in the beginning...
In the 1890s John Marston’s Sunbeam bicycles became extremely successful. From the start they had relied on high quality of production and finish. But John Marston was dissatisfied with the pedals on his machines, which he bought in. In 1890 he dispatched his son Charles to the USA on a selling trip but included in his instructions that Charles must discuss pedal engineering with Pratt and Whitney in Hartford, Connecticut and come back with a high class pedal and the machinery for making it. Whether or not he visited Pratt and Whitney and got machinery there is not clear but Charles himself said that the Villiers Engineering Co. was “the ultimate fruit” of his trip to the US.
What seems to have impressed him there was the production system and the labour saving devices. He pointed out that “it was not possible to develop these at Sunbeamland, which had long been working on another plan, but it was possible to start them in a new factory”.
Presumably this refers to the fact that Sunbeamland had developed, and continued to be developed, on the old courtyard factory plan which was not amenable to flow, or assembly line, production.
In 1898 they acquired “a small japanning shop and three cottages” in Villiers Street. How small the shop was is not clear as they had belonged to Edward Bullivant, a producer of japanned ware on quite a large scale.
In any event they were big enough to convert into offices and factory and for eight men to be employed there. Charles Marston was put in charge of this factory, though most of his time was still to be spent at Sunbeamland. The company was registered as the Villiers Cycle Component Company with Charles Marston as the Managing Director.