The Villiers Company was established in the year 1898, for the production of higher-grade component parts for cycles. The factory was equipped with the latest type of American machine tools, for not only quality, but also quantity production.
Villiers started making Freewheels, they immediately made a good impression.
At this time nearly all cycle manufacturers made their own Freewheels, but when they realised the superiority of the Villiers Clutch, they were interested in carrying out their own tests, and slowly many important firms discontinued making their own and fitted the Villiers product. So the output of Villiers Freewheels gradually increased, resulting in lower costs and selling prices.
The secret of this success was entirely due to the machinery that had been installed. Steadily the works expanded, houses and buildings adjoining were pulled down or reconstructed, and more plant was added to meet the increasing demand for the firm’s products.
From the early days the Directors of the Villiers Company were keenly alive to the possibilities of the Motor Cycle as a means of transport, and they carried out exhaustive experiments.
It was only natural that the plant, capable of manufacturing articles to very close limits should be suitable for the production of internal combustion engines, and in the year 1912 a small engine was designed for a Motor Cycle and put to test.
In the following year, the Villiers Two-stroke Engine was placed upon the market.
It is interesting to record that before this date many two-stroke engines had been made, but had given much trouble because the manufacturers were not properly equipped.
There existed, in the minds of the public, certain prejudice against this type of engine but by engineers, it had always been recognised as the ideal type, because of its simple construction.
Many Designers had been deceived by the simplicity of the two-stroke engine, believing that it could be manufactured in a cheap manner.
Nothing was further from the truth, as a two-stroke internal combustion engine actually requires more accurate manufacture than any other type of engine.
This the makers of the Villiers engine realised, and they determined to concentrate on this type knowing full well that the British public ultimately would realise that the failure of the early engines was due to poor workmanship.
It was necessary in those days actually to loan complete machines to the Motor Cycle Manufacturers, for them to test the Villiers two-stroke engines, and from this, the growth of the business was miraculous.
The increased output of products necessitated working to the closest possible limits, because it was obvious that unless the parts assembled easily, the works would quickly be in chaos, and also components would not be interchangeable.
Accuracy and interchangeability of parts is a great advantage to the owner of a Villiers product, because he can purchase spare parts and fit them himself easily and without the aid of a skilled engineer.
The war caused many difficulties. The machinery had been specially installed for the production of flywheels and engines, but owing to the high reputation of the Villiers Company, they were put under Government control at a very early date, and the main productions were ceased practically at a moment’s notice.
Although they were allowed to manufacture flywheels for military bicycles and engines for pumps, the majority of the plant was turned over to the manufacture of gauges for shells, fuse parts, component parts for aeroplanes, lorry governors and thousands of other delicate and intricate components in ferrous and non-ferrous metals which demanded great accuracy.
This was maintained until the end of the war, after which it was not an easy matter to change back again to the manufacture of the regular products for which Villiers was renowned.
It was no longer possible to purchase Magnetos for fitting to the engines and, therefore, “necessity being the Mother of invention” Villiers immediately commenced to design a magneto that would, if possible, give better results than had been obtained with the horse-shoe type magneto.
The outcome of this was the Villiers Flywheel Magneto, which has been a phenomenal success. Not only does it give an intense spark at high speeds, but also a much better spark at low speeds than had been possible with other types of magnetos.
The development of the flywheel magneto added another department in the factory, and this to-day is a very important section which grows annually.
Walking through the Villiers Factory one marvels at the enormous quantity of flywheels, engines, carburettors, flywheel magnetos and lubricators, produced hourly, and the accuracy in their manufacture.
A flywheel after assembly is placed on a mandrel and tested for truth and concentricity. Every engine when built is run and tested under its own power, and is not passed off test unless it develops a certain predetermined power which is set as its minimum permissible performance. Every engine is put to a greater test on the bench than it ever receives in the hands of a Motor Cyclist.
Another very important factor is the quality and consistency of material. It was found that one consignment of steel varied from another, and similarly other materials varied, with the result that a laboratory was built and placed under the charge of a skilled metallurgist whose duty it was, and is, to test, and pass all raw materials and to carry out research work with various alloys to improve the products.
The British Government carried out exhaustive tests of flywheels on their Post Office Bicycles, and it is gratifying to know that for many years now they have contracted for Villiers flywheels exclusively for their GPO bicycles, and find that with them they obtain longer life and are consequently cheaper in the long run.
In the same factory where Villiers flywheels are made, but in an entirely different department to the Villiers two-stroke engines are manufactured in enormous quantities and as every engine requires a carburettor negotiations were commenced for the Mills Patent carburettor, because on test it was found that this was the only automatic type of instrument which was really suitable for a two-stroke engine.
The Mills Patent was bought outright, and carburettors have since been manufactured in the Villiers factory.
As a carburettor calls not only for accuracy in workmanship but also for high quality in material, a bronze foundry was laid down for the supply of castings for the Villiers carburettor to ensure uniformity in material.
The Steel Stamping Department is a very interesting section where more than 30,000 forgings are made each week. Nearby is the Heat Treating Shop, which is considered to be the most complete and up-to-date in the Midlands, each furnace being regulated by electric pyrometers to ensure correct temperatures.
There is a busy atmosphere and a pleasant one throughout the whole works. It has often been called a “Bee-hive”, probably due to the buzz of the machinery, and because everyone is so busily engaged.
It is interesting to learn that many workpeople have been with the firm since its inception, and that care, accuracy, and thought is their keynote. Cleanliness reigns supreme, and in some of the assembly shops employees in overalls look as if they were in a cake factory rather than an engineering works.
It is felt that the reproduction of these photographs will shows the activities at the Villiers factory and will be appreciated by many who have little knowledge of the skills and techniques required in the manufacture of the Villiers products, which they may be using.