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Charles Stewart Rolls and the Beginning of Rolls-Royce

Updated on September 24, 2011

Charles Stewart Rolls was born on August 27, 1877, in Berkeley Square, London, England. Rolls was the son of privilege--his father was the First Baron Llangattock, and Rolls, though born and partly brought up in London, England, maintained strong ties with his Welsh ancestral home, called, The Hendre, near Monmouth,, in Wales.

The Hendre, in Wales

Where Charles Rolls grew up
Where Charles Rolls grew up

Charls Stewart Rolls went to the Mortimer Vicarage Preparatory School, in Berkshire, England. He then went to Eton; he was at a very early age interested in engines, mechanical engineering, and automobiles. Automobiles were a brand-new industry in Charles Rolls' s youth, and he was fascinated by the potential for speed. He was branded with the nickname "dirty Rolls" at Eton, because he was inevitably to be found, covered in dirt, grime and oil, taking apart or putting together a piece of machinery, preferably an automobile if one could be had.

At 17 years of age, Charles Rolls attended a private "crammer", with one-on-one tutoring, to enable him to enter Trinity College at Cambridge. This indicates he wasn't the best student in the world for things that didn't interest him, like classical languages; Greek, or Latin. He studied Mechanical and Applied Science at Cambridge, and when he was still just 18 years old, he went to Paris to buy his first car--a Peugeot Phaeton, and joined the Automobile Club of France. (There wasn't an Automobile Club in either England or Wales at this time.)

Charles was the first person to own a car in Cambridge. His car was one of only three cars in Wales. Charles was a pioneer, in so many ways...he also joined the Self-Propelled Traffic Association of England (later to become the English Automobile Club). The purpose of this group was to protest against some really silly laws of the Locomotive Act, like the following one:

The Locomotive Act imposed a speed limit of 4 miles per hour; the motorcar followed behind a man wearing a hat with a red band, marked "Locomotive Attendant", who walked in front of the car.

Charles graduated from Cambridge in 1898; he worked on the steam yacht Santa Maria,followed by an engineering position with the London and Northwest Railway. In January 1903, Charles Rolls started one of Great Britain's first car dealerships, C.S. Rolls and Company, based in Fulham. There were no English-made cars at this time. All the cars he sold were imported from France or Belgium. They were either Peugeots (French) or Minervas (Belgian).

Charles Rolls met Henry Royce at the Midlands Hotel in Manchester on May 4, 1904, and the rest, as they say, is history. Charles had seen Royce's car and was impressed with the two-cylinder Royce 10, and agree to take all the cars Royce could make, selling them at Charles's dealership. The cars would be badged "Rolls-Royce", the name "Rolls" having more advertising prestige. Rolls provided the financial backing and promotional acumen; Royce provided the designs and the technical expertise. It was a business marriage made in heaven.

These first cars were about 10 horsepower; they could travel up to the exhilarating speeds of 15 and even 20 miles per hour!!

Suggested Retail Price: $447,000

Rolls-Royce Phantom Drop-head Coupe
Rolls-Royce Phantom Drop-head Coupe

Rolls-Royce soon became the hallmark of excellence! Charles Rolls emphasized the quietness and reliability of the Rolls-Royce. He travelled to the United States to promote these vehicles, and by 1907, the Rolls-Royce cars were winning awards.

Charles Rolls was also a pioneer aviator. He originally flew in balloons; he was a brave, fearless balloonist, making over 170 balloon ascents. Additionally, he was a founding member of the Royal Aero Club and in 1903 became the second licensed pilot in Great Britain.

Rolls attempted (unsuccessfully) to get Royce to design an airplane. When this project fell through, Charles Rolls bought one of the six Wright Flyer aircraft; he flew this plane over 200 times, before fatally crashing at Hengistbury Airfield, Bournemouth, England, on July 10, 1910, when the tail of the plane fell off during a flying exhibition. Charles Rolls was not quite 33 years of age.

Charles Stewart Rolls


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    • nimeshgraphic profile image


      7 years ago from Chennai, India

      Being a fan of Rolls Royce today only i came to know there is two names behind the brand name and got lots of information good biography of this hub i feel great to read this hub i ve voted up...

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Kitty. Like you, the man had class!

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Kitty Fields 

      7 years ago from Summerland

      Up and awesome, Paradise7. I love the old school rolls royces and it was cool to read a little bit about the man behind these beautiful cars. Great job, as usual!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      We'll ride around together. I love those cars. Too bad they are outside my price range!

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      7 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Nice, informative hub. Who knew there was someone named Charles Rolls in this world. Now you've given me the desire to drive around at least for a day in a Rolls Royce.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, Simone. Yep, he loved to fly.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Fascinating! I had no idea that Charles Royce was also an aviator.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Sweetie, I'm not a terrific car fan, either, except when it comes to Rolls, also Corvettes. I'm glad you enjoyed this hub.

    • SweetiePie profile image


      7 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Hi Paradise,

      I wonder about those government auctions. Heard about some people getting really nice sports cars at those who ridiculously low prices. Anyway, I thought the story about Rolls and his eventually meeting Royce was cute. I am not a car fan, but this hub was nice.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Phil.

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 

      7 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      Interesting hub, certainly you've shared some information about Rolls Royce that likely few people knew.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, drbj. The Rolls is my dream car. I'll never have enough money to own one, though I see you can get one on ebay for a mere $12,000 or so. Tempting, tempting...I just wonder what condition it's in.

      I'm gonna have to run over and visit your hub. Epi swears by you, Dr.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      What a magnificent car, Paradise, and what a magnificent tribute to Charles Rolls and the famed Rolls Royce. I, too, am fascinated by these old, expensive antigue automobiles and wrote a hub, "World's Most Outrageously Expensive Car." - about the Excelero.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, Hugh. I like reading about the late 1800's, early 1900's. People like Rolls were so brave to go to the edge of what was then new technology; they were a fearless bunch.

      It's fascinating that you knew someone who worked in a Rolls plant. I'd love to have seen those cars from the 30's.

    • Hugh Williamson profile image

      Hugh Williamson 

      7 years ago from Northeast USA

      I enjoyed your piece - I never new the story of Charles Rolls.

      I had a relative who worked in the Rolls Royce plant in Springfield Massachusetts in the 1920's. I believe the plant closed in the early 1930's and that was that for the American Rolls.

      Nice HUB.


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