The Stevens family are well remembered for their vehicle manufacturing company A.J.S. but the less glamorous Stevens Screw Company has almost been forgotten. Both companies have the same roots and their histories are entwined.

It all started in 1874 when Joseph Stevens founded J. Stevens & Company in Cross Street, Wednesfield. He was an engineering blacksmith who not only did the traditional work of horse shoeing and making parts for harnesses and bridles but also repaired all kinds of things. He could turn his hand to almost anything and repaired all kinds of metal equipment, wheelbarrows, garden tools, bicycles and did work for the lock trade, which was booming in those days. When old enough, his eldest son Harry joined the business and quickly became proficient. He was a fast learner and soon began producing special purpose machine tools for the lock trade.

In 1894 the business moved to Tempest Street in the centre of Wolverhampton and Harry and his father were joined Harry’s younger brother Joe. An American “Mitchell” single cylinder four stroke petrol engine was purchased to provide the draught for the hearth, but it was unreliable and a poor performer. Harry being dissatisfied with its performance decided to build his own. It was completed towards the end of 1897 and worked extremely well producing 1.75h.p.

Harry and his father were quick to recognise the huge potential market that existed for petrol engines to power all kinds of machinery and so in 1899 they formed the Stevens Motor Manufacturing Company alongside the existing J. Stevens & Company.


Harry's first motorcycle using the 'Mitchell' engine.

Around this time Harry turned his attention to a motor powered cycle. He fitted the “Mitchell” engine to an old B.S.A. bicycle that had been lying in the works, and apart from the temperamental engine it was a great success. 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 assured a regular order 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. Larger premises were soon necessary and so 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 Company, 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 Snr.; W. Barnett, a partner with Joseph Stevens in J. Stevens & Co.; Harry Stevens; W.H. Haden, gentleman; George Stevens; T.E. Lowe, accountant and F.R.W. Haywood, solicitor. The Company Directors were Joseph Stevens Snr., W. Barnett and W.H. Haden.

Although things initially went very well for the new company, a reduction in sales led to financial difficulties during the summer of 1905. In order to safeguard the screw, rivet and small 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 Snr. and his daughters Lily and Daisy.

Key to the map:

Number 1 = Original Steven's Screw Company Limited's site stretching from Retreat Street to the Penn Road with the two houses at the rear.

Number 2 = Premises brought by the Stevens Brothers and occupied by A.J.S., Stevens Brothers (Wolverhampton) Limited and Stevens Screw Company.

Number 3 = Premises rented by Stevens Brothers (Wolverhampton) Limited from 1933 to about 1956.

The location of the family's premises in Retreat Street.

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. Business grew and 2 or 3 years later several new machines were installed to make small repetition parts. There were two factory buildings made of wood and a brick built office building. They are not shown on the 1903 Ordnance Survey map and so must have been nearly new when the company moved in.

At the front in Retreat Street was the largest factory building, the Capstan Shop, with the office above. Below the office, in the centre, was a large doorway that gave vehicles direct access into the works. On one side of the doorway were the stores and the cleansing room. Behind the Capstan Shop was the Screw Shop where the screw studs and lock studs were made and behind this facing on to Penn Road were two houses that were occupied at one time or another by family members. Joseph Stevens Snr. and his family occupied one of them in the early years.

The screws, nuts and bolts were made from bar on capstans and the lock studs were turned on machines that were designed by Harry Stevens using a revolving dye head. They were a great success and in use for many years. In the cleansing room the products were cleaned in paraffin and sieved to remove any swarf etc.

The premises on the corner of Retreat Street and Penn Street that was purchased by the Stevens brothers. Courtesy of the late Geoff Stevens.
In 1909 Joseph’s 4 eldest sons, Harry, George Joseph and Albert John also moved into Retreat Street in premises across the road. They had recently founded a new company called A.J. Stevens & Company Limited and acquired the premises to manufacture motorcycles. The new machines manufactured under the name of A.J.S. were extremely successful and orders flooded in. By 1915 larger premises were essential and the brothers purchased Graiseley House and the surrounding land on which to build a new factory. 
They left Retreat Street in 1917 and allowed the Stevens Screw Company to use their building for additional workshop space.

Joseph Stevens youngest son Billie joined-up after the outset of the war and saw service in Salonika and the Dardanelles. When he returned home his father immediately appointed him as a director of the Stevens Screw Company Limited and his brothers offered him a managerial post at A.J.S. in charge of spares and the export department.

The late 1920s and early 1930s was a bad time for vehicle manufacturers due to the recession. At A.J.S. sales declined and the company went into voluntary liquidation in 1931. The following year the five Stevens brothers formed a new company, Stevens Brothers (Wolverhampton) Limited and moved back into their premises on the corner of Retreat Street and Penn Street. During the next few years they manufactured a three-wheeled van and Stevens motorcycles. Van production ended in 1936 and motorcycles were built until 1938 when the company decided to concentrate on general engineering. During the war they manufactured and machined components for most of the leading aircraft companies and were sole manufacturers of the torpedo setting gear for the Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers.

By the late 1930s age was catching up with Joseph Stevens Snr. and his youngest son Billie took over the running of the Stevens Screw Company Limited. In 1938 his son Jim started work at Stevens Brothers.


The Directors of the Stevens Screw Company Limited in 1948. Courtesy of Jim Stevens.
Standing Left to Right:
Daisy Jones daughter of Lucy Stevens, William Stevens (Billie), William Simpson who was married to Ethel Stevens, and Gladys Barrett - Daisy Jones' sister.

Seated Left to Right:
Lily Wood née Stevens, Daisy Weir née Stevens.

Standing Left to Right:
Daisy Jones daughter of Lucy Stevens, Freddie Hunting who was in charge of the Capstan Shop, William Stevens (Billie), Jack Hunting (son of Freddie) who was in charge of the Screw Shop, Horace Bowdler - Works Manager, William Simpson who was married to Ethel Stevens, and Gladys Barrett - Daisy Jones' sister.

Seated Left to Right:
Lily Wood née Stevens, Daisy Weir née Stevens.


    The Directors and key staff of the Stevens Screw
    Company Limited in 1948. Courtesy of Jim Stevens.


An advert from 1951.

The Stevens Screw Company Limited continued to be successful and by the early 1950s there were over 70 staff.

Production consisted of hundreds of different small parts including bolts, nuts and screws in ferrous and non-ferrous metals made from the bar.

They were supplied to the motor, cycle, electrical, general engineering and lock trades. Many of the customers purchased components for export. Most of the workforce was female apart from the male setters. 

In 1956 Jim Stevens was appointed a director of Stevens Screw Company Limited following the death of his father Billie and was made responsible for running the company. The decision was made to sell Stevens Brothers (Wolverhampton) Limited, his father and uncles having died, and to concentrate on the running of the screw company.

The main customer at the time was Wilkins and Mitchell Limited of Darlaston and many of the Stevens’ components found their way into Wilkins and Mitchell’s ‘Servis’ washing machines. Other important customers were Rothley Brass who manufactured brass door fittings and bathroom fittings; and the Moss Gear Company.

By the 1970s most of the screw company’s customers had gone into liquidation and the company slimmed down considerably. Jim Steven’s was responsible for running the works and his wife Joan the office.


An advert from 1953.


An advert from 1958.

Most of the shareholders were family members who used to work for the company and had now retired. After the company’s A.G.M. in 1973 their accountant suggested that Jim and Joan should buy the other shareholders out and this they did forming a new company called The Stevens Screw Company (no longer a Limited company).

A little while later Wolverhampton Council served a Compulsory Purchase Order on the old buildings which were to be demolished to make way for a new car park for the nearby Midland Counties Dairy. By this time Stevens Brothers had been sold to Leo Davenport and he offered to share the premises with the screw company. Later in 1973 they moved across the road and sub-contracted much of their work to Leo’s company.

By the 1990s the screw company was experiencing difficulties, with several of their customers going into receivership. Jim and Joan decided to concentrate on a reduced customer base and work towards retirement.

In 1991 Jim and Joan decided to retire and close the Retreat Street factory. After discussion with one of their main customers Rothley Tube Limited, it was decided that instead of disposing of all of the machinery, certain items could be retained and a small machine shop set up on Rothley's site. Jim would continue, and still continues to produce samples and machined items, retaining the Stevens Screw Company, which will exist until Jim decides to call it a day.

I would like to thank Jim and Joan Stevens and the late Geoff Stevens for their help in producing this history.

 

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