Charles Rolls

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The honourable

Charles Stewart Rolls
Born(1877-08-27)27 August 1877
Died12 July 1910(1910-07-12) (aged 32)
Education Eton College
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge
OccupationMotor car promoter and aviator
Years active6
Known for Rolls-Royce
Charles Stewart Rolls Signature.svg

The Honourable Charles Stewart Rolls (27 August 1877 – 12 July 1910) was a Welsh motoring and aviation pioneer. With Henry Royce, he co-founded the Rolls-Royce car manufacturing firm. He was the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident with a powered aircraft, when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a flying display in Bournemouth. He was aged 32.

The prefix The Honourable or The Honorable is an honorific style that is used before the names of certain classes of people.

Henry Royce English engineer, car designer, co-founder of Rolls-Royce

Sir Frederick Henry Royce, 1st Baronet, OBE was an English engineer and car designer who, with Charles Rolls and Claude Johnson, founded the Rolls-Royce company.

Rolls-Royce Limited 1906-1987 automobile and aerospace manufacturer in the United Kingdom

Rolls-Royce was a British luxury car and later an aero engine manufacturing business established in 1904 by the partnership of Charles Rolls and Henry Royce. Building on Royce's reputation established with his cranes they quickly developed a reputation for superior engineering by manufacturing the "best car in the world". The First World War brought them into manufacturing aero engines. Joint development of jet engines began in 1940 and they entered production.


Early life

Driving medals won by Rolls, at Monmouth Museum Charles Rolls driving medal at Monmouth Museum, Wales.JPG
Driving medals won by Rolls, at Monmouth Museum

Rolls was born in Berkeley Square, London, third son of the 1st Baron Llangattock and Lady Llangattock. Despite his London birth, he retained a strong family connection with his ancestral home [1] of The Hendre, near Monmouth, Wales. After attending Mortimer Vicarage Preparatory School in Berkshire, he was educated at Eton College where his developing interest in engines earned him the nickname "dirty Rolls". [2]

Berkeley Square town square in the West End of London, England

Berkeley Square is a town square in Mayfair in the West End of London, in the City of Westminster. It was originally laid out in the mid 18th century by architect William Kent.

John Rolls, 1st Baron Llangattock Father of Charles Rolls, MP

John Allan Rolls, 1st Baron Llangattock was a Victorian landowner, Conservative Party politician, socialite, local benefactor and agriculturalist. He lived at The Hendre, a Victorian country house north of Monmouth.

The Hendre Historic country house in Monmouthshire, Wales

The Hendre,, Rockfield, Monmouthshire is the county's only full-scale Victorian country house. The ancestral estate of the Rolls family, it was the childhood home of Charles Stewart Rolls, the motoring and aviation pioneer and co-founder of Rolls-Royce. Constructed in the Victorian Gothic style, the house was developed by three major architects, George Vaughan Maddox, Thomas Henry Wyatt and Sir Aston Webb. It is located in the parish of Llangattock-Vibon-Avel, some 4 miles (6.4 km) north-west of the town of Monmouth. Built in the eighteenth century as a shooting box, it was vastly expanded by the Rolls family in three stages throughout the nineteenth century. The house is Grade II* Listed and is now the clubhouse of the Rolls of Monmouth Golf Club.

In 1894 he attended a private crammer in Cambridge which helped him gain entry to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied mechanical and applied science. In 1896, at the age of 18, he travelled to Paris to buy his first car, a Peugeot Phaeton, and joined the Automobile Club of France. His Peugeot is believed to have been the first car based in Cambridge, and one of the first three cars owned in Wales. An early motoring enthusiast, he joined the Self-Propelled Traffic Association, which campaigned against the restrictions imposed on motor vehicles by the Locomotive Act, and became a founder member of the Automobile Club of Great Britain, with which the Association merged in 1897. [3]

Cram school specialized schools that train their students to meet particular goals

Cram schools are specialized schools that train their students to meet particular goals, most commonly to pass the entrance examinations of high schools or universities. The English name is derived from the slang term "cramming", meaning to study hard or to study a large amount of material in a short period of time.

Trinity College, Cambridge constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England

Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England. With around 600 undergraduates, 300 graduates, and over 180 fellows, it is the largest college in either of the Oxbridge universities by number of undergraduates. In terms of total student numbers, it is second only to Homerton College, Cambridge.

Peugeot French automotive brand manufacturing subsidiary of Groupe PSA

Peugeot is a French automotive manufacturer, part of Groupe PSA.

Rolls was a keen cyclist and spent time at Cambridge bicycle racing. In 1896, he won a Half Blue and the following year became captain of the Cambridge University Bicycle Club. [4] [5]

A blue is an award earned by athletes at a university and some schools for competition at the highest level. The awarding of blues began at Oxford and Cambridge universities in England. It is awarded at British, and some Canadian, Australian and New Zealand universities.

Rolls graduated from Cambridge in 1898 and began working on the steam yacht Santa Maria followed by a position at the London and North Western Railway in Crewe. [2] However, his talents lay more in salesmanship and motoring pioneering than practical engineering; in January 1903, with the help of £6,600 provided by his father, he started one of Britain's first car dealerships, [6] C. S. Rolls & Co. based in Fulham, to import and sell French Peugeot and Belgian Minerva vehicles.

Steam yacht type of yacht

A steam yacht is a class of luxury or commercial yacht with primary or secondary steam propulsion in addition to the sails usually carried by yachts.

London and North Western Railway former railway company in United Kingdom

The London and North Western Railway was a British railway company between 1846 and 1922. In the late 19th century the L&NWR was the largest joint stock company in the world.

Crewe railway town in Cheshire East, Cheshire, England

Crewe is a railway town and civil parish within the borough of Cheshire East and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. The area has a population of 71,722. Crewe is perhaps best known as a large railway junction and home to Crewe Works, for many years a major railway engineering facility for manufacturing and overhauling locomotives, but now much reduced in size. From 1946 until 2002 it was also the home of Rolls-Royce motor car production. The Pyms Lane factory on the west of the town now produces Bentley motor cars exclusively. Crewe is 158 miles north of London and 35 mi (56 km) south of Manchester.

Partnership with Royce

C. S. Rolls driving HRH The Duke of York accompanied by Sir Charles Cust and Rolls' father, Lord Llangattock, at 'The Hendre', 1900 Panhard & Levassor autocar, C S Rolls driver and George V.jpg
C. S. Rolls driving HRH The Duke of York accompanied by Sir Charles Cust and Rolls' father, Lord Llangattock, at 'The Hendre', 1900

Rolls was introduced to Henry Royce by a friend at the Royal Automobile Club, Henry Edmunds, who was also a director of Royce Ltd. Edmunds showed him Royce's car and arranged the historic meeting between Rolls and Royce at the Midland Hotel, Manchester, on 4 May 1904. In spite of his preference for three or four cylinder cars, Rolls was impressed with the two-cylinder Royce 10 and in a subsequent agreement of 23 December 1904 agreed to take all the cars Royce could make. These would be of two, three, four and six cylinders and would be badged as Rolls-Royces.

Royal Automobile Club British private motoring club

The Royal Automobile Club is a British private club and is not to be confused with RAC, an automotive services company, which it formerly owned.

Bronze bust at Derby Industrial Museum CharlesRolls.jpg
Bronze bust at Derby Industrial Museum

The first Rolls-Royce car, the Rolls-Royce 10 hp, was unveiled at the Paris Salon in December 1904, although in the early advertising it was the name of Rolls that was emphasised over that of Royce. In 1906 Rolls and Royce formalised their partnership by creating Rolls-Royce Limited, with Rolls appointed Technical managing director on a salary of £750 per annum plus 4% of the profits in excess of £10,000. Rolls provided the financial backing and business acumen to complement Royce's technical expertise. In 1907 Rolls-Royce Limited bought out C. S. Rolls & Co.

Rolls put much effort into publicising the quietness and smoothness of the Rolls-Royce, and at the end of 1906 travelled to the USA to promote the new cars. The company was winning awards for the quality and reliability of its cars by 1907. But by 1909 Rolls' interest in the business was waning, and at the end of the year he resigned as Technical managing director and became a non-executive director. [2]

C. S. Rolls in a balloon, probably his 'Midget' The late C.S. Rolls and Hon. Mrs Assheton Harbord.jpg
C. S. Rolls in a balloon, probably his 'Midget'

Pioneer aviator

In 1901, with Santos Dumont.

Rolls was a pioneer aviator and initially, balloonist, [6] making over 170 balloon ascents. In 1903 he won the Gordon Bennett Gold Medal for the longest single flight time.

By 1907 Rolls' interest turned increasingly to flying and he tried to persuade Royce to design an aero engine. He became the second Englishman to go up in an aeroplane. Piloted by Wilbur Wright their flight on 8 October 1908 from Camp d'Auvours, eleven kilometres east of Le Mans, lasted four minutes and twenty seconds. [7] He bought one of six Wright Flyer aircraft built by Short Brothers under licence from the Wright Brothers and from early October 1909 [2] made more than 200 flights. Founder in 1901 with Frank Hedges Butler of the ballooning club that became the Royal Aero Club [8] in March 1910 he was the second person they licensed to fly an aeroplane. [9] He became the first man to make a non-stop double crossing of the English Channel by plane taking 95 minutes on 2 June 1910. [6] For this feat, which included the first East-bound aerial crossing of the English Channel, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Aero Club. [10] [note 1] There is a statue in Monmouth to commemorate the flight and another in Dover.


Photograph on the front page of the Illustrated London News, 16 July 1910, showing the wreckage of the plane crash which killed Rolls Death of Charles Stewart Rolls - Illustrated London News 2.jpg
Photograph on the front page of the Illustrated London News, 16 July 1910, showing the wreckage of the plane crash which killed Rolls

On 12 July 1910, at the age of 32, Rolls was killed in an air crash at Hengistbury Airfield, [11] Southbourne, Bournemouth when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a flying display. He was the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident with a powered aircraft, and the eleventh person internationally. His was also the first powered aviation fatality in the United Kingdom. [4] [note 2]

His grave lies at the churchyard of St Cadoc's Church, Llangattock-Vibon-Avel, where many of the Rolls family lie buried in various family tombs. His grave is just below Llangattock Manor and bears the inscription:

"Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God."

A statue in his memory, in which he is seen holding a biplane model, was erected in Agincourt Square, Monmouth. A further memorial to him was unveiled in 1981 in the bottom playing field of St Peter's School, Bournemouth, which was developed on the site of Hengistbury Airfield. There is a stained-glass window in All Saints' Church, Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey, dedicated jointly to Rolls and to fellow pioneer aviator Cecil Grace. [12]

Family tree
John Rolls
Sarah Coysh
John Rolls
of The Hendre
John Etherington Welch Rolls
Elizabeth Mary Long
John Allan Rolls
Georgiana Marcia Maclean
John Maclean Rolls
Henry Alan Rolls
Eleanor Georgiana Rolls
Charles Stewart Rolls
(co-founder of
Rolls Royce )


  1. Louis Bleriot on 25 July 1909 and Count Jacques de Lesseps on 21 May 1910 crossed West-bound before him
  2. "Mr. Rolls is the tenth airman who has met with a fatal accident in a motor-driven flying machine, and he is the first Englishman who has sacrificed his life in the cause of modern aviation." (Aeroplane Accident, Mr Rolls Killed at Bournemouth. The Times, Wednesday, Jul 13, 1910; pg. 12; Issue 39323)

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<i>Statue of Charles Rolls, Monmouth</i> Grade II* listed building in Monmouth. Statue in Monmouth, Wales

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Georgiana Rolls, Baroness Llangattock socialite

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  1. "The Hendre". Geograph Britain and Ireland. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Pugh, Peter (2001). The Magic of a Name – The Rolls-Royce Story: The First 40 Years. Icon Books. ISBN   1-84046-151-9.
  3. Vance, James (1992). Ways of the World: A History of the World's Roads and of the Vehicles That Used Them. Rutgers University Press. ISBN   0-8135-2691-4.
  4. 1 2 Aeroplane Accident, Mr Rolls Killed at Bournemouth. The Times, Wednesday, Jul 13, 1910; pg. 12; Issue 39323
  5. The Bicycle, 15 July 1942, pG. Rolls won a half-blue because cycling was not considered a full sport. Rolls also had a collection of bicycles from solos up to four-man tandems.
  6. 1 2 3 "Charles Rolls". BBC . Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  7. "U.S Centennial of Flight Commission: Wilbur & Orville Wright: A Chronology".Flight Log 1908 Camp d'Auvours, Le Mans, France.Retrieved 25 July 2018
  8. John Blake."A Brief History Of The Royal Aero Club." The Royal Aero Club Of The United Kingdom. Retrieved 24 July 2018
  9. "The Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom – Official Notices to Members" (PDF). Flight: 185. March 1910. Retrieved 29 June 2011. – 12 March 1910
  10. "Royal Aero Club Awards & Trophies". The Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  11. "Hengistbury Head in the 20th Century". Hengistbury Head. Archived from the original on 20 September 2011. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  12. Eastchurch Parish Council Archived 22 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine . Accessed 21 May 2010.