Local motoring hero given recognition with help from Wolves Uni

The hard work and dedication of a history lecturer from the University of Wolverhampton has ensured that the outstanding achievements of a local entrepreneur have been recognised by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Dr Richard Hawkins has gathered information to tell the story of the life and achievements of John Marston who created the Sunbeam brand, which has been included in the dictionary’s Motoring Update.

John Marston, born in Ludlow, Shropshire in 1836 was an ambitious Midlander who set up business in Wolverhampton manufacturing cycles and motorcars under the brand name ‘Sunbeam’.  The business occupied premises on Upper Villiers Street and Sunbeam quickly became a leading British motorcar producer.

During World War I the company was a major producer of aircraft engines claiming to have produced more instruments for aeroplanes than any other manufacturer in the world.

He was a prominent political figure in the city, as well as becoming mayor, he was chairman of the Wolverhampton Conservative Club and vice-president of the West Wolverhampton Conservative & Unionist Association. His passion for improving the city helped result in Wolverhampton becoming one of the earliest English towns to address failures in the provision of public utilities.

After his death both the cycle and motor businesses were sold and the Sunbeam Motor Car Co. Ltd. was merged with another manufacturer to form S.T.D. Motors, Limited of which the modern-day successor is Peugeot.

The School of Law, Social Sciences and Communications lecturer, Dr Richard Hawkins said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed researching this accomplished local entrepreneur. Who knows what would have happened if the family had continued running the company set up by John Marston. Who’s to say that Wolverhampton could not have become Britain’s equivalent of Detroit and Sunbeam the equivalent of Ford.”

The dictionary which celebrates men and women who have contributed to motoring history has been updated to include another 70 lives who have made an impression on the sector. These include local characters Harry Hawker and Kaye Don (who was brought up and educated in Wolverhampton) along with the founder of the Aston Martin brand, Lionel Martin (1878-1945) and the first ever motorist to drive 100 miles in an hour, Percy Lambert (1880-1913).