John Kemp Starley was born on Christmas Eve 1855, at Church Hill, Walthamstow, (north) east London. His father John Starley was a market gardner and his mother was born Mary Ann Cippen.

John Kemp moved to Coventry at the age of 17 following in the footsteps of his uncle James Starley (b. Albourne, West Sussex).

James Starley had brought an entirely new industry - the bicycle industry - to Coventry, when the city’s industrial fortunes were at a low. James Starley with William Hillman also patented the ‘Ariel’ bicycle in 1870 - one of the world’s first Penny Farthings.


Starley & Sutton produced the first ‘Rover’ in 1884. The design evolved significantly in just one year, resulting in the 1885 design shown on this website.

John Kemp formed J.K. Starley and Co. Ltd, in 1888, with the ‘Rover’ safety bicycle already firmly established as the bicycle that ‘set the fashion to the world’ (The Cyclist). The Rover Cycle Co. was formed in 1896. In 1898, Meteor Works moved from West Orchard Coventry to a purpose built factory in Queen Victoria Road, Coventry.

John Kemp Starley died suddenly in 1901. The company produced the Imperial Rover motorcycle in 1902 and the first Rover motorcar in 1904. In 1905 the company name became the Rover Co. Ltd.

References: ‘Wheels within wheels’, Williamson (1966); ‘A History of Rover Cycles’, Pinkerton and Roberts (1998) ,Waltham Forest Local Studies Library, Vestry House Museum; Steve Roberts, animator, Walthamstow.

John Kemp initially worked for his Uncle, before eventually finding a business partner - William Sutton - in 1879. Starley & Sutton came into being at Meteor Works, in West Orchard, south of Corporation Street. Initially producing Penny Farthings and ‘Meteor Tricycles’, John Kemp began developing ideas for improved bicycle designs. In particular he tried to evolve a more efficiently designed frame that would enable the rider to sit more comfortably and enable more efficient transmission of power to the wheels.