Edward Stevens and his wife came to live at the top of the Thorns Road in Quarry Bank as a young married couple, having previously lived in the Lye. There were four children to the marriage; sons William, John and Ernest and a daughter named Lucy. As a child, John, along with his siblings, attended Mount Pleasant Wesleyan Church, although in later years he didn't belong to any particular church.
Having worked his apprenticeship to the bucket trade at Lye, John set up business as a bucket manufacturer in Brickkiln Street. In those days virtually the whole of the production was carried out by hand. Unfortunately, owing to mining subsidence, the efficiency of the work was considerably impaired so new premises became necessary.
John married Martha Elizabeth Weston, daughter of Samuel Weston of Brickkiln Street, and they subsequently adopted Annie Weston, following the death of her father Tom (brother to Martha) soon after her birth. Home was a house in what is now Coppice Close the existing road being the length of their drive! Latterly, they came to live in the' Cot', next to the works in Thorns Road, which were opened in the early 1900s.
John Steven's friend, Alfred Thomas Robinson, worked for the Peerless Bedstead Company in Old Hill and when the firm went bust went to see John, then living in Coppice Close. He suggested working together to produce bedsteads, John was delighted and said, "We'll have a go, Alf, I've got some land but not a lot of money". And so what was to be the 'Jury' was born!
There were outhouses in Coppice Close where Alf made patterns and tools. Meanwhile, John built the shops and cupola on a piece of his land in Thorns Road. He owned land on both sides of the Thorns, giving some in trust for a school which eventually became the home of Thorns Primary many years later.
The new works were called John Stevens Bedstead Works, producing brass and iron bedsteads. Ann Rebecca, Alfred's wife worked in the factory dipping the iron bedsteads in enamel. Most of the workers came from Dudley, probably having previously worked for Peerless. As there was no direct tram line, the work force generally walked to and from their jobs.
The business grew so rapidly that many extensions were made and the factory became a pioneer for the holloware trade, becoming one of the largest holloware works in the Midlands. It was Alfred who made the plaster of paris patterns for the pie dishes, a new venture taken from products made in Germany And so the JURY, trade name of John Stevens Ltd, became major producers of kettles and saucepans with steel replacing the cast iron. In 1920 another branch was opened in Engine Lane, Lye, and at the time of his death over a 1000 workers were in John's employ. They were known locally as 'John's angels'.
Alfred eventually left the company to work for Oakleys Bedsteads but he and John remained firm friends. And when Alf's son John was 14 in 1922 his father felt there could be no better employment than at the Jury. Arriving on his first day, Monday morning at 8 o'clock, young John was set to work in packing. Nothing unusual you might think, but the boss worked alongside him for the whole of his first week! He was later transferred to work under Major Billingham making mounted forgings - bales for buckets and liners for bins. At 18 John progressed to being an enamel fuser in the furnaces working on water bottles for the armed forces. This was a reserved occupation and John remained tied to this job for the duration of the war.
John Stevens owned other firms including the aluminium holloware works at Lye (The Industries Company) and The Hurst Firebrick works at Woodside, formerly owned by Mobberley & Perry Ltd. At one time he had farmed Round Hill Farm at Kinver and owned farms at Albrighton and Deansford in Kidderminster.
Work was his life and his main love. Very rarely did he take time off, he was up at 5am eager to be with 'his men', and was sometimes to be seen going to the factory during the night for an impromptu visit in his high boots and his long black overcoat covering his nightshirt! The story goes that when the furnace firemen saw the light go on in the Cot they sent a message round the works by tapping the pipes.
At one time very bad storms caused the roofs to be blown off and it was a case of bosses and employees working together to effect repairs. Today, John Stevens would probably be considered a workaholic, never happier than when strolling through the various departments, watching the many processes the products passed through. For all that he was well loved, almost idolised by the workforce. A very approachable man, of great integrity, exceptional business ability, extremely generous, kind and well read. He held Quarry Bank in deep affection and subscribed to religious and social causes, preferring his name not to be mentioned. Politically he supported the Liberal Party until his later years when he became a Tory.
Just six weeks before his death at 78 the company turned public, becoming Jury Holloware (Stevens) Ltd.
Quarry Bank mourned the passing of John Stevens. At his funeral Thorns Road was lined with over a 1000 workpeople and residents. Forty cars were needed to convey the mourners to Perry Barr for the cremation. John Steven's ashes were scattered on Clent Hills near to the Four Stones by his nephew, Ernest, as was his wish.
Ernest Stevens was, like his brother, in the manufacturing business, producing 'Judge Ware’, holloware of an excellent quality. It was said that "Ernest manufactured for the classes while John manufactured for the masses". His factory was in Cradley Heath. Ernest was a J. P. and widely known for his generous gifts of parks to Quarry Bank, Lye and Stourbridge.
It seems that Ernest and John had a disagreement, which, sadly they never made up.
The other brother, William, went to America as a young man working in the salt mines with the Indians and was able to help finance his brothers' ventures on his return. He was married twice, to Louisa and Isabella Fanny, and had 5 sons and a daughter who died aged just 3. William lived a very different life from that of his brothers. For many years he kept the Hoppole Pub in Bewdley and then lived in Wyre Hill House where he owned a lot of land.
© M.P.L.H.G. 2012