Sir Henry Royce

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Statue of Sir (Frederick) Henry Royce, standing outside the company's HQ at Moor Lane, Derby.

Sir 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 today's world.


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, Manchester.

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 them.

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.

Speed Records

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 honored 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 military.


  • "The quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten."
  • "Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble."
  • "Strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists and make it better. If it doesn’t exist, create it. Accept nothing as nearly right or good enough."

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bastow, Donald. Henry Royce, mechanic. Derby, England: Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, 1989 ISBN 9780951171042
  • Evans, Mike. In the Beginning: The Manchester Origins of Rolls-Royce. Historical series, no. 4. Derby (P.O. Box 31, Derby): Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, 1984.
  • Pugh, Peter. The Magic of a Name: The Rolls-Royce Story, the First 40 Years. Cambridge [England]: Icon Books, 2000 ISBN 9781840461510

External links

All links retrieved January 29, 2023.


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