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First RR Logo


By Peter Davenport - ex-RR Chief Service Engineer

Most, if not all people have heard of Rolls-Royce. 

But how did it all begin? Who were Mr. Rolls and Mr. Royce? 

Frederick Henry Royce was born in Alwalton near Peterborough on 27 March 1863, the youngest of five children. The family moved to London in 1872 where Henry age 9 began his first job – delivering newspapers and telegrams.  

At 15, after only one year of formal schooling he began an apprenticeship with great Northern Railways. During the next few years he worked as a toolmaker in Leeds and with the Electric Light and Power Co. in London and Liverpool.  

By 1884 he had saved £20, enough to start a business with his friend, Ernest Claremont, who had £50.The factory in Manchester began by producing electrical fittings and later dynamos and cranes. At first it was called F. H. Royce & Co. but later Royce Ltd. This company continued to manufacture cranes until 1932 when it was bought out by Herbert Morrison. The last Royce crane was built in 1964.  

Frederick Henry Royce

1901 De Dion

In 1901 Royce bought his first car, a small De Dion, and in 1903 he bought a 2 cylinder Deauville. He was not impressed by either one. At first he tried to improve their mechanical reliability but soon gave up and decided to manufacture a car to his own design.  

By 1904 he had produced his first car and called it a Royce. He produced two more of the same, one he gave to his business partner Ernest Claremont.

  Ernest Claremont

The other was sold for £395 to a man called Henry Edmunds who had a friend in London with a car showroom. This friend’s name was Charles Stewart Rolls.  

Charles Stewart Rolls

The Hon Charles Stewart Rolls was born 27 August 1887 in Mayfair London. The son of Lord Llangattock, he was educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was wealthy enough not to have to work but his interest in cars lead him to set up a sales room in London to supply cars to his rich aristocratic friends. He also was not happy with the reliability of the cars that were available and was continually searching for something better.  

A meeting was arranged by Edmunds between Rolls and Royce at the Midland Hotel in Manchester. 

The date was 4 May 1904.  

A partnership was agreed. Royce was to produce cars and Rolls to sell them. Provided that they had four cylinders and were called Rolls-Royce. (The bodies were produced by John Roberts of Hulme.) The partnership proved to be successful so a company was formed in March 1906 called Rolls-Royce Ltd. Ernest Claremont became the first Chairman of Rolls-Royce in 1907. Neither Rolls nor Royce were ever Chairman. Royce’s title was Engineer in Chief.  

The first ‘real’ Rolls-Royce car was the 6 cylinder 40/50 HP which became known as the Silver Ghost. Between 1907 and 1925 7870 were produced.1700 of these in Springfield USA (opened in 1921). During this same period Henry Ford produced about 15 million model T’s.

The Silver Ghost was said by Autocar Magazine to be The Best Car In The World. Nobody challenged that.  

Rolls-Royce produced only the chassis, engine, gearbox and running gear. The bodywork was manufactured by other companies –Hamshaws, Barkers etc., so the Silver Ghost came in may shapes from the classic, elegant, to the eccentric and even an armoured version.  

Silver Ghost

Elegant Ghost

Eccentric Ghost

Armoured Ghost

Derby Factory

In 1907 it became clear that the Manchester factory was too small. It was decided to move to Derby, primarily because electricity was cheaper in that area. By July 1908 the new factory was up and running. It is still there today although now producing aero engine parts.  

Rolls other great interest was flying. He was associated with the Wright brothers and bought a Wright Flyer. He became the first man to fly across the English Channel both ways non-stop in June 1910. Just one month later on the 12 July 1910 Charles Rolls was killed whilst flying the same aircraft in a display in Bournemouth.  

Wright Flyer

In 1911 Royce became gravely ill, he was a workaholic and hardly ever ate properly. The company almost collapsed. He took an extended holiday in Europe and Egypt. He never returned to full time work in Derby, but lived in the South of France during the winters and the south of England. Fortunately for Rolls-Royce this allowed him to concentrate on designing for the future.  

The Spirit of Ecstasy

At about this time it became fashionable to put a mascot on the radiator of your car. Royce wanted a mascot befitting the style of The Best Car in The World. Artist Charles Sykes was commissioned to design the mascot – The Spirit of Ecstasy – The Flying Lady. 

The model was Eleanor Thornton, secretary of Lord Montague

From 1911 all cars had the mascot.  

War came in 1914. It was expected to last only a few months.

The Rolls Royce Board concluded that “Rolls-Royce would not avail itself of the opportunity of making aero engines for the British Government.”

What would have happened if they have stuck to this!  


Royce soon realised three things:

The war was going to be a long struggle.

It would be fought in the air as well as land and sea.

Britain’s military aircraft would need a reliable engine.  


Rolls-Royce first aero engine the Eagle was first tested in February 1915. Initially it produced 225 HP later versions 360 HP and was liquid cooled V12, 20 litre, weighing 900 lbs. Eventually 4680 eagles were produced (1500 in the USA) and used in 50 different types of aircraft and airships.  

La Rhone Rotary Engine

The most widely used aero engine at this time was the Le Rhone rotary engine which was air cooled but produced only about 110 HP.

A complicated engine limited in power due to RPM/drag problems, it did not have a throttle only a ‘blip’ switch and some aircraft control problems due to the gyroscopic effects of the rotating engine.  


Rolls-Royce were also producing three other aero engines around this time, the Hawk (half an eagle) 75 HP, Falcon 190 to 275 HP and Condor 675 HP.  

The first British 4 engined bomber, the Handley Page V 500 was powered by the Condor, and the Bristol F2B Fighter by the falcon. 

Handley Page V500

Vickers Vimy

In 1919 a £10,000 prize was offered for the first aircraft to fly non-stop across the Atlantic. Rolls-Royce supplied engines to 6 of the 7 most realistic contenders. The Vickers Vimy won and was powered by 2 Rolls-Royce Eagles. It completed the 1890 miles in just under 16 hours.  

Through the 1920’s Rolls-Royce continued to produce the Silver Ghost and in 1925 the first Phantom. Cars were produced in Derby and Springfield USA. The American had its own very distinctive look. Remember Rolls-Royce did not produce the bodywork.

American Skiff Sided Phantom

In the air the greatest prize at the time was the Schneider Trophy. Presented to the nation with fastest seaplane over a measured predetermined course. Britain won it in 1927 in a Supermarine S5 powered by a Napier Lion engine.  

Reginald Mitchell designer of the S5 (and later the Spitfire) asked Rolls-Royce to develop an engine for the race, but initially they declined. Later they were persuaded by the government to produce an engine – the first not to have a name. It was just called the ‘R’. It had 12 cylinders of 36.7 litres, weighed 1700 lbs and the last version produced over 2600 HP. Mitchell’s S6 powered by the ‘R’ won the race in 1929 and the S6b won in 1931 at an average speed of nearly 400 mph with an ‘R’ engine producing over 1900 HP. A short while later a S6B with an uprated engine of 2600 HP raised the world speed record to 407 MPH.  

Mitchell’s S6b led him to design the Spitfire.  

Rolls-Royce developed the ‘R’ into the Merlin which powered the Spitfire, Hurricane and numerous other aircraft during the second world war.  

In 1931 Rolls-Royce great rival Bentley went into receivership. Rolls-Royce bought out the company and in 1934 began to produce Bentleys in Derby.

Henry Royce died in 1933.  

Modern RR Logo

The same year the RR emblem was changed from Red to Black. Not out of respect for Henry Royce as the legend has it but because customers thought that red clashed with the body colours of their cars. Henry Royce had agreed to this before he died.



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