Black Country Bugle

Voices from the past tell of life at Sunbeam

- By DAVID COOPER Bugle correspond­ent

THIRTY seven years ago I had the good fortune to record on audio tape the voices of local folk once employed at the Sunbeam car factory in Wolverhamp­ton, fifty and more years earlier. Also, several notable personalit­ies including the grand daughter of John Marston, the founder of the company in 1888, was present and willing to contribute to “The Sunbeam Story”.

Hitherto, the recording of this rich heritage of the local motor industry was only available to purchase as a 48-minute audio CD. That was until now, when it can be listened to free of charge online.

The “voices” were gathered on a day when the Sunbeam Talbot Darracq Register held its annual rally at the former factory in Upper Villiers Street, which had been acquired by local industrial hire services company Andrews Group plc.

Much of the 130-year-old factory remains today. The event marked the 50th anniversar­y of the closure in 1935. For many, Sunbeam’s greatest hour came on 29th March 1927 when Sir Henry Segrave claimed a world land speed record of 203 mph driving the mighty 1,000 hp, 12-cylinder Sunbeam, built at the works and shipped over to Daytona Beach in the USA.

Contributo­rs to the truly fascinatin­g content of the recording include 91-year-old Albert James who returned to work at the Sunbeam to earn a £3 weekly wage after fighting in the trenches at the battle of The Somme where he was known as the Sunbeam Man; and eighty-year-old Norman Cliff who worked on the highly successful Sunbeam grand prix racing cars and the record-breaking car of Segrave.

One of the gems of the day was the appearance of Melissa Marston (76 at the time) granddaugh­ter of the founder – who recalls family life and reveals the origin of how the name of Sunbeam came to be a hallmark of high-quality engineerin­g of cycles, motorcycle­s, cars, commercial vehicles, buses, trolley buses and aero engines. The capture of such personal nostalgia marked an important albeit small episode of social history.

The period of Sunbeam’s war effort, taking in two world wars, in building aero engines and aircraft is also covered with a fine, factladen contributi­on from much revered Black Country transport historian Jim Boulton, with a convincing claim tht the famous Rolls Royce Merlin aircraft engine was a copy of an original Sunbeam design – a declaratio­n worthy of further investigat­ion. Of the 40 cars and their owners that were present on that memorable day in 1985, Frank Selwyn and son Richard, along with their mechanic Tim Rees-roberts, take the listener on a journey in their 1926 3 litre Sunbeam, while explaining the pleasures and pitfalls of owning vintage cars. Time is also given to the later life of the Sunbeam marque and the common practice of mass production and badge engineerin­g by the Rootes Group which acquired the Sunbeam and Talbot car companies in 1935, explained by Talbot Cars media spokespers­on Gerry


Since that memorable day thirty-seven years ago, “The Sunbeam Story” has become a fitting tribute to the factory workers who under the entreprene­urial spirit of John Marston, contribute­d to the robust reputation of British engineerin­g world-wide.

Many of the people heard on the disc are now deceased but thanks to them, their memories are an audio record of Wolverhamp­ton’s industrial heritage, and now safely archived and shared by others. To access and listen to “The Sunbeam Story”, free of charge, visit www.david and click on SUNBEAM CD

One gem is the appearance of Melissa Marston, granddaugh­ter of the company’s founder

 ?? ?? Local historian Jim Boulton always spoke of Sunbeam as equal in quality to Rolls Royce
Local historian Jim Boulton always spoke of Sunbeam as equal in quality to Rolls Royce
 ?? ?? Melissa Marston, (1918- 2014) granddaugh­ter of Sunbeam founder John Marston
Melissa Marston, (1918- 2014) granddaugh­ter of Sunbeam founder John Marston
 ?? ?? The Sunbeam car factory 1922
The Sunbeam car factory 1922

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