map below). In part this is thanks to the encouragement from Bev Parker at
the Wolverhampton History and Heritage Society to look at other makers,
and in part thanks to info from Sue Whitehouse, Building Conservation
Officer at Wolverhampton City Council.
The venue for
showing Lumic's film on AJS and Sunbeam motorcycles is, appropriately, a
room in the former Sunbeam Car Company's factory on Upper Villiers Street
- which adds a little extra walking to the end of the tour. The room is
part of the Bizspace complex. Tea and biscuits will be available.
kick-off the tour there will be an appearance of an old Sunbeam motorcycle
from about 11.30am outside the Central Library, to mark the gathering
space. Pudding basin helmet and goggles have been kindly provided with the
generosity from Davida UK (thanks Laura and the team!) for kids large and
small who want to grab a photo on the old machine ... all the vogue in the
If the weather is
bad, there is a 'plan B' to show a one-hour film of the Marston Sunbeam
Register's Testers' Run from 1995 - again made by Lumic films of
I was pleased to
see the event get a mention in the English Heritage and Heritage Open Days
national press releases - and the Guardian and Daily Mail newspapers!
Author of the definitive history of the AJS company Stephen Mills is
unfortunately unable to attend but sends his best wishes for the event. An
inspection copy of his self-published book and purchase details will be
Motor Cycles Centenary
In November 2009 it is the centenary of
the establishment of AJS Motor Cycles, founded by the Stevens brothers of
Wolverhampton. As blacksmith engineers the Stevens family are nationally
significant pioneers of the UK motor cycle industry, having manufactured a
commercially available engine (for use by others) in the late 1890s before
commencing manufacture of their own machines in 1909. Stevens early
engines supplied the Wearwell company, who along with Star began motor
vehicle production in Wolverhampton just prior to1900, establishing the town as
an important early centre for motor manufacturing.
Photo: AJS Retreat Street Works 1913 - from S J Mills (courtesy Ray Jones)
Along with AJS are neighbouring manufacturers
Sunbeam, who produced the first UK car to win a foreign grand prix and the
first powered vehicle to break both the 150mph and 200mph land speed
records. Sunbeam aero engines also powered the first return flight across
the Atlantic and the company were the first to use aero engines to power
land speed record vehicles. Also nearby were Clyno cars, at one time the
UK's third largest producer after Austin and Morris. The first V8 car
engine was produced in Wolverhampton.
Surprisingly, a good number of Wolverhampton's early
motor vehicle factories survive clustered within about a mile of one
another to the south of Wolverhampton city centre. Few are protected as
‘listed buildings’, despite efforts, nor are they protected by inclusion
within a ‘conservation area’ but most are on the Wolverhampton City
Council's non-statutory 'local list'.
Photo: Sunbeamland, Paul Street Works
the buildings languishing, the town’s motor manufacturing heritage is
little-by-little becoming nationally recognised. The Heritage Lottery Fund
Wolverhampton Central Youth Theatre
project in 2007 to stage a production at
Grand Theatre about
Sunbeam' - followed by the
making of a short film.
As well as the
obvious headline story, it looked at the lives of factory workers and the
changes brought about by WWI. This is a fascinating story that the
surviving factory landscape can tell poignantly - in a very different way
to seeing restored vehicles at historic vehicle rallies.
Industrial Revolution became transformed into the Modern Age with its
fascination with speed, mass personal transport and the freedom to travel
is a story that Wolverhampton had a significant part in. Men and women
working in Wolverhampton factories played a key role in the revolution
that produced the motor vehicle-based culture that transformed every
aspect of our lives – to the point where we now worry about its impact on
the planet’s very survival.
'Heritage Open Days' Tour and Film
To mark the AJS centenary a guided one mile walking tour is proposed to
take in eight former factory buildings / factory sites with interpretation
leaflets provided. The
Wolverhampton History and Heritage Society have been very helpful and
encouraging. Their information is invaluable
is on Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th (12.30-2.00pm).
Local history film-maker Lumic Ltd of Kingswinford have given permission
to screen their half-hour film on AJS and Sunbeam motor cycles made in the
mid-1990s which features interviews with surviving factory workers,
archive photos, footage, etc. A venue in the area is currently being
negotiated. Obviously, attendance will be without any charge.
Map: extract from
Geographers' A-Z Map Co. Ltd.
Wolverhampton’s Motor Manufacturing Heritage: A history worth
combustion engine defines the Modern Age, providing us with both
speed and freedom to travel. It pervades 20th century
culture, affecting how we live our lives; design our towns; provide
our goods and services; spend our leisure time; wage war. The Modern
Movement which sought to break with past culture in part grew out of
a fascination with capturing speed in art. The sheer number of motor
vehicles now threatens the very future of the planet! All this has
occurred in a little over 100 years.
The UK was
slow to involve itself in this emerging industry. Gottleib Daimler
had tested his first petrol-powered vehicle in 1885 and in 1886 Carl
Benz designed a prototype motorised tricycle . The first
commercially produced motorcycle, the Hildebrand und Wolfmüller, was
available from 1894 .
historian David Burgese-Wise credits Daimler of Coventry as the
first UK manufacturer, having been established in 1896 with its
first vehicles produced in early 1897 . Wolverhampton, one of the
principal centres for the 19th century cycle industry (it
had 59 cycle-makers recorded in the industry’s 1892 trade directory)
, had the engineering and entrepreneurial skills to enter the
emerging motor vehicle industry. The Star manufacturing company was
established in 1897, producing its first Benz-style car under
licence in 1898 along with motor-tricycles on the French De Dion et
Bouton style .
of the UK’s early manufacturers built machines under licence from
their European designers, the Stevens brothers, engineering
blacksmiths in Wolverhampton, can be credited as innovators. AJS
historian Stephen Mills relates how in 1897 they acquired an American
Miller engine which they dismantled, grasped its principles and
redesigned as a more efficient motor . The Stevens Motor
Manufacturing Co. was established in 1899 and for ten years supplied
engines to motorcycle makers, an early customer being Wearwell of
Wolverhampton from 1900 . Wearwell was itself a company that had
commenced the early production of motor vehicles in 1899 .
The use of
Stevens’ engines by car and motorcycle makers Clyno of Thrapston in
Northamptonshire encouraged the company to relocate to the town in
1910 . Clyno subsequently became the UK’s third largest car
manufacturer after Austin and Morris . It celebrates its
centenary this year. Stevens also designed the first motorcycle
engine for Marstons, makers of Sunbeam motorcycles and cars .
In 1909 the
Stevens brothers commenced production of their own motorcycles which
continued until 1931 when the company was bought by Matchless of
London who continued production into the 1960s . It is this AJS
centenary that is being celebrated this year.
Open Days tour will take in a dozen factory sites – most with
surviving buildings, three of which are statutorily listed whilst
others are included on the Council’s local list. The principal AJS
site, now a supermarket, is commemorated by the ‘Lone Rider’
Street – site of the original Stevens engineering and blacksmith
● Frederick Street Works – Star motor car works
● Poutney Street Works – site of Wearwell motorcycles
● Stewart Street Works – home to Star and Briton cars, Hayward
side-cars and AJS wireless
● Paul Street – Sunbeam Works
● Retreat Street – AJS and Stevens Works
● Pelham Street –Clyno Works
● Pelham Street – AJS and Clyno Works (2 buildings opposite one
● Great Brickkiln Street – site of Wearwell and Wolf Works
● AJS Graisley Works site – the Lone Rider memorial
● Marston Street – Villiers Works
● Upper Villiers Street – Sunbeam Car Works
Burgess-Wise (2006) ‘Brighton Belles: A Celebration of Veteran Cars’
Tragatsch (ed) (1993) ‘The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of
Motorcycles’ (Grange Books)
Burgess-Wise, op. cit.
Wolverhampton History and Heritage Society web-site (www.localhistory.scit.wlv.ac.uk)
accessed 26 August 2009
 Stephen J
Mills (1994) ‘AJS of Wolverhampton’ (published by author)
Wolverhampton History and Heritage Society, op. cit.
 Stephen J
Mills, op. cit.
Wolverhampton History and Heritage Society, op. cit
Cordon Champ (1986) ‘The Sunbeam Motorcycle’ (Haynes)
 Stephen J
Mills, op. cit.
SUNBEAMLAND - the Sunbeam Motorcycle Works