ISBN 978-0-9554455-4-5      biography by William Fairney

                                                                                                               Diesel Publishing     Tel. 44 (0) 1454 238 553


A very early designer of British motor cars was Richard Stephens, the engineer and inventor, who was born in Cwmbran, South Wales in 1856.
At the age of seven he went down the coal mine at Nantyglo, after his father died. He rose to be a steam engine driver, and was trained to drive the steam-driven drills. He travelled widely to Australia, the USA and Canada, and several of his children were born overseas.

Whilst in America he met such characters as Thomas Edison, and possibly Henry Ford. On these trips he first gleaned the ambition to build motor cars.

He returned to England and settled in Clevedon, Somerset. There he set up a bicycle-making business, and eventually designed and built his own prototype car in 1897/8.

He designed his own engines for his cars and advanced to make six-seater Hackney Carriages and motor buses. The vehicles had fully-independent front suspension, with a large transverse leaf-spring between the two front wheels and coil springs in the vertical tubes.


He engaged Charles Redrup as an after-sales engineer and chauffeur, to whom his niece became married. The couple would often take tourists around the Somerset countryside.


He carried out most of his development work in a workshop just off The Triangle in Clevedon,and amde in all about twelve cars, most of which were sold locally. He ran a Hackney Carriage service between Portishead and Clevedon, under contract to the Great Western Railway.


Stephens' enterprises were funded by the local Squire, Sir Edmund Elton, who was also a renowned potter. In 1907 they jointly developed automatic gas-lighters which were operated remotely to switch the street lights on and off.

In 1907 the Portishead to Clevedon Railway was completed and Stephens sold off his fleet of Hackneys, keeping only the Prototype car, which he maintained in roadworthy condition, and the first Hackney, which was cut up and stored in tea-chests.

In 1908 he purchased a fleet of Ford Model T cars and used them to run a taxi service.


During the First World War he invented Rotatable Engine Stands and Folding Stretchers for ambulances.However his greatest achievement at this time was the invention of the Patented Adjustable Brake Shoe, in which a metal wedge is screwed between the drum-brake shoes to take up wear. This is the basis of all such shoes in use today.

He moved his works to London in 1919 to be able to meet the demand and set up agencies around the world. He continued to operate the Prototype Stephens car and in 1927 it entered the first London to Brighton Run, where it was awarded a gold medal.

Richard Stephens died in 1932 but his sons continued to run the car and it performed very well in many veteran car rallies.

In 1951 it appeared in the film 'The Magic Box', and in 1953, in 'Genevieve'.

When Stephens' eldest son was no longer able to drive the car he sold it to the owner of Leonardslee Gardens, Robin Loder, who also keeps a small motor museum. Robin also purchased the parts of the original Hackney carriage, still in its tea-chests, and over a period of ten years restored it to working order. It was first entered into the London to Brighton run in 1981, and was the first car to arrive at the sea-front.

In 1995 both cars ran in the Evelyn Ellis Rally to celebrate the centenary of the first recorded motor car journey in the British Isles.

The Two Stephens cars are still kept in immaculate roadworthy condition at Leonardslee Gardens and they are run from time to time in various rallies.

In 2006 the two cars returned to Clevedon for the Cavalcade of Motoring, and were seen on The Triangle in front of the old Stephens Works, now a St Peters Hospice Shop.

Julia Elton, great grand-daughter of Sir Edmund Elton, and President of the Clevedon Civic Society, is seen in the Prototype car, wearing the red hat.

Richard Stephens' name appears fleetingly in some reference works but no full description of his extensive and innovative work has been previously written.

This omission has now been rectified by the publication of his life story,

"RICHARD STEPHENS AND THE CLEVEDON CARS", by William Fairney (Diesel Publishing)

and available by cheque for £13.95 plus £2.80 p&p UK, (£6 Europe, £9 Rest of the world)









Tel. 44 (0) 1454 238 553         

and from the same Publisher,

or by Mail Order through Bristol Books and Publishers :-


Charles Benjamin Redrup was married to Richard Stephens' niece and was a prolific inventor and engineer. 'The Knife and Fork Man' is his biography.

Joseph Johnson Fairney (1869-1953) received a classical education through the Cambridge University Education Extension Scheme and wrote essays and poems throughout his life. He was a keen observer of the economic effects of the First World War and wrote whimsically about the rise of Hitler and the follies of mankind. He was modest about his work, saying it was ‘Just my Doggerel’


© FairDiesel Limited 2006