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John Marston Ltd

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April 1899. Royal Sunbeam cycle.
February 1902. Mabley Car.
January 1903. Mabley Car.
May 1903.
July 1903. Mabley Car.
January 1904. Sunbeam cars.
March 1904.
February 1905.
March 1907.
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of Sunbeamland, Wolverhampton, engineers and manufacturers of Sunbeam cycles, cars and motorcycles, as well as japanware in the early years.

See also -


1851 John Marston was apprenticed to Edward Perry, tin plate worker and japanner at the Jeddo Works of Wolverhampton as a japanner (metal lacquerer).

1859 At the end of his apprenticeship, aged 23, he bought two(?) existing tinplate manufacturers, from Daniel Lester of Bilston, and set up on his own as John Marston Ltd. making any and every sort of domestic article.

1871 He did so well that when Edward Perry died, Marston took over his Paul Street Works, the iron and tin smithing and japanning business, and incorporated it using his own name - John Marston and Co Ltd.

1885 John Marston Ltd's japanware business started to decline. John Marston was a keen cyclist, was interested in trying to improve the machines of the day, and considered introducing cycles as a new product.

1881 Employing 84 men, 19 boys and 41 women [1]

1887 Marston was a keen cyclist and tried building his own cycle. William Newill, the works foreman, built a special cycle for John at the Paul Street works. John was pleased with the bicycle and the story is told that John's wife, Ellen, saw the sun reflected in the high gloss finish, and so the bicycle was called 'The Sunbeam'. John initially intended to make only tricycles but, at the time, the modern safety bicycles were all the rage and so most Sunbeam cycles were of this type. In the middle of the year, John asked one of his men to estimate the cost of going into the bicycle business. By December the first Sunbeam bicycle had been produced.

1888 The Sunbeam name was registered. The Paul Street works became known as Sunbeamland.

William Newill became a partner in the business.

1890 Introduced the Little Oil Bath Gear Case.

1895 Incorporated as a Limited Company.

1896 Issued a catalogue for "Koh-i-noor Letters and Artistic Advertising". These appear to have been individual letters as well as complete signs made in copper.

1898 Display advert in The Times for Sunbeam Cycles. [2].

1898 Purchased the Villiers Street factory of Edward Bullivant, a tinner and japanner. A new company was set up there Villiers Cycle Components Co to make pedals and cycle components for Sunbeam using patterns obtained from the USA, using machine tools developed using US specifications. As the factory was producing more parts than Sunbeam required, Villiers also sold components to other manufacturers.

1899 Autumn. Made a 5 h.p. single-cylinder dogcart. [3] Marston was encouraged in this by Thomas Cureton his right-hand man

Between 1899 and 1901 the company produced a number of experimental cars but none of these were offered to the market.

1901 The first production car called a Sunbeam was introduced after a partnership with Maxwell Maberly-Smith. The Sunbeam-Mabley design was an odd one, with seats on either side of a belt-drive powered by a single-cylinder engine of less than 3hp. The design was a limited success, with 420 sold at £130 when production ended in 1904.

1902 the remaining metalware and japanning part of the business was sold to Orme, Evans and Co to enable Sunbeam to concentrate solely on vehicle production. The Villiers Cycle Components Co was sold to John's son Charles.

1903 Selling Sunbeam and Mabley cars.

1903 Introduced a six-cylinder car. [4]

1903 Entered a 'cylinder Sunbeam car' in the Glasgow to London motor trial. [5]

1904 Production began of a Thomas Pullinger-designed car, based on the Berliet mechanicals.

1905 The cars sold quite well and, rather than expand the existing business, the decision was taken to turn set up a separate company to handle the demand by focussing on cars. In March 1905 the Sunbeam Motor Car Company Ltd was formed with a starting capital of £40,000; John Marston was Chairman. Cars were made at Moorfield Works, off Villiers Street, with satellite factories at Owen Road, Temple Street, and Ablow Street, where components including radiators were made.

1906 A new model of car was introduced, based on a Peugeot motor that had been purchased for study; this sold about ten a week.

1912 John Marston was seventy-six years old when he ventured into the field of motorcycles with his Gentleman's motor bicycle. The first Sunbeam model was designed by Harry Stevens (of the AJS Stevens family) on modern-but-conventional lines and with a 2.75 hp engine. The chain transmission was enclosed by the Sunbeam 'Little Oil Bath Chain Case'. Finished to the usual Sunbeam high standards, it was prepared for production by John Greenwood, who was the Engineering Director at Sunbeamland until the 1930s.

1914 Directory listed them as Marston, John, Ltd., Sunbeamland, Paul Street, Wolverhampton and as motor cycle manufacturers

In 1914 John Marston Ltd is listed at 16 London Road, Leicester as a motorcycle manufacturer with H. F. Bateman as the manager.

1914 Listed as manufacturers of Sunbeam bicycles and motor-bicycles, metal letters for shop fronts and honeycomb radiators and sheet metal ware for motor cars. Employees 1,000.[6]

In 1916 they were listed at the same address with F. W. Southern as manager.

1918 This was a very tragic year for the Marston family. Firstly, the eldest son died, followed by his father the day after the funeral and his mother a few days later. It was to affect the firm deeply and the company entered the following decade in the control of others.

c.1920 Facing a claim for death duties arising from the death of his father, Charles sold his shares in John Marston Ltd.

1919-1920 John Marston Ltd the manufacturers of the Sunbeam cycle and motorcycle was purchased by Kynoch which was part of Nobel Industries [7].

1926 Nobel Industries became part of the new ICI.

1935 ICI decided to dispose of the cycle and motorcycle side of the Marston's business. Profits were very low and a lot of investment would be needed to update the old methods of production that were still in use.

1937 Matchless Motorcycles (Colliers) Ltd purchased the Sunbeam motorcycle and pedal cycle business of John Marston Ltd from ICI; the directors proposed to change the name to Associated Motor Cycles Ltd. [8]. Manufacturing was relocated to Associated's works at Plumstead in North London.

ICI retained the works in Wolverhampton for production of car radiators.

1939 See Aircraft Industry Suppliers

ICI extended John Marston plant on 3 occasions

1943 Marstons was merged with Excelsior Motor Radiator Co Ltd. of Leeds[9] to become Marston Excelsior.

1946 Sunbeam Cycle Co was sold to BSA.

1952 Marston moved to current premises at Wobaston Road, Wolverhampton.[10]

1983 Marston acquired Palmer Aero Products and name changed to Marston Palmer Ltd.[11]

1985 Marston Palmer Ltd. was acquired by IMI and became IMI Marston.[12]


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1881 Census
  2. The Times, Friday, Mar 18, 1898
  3. The Times, Tuesday, Sep 19, 1933
  4. The Times, Tuesday, Sep 19, 1933
  5. The Times, Friday, May 15, 1903
  6. 1914 Whitakers Red Book
  7. The Times, 7 July 1920
  8. The Times, Tuesday, Sep 07, 1937
  9. History of Kynoch Works [1]
  10. Safety Systems Company Timeline
  11. Safety Systems Company Timeline
  12. Safety Systems Company Timeline
  • Wikipedia
  • Wright's Leicester Directory 1914 Page 296
  • Kelly's Leicestershire Directory 1916 Page 421
  • Sunbeam Bicycles [2]
  • Biography of John Marston, ODNB