Sir Henry Royce
March 27, 1863 – April 22, 1933
Henry Royce (March 27, 1863 – April 22, 1933) was a pioneering
car manufacturer, who with Charles Stewart Rolls founded the
Rolls-Royce company. Royce earned a reputation for perfection
and quality, one that lives on in the continued popularity among
the rich and famous of the Rolls Royce and Bentley cars. This
stemmed from his own attention to detail. The company founded by
Royce acquired the Bentley in 1931. His planes powered Allied
planes in World War I. In the World War II, engines bult by his
firm made a material contribution to the war effort as they
powered the Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane in their Battle of
Britain confrontation against the German Messerschmitt and
Junkers. Royce did not have the advantage of a wealthy family or
the privilege of an elite education, but created one of the best
known automobiles through hard work, and by applying his
engineering skills gained as an apprentice on the factory floor.
Although not usually regarded as a racing car, Rolls Royce
engines famously set several world speed records in cars driven
by Sir Malcolm Campbell. As the largest supplier of engines to
civilian aircraft in the world, the company that builds on
Royce's legacy facilitates global travel and global exchange in
Frederick Henry Royce was born in Alwalton, Huntingdonshire,
near Peterborough, the son of James and Mary Royce (maiden name
King) and was the youngest of their five children. His family
ran a flour mill which they leased from the Ecclesiastical
Commissioners but the business failed and the family moved to
London. His father died in 1872 when Royce was only nine and he
had to go out to work selling newspapers and delivering
telegrams, having had only one year of formal schooling. In 1878
he started an apprenticeship with the Great Northern Railway
company at its works in Peterborough thanks to the financial
help of an aunt. After three years the money ran out and, after
a short time with a tool making company in Leeds, he returned to
London and joined the Electric Light and Power Company. He moved
to their Liverpool office in 1882 working on street and theatre
lighting as their chief engineer.
Founds F. H Royce & Co.
In 1884 with £20 of savings he entered a partnership with Ernest
Claremont, a friend who contributed £50, and they started a
business making domestic electric fittings in a workshop in
Cooke Street, Hulme, Manchester called F H Royce and Company. In
1894 they started making dynamos and electric cranes and F.H.
Royce & Company was registered as a limited liability company.
The company was re-registered in 1899 as Royce Ltd with a public
share flotation and a further factory opened in Trafford Park,
Birth of the Rolls Royce
With his fascination for all things mechanical he became
interested in motor cars and bought first, in 1901, a small De
Dion and in 1902 or 1903 a 1901 model two cylinder Decauville.
This did not meet his high standards and so he first improved it
and then decided to manufacture a car of his own which he did in
a corner of the workshop in 1904. Two more cars were made. Of
the three, which were called Royces and had two cylinder
engines, one was given to Ernest Claremont and the other sold to
one of the other directors, Henry Edmunds. Edmunds was a friend
of Charles Rolls who had a car showroom in London selling
imported models and showed him his car and arranged the historic
meeting between Rolls and Royce at the Midland Hotel Manchester.
Rolls was impressed and agreed to take all the cars Royce could
make provided they had at least four cylinders and were called
Rolls-Royce. The first Rolls-Royce car was made in December 1904
and in 1906 they joined forces to become Rolls-Royce Ltd. Royce
& Company remained in business as a separate company making
cranes until 1932 when it was bought by Herbert Morris of
Loughborough. The last Royce designed crane was built in 1964.
Orders for cars quickly outstripped the firm's capacity to build
He had always worked hard and was renowned for never eating
proper meals which resulted in him being taken ill first in 1902
and again in 1911. He had a house built at Le Canadel in the
south of France and a further home at Crowborough, later moving
to West Wittering, both in East Sussex, England, but his health
deteriorated further. He had a major operation in London in 1912
and was given only a few months to live by the doctors. In spite
of this he returned to work but was prevented from visiting the
factory, which had moved to larger premises, fitted out to
detailed plans by Royce, in Derby in 1908. He insisted on
checking all new designs and engineers and draughtsmen had to
take the drawings to be personally checked by him, a daunting
prospect with his well known perfectionism. He also continued to
do design work himself, particularly on the aircraft engines
that the company started to make from 1914 in response to the
needs of the British military during World War I. At the time,
Royce was a consultant to the British Army. Engines built by
Royce provided "over half the power used in the air war by the
allies." His Eagle engine also powered the first trans-Atlantic
flight and the first flight between England and Australia. His
engine achieved the world speed record several times.
Rolls Royce engines achieved speed records on land and in the
air. In 1931, a Rolls Royce entry in the International Schneider
Trophy contest set a new world air speed record of over 400mph.
This was the first of several air speed records. On February,
22, 1923 at Daytona Beach, Florida Sir Malcolm Campbell set the
world land-speed record driving his Rolls Royce powered Blue
Bird. On March 2 and September 3, 1935, Campbell broke his own
record again driving a Rolls Royce powered vehicle.
He was named Baronet Royce of Seaton (Rutland) on June 26, 1930.
Marriage and Family
Henry Royce married Minnie Punt in 1893 and they set up home
together in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, and were joined by
Royce's mother who lived nearby until her death in 1904 and
Minnie's niece Violet. The Royces moved to a newly built house
in Knutsford, Cheshire in 1898. Henry Royce and Minnie separated
in 1912. After he was taken ill Royce was looked after by a
nurse, Ethel Aubin. The barontcy became extinct when he died.
In 1962 a memorial window dedicated to his memory was unveiled
in Westminster Abbey the only time an engineer has been honoured
in this way.
Sir Henry Royce's legacy is represented by the continued
reputation of the Rolls Royce car for quality and style.
Ownership of the car continues to be regarded as a symbol of
personal status. In 1931, the company added the Bentley to its
production line, another luxury car and status symbol. Rolls
Royce's standard of engineering is so high that cars remain
valuable despite their age. Both Rolls and Bentley chassis were
constructed to the taste and requirements of individual clients,
not mass produced, which added to their desirability and
attractiveness. The company founded by Royce would expand its
operations in the twentieth century from luxury cars to the
manufacturer of aircraft engines, for which it earned a
comparable reputation. During World War II the company made the
engines, the Merlin, for the famous Spitfire and Hawker
Hurricane aircraft, both of which helped to win the Battle of
Britain, a major confrontation. It was manufacture of the Merlin
that led to the Company's development into a major aircraft
manufacturer. In 1944, the first jet engine to enter military
service was designed and built by Rolls Royce. The automobile
and aircraft operations are now run by separate companies. The
aircraft manufacturer is the second largest supplier of engines
to civilian airlines and the largest supplier of engines to the
Frederick Henry Royce was born on 27th March, 1863, in the
village of Alwalton in Northamptonshire, near Peterborough, the
son of a miller and the youngest of five children. There he
lived until he was four, when he went to London with his brother
and father who was in financial straits caused mainly by his
refusal to keep up with the times and install modern machinery
in his mill. From the age of four until he was nine, when his
father died, he had only one year's formal schooling. From the
age of ten to eleven he sold newspapers to help eke out his
family's pitiful income and then he had one more year at school.
Then, for about a year he was employed as a telegraph boy in
Mayfair until, at the age of fourteen he was apprenticed by an
aunt to the Great Northern Railway at Peterborough, where he
worked in the locomotive workshops and where, in his own words,
"I acquired some skill as a mechanic but lacked technical,
commercial and clerical experience".
In London he had already started the hard process of
self-education which involved long hours of study at night after
his work and which stood him in such good stead later on, During
his subsequent periods of employment he continued with his
studies in his spare time.
After two years at Peterborough his aunt was unable to continue
the annual premium of £20 and he had to leave the G.N.R. and
look for a job at a bad time, for England was then in a
depression. He found work after a period of unemployment and
after tramping as far as Leeds, where he was taken on by a firm
of toolmakers for whom he worked from six in the morning until
ten at night (and sometimes all through Friday night) for 11/-
per week. Once more he suffered from undernourishment which,
with the long hours he worked, helped to undermine his
His interest in electricity, which was then in its infancy, had
already become evident and he next went to London in answer to
an advertisement and obtained a job with the Electric Light and
Power Company as a tester and at a better salary. This company
later sent him to a subsidiary concern in Liverpool at the age
of nineteen as technical expert, and he became first
After about two years the liquidation of this firm cost him his
job but his grounding in engineering and his specialised
knowledge of electricity enabled him to set up in business with
another young engineering enthusiast, A. E. Claremont. Royce's
total savings of £20 with £50 from Claremont formed the initial
capital of F.H.Royce and Company, Electricians, Cooke Street,
Manchester, founded in 1884 when he was twenty one.
Whilst at Liverpool Royce had conceived the importance of the
three-wire system of sparkless commutation and of the drum-wound
armature for continuous current dynamos. But in the early days
they made lampholders, filaments for lamps and other simple
electric gadgets, and for some time they had barely enough money
for food and they lived very frugally in a room over the
workshop. Then Royce designed a simple household electric bell
that sold for 1/6d which kept the wolf from the door, and the
meagre profits enabled him to experiment with a small dynamo.
Times were very difficult and Royce worked well into the night
on many occasions, rarely sleeping enough and neglecting to eat
properly. By degrees the dynamos, which were superior in design
and workmanship to those of his competitors, became well known
and sold readily to ships, factories and mills, and so the
company at last achieved some prosperity,
The two partners in 1893 married sisters - the daughters of a
Mr. Alfred Punt of London. Henry Royce bought a house at
Knutsford near Manchester, where he had a beautiful garden, the
cultivation of which soon became his hobby and relaxation, To
this house he brought his mother who had been keeping herself by
working as a housekeeper, and there she lived until her death in
In 1894 the partners converted their business into a limited
company. Royce, Claremont, and a friend, Mr., James Whitehead
who subscribed additional capital, became the directors of Royce
Limited. Mr. John de Looze, who had joined the company a year
earlier, was named as secretary and over forty years later he
still held that position with Rolls-Royce Limited.
The extra money thus provided was used to extend the products of
the firm to include larger dynamos and electric cranes. These
were beautifully made, completely reliable, and soon became very
popular. The business flourished and new capital was sought to
enlarge the factory to cope with the increase of orders.
Everything went well until the slump just after the Boer War
which, combined with an influx of cheaper dynamos and cranes
from Germany and America, caused a serious drop in orders.
Royce stoutly refused to cheapen his products to meet the
challenge this way, as that policy was directly opposed to all
his instincts and principles, and the firm’s financial affairs
It was at this time (1903) that he bought a small French car, a
Decauville, that was secondhand and very unreliable, and he
spent most of his waking hours repairing and adjusting this
defective vehicle. He even re-designed and made parts which he
knew were badly designed and in this work he used two
apprentices - Platford and Haldenby.
Disillusioned by the Decauville he decided in the autumn of that
year to make a car of his own design, and in a miraculously
short space of time his first ROYCE was completed. It was a 10
h.p., 2-cylinder car, which made its maiden voyage from Cooke
Street to Knutsford, fifteen miles away, on 1st April, 1904.
Royce did much of the precision work with his own hands and
insisted on only the very finest of materials. Any part of which
he was suspicious, either in design or workmanship, was scrapped
and remade, Claremont, who was worried over the expense
incurred, used to refer to this project as the "Two guineas an
ounce job". On one occasion Royce overheard an employee say that
something was "Good enough". It is reported that he carried on
in an alarming manner and said - "Nothing is good enough - there
is always a way to make it better - a way which we must all
strive to learn".
There were no startling new ideas in the design of this car, but
Royce improved on what he considered the best features of
current design. The engine had two vertical cylinders with
overhead valves and water cooling, The three-speed gearbox and
the carburettor were his own design and he provided battery
ignition and made his own trembler coil and distributor. It was
his knowledge as an electrical engineer and his personal skill
with tools that made his ignition system so much superior to
that installed in other cars of the day. To put it quite simply,
it worked - and more important - it went on working, which was
an important contribution to the efficient running of the
This meticulous attention to detail in materials, in the making
and the fitting together of the component parts gave this motor
car an overall refinement, a silence, a lack of vibration, and a
reliability that made an outstanding contrast with the noisy and
unpredictable cars of the day. Thus the little Royce became the
forerunner of the long line of famous cars that bear his name to
With typical foresight Royce made the parts for this car in
triplicate and, following the success of the first one, there
were soon two sisters. The first car made (Registration Number M
612) was used by Royce, the second (Reg. No. N 414) by
Claremont, and the third (Reg. No. P 200) by a Mr. Henry Edmunds
who had recently acquired a block of shares in Royce Limited.
Sad to relate none survive, though the engine of one is in the
Manchester Museum. Even sadder is the fate of Royce's car M 612
which ran continuously for nineteen years, latterly being used
as a mail car for the Derby factory, In 1923, as it was wanted
no longer, it was dismantled and destroyed by the Company - an
act which to us, seventy years later, seems incomprehensible.
Just after the turn of the century, the Honourable Charles
Stewart Rolls, third son of the first Baron Llangattock, was in
business in London with his partner Claude Johnson. The firm was
called C.S. Rolls and Company and was engaged in selling French
cars in England. Rolls was educated at Eton and Cambridge, and
he left the University with a degree in Mechanics and Applied
Science. His all-absorbing interests since he was at school had
been in cycling, motor cycling, driving cars, and he was also a
keen balloonist. He was an experienced, well-informed and expert
pioneer motorist. In 1900 he won the Thousand Miles Reliability
Trail driving a 12 h.p., Panhard and in Dublin in 1903 he
created the world's speed record of 93 m.p.h. in a 70 h.p. Mors.
As a schoolboy he installed in his father's house at Hendre,
Monmouthshire, one of the first electric light systems; and he
was one of the first men to import a French car. Later he was
the holder of Britain's No. 2 Pilot Licence (which he obtained
on the same day as Lord Brabazon who held licence No. 1). He was
the first man to fly across the Channel and back - a daring feat
in those days just after Bleriot's famous first flight across
the Channel from France in 1910.
Henry Edmunds (mentioned earlier) was a friend of Rolls and
Claude Johnson and he knew that the former was searching for a
British-made car that was, at least, as good as the French ones
he was selling because he believed them to be the best available
at the time. Edmunds told Rolls about the little car in
Manchester and eventually persuaded him to go down there in May
1904 to see it and meet its designer.
To quote Harold Knockolds - "He came, he rode and was conquered'
- by the car and by Henry Royce. Both men took to each other at
once, each a perfectionist in his own way, and so impressed was
Rolls by the Royce, that he there and then offered to take and
sell the entire output of Royce Limited. At last he had found
what he was looking for - an English car worth selling, Later it
was agreed that the subsequent cars should be called
ROLLS-ROYCE; and so the Name was born. With Henry Edmund's
assistance, an agreement to this effect was drawn up and signed
in December 1904. Edmunds thus became the "Godfather" of
Rolls-Royce Limited, which was formed later.
Charles Rolls later wrote of the famous meeting between Royce
and himself and, among other things, he said "... Eventually,
however, I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of Mr.
Royce, and in him I found the man I had been looking for for
years... in quality and other respects he has more than
fulfilled my requirements... his extraordinary genius - for Mr.
Royce is no ordinary man but a man of exceptional ingenuity and
power of overcoming difficulties - his extraordinary genius has
enabled him to effect clever improvements in general and in
detail which have been possessed in no other make of car... The
result is the vehicle you now know under the joint name of Mr.
Royce and myself, and which I think I may go so far as to say
has now to be reckoned amongst the first rank of automobile
manufactures in the world...".
Rolls saw the golden market of Edwardian England and he was
looking further ahead than ten horse-power and two cylinders, He
knew that his clientele wanted cars that were silent,
comfortable, elegant and, above all, reliable so he persuaded
Royce to design larger cars with more cylinders and in the next
two years the following models were made:- About nineteen 10 h.p.
2-cylinder cars. About six 15 h.p., 3-cylinder cars. About forty
cars of 20 h.p. and 4 cylinders ("Heavy Twenty" and "Light
Twenty") About forty five 30 h.p.. cars with six cylinders; and
three cars of 20 h.p.. with a V-8 engine (One of these was the "Legalimit",
geared so that it would not travel at more than the then speed
limit of 20 m.p.h.) Charles Rolls genuinely believed that the
Rolls-Royce car was the best in the world, and it was English -
a fact that meant a great deal to him. So he and Claude Johnson
(or "CJ" as he was affectionately called) seized every
opportunity of demonstrating and publicising its outstanding
Rolls had already taken the little 10 h.p. car to the summer
exhibition (1904) in the Paris Salon where it won a gold medal
and a diploma when in December of that year he arranged to drive
H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught on a tour of inspection of military
establishments on the south coast. He drove from London to
Folkestone early one morning, met the Royal Duke at 9 a.m,,
drove him around all day and then returned to London - 250 miles
in one day without a hitch. The following summer he again drove
His Royal Highness around on summer manoeuvres, this time in a
15 h.p. 3-cylinder car. In September 1905, in the Isle of Man a
20 h.p. came second In the very first Tourist Trophy Race ever
By early 1906 enough Rolls-Royces were being produced to justify
Rolls and CJ dropping the other marques they had been selling at
the time and concentrating solely on RRs. On 16th March of that
year the present company ROLLS-ROYCE LIMITED was formed.
It was not a simple merger of the two companies, for the
electrical engineering and manufacturing firm of Royce Ltd.
continued as a separate concern until it was wound up soon after
Sir Henry Royce’s death in 1933. The motor-car manufacturing
side of Royce Ltd. was fused with C. S. Rolls & Co, into a
separate company with A. E. Claremont as Chairman; Royce, the
Chief Engineer and Works Director; Rolls, Technical Managing
Director; and Claude Johnson as Commercial Managing Director.
Rolls and CJ continued to demonstrate the capabilities of the
cars at every opportunity. They stopped a Twenty in the middle
of a Sydenham (south London) hill with a gradient of 1 in 6, and
with nine (9) men with an average weight of 13 stone on board,
the car was easily re- started. The record for the journey
between London and Monte Carlo had just been created by Charles
Jarrott in a 40 h.p. Crossley. Rolls very quickly took up that
challenge and drove a "Twenty" at an average speed of 27.3
m.p.h. for the 771 miles from Monte Carlo to Boulogne in 282
hours - over three hours less than Jarrott who averaged 24.2
m.p.h. CJ drove a 30 h.p. Rolls-Royce in the Scottish
Reliability Trials in June 1906, which he won. This was the only
car to complete the 671 miles (non-stop absolute) over rough
Then came September, 1906, and the second T.T. race in the Isle
of Man in which Rolls drove the light "Twenty" to a brilliant
victory at an average speed of 39.3 m.p.h. and almost half an
hour ahead of the next car. He reached 70 m.p.h. on occasions in
a car whose designed maximum speed was 54.5 m.p.h. He took the
car to New York and won the 5-mile race at the Empire City
So the first appearance of yet another Rolls-Royce in the Autumn
1906 Motor Show would in any case have been greeted with
interest by the public - in fact the interest it aroused was
sensational. It was the "40/5" (later to be named the famous
"Silver Ghost") rated at 48.6 h.p., it had six cylinders, a bore
and stroke of 4.5 and a capacity of a shade over 7 litres,
In 1906 and at the age of 43 Henry Royce whose capacity for work
was astounding, besides producing the light "Twenty" and 30 h.p.
models for the market, the two special "Twenties" for the T.T.
Race, and taking part in the search and negotiations for new
premises, had found time to spend months designing, developing
and testing this new car.
It set new standards of comfort and mechanical excellence
because of the improvements to the engine and chassis Royce had
incorporated in its design. This model, more than any other
Royce made, carried the Name round the world, It was years ahead
of its time and Royce said it was "The finest thing I have ever
done." He just managed to get two of these cars ready for the
motor show, one was a bare chassis with its sump removed and the
engine illuminated within and the other was an enormous
Pullman-bodied Limousine with coachwork by Barker - a truly
grand and sensational car.
About this time in 1906 it was realised that the existing
workshops in Manchester were no longer big enough to cope with
the demand, and the decision was made to build a new factory in
Derby. To raise the necessary funds it was decided to increase
the capital to £200,000 and a public issue was made with the
proviso that a minimum of £50,000 must be subscribed. Only
£41,000 was forthcoming until, at the last moment, the Secretary
Mr. De Looze appealed to Mr. Arthur Briggs, who had bought at
the 1905 Motor Show the first heavy "Twenty" sold. Mr. Briggs
immediately wrote a cheque for £10,000 - thus saving the company
from possible liquidation and earning himself a seat on the
It should be noted here that in 1906 a decision had been made at
CJ's instigation that, for at least a year, the company should
concentrate on one model only - the "40/50". In fact this model,
basically unaltered but with many improvements as time went on,
was produced for nineteen years, for sixteen of which it reigned
alone until in 1922 a smaller model, the "Twenty" was
Royce then started to design the new factory which he did in
detail even to the positions of the machines. As soon as
construction had progressed enough, the gradual transplanting
from Manchester to the new building was started. Without
stopping production at all he completed this mighty job of
planning and organisation in 1908, and on July 9th Lord Montague
of Beaulieu performed the official opening ceremony.
Meanwhile, CJ was strenuously continuing his publicity work. In
1907 he had fitted to the thirteenth "40/50" chassis, number
60551, a smart touring body which was painted a silver colour
and all the external fittings were silver-plated. He christened
this car "Silver Ghost" because of its colour and silence and
set out to beat the world's record for a non-stop run which then
stood at 7,089 miles and was held by a Siddeley.
Driving with Johnson in relays were Rolls, Platford (an
apprentice with Royce in 1903 and then "The World’s Best
Tester") and McReady who was a demonstration driver. An R.A.C.
observer was a passenger. The target was 10,000 miles and the
run was timed to take in the Scottish Reliability Trials on the
way. So on 23rd June, 1907, the "Silver Ghost" left London for
Glasgow and the start of the trials in which the car lost no
marks, came top of its class, and was awarded a gold medal.
All went well until at the 629th mile the car stopped due to
rough roads shaking the petrol cock into the "off" position. In
less than a minute they were off again and for forty days the
Ghost ran to and from London and Scotland without pause. During
this time CJ decided to make it 15,000 miles and he finally
stopped the car when it had covered that distance, for 14,371
miles of which the engine had not once stopped running.
The car was then stripped by the R.A.C. and examined carefully
for wear. The valves needed grinding in and the water pump
needed re-packing - total cost of repairs was £2/2/7d. A
staggering performance in those days, which attracted wide
attention, and the Name was well and truly made.
For the 1908 International Touring Car Trial of 2,000 miles a
special car was made. Basically the same as the "40/50s", it had
a bigger engine of 70 h.p. It was called the "Silver Rogue" and
driven by Platford it easily won the trial.
In 1910 a tragic accident at Bournemouth brought Rolls' life to
a sudden end at only 33. He was flying his own 'plane which
failed to come out of a dive during an aviation display. And so
the country and the company lost a courageous man who had
already left his mark as a pioneer and who seemed destined for
even greater achievements.
During this time Royce wasn't idle. He was working at an
impossible rate designing new machines for the workshops and
improvements for the "40/50". Testing and experimenting
endlessly he used to say "There is no sure way of judging
anything except by experiment." He was highly critical of
anything but the very best in design, materials, and methods,
and even the best wasn't good enough. He once walked round the
workshops asking "Who is the author of this ‘sinker’?" and
carrying a part that was too heavy for the job it was designed
to perform. In Manchester he once caught someone bending a front
axle "cold" to make it agree with the drawing dimensions. His
engineering instincts were outraged and he denounced it as "This
foul practice" and ordered the much-needed axle to be scrapped.
He used to say "above all things be accurate" and caused notices
to this effect to be hung up everywhere.
For nearly all his life he had neglected his health and had
grossly overworked, and in 1910 he had a serious breakdown. He
was ordered complete rest and Claude Johnson dropped everything
and took him away to the Mediterranean and Egypt for a long
holiday. It was decided that he must in future keep away from
the factory. He designed and built a house at Le Canadel in the
South of France and CJ found him one at St. Margaret’s Bay, near
Dover. He spent the winters in Le Canadel and lived in St.
Margaret’s Bay during the warmer weather. Then he was stricken
again and he had to undergo a grave operation - pulling himself
through by sheer will-power. Until he died in 1933 he went on
designing his cars and aero engines from his home and often from
A "Silver Ghost" driven by James Radley failed to climb the
dreaded Katschberg Pass in the 1912 Austrian Alpine Trial. The
fourth gear had by then been dropped and so was replaced in time
for the 1913 Trial. The company entered three "Silver Ghosts"
and James Radley the fourth as a private owner. For the whole
1,645 miles of one of the most difficult courses imaginable the
four Rolls-Royces dominated the trial. The alterations to the
cars were immediately successful and it was a wonderful sight to
see these four cars sweeping round the course faster than anyone
else. Bonnet to tail they flew up pass after pass effortlessly,
running with monotonous regularity. Their outstanding
performance excited favourable comment from everywhere. Another
laurel was added to the Name. Radley, a lone R-R entrant in the
1914 trial which now lasted ten days and included twenty seven
passes, took on and beat single- handed the very best of the
Continental cars, The only British car to lose no points was
Radley's "Ghost" and he finished the course forty five minutes
before the next best entrant.
Henry Royce was persuaded to turn his attention to the air in
the Great War. In 1915, six months after he had started
designing his first aero engine, the V-12 "Eagle" was giving 225
brake horsepower on test. He also designed the smaller
8-cylinder "Hawk" which gave 75 h.p. in 1916, and was used in
"Blimps" By the end of the year the "Eagle" was giving 360 h.p.
and the "Hawk" was increased to 105 h.p. In April 1916 the
"Falcon" appeared - virtually a scaled-down "Eagle". By August
1913 Royce had completed the 600 h.p. "Condor" which, though
used by the R.A.F. afterwards, was not completed in time for use
in the War. Over 50% of Allied aircraft in the Great War used
In 1919 Alcock and Brown made the first crossing ever of the
Atlantic in a Vickers "Vimy" Bomber, powered by two "Eagle"
engines. A stupendous achievement which wasn't repeated for
eight years. In the same year Ross and Keith Smith made the
first flight to Australia in a similar aircraft. Later came the
"Kestrel" and "Buzzard" engines.
Henry Royce did not go to Le Canadel during the War and CJ found
him a farmhouse in a village called West Wittering in S.W.
Sussex. More peaceful than near Dover which was on the route
taken by the Zeppelins intent on bombing London. So Royce and
his ever-present team of assistants moved there and work
continued under much better conditions.
After the War he went on with his improvements to the "Silver
Ghost" - the most significant of which perhaps was the addition
of a starter motor in 1921 and in 1923 his brilliant servo-
motor which operated brakes on all four wheels. The 21.5 h.p.
car which appeared in 1922 is known as the "Twenty". The
prototype for this model was called "Cinderella" which name was
engraved on the hub caps. This, however, was thought unsuitable
and the first production cars were called (in the Derby works at
any rate) "Goshawks". It seems a pity this name did not survive.
In 1919 the company started making Silver Ghosts in America at
Springfield, Massachusetts, Phantom Is were also made but the
venture wasn't entirely successful as the Americans preferred
In the winter of 1921 Royce was able to go back to Le Canadel
for the first time since the war started. It should be borne in
mind that from 1910 when he had his first breakdown his health
was indifferent, to put it mildly, and frequently he was a very
sick man. From the War until he died he was in the constant and
devoted care of his nurse, Miss Aubin, who watched over him
while he went on with his work of designing and improving cars
and aero engines, and also some thought had to be given to his
firm in Manchester which was still a going concern.
Some mention should also be made of Claude Johnson who was an
infinitely resourceful man and almost a genius at organisation,
If CJ had not been present it is very doubtful if Royce would
have lived as long as he did. It was CJ who took Royce out of
England in 1910 and stayed with him for so long until his house
in the South of France was under way. CJ saw to it that Royce's
path was as smooth as possible, that the factory came to Royce,
that his small team of assistants and draughtsmen were organised
to the best advantage. In his capacity as Commercial Managing
Director he steered the company to prosperity. His business and
organising ability was such that during the war he was sent
abroad at least twice on important government missions.
Having seen at first hand what overwork and neglect of proper
food and rest had done to his Chief who, incidentally was
referred to as "Pa" by all his "boys" at the factory, he went to
some lengths to see that this sort of thing didn't occur again,
But the one person he forgot to take care of was himself, and
his untimely death at the early age of 63 in April 1926 was
directly attributable to overwork and strain brought about
mainly by the tremendous responsibilities he carried on his
shoulders during the War. It was a sad day for everyone who knew
him and probably nobody missed him more than Henry Royce.
In 1925 the "40/50" series was extended to include another model
- the New Phantom which, after the appearance of the "Phantom"
II in late 1929, was referred to as the "Phantom" I. Both were
large, powerful (43.3 h.p.) cars with six cylinders. Then in
1936 the "Phantom" III made its debut. This car was a complete
departure from the previous cars; it had a vee-twelve cylinder
engine with a rated horsepower of 50.7. The first Rolls-Royce
with independent front wheel suspension, it wasn't all Royce's
creation. Mr. Elliott, who had been working with him for years,
brought the design to a very successful conclusion.
In the small car field, the "Twenty"' was followed in 1929 by
the "20/25" (25.6 h.p.) and in 1936 by the "25/30" (29.4 h.p.).
This car in 1938 was developed into the "Wraith"".
In 1931 Rolls-Royce Ltd. bought out the famous firm of W.O.
Bentley. For some time nothing was done until a "20/25" engine
was put into a chassis and a Bentley Radiator fitted. An open
four seater body completed the picture. The engine was "hotted-up"
and the car was taken down to West Wittering to get Royce's
approval. They were somewhat apprehensive of what he would say,
but he gave it his blessing, He told them that such a fast car
should have a means of varying the stiffness of the springing.
The night before he died he sat up in bed and drew a sketch on
the back of an envelope which he gave to Miss Aubin telling her
to see that the "boys" in the factory got it safely. He died
before it reached Derby. This was the adjustable shock-absorber
that some of us know so well. Thus, in 1933 the first Bentley
made by Rolls- Royce Ltd. made its appearance and another famous
name is carried on.
On a visit to the Calshot seaplane base he had to sign the
visitors' book. He wrote "F. H. Royce - Mechanic" - which indeed
he was, and of the very highest order, but that act, when he was
at the top of his profession, indicates what a very humble man
he really was,
In February 1929 he set to and designed the famous "R" engine
that won for us the Schneider Trophy in that year. Elliott and
Rowledge were his assistants and the then Mr. Hives organised
the production. The Ramsay MacDonald Government then decided not
to finance the next attempt in 1931. However, Lady Houston felt
that Britain must on no account be left out of this contest and
she wired the Prime Minister that she would guarantee £100,000
if necessary towards the cost. This left the Government with no
alternative but to reverse their previous decision. The result
was that Royce found that the "R" could be made to produce more
power and the supermarine S.6B seaplane won the Trophy at 340.08
m.p.h. Later in the year the same aircraft with an improved
engine flew at 407.5 m.p.h. - the world's speed record.
It was clear to the Directors of the company that in the "R"
engine they had an engine that would be of use to the Air Force.
No Government assistance was forthcoming at first, so in the
national interest they went ahead with the development of what
became the "Merlin". The idea was to produce an engine of about
the same performance, but with a much longer life. It was then
called "P.V.12" - P.V. Standing for Private Venture. Royce was
directing this project at first but unfortunately he did not
live to see its completion. The engine completed its first test
in 1934, the year after he died.
Royce, who had already been awarded the O.B.E. after the War,
was created a Baronet in 1931 for his services to British
Sir Henry died at his home in West Wittering on 22nd April,
1933. He left behind him not only his wonderful cars and aero
engines, but a host of men who have much higher ideas and
standards in more than just the engineering world.
His motto was "Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is
noble", and the two words "Rightly done" are surely the key to
his whole life.
The "R" to "P.V.12" to "Merlin" engine development is a living
monument to his greatness. It was these "Merlins" in the
"Hurricanes" and "Spitfires" (and the host of other aircraft
used in the War) that gave them technical superiority over our
enemies. The gallantry and skill of our airmen in the "Battle of
Britain" are legion and so are the frightful sacrifices they
made. But their Rolls-Royce powered aircraft enabled them to
win. That battle in 1940 was the turning point in the War and
certainly the most important air battle that we and our allies
took part in.
One's mind cannot really take in the probable awful consequences
to us and to the whole of the free world had our enemies won
this vital battle. Sir Henry Royce was probably more responsible
than most men can ever hope to be for changing the course of
history. He extended himself to impossible limits and he spent
his life in attempting the almost impossible task of improving
A memorial window to his memory was unveiled in Westminster
Abbey in 1962 and that in itself should be a measure of his
greatness - the only engineer to be so honoured.
But perhaps his greatest monument is that after he died his work
was carried on so well by the men he inspired by his own high
ideals of craftsmanship. His refusal to compromise, his
immaculate attention to detail, his brilliant brain with its
marvellous practical intuitions combined with his kindness and
his innate modesty to endear him to all his "boys" who were
profoundly influenced by his personality.
Sir Henry Royce was indeed a great man!
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This web page was last updated on:
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