- Not to be confused with Amherst Villiers, automotive engineer and developer of the supercharger for the 'Blower Bentley'
In the 1890s John Marston's Sunbeam had become extremely successful, by relying on high quality of production and finish. But Marston was dissatisfied with the pedals on his machines, which he bought in. In 1890 he dispatched his son Charles to the US 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. Charles said that the Villiers Engineering Co. was "the ultimate fruit" of his trip to the US, being impressed by 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".
As a result of the tour, in 1898, John Marston bought a small Japanning works based in Villiers Street, Wolverhampton. Under the direction of Charles, the company made cycle parts for the Sunbeam company. As the factory was producing more parts than Sunbeam required, it sold components to other manufacturers.
1902 was a momentous year for Villiers. Firstly, John Marston sold the company to his son Charles for £6,000 on a loan against future profits. Secondly, it developed and patented the cycle free-wheel, which every cycle manufacturer required. The production of free wheels reached its peak just after WWII, as the company produced 80,000 per week or 4 million per year.
In 1911 engine production commenced, but sales were slow until 1913 when the first two-stroke was produced. In 1956, Villiers produced its two millionth engine and presented it to the Science Museum in London.
In 1936, L. E. Baynes and Sir John Carden, trading as Carden-Baynes Aircraft of Heston Aerodrome, launched the Carden-Baynes Auxiliary, a light aircraft which was essentially a motorized Abbott-Baynes Scud III glider. This carried a retractable 249 cc Villiers engine driving a push-propeller and producing 9 bhp, and the fuel tank held enough to run the engine for thirty minutes. The 249 cc Carden-Baynes Auxiliary is believed to be the lowest-powered aircraft in the history of powered flight.
In 1957 Villiers absorbed JA Prestwich Industries, makers of the J.A.P. engines. In 1962 the company were claiming that: "jointly the two companies produce a vast range of two-stroke and four-stroke petrol engines and four-stroke diesel engines from 1/3 to 16 b.h.p. These are the engines which power many of Britain's two-stroke motor cycles, scooters and three wheelers, and the great majority of the motor mowers, cultivators, concrete mixers, generating sets, elevators, pumping sets. etc."
Villiers manufactured a range of single and twin two-stroke engines (from 98 cc to 350 cc) for light motorcycle and vehicle manufacturers until the 1960s.
In the early 1960s, the company was taken over by Manganese Bronze, and in 1966 together with AMC became part of Norton Villiers. In 1999, Villiers Plc acquired the healthcare company Ultramind and renamed the company Ultrasis.
- Von Harten & Marston (1979), p. 58