MMIM Hall of Fame

the Honourable Charles Stewart Rolls.

   John Allan Rolls was a wealthy landowner from Monmouthshire and had notable positions as an officer in the Army. He was a Justice of the Peace, High Sheriff of Monmouthshire and was named Baron Llangattoch of the Hendre in August l892. As well as two large estates in South Wales Lord and Lady Llangattock also had several properties in London. They were generally what we would consider a “wealthy landed family”. Lord Llangattock made a wonderful contribution to the Monmouthshire communities ensuring local schools and churches built and kept in a proper state of repair. But for all this Lord and Lady Llangattock are biggest achievement was being the parents of one of Briton’s most outstanding, but seldom remembered, names.

Charles Stewart Rolls

   Forever linked to the name of his Partner F.H. Royce, Rolls story is equally as interesting, and arguably more colourful, than that of Royce; and he packed it all into just 32 years of life.

   C.S. Rolls was born on the 27th of August 1877 at 35, Hill Street, Berkeley Square, London. As the address suggests he was indeed from a privileged background. However, as the fourth child of the family he was rather more adventurous, and even industrious, than his elder siblings.

   John Maclean Rolls was destined to be the 2nd Baron Llangattock but died of wounds received at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Henry Allen Rolls was also lost to the First World War. He had been a Lt. in the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia), although he passed away in Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, in 1916. Eleanor Georgiana Rolls married Sir John Edward Shelley, the sixth Baronet Shelley (1872–1961) they hyphenated their names to become Shelley-Rolls.                            None of them had any children.

   As an interesting aside when Rolls was born F. H. Royce lived in the Old Kent Road, London (so may have been a tenant on one of the Rolls' Estates). He worked as a Post Office messenger (until September 1877), so may even have delivered telegrams and congratulations to Mrs. Rolls on the birth of Charles; intriguing thought.

Early Life

   Soon after Charles birth the Rolls family purchased a permanent home in London at South Lodge, Rutland Gate, South Kensington. But although he was born in London, Charles retained a strong family connection with his ancestry in Wales. The Hendre, near Monmouth, was “home”. Charles education was in keeping with the times and he attended Mortimer Vicarage Preparatory School in Berkshire. At Eton College Charles developed a passion for engineering. Reputedly Charles was never happier than when covered in oil and his endless tinkering with mechanical items earned him the nickname, ‘Dirty’ Rolls, or later (and more imaginatively), ‘PetRolls’. He studied mechanics and electronics in much the same way as Royce, both were fascinated by the engineering advances of the time. Charles even installed a dynamo and electric wiring in the servants quarters at ‘the Hendre’ to provide electricity in that part of the house.

   Rolls left Eton in March 1894, apparently his mind was on other things most of the time and ended up needed to ‘cram’ before taking the entrance exams go to University, even attending a private  ‘crammer’ in Cambridge in 1894. This studious endeavour gained Charles entry to Trinity College, Cambridge, and he enjoyed his time there studying ‘mechanical and applied science’. Being a tall man around 6'5" (1.95m) he was also active in sports, especially cycling, in which he won a ‘half Blue’ in 1898. In October 1896 during holidays from University and still aged just 18, Charles travelled to Paris, joined the Automobile Club of France and purchased his first car, a 3½ hp Peugeot Paris-Bordeaux type Phaeton. This was one of the most powerful cars available at the time and cost £225, £140 of which was a loan from his father. 

   This car is thought to be the first car based in Cambridge and when Rolls embarked on the 140mile trip home to 'the Hendre', near Monmouth, the townsfolk heard about his intended journey and, knowing he would have to drive his car over the Monnow bridge, waited two days and the nights to catch a glimpse of the spectacle of his car crossing the bridge. The car is thought to be only the third car owned in Wales.

   Charles was very interested in his car but more than that he was active in motoring circles. In 1896 He joined the ‘Self-Propelled Traffic Association’ to campaign against the restrictions of the Locomotive Act. One such campaign involved Rolls joining with other auto enthusiasts in defiance of the 4mph (6.4km/hr) speed limit and the requirement to be preceded by a man with a red flag. Many wealthy car owners, including the Hon Evelyn Ellis, used their cars freely on the public highways and due to their pressure, and influence, the speed limit was raised to 12mph (19.3 km/hr) in November 1896, a 200% increase on that previously allowed. When such organisations merged to become the new Automobile Club of Great Britain in 1897, Rolls was one of the founding members and served on it’s committee until 1908. 


   In January 1898 Rolls graduated from Cambridge University with a Class II Ordinary Bachelor of Arts degree, by Special Examination, in Mechanism and Applied Science. February 1898 saw Rolls accepted into the Institution of Civil Engineers, as a student member due to his continuing studies which were rewarded with a Master of Arts in 1902.

   During 1898 some balloon flights were run from the Crystal Palace and Rolls took advantage of the opportunity. This first ascent aboard the ‘Wulfruna’ appealed to the young Charles, and the sixteen mile flight from Crystal Palace to Epping Forest planted the seed of flight that would stay with him all his life.

   In these years post University Charles Rolls worked on the private steam yacht ‘Santa Maria’. The apparently very palatial and distinctive clipper bow steam yacht launched in Glasgow in 1883 was owned by his father, John A. Rolls. Quite what Charles’ role was isn’t recorded but it is know that he passed the necessary tests and examinations to obtained a third engineer's (marine) certificate.

   This work was followed by service with the London and North Western Railway at their main locomotive engineering workshops. At that time, the late 19th century, L&NWR was the largest Ltd company in the world. Character reports of the time say Rolls had a reputation for being very careful with money. He didn’t over eat and drank alcohol only in moderation. Traits in keeping with the sports orientated man he is known to have been.

1899 Pioneer Racing driver

   Rolls years as a racing cyclist at university, and his fascination with all things mechanical, led to him having a great love for speed. He took to racing automobiles to satisfy this craving, alongside his friends Moore-Brabazon, Mark Mayhew and a few other Britons. One of which was the Hon. John Scott-Montagu with whom Rolls shares the honour of being the first Briton to race abroad. They were both competitors in the 143 miles (231.5 km) Paris-Boulogne race of 17th September 1899, when motor racing was still very much in its infancy and followed the bicycle led system of ‘city to city’ races. 

Leonce Girardot won driving his Panhard to victory in a time of 4h17m44s, 33.3mph, or 53.89 kph. Two minutes slower was the Mors of Alfred Velghe, racing under his pseudonym ‘Levegh’. His time was 4h19m20. Broc’s Mors was third in a time of 4h32m20s.
   Rolls finished fourth; and last in class by a considerable margin. His 8hp Panhard and Levassor could only manage a time of 6h11m30s, less than an hour faster than the leading voiturette. Considering Rolls 8hp touring car was sure to be outclassed by the 12hp racing Panhards and that he didn’t have the safety net of a ‘touring class’ to race within we shouldn’t read too much into the finishing times. He did at least finish when many others didn’t! 
   Realizing he had a lot to learn and that he needed a newer 12hp Panhard, Charles sold his 8hp Panhard, nicknamed the 'Fire Engine', to Mark Mayhew for £1,280 and set off to Paris to purchase a new 12hp Panhard. He already had his eye on a race to be held in 1900, a 1000 mile trial being organised by the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland.


   The 1000-mile reliability trial was supposed to establish the credibility of the ‘horseless-carriage’ by showing the detractors of the motor car, and the rural folk of Britain, that the internal combustion engine could take over from traditional horse power. Despite the ‘emancipation act’ and the inaugural London to Brighton Run in November 1896 there were still relatively few automotive vehicles on the roads of Britain. Motor-cars that were about were driven by wealthy people in very flamboyant clothing.

   In 1900 these early motorists would have to conquer bumpy, unmade roads, with no signposts along the way; in open cars whatever the weather. No wind screen, and little more than a pram-hood for the protection of the driver and passenger, who would need to be suitably clad in 'autocoats', hats and goggles. These intrepid fellows would battle on for over 1,000 miles, when most had not previously driven more than 100 miles in a single day. It was to be the ultimate challenge of the endurance of both driver and machinery.

   Promoted by Lord Northcliffe and organised by his partner Claude Johnson, the organisation of such an event was a massive undertaking and showed just how exceptional a manager Johnson was. The public shock and fear was the first thing to tackle; the noise, explosions and smell emitted by the engines, let alone the dust kicked up by these monstrosities disturbed more than just the animal life. Claude Johnson travelled extensively around the country charting the route and making preparations for sheltering and feeding the hundreds of 'automobilists’ or ‘autocarists' (drivers), ‘mechanicians’ (mechanics) and organisers. In those days it was a mammoth undertaking.

   The tour would comprise 11 days of driving, of between 61 and 122 miles a day. The total distance of 1060 miles wound its way through England and Scotland but in keeping with the idea of presenting the motor car to the people there were 7 all-day exhibitions, 6 short exhibitions during the day runs but 3 of which were arranged for evenings. Further to that thought there were to be four hill-climbing competitions held during the trial, Shap fell being the only optional one, and optional speed trial races in Welbeck Park. 

   In the week before the tour all entrants took part in an exhibition held from Saturday 14th April to Saturday 21st April 1900. Entrance to the Agricultural Hall, Islington cost 1/- shilling (5p). On the 22nd of April the judges inspected all the competing vehicles in an early form of scrutineering so that each could be passed and stamped accordingly. These trials and tests announced the birth of motorsport in the UK. Prior to this three-week long Rally the only ‘competitions’ had been a small local event at Everton Brow in 1896, when the Liverpool Self-Propelled Traffic Association held a 'trial for self-propelled vehicles' up the hill there. Some timed trials for cars and motor cycles on the roads around the Crystal Palace on 6th May 1899, which included speed trials for motorcycles (and motor-tricycles) on the actual Crystal Palace velodrome at which Charles Jarrott had ridden a Phebus tricycle at a breakneck speed of 39mph! And a local Exhibition and trial in the Midlands, called the "Midland Cycle and Motor Car Exhibition” which was held January 25th to February 3rd, 1900. The ‘trials’ were little more than a journey from Birmingham to Coventry and back. A total of 38 miles including a hill climb at Mucklow Hill, Halesowen, which an Iveagh Phaeton won from a Wolesly by 46 seconds for the one mile climb. 

   Those intrepid souls braving 'the field of automobilism' and undertaking the 1000 mile trial were required to complete a Record Sheet along the route, so that their participation was recorded and average speeds could be worked out were needed. The Entry list reads as a veritable who’s who of motoring names..... the Hon. J. Scott Montagu, M.P., the Hon. C. S. Rolls, Mr. Mark Mayhew, Mr. Frank Hedges Butler, Claude Johnson, J. D. Siddeley, Herbert Austin...... And it wasn’t just the men, two ladies were listed as passengers and Mrs. Bazalgette drove her 3HP Benz ‘Ideal’. There were even entrants from France to provide a proper continental field. 

   At 07:09 am on Monday 23rd April, 65 of the 83 entries took the start at Grosvenor Place, London and set off on the first stage. The cavalcade was to cover 118½ miles along the old A4 from London to Bristol, via Bath. The next day 24th April the 60 vehicles that had reached Bristol exhibited in the ‘Drill Hall’ before setting off on the next stage; Bristol, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Worcester on to Birmingham, a total of 92.5 miles. Stage three, Thursday 26th April was from Birmingham, via Lichfield, Derby, Matlock and Buxton, to Manchester. 112miles.

   A 2.5mile hill climb competition was held on 27th of April at Taddington Hill (Buxton). Several vehicles ascended at 12 miles per hour or over including the Ariel tricycle of Mr. A. J. Wilson, Mr. E. Kennard’s 8-hp Napier and Mr. J. A. Holder’s 12-hp DaimlerThe recorded ‘winner’ of the event was the Hon. C.S. Rolls who attained an average speed of 17.7mph driving his 12hp Panhard.

   For the fourth travelling day, Monday 30th April, the route went from Manchester went through Preston, Lancaster, to Kendal, 73.75miles. It was expected there would be an evening exhibition in Kendall so vehicles were to arrive there by 9pm. During the journey the optional hill-climb over worst hill in England, Shap Fell, was held. 27 entrants decided to have a go at the climb. C.S.Rolls’ Panhard was fastest setting a time of 5mins 20secs, a speed of 13.29mph, for the 7.5 mile hill climb.

   Although history has suggested Rolls was little more than the money and contacts man for Royce, he was clearly an engineer in his own right. Not only had he qualifications and experience in electrical and rolling stock engineering, he even lodged patents for gas engine designs, in conjunction with the astronomer Charles Roberts D'Esterre. There are also later rumours of Rolls having developed his own prototype aircraft within the hangers at Muswell Heath. At the very least, Rolls was talented enough to recognise outstanding engineering when he saw it. He was also clever enough to realise that with his circle of contacts and the lack of vehicle sellers in the UK he had a golden opportunity to start his own business. 
   In January 1902 Charles started one of the first car dealerships in Britain. With £6,600 of financial backing provided, by his father, C.S. Rolls & Co began importing and selling high-class French Peugeot and Belgian Minerva cars through their ‘showroom’ premises in Lillie Hall, Seagrave road, Fulham, London. As always Rolls was well organised the building looked more like a large hanger, or engine shed. It had ‘showroom’ space to display the newly built, and the used, cars through the centre, offices to one side and extensive machine shop engineering work space on the other side. This proved to be a particular boon for Rolls as the works could make spare parts that could not be easily obtained from the overseas manufacturers.          Best of all everything could be easily managed as it was all under one roof. 
   Clearly this was a busy time for Rolls and he seems to have done little in the way of racing in 1902. It is quite understandable as even today setting up a large scale import-export business from scratch can take a long time. However, there may also be another reason. Rolls was still a ‘young’ man and like all young men he could find himself in trouble. One such occurrence in 1902 was while he carried Miss Vera Butler, daughter of Frank Hedges Butler (1st hon. Treasurer of the RAC), as a passenger. It is thought she was Charles ‘girlfriend’ and such a distraction may explain why his car collided with a trap in traffic from the Barnet Fair!
   One event Rolls did enter was the 1902 Paris-Vienna race. Held over three days from the 26th to the 29th of June and covering 990km this was perhaps the toughest of all the early races and is now legendary because of the stage over the mountain passes. Notably the Arlberg Pass portion which started with a tough 6000ft climb up a wagon road, crossed by car-killing drainage ditches; and a dangerous decent which burnt out brakes and caused more than a dozen accidents! If the car did hold together then the driver had to brave the turns and the vertical rock slabs used to keep out of control wagons from plunging over the steep edges. Rolls failed to finish the event, his #22 Mors gave up on the first day, perhaps fortunately for us as the fearless Rolls would have been sure to make the most of that dangerous decent! Running concurrently with the Paris-Vienna race was the 1902 Gordon Bennett Cup Race. Britain was actually represented by S. F. Edge driving a Napier which won the cup for Britain, Grahame-White and Arthur Callan, both driving 30hp Wolseleys failed to finish. Marcel Renault won overall event to Vienna, driving a Renault K Type light weight, in a time of 15h47m44s. This shaft driven car showing the way forward for automotive designs.


   Another Ballooning associate of Rolls was Leslie Bucknall. Bucknall had come up with the idea of a new sport where Balloons were chased by motor cars rather like the fox and hounds but in the air. It also had the point of trying to show that military despatches could be moved more quickly by Balloon, which didn’t work that well, at least not on this occasion in January 1903.
Bucknall’s Balloon Vivienne II was the fox this day, and as well as Bucknall, Rolls and Frank Hedges Butler, another aeronautist known only as ‘Gaudron’ was on board.
   The Balloon left from Prospect Park, Reading and rose at a record speed. Even Rolls was led to recall:-
   “The lifting capacity of the Vivienne II proved greater than they anticipated, and they rose very swiftly up, through, and     above the clouds,  jumping suddenly  from intense cold and gloom into rich blue skies, brilliant sunshine,  and an atmosphere so warm that they had to remove their coats.” 

   The event ended when the pilot tried to bring the Balloon down beneath the cloud cover so the cars could see the balloon to follow it. The descent proved to be as rapid as the ascent and was only just arrested in time to avert disaster. The Vivienne II’s maiden flight was also it’s last as it was destroyed by the rough landing, fortunately no one was hurt.

   Rolls’ business was doing well and in 1903 he opened a showroom in Brook Street in the West End of London. His friend John Scott Montagu edited and owned a magazine called ‘Car Illustrated’. Rolls wrote for the magazine and the Magazine ran ad’s for Rolls to help sell his cars. Rolls also had innovative ideas regarding the sale of cars, not only cash deals for the wealthy but hire purchase agreements for those not quite as well to do. Obviously his firm ran a service and repairs arm but it also had a special school for drivers, training chauffeurs and even teaching customers. The West end (of London), show room became the sales point but the facility in Lillie Hall, Fulham, remained the repair and service centre, in fact it remained a pre-sales check and distribution centre for Rolls-Royce well past the 1950’s.

   The biggest event of 1903, at least in a long term, holistic, view of things, was when Claude Johnson joined the firm. Johnson and the Automobile Club had differing ideas of the future of the club’s role and parted company. When Johnson’s other business idea didn’t work out he was free to look for a new job. Where better than with his friend Rolls? When Johnson was taken into partnership it was clear the company was going to succeed. The search for a British car to rival the world had begun and would be a driving force for the company.
   With the addition of Johnson’s organisational abilities Rolls was free to participate in more races. On the 26th of February 1903 Rolls drove his 80hp Mors on the Duke of Portland's estate, Clipstone Park and set an unofficial world land speed record for the kilometre. He went through the flying kilometre in 27 seconds at a speed of 82.8 mph, or 133.33kph. Sadly, the course was not entirely flat and as such the record would not be ratified. 
   1903 was also the year the British Motor Service Volunteer Corps was founded, (March 1903). This organisation was set up to provide motor cars and motor cycles when required for military purposes. Commanded by Lt-Colonel Mark Mayhew, Charles Rolls volunteered and took up the rank of Captain. As a little side note; when the RAC issued it’s appeal to motorists to join the BMSVC overseas, at the start of the first world war, 25 owner-drivers joined the British Expeditionary Force in France to provide transport for the head quarters staff.

   In April 1903 the team GB Gordon-Bennett trials were held in Buckinghamshire. At the 1,434yd hill-climb event held at Dashwood Hill, on the 27th of April, Charles Rolls was 5th, he didn’t make the team. 

   May of 1903 was to have seen the biggest motor race ever held to that point in time; it became remembered for all the wrong reasons. The 1014km (over 800miles) race from Paris to Madrid, subsequently named the 8th Grand Prix de l'ACF, set off on the 24th of May 1903. It was expected to be a triumph of speed but the race ended at Bordeaux amidst chaos and disaster. 

   French newspapers created a huge amount of excitement covering the build up to the race with great enthusiasm. When the first competitors set off at around 03:40 am over 100,000 people had reached Versailles and it is said the first 100kms of the race route were crowded with spectators. Cars of varying capacity set off at one minute intervals from Versailles the two heaviest classes (650-1000kg and 400-650kg) being started first, then the voiturettes and motorcycles. It should be noted that vehicles carried their ‘entry’ number, not the number of their order of starting. 

   Despite the general precaution of starting the faster vehicles first the disparity of speeds even within classes made it certain that there would over-taking on the road. Great for the spectators? Not really. The first cars down the road raised huge clouds of dust as there had been no rain for the previous two weeks. This dust not only hampered the vision of the following drivers but also the crowd, some of whom strayed onto the roads trying to get a better view of the oncoming cars; the consequences were inevitable and accidents started happening early in the race.

   Louis Renault’s Brother Marcel might have been the biggest name to have died but every life was affected, whether competitor, spectator, politician or the families of the victims. It also meant the death of the ‘city to city’ races but gave birth to an arguably better form of racing, on closed roads and proper purpose built circuits.

   Just for the record the #168 70hp Mors of Fernand Gabriel was fastest of those who reached Bordeaux His time was  5h14m31.2s, or an average speed of 65.3mph. His drive was actually quite astounding but that is a story for another time.

  Later in the year came the Gordon Bennett Trophy race in Athy, Ireland, the 2nd of July actually. The #4 Mercedes of Camille Jenatzy won from the #2 Panhard of Rene de Knyff. Britain was represented by three Napiers driven by S.F. Edge, #1, who was disqualified after receiving a push start, Charles Jarrott drove the #5 car and crashed after a steering failure on lap 1, and J. Stocks who crashed the #6 Napier on lap 1. All terribly depressing for the British organisers.

   The next day the racers moved to Ashtown Racecourse for a special day of races on the 3rd of July then on into Phoenix Park itself on the 4th of July. The motor Speed Trials included over 300 vehicles, mostly motorcycles, competing in a variety of weights and classes. One of the races during the 4th of July, on the broad, straight road from Castleknock Gate to the Gough Statue (what is now the 1st round-a-bout in from the main gate) was the Dunlop Cup. It was for racing cars up to 1000kg and was won by J.E.Hutton driving a 60hp Mercedes at a speed of 78 mph, a time of 1m28.35s. Baron de Forest was second in this class (class J) driving a 70 hp Mors in a time of 1m29.15. The Hon. C.S. Rolls 80 hp Mors came third setting a time of 1m29.45.

   In class K for cars of any type 1000kg over a flying 1km, was a little better for Rolls. The Daily Mail Cup was up for grabs and Baron de Forest (70 hp Mors) set a time of 27.15s, or 83.5 mph piping Rolls (80 hp Mors) who set a time of 28.00s, or 80.25mph. Louis Rigolly was third with his 100hp Gobron-Brillié, his time was 28.25s, or 79.25mph.

   Later in the day a contest for the "Autocar" Cup was held, also for the flying kilometre. The existing World Land Speed record was set at 29s, as we have seen Hutton had beaten that speed so there was quite lot of excitement. Baron de Forest set 27s, then Rigolly set his time of 27.2s. Gabriel managed a time of 26.8s, or 85mph. De Forest tried yet again and set 26.6s; 86mph. Hutton got his Napier up to 79mph to claim the fourth spot, and still faster than the old record. C.S. Rolls time was 28s.

   It is also reported in various websites that Rolls set a new world flying kilometre speed record of 150km/h (93 mph) in Phoenix Park at this event while other sources claim it was 86mph. What we know for certain is the former World land speed record of 29s was well and truly beaten by de Forest’s 26.6s, and it seems certain several others broke the old record too. Interestingly Wikipedia records NO new wheel driven speed records for 1903 and on sites where records are stated they quote Arthur Duray and his Gobron-Brillie as the new holders although none of his speeds were as fast as those set at phoenix Park!

   At the end of the card a series of impromptu ‘match’ races were held. These were not the timed runs of earlier in the day but two cars racing against each other. The races were to be held over 2,853.6 yards, that is to say the equivalent of one mile and one kilometre, or 1.62136 miles.

   In the first of these races Rolls was matched against J.E. Hutton, Mors versus Mercedes. The sight of two cars racing along, side by side, at speeds of 70 to 80 mph must have been very exciting for the spectators. Rolls won, his speed being worked out as 79.25 mph.

   As the dust settled on the racing everyone was happy and looking forward to the Garden Party in the Vice-Regal Lodge afterwards. Best of all facts was that no one had been hurt in any way.

   Now we might think that was the end of the event but it was not. The Automobile club was taking the same opportunity in Ireland as had been taken with the 1,000 miles trial of 1900 and events to popularise the motor car continued. Through the 5th & 6th of July most of the vehicles tour from Dublin to Newcastle. On the 7th July a Hillclimb event was held in Castlewellan, Co. Down. Approximately 600 yards of up Ballybannon hill racing resulted in the 60hp Mercedes of E. Campbell Muir beating the 80hp Mors of the Hon C.S. Rolls into 2nd place. Campbell Muir was awarded the Henry Edmunds Trophy.

   The tour moved on to Cork over the 8th and 9th with more Speed Trials in Cork on 10th July 1903. The touring had taken a toll on the field and the numbers of vehicles participating in the southern part of the ‘The Irish Automobile Fortnight’ was now reduced to around 60. With more than half a dozen of these arriving late on the 9th having been held up by:-

                                        “...mishaps caused by punctured tires and derangement in steering apparatus.”

   The Cork speed trials were held over a two mile stretch of straight and level road in the western suburbs of the city. It provoked much excitement and:- 

                                          “...thousands took possession of every point of vantage by the road. The                                                                                    police arrangements were very strictly enforced, and there were no mishaps of any kind.”

   As at Phoenix Park, Dublin, a variety of speed trials were held including vehicles the 6hp steam powered Gardner-Serpollet of Mr. T. W. Dew which set a time of 2m7.8s for the course along the Carrigrohane straight. The last event of the day was a competition for a cup provided by the proprietors of ‘the Cork Constitution’. It was for vehicles up to 1,000kgs in weight and originally attracted 15 entries, in the end though only 4 cars took part. The Hon’ C.S. Rolls winning on his 80hp Mors in a time of 1m49,6s. Second place went to Mr. J. E. Hutton and his 60hp Mercedes, 1m.8s and a Lieutenant Cumming, on a 50hp Wolseley took third in 2m04.5s.

   Once again though, it was the ‘Match races’ that grabbed everyone’s attention. Mr. Scott-Montagu M.P., with a 22hp Daimler, took on the Hon’ C.S. Rolls driving a 20hp Panhard. Despite the road being rather narrow the two cars raced along together at tremendous speed. Scott-Montague won by four yards in 2m55.4s.

   These must have been very exciting times as powered yacht racing was also ‘taking off’, soon to be followed by aeronautical extravagancies too, if you’ll pardon the pun. As if to illustrate this point the tour stayed on in Co. Cork, Cobh to be precise, on the 11th July to witness the International motor boat race for the ‘Harmsworth cup’ and the ‘Yachtsman's Cup’ races. Although Rolls did not participate in these events several other automotive personalities did. Names like S.F. Edge, J.E. Thorneycroft, Mercedes and Napier cannot be lost on any automotive historians ears.

   The tour moved on from Cork to Killarney on Monday the 13th with a hill-climb competition being held on the Killarney-Tralee road on the Wednesday. The event was a 1200yd climb up Killorglin Hill, near the village of Ballyfinnane and the ‘Kerry Cup’ was to be awarded to the winner. Over 1000 people came to see the motor cars and at the end of the day the Hon’ Charles Stewart Rolls, and his 80hp Mors, had conquered the climb in a time of 1m01.8s, however, another source states the time was 1m 5s.

   Back England the Hon. C.S. Rolls took part in another hill climb event on the 25th of July 1903, This time at Sun Rising Hill, between Stratford-on-Avon and Banbury. This 1000 yard gradient is one of the toughest challenges in the UK. Cecil Edge was fastest with a 20 hp Napier, Rolls had driven a Panhard and other notable names amongst the 17 competitors included Capt. Deasy on a Rochet & Sneider and Mr. F.S. Bennett on a 10hp Cadillac type A (who finished 8th), the first of that Marque to be seen in Britain. Another first in Britain was the inclusion of Miss Dorothy Levitt on the drivers list; never before had a woman taken part in a motorsport event in this country.
   There were over twenty hill climb events held in Britain and Ireland in 1903 which Rolls might have been involved with, unfortunately records for this form of motorsports are not as easily found so we can’t give the actual participation details or results.

   It is repeatedly reported that Rolls flew a Balloon in 1903 setting a record for the longest flight time in a single trip. Apparently he was awarded a gold medal from the ‘Gordon-Bennett’ organisation for this achievement. However this medal is also said to have been awarded after the 1906 Gordon-Bennett Balloon race in which Rolls came third.


   This would be the year that would eventually give the World one of its most iconic brands. Even before meeting Royce Rolls had spoken of his desire to create a car that would be as closely linked to his name as Broadwood or Steinway are to pianos. His dream was about to start coming true.

   It is most likely that Rolls would have heard the name of Royce in connection with engineering and high quality cranes and electrics, favoured by the wealthy people of Britain, and it is quite inconceivable that Royce would not have heard the name of Rolls in connection with the field of motoring and motorsport. No doubt both parties fully anticipated the meeting and the business benefits if an agreement could be reached; despite coming from totally different backgrounds it is reported they sat at the same table with a strong mutual respect. Both these men where giants within their respective peer groups, however, as was the custom of the day it was another personality from the motoring world that would bring the two great men together.

   Mr. Henry Edmunds arranged the now famous meeting in the ‘Grill’ at the Midland Hotel, Manchester. Edmunds was also a notable engineer in his own right having patented inventions for an oil engine in 1871 and an oil vapour lamp in 1873, as well as an arc lamp. These successes had allowed him to start his own engineering business. As a director of the Royce Ltd company, that built the cars, and an Automobile club committee member (like Rolls), he was ideally placed to make the necessary introductions. On 4 May 1904, Rolls travelled up from London to meet F.H. Royce who was building motor cars of exceptional quality. It was an immediate meeting of minds, Royce only wanted to build the best and Rolls only wanted to sell the best, and both of them wanted the best to be British.

   Royce took Rolls out to show him his car and Rolls-Royce legend has it that Rolls climbed aboard the car and asked Royce to go ahead and start her up, Royce replied, 

                                                                           “My dear fellow, she’s already running!”

   Rolls had a preference for three or four cylinder cars, probably due to his love of speed, but the obvious superior quality of the two-cylinder Royce 10hp model impressed him. He borrowed one of these cars for his return journey to London; the quality, remarkable smoothness,  refinement and near silence of the car so impressed Rolls that it is reported he took it straight to Claude Johnson and proclaimed he had:-

                                                              “...found the greatest motor engineer in the world”.

At Midnight!

   His discovery of the Royce car pleased Rolls enormously. He had been selling Krebs-Panhard, Mors, Minerva and Clement to the noble clientele of Britain but as an intense patriot had always been looking for a British design to sell; finding one that not only equalled but exceeded the best in Europe was fantastic. Rolls and Johnson soon agreed to sell all the cars Royce and Co. could produce. There is no known reference to Rolls’ involvement with the original prototype cars so this car is most properly called a 1904 Royce car.

   If we remember that the Motor car was still to gain full approval of the masses and both men would be staking a lot on this new arrangement. Few would have thought this series of events would have led to a name that would become renowned not only in the field of motoring but that of aeronautics too. Generally Rolls part in this is less well remembered, probably due to his premature death, but in his own way he was a driven as Royce, or Johnson, and quite as vital.

   The year must have been extremely busy for Rolls as the car sales took off and there seem to be few records of Rolls taking part in racing competitions in 1904. One of the events he did participate in were the September speed trials held at Portmarnock, Ireland. Charles Rolls results are not to be found very easily but he did not win. Actually there were 31 hillclimb events in 1904 which Rolls would have been aware of even if he didn’t attend them. He didn’t win any of the known events that year but must surely have been to some hill climbs and speed trials.

   Initially the Rolls/Royce agreement was to build nineteen of the 10hp cars, designated Type A. They featured a 1.8-litre twin cylinder engine. It had 3 crankshaft bearings and twin camshafts operating overhead inlet valves and side exhaust valves. A three-speed sliding gearbox received power through a cone clutch and final drive fed it to the rear wheels by a shaftRolls and Royce had agreed to develop the Royce’s three prototype twins to give a range of 2, 3, 4 and 6 cylinder engines and Market them under the name ‘Rolls-Royce’. Tests of the new engine were held on the 21st of August 1904. It was around this time that the shape of the top of the radiator was changed. Royce found that if the hot water from the top of the cylinders was fed to the middle of the top tank and spread across the top of the radiator block to go down it maintained a constant water velocity making this part of the engines performance smoother and more efficient; and it reduced the overall amount of material used to built the radiator. So the real reason for the world famous Grecian radiator style was a case of form following function rather than any brand or styling idea.

   The legal paper work wasn’t actually signed until December the 23rd 1904, so some people claim all the cars built before 1905 should also still be called ‘Royce’ cars. Other say that as Rolls-Royce was not formed as a ltd. company until 1906 no car before then is actually a ‘Rolls-Royce’. If there is a real starting point for Rolls Royce it is the fact that the 10hp cars destined for Rolls’ show room all have the chassis number prefix ’20-’.

   Chassis 20151 was sold to a friend of Rolls Mr. Paris E Singer, the sewing machine magnate. Chassis 20152 was delivered to a Mr. Joseph Blamires, of Huddersfield, on the 27th of September 1904. It was bodied by Barker and was the first car to carry the classical Rolls-Royce radiator shape. By 10th October 1904, Chassis 20153 came off test. It carried coachwork by Cann of Camden and was sold to a Lt. Col. Moffatt of Tidworth, in Wiltshire.                                                         Chassis 20154, now registered as ‘U-44’ would become the world famous car that was sold by Bonhams in December 2007 for £3,521,500 (about $5 million). Not only is this now the oldest surviving Rolls-Royce but it is also the very car which was shown to the World at the 1904 Salon de l’Automobile in Paris.

   The Salon de l’Automobile was the premier motor show in the world. The exhibition premises was the  ‘Grand Palais’ on the Champs-Elysées in Paris but by 1904 the show was so big that only the cars could be housed in the 240x40m main hall with its 15,000m2 glass roof. The motor trucks being shown elsewhere.

   In 1902 the event was fully light with electric light bulbs and 230,000 visitors gazed in equal wonderment at the spectacle of the lights as much as the cars! It was reported that the:- 

                             "ephemeral settings were stunning light shows that left a deep impression on dazzled visitors".

   At the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft company they described the 1902 event as vitally important as France was:-

                                                                          “the number one country of automobilism”

Because nowhere else had the motor car:-

                                                                   “gained anywhere near as firm a foothold as there.”

   The 1904 exhibition started on the 9th of December and ran right through to Christmas Day 1904. The Rolls-Royce 10hp car had a Park Phaeton coachwork with two occasional rear seats commissioned from the coachbuilder ‘Barker’. Chassis no. 20154 was driven from London to Southampton then Le Havre to Paris by C. Vivian Moore. Also driven to Paris were 15hp and 20hp cars, in an unfinished state, and a six-cylinder 30hp engine that would also be put on the display. 

   It was such a remarkable and excellent achievement that in its 10th December 1904 issue the ‘The Autocar’ magazine congratulated C S Rolls & Co. Ltd. for :-

                                                          “displaying all-British cars in the midst of France’s best”

It was most complimentary about the company, going on to say:-

                                             “The design and workmanship of these cars are excellent throughout and the                                                                                       exhibit reflects great credit on those responsible for its being beneath                                                                                                                              the roof of the Grand Palais”.

   The Paris Salon de l’Automobile commissioners were so impressed with the Rolls-Royce car they awarded special medal and diploma to the company.

   At this time advertising pamphlets, posters and advertisements emphasised the name of Rolls over that of Royce. To the Gentry and the Motoring enthusiasts Rolls was of course the best known name. This wasn’t to last though, the title of ‘Rolls-Royce’ was soon selling on it’s own merits making the two men, one Marque. Rolls understood the value of advertising and of finding the right sales markets for the cars. He thought the 10hp model was a wonderful car for local Doctors and after it’s show career 20154 was driven by a Dr. Briggs possibly for trial or demonstration purposes though some sources do say Dr. Briggs did own the car in 1905.

   As a Little aside other 10hp Rolls-Royce cars survive, 1905 chassis 20159 is reported to be in private ownership, 1905 chassis 20162 with a Barker Park Phaeton body resides at the London Science Museum and a 1907 chassis 20165 with side-entrance swing seat tonneau is at the Bentley Motors Heritage Collection. In total seventeen 10hp chassis cars were built.


   There had been several smaller motor shows held in England prior to the 1905 Olympia Motor Exhibition but this was the one that would really start the London Motor show on the road to the national icon it became. Organised by Imre Kiralfy (a Hungarian dancer and impresario), under the auspices of the R.A.C., it filled all of the Grand Hall and Rolls-Royce were there with much the same display as they had shown in Paris. From the 10th to the 18th of February 1905 chassis 20154, along with the 15hp and 30hp cars still in the chassis only form, was presented to the British public. We should remember that what we might consider an incomplete state was actually the normal form of basic sale for a motor car of the time. The purchaser could have a body made to their design at a coach building company of their own choice. Even things like lights were not always included in the normal sale. One of Rolls-Royce’s earliest motor car owners was Mr. A.H. Briggs. Briggs was an early, and major, investor in the ‘F.H. Royce’ engineering business in Manchester. Following the Salon de Paris; and the London Olympia exhibitions Briggs purchased one of the first production 10hp car model Rolls-Royce cars. He collected the car from the Manchester Cooke Street Works in person. Impressed by the car Briggs suggested Royce make a lighter chassis for the Isle of Man TT races, something that appealed to Rolls straight away.                                                                                       A.H. Briggs would go on to become a member of the Rolls-Royce Board in 1906. 

   Rolls racing interests picked up again and on the 30th of May 1905, perhaps because he had plans to use this medium to promote Rolls-Royce cars in the future, he was taking part in the British Elimination Trials for that years Gordon Bennett Cup race. At the very least Rolls must have realised the importance of keeping the ‘name’ in the collective public mind.                       The elimination trials were held, as usual, on the Isle of Man as the U.K. Law still forbade racing on the public roads. What is most interesting is the car Rolls was driving. Obviously not a French Panhard and there wasn’t a competition car, or even a competitive model, from Rolls-Royce just yet either; so Rolls was driving a Wolseley. The 1905 Gordon Bennett racing Wolseley was designed by Herbert Austin and had 90hp, 4cyl. 11,896cc, horizontal engine, this gave these cars a different look to most of the competition, with their low line aerodynamic looking engine covers. Wolseley were also quick to follow Renault in the shaft drive system too, unlike some other British manufacturers who were still using chain drive even in 1905.

    All in all it was something very different to the 10hp Royce, it would be interesting to know what Rolls made of the Wolesley in comparison with the Royce cars. 

   The 1905 Gordon Bennett Trial was held over the Highland Course of the Isle of Man and pitched 10 British cars against one another. Three 70hp Star cars and four 80hp Napiers were the competition for the two 90hp Wolseley cars and a loan Darracq. W.T. Clifford Earp set the fastest time for the required 6 laps of 6h6m, followed by Hon. Charles S. Rolls and C. Bianchi both driving Wolseleys. Thus the British entry for the 1905 Gordon Bennett cup was.

  #2. Earp, Napier    #8. Rolls, Wolseley      #14. Bianchi, Wolseley

   The actual Gordon Bennett Cup race was held Auvergne circuit in France as part of the 1905 French GP on the 5th of July 1905. The Auvergne Circuit was a 137.35-km (85.35-mile) mountainous course on the doorstep of Michelin’s Clermont-Ferrand headquarters putting more pressure on the defending French team. 4 laps of the circuit would make 549.4 km (341.4 miles) in total race distance. Three cars from France, Germany, Great Britain, Austria, Italy and the USA, were competing making the 18 entries the largest field of any Gordon Bennett race.

   Leon Théry won driving a 96hp Brasier becoming the only driver to win two Gordon Bennett Cup races, his winning time was 7h2m42s. The Fiats of Felice Nazzaro and Alessandro Cagno took the other podium places. Rolls #8 Wolseley set a time of 8h26m42.2s an average speed of 40.4mph. Earp’s  #2 Napier was fractionally slower finishing in 8h27m29.8s. The third British car, the #14 Wolseley of Cecil Bianchi came home in 11th place, with a time of 8h38m32s. Looking back all three British cars finishing and Rolls taking 8th place was an outstanding effort. Sadly this was the last ever Gordon Bennett international cup race, Grand Prix racing would slowly build into the dominant form of international racing, but it wouldn’t be an easy or straightforward process.

   A few weeks later Rolls was at the first "Brighton Motor Trials" with a new 150-hp Dufaux.

This was the culmination of several years of lobbying and preparations by Sir Harry Preston, he organised the event to run from the Palace Pier to the Black Rock. Preston even managed to persuade Brighton town council to resurface the road, which ran adjacent to the beach, with a new tarmac surface. This stretch of road was later named Madeira Drive. 

   The event was held over the 19th to the 22nd of July 1905, during which W.T. Clifford Earp set a fastest time for the Flying Kilometre of 23s driving his 90hp Napier. Also featuring in the trials was Miss Dorothy Levitt, she set the Ladies World Land speed record of 79.75mph driving a 80hp Napier at the Brighton event. In 1906 she increased that record to 90.88 mph (146.26 km/h) in Blackpool, Brighton’s residents having complained so much, and the costs been so high, that no further racing was held there until 1923.

   Rolls participation was actually reduced to just two slow demonstration runs, most disappointing.

   Charles Rolls was anxious to get the actual Rolls-Royce cars into racing and his opportunity came with the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy. Winning that would be very good publicity as the men and cars ranged against them was not only numerous but of a high standard, the best in Britain at the time.

   1905 Tourist Trophy Race held on the 14th of September.  Organised by the Automobile Club the race would be over four laps of the same 52-mile Highroad Course that had been used for the Gordon Bennett elimination trials. Interestingly the club also decided to set a fuel limit on the cars giving an allowance of 1 gallon for 22½ miles, which most people recognised might cause problems toward the end of the 208.5mile race.                                                                                                                                 Clearly the race drew a lot of attention as 54 cars were entered. Rolls would be driving a prototype Rolls-Royce 20hp car carrying #1 and Percy Northey driving a similar car carrying the #22. 42 vehicles actually took the start and as the Motor car was still only 20 years old the rate of mechanical failure was expected to be high, and on the first lap Rolls car was the first retirement, a stripped gear on a Rolls-Royce; that must have been a great disappointment. Three other cars also retired before completing the first lap. The mechanical retirements continued and on lap three the first of car fell foul of the fuel consumption rules, a 14-16hp Argyll ran out of fuel. On the last lap the battle for victory was between Norman Littlejohn driving a 14hp Vinot et Deguingand, Percy Northey and the 18hp Arrol-Johnston of John Napier. Napier won; setting a new lap record of 1h31m9.6s on that last lap. His total winning time was 6h9m14s, an average speed of 33.9mph consuming fuel at a rate of 25.4mpg. Northey’s 20hp Rolls-Royce was just 2m9s behind, in 6h11m23s, and put Rolls-Royce on the racing map, his average speed was 33.7mph. Norman Littlejohn was forced to slow his pace due to fuel concerns, his Vinot et Deguingand had just 2.6 pints of fuel left at the finish. In all only 18 cars were still running and classified as finishers.

   Of the twenty one hill climb events recorded in Britain and Ireland for 1904 Rolls was not a winner and records of attendance are not easily found.

   On the business front Rolls showroom was moved to Conduit Street, London, in 1905; a premises that would serve as Rolls-Royce showrooms and offices for most of the twentieth century.

   From 1905 the Aero Club of the Unite Kingdom started to issue Aeronauts' Certificates for balloonists, Rolls of course received his very quickly.


   Rolls-Royce Ltd was formally incorporated in March 1906. Rolls was appointed Technical Director, his salary package being agreed at £750 per annum with 4% of any profits over £10,000. He was of course a board member and would continue to provide financial backing and his own technical and business expertise.

    Charles must have been very busy this year and again there is little reference to his racing and hill climbing activities. Later in the year there are a couple of very important results that helped set Rolls-Royce on the way to world recognition. The plans for the company included the provision that they should produce engines for use “on land or water or in the air.” Rolls implored Royce to get involved in aviation engines for the next few years but this side of the company didn’t really come about until demanded by the air ministry due to the outbreak of the First World War.

   In the mean time Rolls gave the firm magnificent publicity in May 1906 when he drove from Monte Carlo to London in a record time. His time for the 771miles from Monte Carlo to Boulogne was 28h14m but he only broke the previous record into London by 90 seconds. But statistics don’t tell us about the 3hr wait Rolls, and his 20hp Rolls-Royce car, had because the ferry across the Channel wasn’t on time.

   In September Charles Rolls and Percy Northey returned to the Isle of Man for the second Tourist Trophy race, this time with production model light twenty sports touring cars. Forty 4cyl 20hp cars were built, 21 of the “heavy” car and 19 of shorter wheel base, narrower track, “light” version. The light version also had four speed transmission with overdrive top gear.

   There were 49 entrants but on the 27th of September the starter, Mr. A. V. Ebblewhite, actually only flagged away 30 cars for the race. This time Charles #4 Light Twenty car, with the company tester Eric Platford alongside as riding mechanic, performed perfectly and he won the race.

   His average speed was 39 mph and his winning time was 4h6m.

   It is reported that on some stretches of the course Rolls actually got his car up to 70mph, which for the type of car, size of engine and total lack of anything near aerodynamic bodywork is quite impressive. 
   For the record Bablot was 2nd bringing the #23, 22hp Berliet, home in a time of 4h32m58s. Third was the #2, 15hp Darracq of A. Lee Guinness; his time was 4h47m27s.   Back at the Rolls-Royce works news of the result was met with jubilation amongst the staff, they gathered together to hoist Henry Royce upon their shoulders in celebration.
   Rolls-Royce was clearly doing well in the UK but like all good business men Rolls and Johnson were always on the lookout for new markets. So in October 1906 Rolls, Northey, Capt C.E. Hutton and Reginald Macready went across the Atlantic with several Rolls-Royce cars to show it to the New world. They sailed on the ‘White Star’ Line’s SS Baltic with a 6cyl’ 30hp display chassis, a 6cyl’ 30hp Barker bodied demonstrator and a 4cyl’ light Twenty, possibly the Tourist trophy winning car, chassis 40523 destined for display at the New York Motor Show.
   The show proved to be rather successful for Rolls-Royce with the Barker Bodied 30hp demonstrator being sold straight of the floor. Rolls also reached agreement with New York Cadillac dealer Walter C. Martin to represent the company in the USA.
   While in America Rolls visited a show organised by the American Aero Club and he met the Wright Brothers. Depending on your point of view this is a good, or a bad, thing. Rolls was certainly excited by the new challenge of powered flight and would soon be overtaken by a new obsession. 
   In another attempt to popularize the brand, Rolls won a 5 mile race for cars up to 25hp held at the Empire City track at Yonkers, N.Y. on the 6th of November. The victory was so emphatic considerable interest in Rolls-Royce cars was raised. Rolls then returned to England but Capt. Hutton and Reginald Macready stayed in America with the light twenty chassis 40523. This car was also sold and had an interesting life racing in several forms of U.S. racing.

   Rolls-Royce was now becoming a very popular car and the company needed to expand it’s production facilities to meet the increased demand. They decided to float the company on the stock exchange as a way to raise the £200,000 capital required but the ‘Initial Public Offering’ was poorly subscribed and nearly collapsed. Company Secretary John de Looze made a special journey to Harrogate to see A.H. Briggs, Esq. As we have already heard Briggs was a friend of Royce and an investor in Royce’s earlier company. When the situation was explained to him Arthur Briggs immediately wrote a cheque for £10,000, became a major shareholder, and joined the Board of the new ‘Rolls-Royce Limited’ company as a Non-Executive Director, which he remained until he died in 1920.

   A.H. Briggs had a high level of mechanical understanding and was a dynamic businessman. He became a highly regarded man at Rolls-Royce and when he died in 1920 the companies next Annual Report was edged in Black as a mark of respect to him and recognition of his contribution to the survival and growth of the Company. If Claude Johnson is the ‘Hyphen’ in Rolls-Royce, A.H. Briggs can be thought of as the ‘Godfather’ of Rolls-Royce.

   1906 was also the year Rolls joined the Aero Club of France and was a British representative in the Gordon Bennett international balloon race of October 1906. Rolls Balloon finished third in the event but was reportedly awarded a gold medal for the longest time spent in the year. As mentioned in the 1903 part of this biography there is confusion over the Gold medal awarded to Rolls for the longest balloon flight. The French Aero Club is also credited with awarding Rolls a medal for longest balloon journey, from Paris to Shernborne, Norfolk, in 1906.

   Staying with aeronautical endeavour for a moment Charles Rolls friends, and balloon makers to the Aero Club’, the redoubtable Short brothers acquired the licenses to build Wright brothers aircraft in the UK. They rented space at the Aero Club’s new lands at Leysdown, and laid out the first aircraft production line in the world. Rolls would be one of their customers in a few years time.


   In 1907 Rolls-Royce Ltd bought out C.S. Rolls & Co. absorbing all assets and premises. The new company continued to trade from the Conduit Street show rooms, where it was now selling carriage and upholstery work as well as the cars themselves.

   While C.S. Rolls was busy racing a 4cyl’ light 20 his preference was for the 6cyl’ car but there were some hiccups with it. Within the inner circles of Rolls-Royce concerns about the 6cyl’ 30hp engine led to the decision to replace that particular model with a new version. As Rolls had the greater experience with cars generally there can be no doubt that he would have advised Royce on aspects of the new cars specification. The new model, the 40/50 engine had new castings of three cylinders in two blocks which increased the horse power to 50hp. It ran smoothly and as silently as any engine ever could; the 40/50 would go on to be “the greatest car in the world” and the final step on the road to securing Rolls-Royce as a viable company.

   Being a shrewd businessman working alongside managing director Claude Johnson the idea was born of producing a very special 40/50 for marketing reasons. Rolls was always able to exploit his considerable connections amongst the upper classes, politicians and even Royalty. Now it was time to use the media to reach more widely amongst the people.

   AX 201 was a 40/50 painted in an aluminium paint and having all the metal parts plated in real silver. It not only had all the highest quality and refinement Rolls-Royce put into all their cars but this one was exquisitely beautiful too. It was given the name “Silver Ghost” in reference to its quietness and a plaque bearing the name adorned the dash board. 

   AX 201 was tested for 80 miles before being delivered to Claude Johnson ‘by road’ in the hands of chief tester Eric Platford on the 13th of April. Johnson then arranged several demonstration runs for the press and on the 20th of April ‘the Autocar’ reported:-

                      “The running of this car at slow speeds is the smoothest thing we have ever experienced, while for                                                                            silence the motor beneath the bonnet might be a silent sewing machine....”

   After this series of tests the car was driven up to Scotland to reconnoitre the route of the up and coming Scottish Reliability trials before returning to London again. On the 21st of June the car set of to Scotland along with other 40/50’s one of which was driven by C.S. Rolls. At the trials the car won a gold medal in it’s class, class 7, for 6cyl cars. This achievement is even more remarkable when we add the fact that all the other cars, bar two, were more powerful than the Silver Ghost. 

   All the running up to the trial was under the scrutiny of the RAC and after the trial they resumed their refereeing role for a further trial organised by Claude Johnson.

   Rolls, Claude Johnson, Eric Platford and Reginald Macready drove the car back and forth between London and Glasgow for 10.000 miles without any major problems. The RAC were satisfied but Johnson wasn’t:-

“We will run our 40/50 Silver Ghost for 15,000 miles and the RAC shall see to it that we do no tinkering by the way”.

So the test went on, and after being driven between London and Glasgow 27 times it was stripped down by the RAC in its own garages and checked.  No detectable wear on the engine was found and of all the replacement parts put on the car all were simply to bring it up to a brand new specification and none would have been necessary if the car had been in private ownership. The car had done:-

“Two year’s work in seven weeks”

   Roll, Royce and Johnson were delighted. So were the RAC, so much so they unanimously awarded the Dewar Trophy to Rolls-Royce Ltd., for the most meritorious long distance performance that year.

   To top it all off Rolls famously demonstrated the Silver Ghost’s refinement by placing a glass of water on the “Ghosts” running engine and showing the astonished crowd that the engine was so smooth it didn't spill a drop. Claude Johnson made sure that all these facts were fully reported in “The Car Illustrated”, and all the publicity ensured that the 40/50 would go into full scale production. Before too much longer Johnson would convince the board that Rolls-Royce should stop production of the other models to concentrate solely on the 6cyl 30hp range now unofficially known as ‘the Silver Ghost’.

   The early 40/50 Chassis were made in the Cooke street works in Manchester but as the company had already foreseen the works would not be able to cope with a long term production increase so Rolls had set about finding a new location for production. In its April 6th issue Autocar stated:-

“The location of the new Rolls-Royce works has now been definitely settled.

Rolls-Royce Limited has acquired a considerable tract of land on the Osmaston Estate, Derby.

It is expected that building operations will shortly be commenced.”

   Rolls felt he had achieved the goal of making a British car to beat the world and his attention turned more and more towards his new passion of flying. With his company winning quality and reliability awards Rolls looked to new challenges in the air where records were available to be set or broken and C.S. Rolls was the type of adventurous sole that wanted to be at the forefront of any such new mechanical advances. One of these advances was with Airships and in the Ville de Paris in 1907 Rolls had his first taste of flight in a in a powered airship. Rolls this described the experience as:-

“...something worth living for; it was the conquest of the air”.

   Rolls saw limitless opportunities in powered flight but still couldn't persuade Royce to design an aero engine.


   As mentioned above the Royce's Manchester Cooke Street works, which held 200 employees, was too small to meet the demand for the 40/50 chassis and production was moved to Nightingale Road in Derby. The ‘official’ opening was held on the 9th of July 1908 when Lord Montagu of Beaulieu switched on the power and brought the building to life, publicly declaring the new factory open.

   In other motoring related work Charles Rolls attended meetings of the Roads Improvement Association at the International Road Congress in 1908 as a Royal Automobile Club delegate.

   Since meeting the Wright Brothers Rolls had become increasingly interested in powered flight, something his experience in an airship strengthened further. When the Wright Brothers were in France to demonstrate their famous flying machine, Rolls was unable to stay away. In his own words he was:-

“... a frequent trespasser at the Camp d’Auvours.”

When Wilbur Wright quietly said:-

“Mr Rolls, I guess I’ll take you up this morning,”

   Charles Rolls didn't need asking twice and this experience was to have a profound effect in him. That much is clear from his reaction upon returning to earth. 

                            “The power of flight is as a fresh gift from the Creator, the greatest treasure yet given to man.’’

   Rolls involvement with the Aero club of the United Kingdom was influential and the Club embraced heavier than air flight with great excitement and enthusiasm.


   By 1909 Rolls' interest in the motor car business was waning, powered flight was his passion now. The Aero Club was granted the prefix ‘Royal’ and established a proper ‘flying ground’ on a stretch of marshland at Shellbeach, Leysdown, on the Isle of Sheppey. It had an airfield with a clubhouse and ‘sheds’ in which the Members could house, maintain and construct their flying machines.

   The Short Brothers, Eustace and Oswald, were one of the first people into these sheds and Rolls commissioned them to build him a glider.

   Charles Rolls took his first steps toward learning to fly and after a while he was getting the basics under his belt he had the Short Brothers build him a powered aircraft as per the ‘Wright Flyer’ which Short had the licences to build. Eustace and Oswald Short enlisted the help of their eldest brother, Horace, when they began construction of heavier-than air aircraft and would establish an aircraft manufacturing company that would prove vital to Britain during two world wars.The first flight by a British pilot in Britain took place at Shellbeach when J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon flew for a distance 500yds in a Voisin biplane, that week the Wright brothers visited the Aero Club and had their photograph was taken outside Mussell Manor.

   Moore-Brabazon’s flight on the 1st of May 1909 set a place in British aviation history, but a few weeks later World aviation history was made when Louis Bleriot flew an aircraft of his own design from Calais to Dover on the 25th July 1909; the first man to fly over the English Channel.

   Rolls patiently honed his piloting skills and kept flying. By the end of the year he had made over 200 flights, crashing several times, but he had leant to fly and that made him one of very few people in the world who could make such a claim. He is also claimed to be the second pilot in Britain to complete a 1mile circle in the air.

   He finally made the decision to resign as Technical Director of Rolls-Royce in December 1909 but remained on the non-executive board of directors. When asked why he had become exclusively devoted to flying Rolls said he preferred flying to driving because:-

                                                                           “...there are no policemen in the air.”


   In January 1910 Rolls went to France and in his capacity as a member of the French Aero Club took the relevant tests to earn an ‘Aviators Certificate’, or pilots licence. On January the 6th 1910 Rolls was awarded license #23 internationally recognised under the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

   When the Royal Aero Club obtained the right to grant pilots licences in Britain, as United Kingdom representative on the FAI, Rolls was awarded the second British pilots licence after his friend J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon was awarded licence #1. Both licences are registered and on the same date, the 8th March 1910.

   C.S. Rolls took his aircraft to several displays and exhibitions driving up British interest and knowledge about flying in much the same way as he had done with the motor car. His national pride must have been pricked when Count Jacques de Lesseps became the second man to fly across the Channel on the 21st of May 1910. Rolls wanted to fly the flag for Britain and after Hubert Latham’s attempt to cross the channel failed at the last hurdle he knew he had to have a go himself.

   On the 2nd of June 1910 Rolls achieved a triple first for Britain. Charles Rolls flew his Wright Flyer from Dover to Calais, a distance of around 22miles. Leaving Dover at 6.30 in the evening his arrival in Calais, at 7 o'clock, was 15 minutes past the expected time. Nevertheless, Rolls was the First Briton to fly across the Channel and the first man to fly the west/east route as the two previous crossings had been made from France to Britain.

   Then Rolls took the whole thing a step further. Having been duly observed circling round the semaphore station at Sangatte, he turned his aircraft around to the West and flew back to Britain. He was the first man to fly across the English Channel both ways, and non-stop for around 50miles to boot. This 90 minute journey gained Rolls not only a place in the aviation record books but the adulation of the British public, one newspaper called Rolls:-

‘... the greatest hero of the day.’

   If that isn’t enough to make a man proud then a Gold Medal from the Royal Aero Club and a personal message of congratulations from King George the fifth surely must be. This feat was undoubtedly Rolls crowning achievement, it electrified the entire kingdom. It was not only double that of the previous flyers accomplishments but outstanding in both distance and time.

   Rolls used this new fame to once again press for a Rolls-Royce aeroplane company and was on the point of setting up such a firm, against his partners' wishes, when he went to Bounemouth for the celebration of the town's centenary.


   Part of the celebrations organised for the Bournemouth centenary was a flying meeting titled ‘The Bournemouth International Aviation Meeting’. Flying still in its infancy, the Wright Brothers had first flown in 1903, but it had captured the spirit of a new Century. Along with the automobile, airships, and motorboats, flying was one of the exciting novelties ushered in with the 1900’s.  The air show was held from the 6th to the 16th of July 1910 and incorporated the RAeC’s first flying tournament of the year. A series of events including speed trials, altitude tests, spot landing competitions and of course tests for weight carrying and distances covered.

   Around twenty of the world’s most famous aviators had been drawn to the especially chosen one mile stretch of grassland on Hengistbury Head, Christchurch, between Tuckton and Double Dykes. At that time it was all open land but now it is a full suburban area complete with a school whose playing fields occupy part of what was the exhibition grounds for the air show.

   The International aviation meeting took place from 11th to the 16th July and attracted about 2,000 visitors. The aero events were to last six days, but the second day (the 12th of July 1910) it was marred by a tragedy, not only for the event, or even for the aeronautical fraternity, but for the whole British Nation. 

   As a demonstration of landing skills a competition to land within a bull’s eye, or as near as possible to a spot marked by a chalk circle, was held. The wind was gusting with speeds in the range of 20 to 25 mph, and in a direction which made the approach difficult. Rolls was the 4th pilot to try and land and of the 3 aircraft that preceded Rolls, two were damaged on descent. Now it was Rolls' turn. His Short-Wright No.5 biplane crashed. The circumstances have given rise to many differing versions of the events but it is certain that the crash happened directly in front of the grandstand where the goal was marked out. As such the crash was in front a great company of spectators, largely women and children, including many of Rolls personal friends.

   Apparently Rolls had taken his ‘plane up to a good height and shut of his engine with the intention of gliding in a broad circle to come down upon the target spot. The approach from over the grandstands has been described as ‘steep’ and descending ‘at speed’. Finding that he was about to undershoot the mark Rolls pulled back the controls to lift the nose and started to make a turn, just then a stiff wind hit Rolls’ plane beam-on and the newly fitted French built moving tail plane couldn't stand the strain.

   Witnesses report they heard a cracking noise and saw the two rear rudders break loose from the tail plane which bent upwards, crumpled and snapped off. Pushed beyond their limits parts began to splinter and fall from the aircraft as the tail boom broke away completely. This caused the machine to overturn and nose-dive at terrific speed, the height from which the aircraft fell has been recorded as anything from 20ft to a 100ft but in the end all that matters is the ‘plane struck the ground in a tangled mass and C.S. Rolls was killed. 

   Some reports say he was thrown clear but died later of a concussion, others that he was trapped within the wreckage of his machine and sustained a fractured skull and broken neck. Again it isn’t that important, doctors had trouble getting to Rolls and his injuries were fatal, He died in the arms of a distraught friend a US colonel and aviator named Sam Cody. Immediately after his death was confirmed the organising committee suspended flying for the day and Rolls long term friend JTC Moore Brabazon withdrew from the meeting entirely.

   Rolls was just 32 years of age and had achieved his last and most unwanted first; the first Briton to be killed in a powered aeroplane accident.

   The tail-plane design, construction and fitting have all been blamed for the accident. The new moving tail-plane was fitted to the Wright Flyer by Short Bros. over the 10th and 11th of July. It was fitted ‘to the letter’ according to the French construction company designs and apparently under Rolls direction. The design and fitting was not approved by the Wright brothers and it is known that Rolls’ head mechanic had reservations regarding the design.

   Rolls' exploits were so well known to the public and nobility alike that Lord Montague of Beaulieu interrupted a speech in the House of Lords to announce Rolls’ death. Of course there was an outcry from certain circles and as well as a national outpouring of grief and the news was passed all around the world. The Daily Journal and Tribune of Knoxville, Tennessee, on the 13th of July 1910, received and printed a telegram:-

                                                                               “Daring Aviator Dashed to Death,

Hon. Chas. Rolls Instantly Killed at Bournemouth
In the Presence of Spectators.
He is the Twelfth Victim of the Science of Aviation -
The Death Roll - Bournemouth, Eng., July 12.”

   Robert Loraine, a well known actor, soldier and airman of the time wrote in his diary:-

"His death was another occasion for a half-mad outburst of obstructionist sermons. 'This splendid young man has thrown his life away, 'said anti-aviationists. They seemed to be oblivious of the fact that the cause for which he had died was as great and noble as any that had claimed its troll of lives down the ages. There had been no terror for Charles Rolls in his passing. His face, as I saw him lying in his wreckage, a moment after the fall, showed nothing but a calm content."


   Rolls was buried on the 16th of July 1910 at St. Cadoc’s Church, Llangattock-Vibon-Avel, his grave lies amongst many of the Rolls family in various family tombs, just below Llangattock Manor. It has the inscription:-

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”

Monuments and Memorials

   In the notices to its members dated 23rd of July 1910 the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom made the following notice regarding the late C.S. Rolls:-

“The Committee of the Royal Aero Club desires to express it’s deep sorrow at the loss of the Hon. C.S. Rolls, and it’s high appreciation of his distinguished services to the aeronautical movement and to the club. The Committee further desires to tender it’s sincere sympathy to Lord and Lady Llangattock upon the heavy bereavement that they have sustained”

   A statue of Rolls had been proposed by Monmouth Borough Council in June 1910, to commemorate Charles crossing of the Channel, when he died the following month the project took on an even more significant meaning. 

   The 8ft (2.4 m) tall bronze statue was designed by Sir William Goscombe John, R.A. a welsh artist of international renown and depicts Rolls in the type of clothes he wore when flying. He is seen inspecting a model of a Wright Flyer which has its tail deliberately omitted; a most poignant pose.

   Charles Rolls memorial statue stands upon a pink granite plinth designed by another renowned British architect Sir Aston Webb, R.A. around the plinth is a set of plaques showing his life achievements.

   In keeping with the highest quality of design the statue was cast by A.B. Burton foundry at Thames Ditton, another world renowned company who cast the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus amongst others all around the world.

   The statue is now a Grade II* listed structure and can be seen in front of the Shire Hall in Agincourt Square, Monmouth. Unveiled by Colonel Lord Raglan on 19 October 1911 in front of a large crowd of dignitaries and the public, the main dedication reads:-

“Erected by public subscription to the memory of the Honourable Charles Stewart Rolls, third son of Lord and Lady Llangattock as a tribute of admiration for his great achievements in motoring ballooning and aviation. He was a pioneer in both scientific and practical motoring and aviation and the first to fly across the channel from England to France and back without landing. He lost his life by the wrecking of his aeroplane at Bournemouth July 12, 1910. His death caused worldwide regret and deep national sorrow.”

   The site of the 1910 Air show on Hengistbury head, where Rolls ‘plane crashed, has been extensively developed now but the sad event is marked in two ways. St Peter’s School sports ground had a memorial plaque unveiled in 1981 and a road near to is named Rolls Drive.

      On 22 March 2010 a ‘Blue Plaque ‘in honour of Charles Rolls was unveiled  at 14/15 Conduit Street, Mayfair, W1. The ceremony was led by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu with the Librarian and Archivist of the Rolls-Royce enthusiasts Club Philip Hall also in attendance.

   Perhaps the strangest memorial to C.S. Rolls was made in 2010 as part of Monmouth’s recognition of the centenary of his death. Colin Tully, who wrote the soundtrack to the film Gregory's Girl in the 1980’s, wrote a musical about Charles Rolls life simply called “Charlie Rolls – The Musical”. The first performance of the musical was made in Rolls' former home, ‘the Hendre’.


   The son of a wealthy British peer, Rolls might have led a carefree life socialising amongst the young aristocracy of the time. But he had a pioneering spirit of adventure which led him to use his engineering education, his passion, vision and courage, to become, as one friend put it:-

“... the stuff of which the best Englishmen are made”.

   That is to say he was brilliant and fearless in equal measure, as driven as Royce in his business, as dedicated as Moore Brabazon in his quest to fly. Whether he was on land, sea or in the air Rolls was a man determined to set the best example of what Britain, and her subjects, could do; thus he made a more than noteworthy contribution to his nation; and to the world.

   Though he is most obviously linked with Royce and unfairly thought of primarily as a playboy businessman C.S. Rolls was so very much more. BA and MA in engineering, 3rd engineer Marine certificate, Hill climb winner and unofficial world land speed record holder, motor race winner and pioneer balloonist and pilot. The name of C.S. Rolls heads a string of record breaking firsts for Britain and the World. So very, VERY, much more than just a car dealer. The Marque that is "Rolls-Royce" is known the world over and anything that is top quality can be referred to as the "Rolls" of it's particular field. His name quite rightly comes first in the title too. While Royce undoubtedly  produced an awe-inspiring car it was the work of Rolls that made the car sell and the business a success, not belittling the work of Claude Johnson or Mr Briggs of course.

   Rolls knew from the moment he got onto a car, a balloon or an aeroplane (whether a prototype or production model of any these new and fantastic modes of transport) that he could be injured or killed; though he had a remarkably selfless view of the danger:-

“All good engineering calls for casualties—so why not?”