A Touch of TT History

TT Riders on Fire
TT Riders on Fire

As it’s the 20th year of the Bugsplatz and the TT is back on after 2 years of lock downs, yeay! For those lucky enough to be going this year here is a little related local history you can read on the boat.

Okay, I could not find any links between Telford and motorcycle manufacturing, other than Telford was involved in the birth of the industrial revolution (on the 5th day?) which enabled the creation of many things including eventually the motorcycle, meanwhile just down the road…

As everyone knows God created the world in 6 days and on the 7th he created the motorbike. Well he / she / whatever must have messed about with bicycles a bit on the 6th because from the early days of motorcycling there were numerous bicycle manufacturers and light engineering firms in Wolverhampton eager to make a contribution and some of these went on to become significant participants in the early years of the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races.

Not surprisingly the larger more affluent marques had the most success and are still well known today probably as a result of the publicity, everyone has heard of AJS and Sunbeam right? But there were also some much smaller local players eager for the glory or providing the ‘iron’ for those who were.

AJS (A.J.Stevens & Co Ltd.) spawned from the Stevens Screw Company Ltd of Wednesfield who built their first motorcycle in 1897 using a Mitchel single pot four-stroke imported from America.

Before long the family were building their own engines including parallel and V twins then in 1909 Jack Stevens decided to compete in the TT and a new company, AJ Stevens & Co (AJS), was formed based at Retreat Street Wolverhampton the first AJS model appeared at the motorcycle show in 1910.

The first competition bike had a 298cc engine designed to be within the 300cc limit for junior machines in the 1911 TT. Jack Stevens finished 16th on the official AJS entry just behind private competitor JD Corke on an identical machine.

In 1914 the company moved manufacturing to Graiseley Hall, Blakenhall and went on to produce a 349cc 2 ¾ hp bike (I think my starter motor is rated higher than that) for the 1914 juniors plus an 800cc 6hp V twin.

The first world war put things on hold for a while but AJS were back in 1920 with an improved engine on which Cyril Williams won the junior race of the first post war TT and In 1921 AJS machines took the first four places.

AJS went on to enjoy more success through the 20’s and 30’s and AJS motorcycles or AJS powered machines continued to appear in the classic races for many years, the latest but possibly not the last in 2010.

Over the years AJS motorcycles have racked up an impressive 19 wins, 28 seconds, 19 thirds and many other top ten placements.

AJS absorbed the Matchless, another motor cycle company with TT pedigree, in 1931 and enjoyed some success with that marque through the 40’s and 50’s.

AJS 1928 TT Advert
AJS June 1928 – That’s That


The other significant player Sunbeam was originally a bicycle manufacturer started by John Marston in 1887. He experimented with fitting engines to his cycles in 1903 but that did not go well and he gave up motorbikes for a while.

In 1905 the Sunbeam Motor Car Company was founded based at Paul Street Wolverhampton otherwise known as “Sunbeamland”. In 1912 the company was forced to revisit the motorcycle idea due to a slump in the car market.

Having embraced the motorcycling world Sunbeam motorbikes went on to enjoy significant success in the TT Seniors through the 20’s and 30’s with a few firsts and many top 10 to top 20 placements. Sunbeam engines were also used by sidecar racers. 1949 was the last time a Sunbeam motorcycle competed at the TT.

Check out this Pathe News video on YouTube of the 1928 TT, the after event firework display looks more dangerous than the racing to me.

Tourist Trophy Thrills 1928 – Pathe News

Sunbeam also invented the first Veyron.

Sunbeam 1000hp Car
1000hp Car by Sunbeam Wolverhampton


A smaller player HRD Motors Ltd was formed in 1924 by Howard Raymond Davies, a motorcycle racer who had been let down by reliability issues of the motorcycles he was using so decided to make his own from only the best quality components of the day. The slogan of the company was “Built by a rider” and sales were aimed at the high end performance market.

The first models were built in 1924 based on JAP engines. In 1925 on his own machines Davies won the Senior TT and came second in the Junior.

In 1926 the competition had improved and the best HRD could manage was a 5th place. 1927 was a better year, Freddie Dixon took first place in the Junior and sixth in the Senior for HRD. The successes brought in orders but not enough to keep the company going and the brand was sold to OK Supreme Motors and then to Phillip Vincent in 1928. Some models were manufactured under the HRD-Vincent label.

Another former bicycle manufacturer Diamond Cycles of Sedgley St. Wolverhampton decided to add motorcycles to their product range in 1908 and reformed as DF & M Engineering Company Ltd. Not such a catchy company name but the Diamond Motorcycle brand boasted models built around Belgian FN V twin engines and by 1912 JAP four-stroke engines were being used.

The factory moved to Vane St. Wolverhampton where a few more models were produced until motorcycle production ended in 1933.

Diamond machines were raced at the TT from the early 20’s until 1931. Alec Bennet finished 9th in the 1924 Ultra Lightweight on a 175cc Villiers powered Diamond and in 1926 Syd Gleeve finished 7th on a Diamond also in the Ultra Lightweight.

Another small player were HB Motorcycles (Hill Brothers) of Walsall St. Wolverhampton. A 136cc 1 ¼ hp model was produced in 1910 and then not much else until 1919 when a 348cc model was developed that was raced by Roland Hill at the 1922 TT but failed to finish, the company folded in 1923.

Villiers Engineering was an offshoot of Sunbeam when a small japanning firm in Villiers St Wolverhampton was purchased by John Marston to provide components for his bicycles. Under his Son’s control the company went on to produce engines for a range of marques and some Villiers powered machines were seen at the TT.

Villiers eventually absorbed JA Prestwich Industries makers of the prolific JAP engines that provided power for numerous racing machines and many other applications over the years.

Villiers became part of Associated Motorcycles (AMC) group along with AJS, Matchless and Sunbeam then in the mid 60’s AMC merged with the BSA group then Norton to form Norton-Villiers when engines built in Wolverhampton powered Norton framed machines for a while.

There have been a few other motorcycle manufacturers in Wolverhampton over the years such as Clyno, Jukes, Olympic and Orbit but no others with TT heritage, as far as I am aware but I’m sure I’ll be told if I’ve missed some.

Monument to AJS Wolverhampton
Monument to AJS at former factory site.