Henry Royce and the Rolls-Royce Limousine

by KathleenDuffy

Henry Royce was a workaholic, self-made engineer whose meticulous attention to detail was balanced by his partner Charles Royce's eye for style and promotional flair

Henry Royce was, despite living in the Edwardian age, essentially a product of the Victorian self-help mentality. This self-made entrepreneur was capable of single-minded devotion to the job in hand, working long hours to the detriment of his home life. Nothing short of fanatical perfection and attention to detail was acceptable to Royce.

He was born in 1863 at Alwalton, Lincolnshire. His family was desperately poor, his father dying when he was nine. It is unlikely Henry attended school.

Henry Royce’s first jobs were delivering newspapers and working for the Post Office delivering telegrams. Aged fourteen, an aunt secured Henry an apprenticeship with Great Northern Railway, which cost her £20 a year. After three years his aunt became ill and Henry’s apprenticeship ended.

Henry Royce's Early Career

Aged seventeen, Henry Royce walked to Leeds to find work. Once there he found work at a  tool-making firm.  But then he saw an advert in a newspaper with a vacancy for a tester at the Electric Light and Power Company in London.

Electricity was the latest significant invention and Royce, keen on new technology, was offered the position.

Henry Royce studied hard at nights and at only twenty years of age, he  became Chief Electrical Engineer on a scheme to light the Merseyside streets.

But opposition to this 'new-fangled' idea was solid and resulted in Royce losing his job. But was he downhearted?  No!

Henry Royce Starts a Business

Back in the north of England, and with a capital of £70 between them, Royce and a fellow enthusiast, Claremont, opened a workshop in Manchester, calling themselves F H Royce & Co.

After success producing electric doorbells, Royce invented an improved dynamo. Sales were so good that the days of struggle were over. Royce was able to marry and buy a house in Cheshire. He was free to begin exploring other design avenues. In 1894 the company went public and became Royce Ltd.

Henry Royce Produces the Royce M 612

By 1899 Royce Ltd was looking to expand. But Henry Royce found that sales of his dynamo were threatened by imports from Germany and the United States. At the same time he, like his future partner, Charles Rolls, was becoming fascinated with the motor car.

Henry Royce bought a second-hand French 10-hp Decauville, but after tinkering with it decided to build his own model from scratch.

This new car would be Henry’s gateway to future motoring immortality. The Royce, built to Henry’s exacting standards, registration number M 612, was given its test run on 1st April, 1904.

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Henry Royce Meets Charles Rolls

Henry Edmunds, on the Board of Royce Ltd and friend of Charles Rolls, bought the new model. He persuaded Rolls – rich aristocrat, balloon enthusiast and car salesman – to visit Manchester and drive the Royce. Rolls’ own business had, like Royce’s, been going through hard times. Orders for Panhards at Rolls' showroom in London had dropped dramatically.

It was time for a new initiative.

Charles Rolls was impressed with the Royce and became its sole agent. With Charles promoting the product, entering various speed trials and exhibitions, and Henry Royce perfecting each model in the workshop, the combination worked brilliantly.

From December 1904 all cars coming onto the market were named Rolls-Royce.

Production of Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost and Planes

In 1906 the London Motor Show saw Charles Rolls displaying the Silver Ghost. This model was the beginning of a fleet of prestigious cars, including the White Knave and the Silver Rogue, that won many honours and brought status to the British motor industry.

In 1910 Charles Rolls was killed in a flying accident. Henry Royce nearly died the following year after a breakdown. But he recovered and his engines were utilised in the front lines of the First World War, as well as powering war planes.

Plane engines meant new problems but by 1918 Rolls-Royce engines were producing double their power. Eventually Royce’s work would lead to the development of the Spitfire, the tenacious Battle of Britain fighter.

Death of Henry Royce

In April 1933 Henry Royce, widower, died, aged 70. He was now Sir Henry. Together with Charles Rolls, whose energy and flair had contributed to the Rolls-Royce style and image, Henry Royce won worldwide fame and respect.

He was a rare engineering genius, dedicated to perfection and meticulous artistry.



  • The Edwardians by Peter Brent (BBC 1972)
Updated: 12/21/2013, KathleenDuffy
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


KathleenDuffy on 12/22/2013

No, they seem to be a bit of a rarity now!

ologsinquito on 12/22/2013

I haven't seen a Rolls Royce in a long time. There aren't many where I live, but many where I used to live.

KathleenDuffy on 12/22/2013

Your glamorous hats deserve a Rolls Royce - nothing else is classy enough! :)

AbbyFitz on 12/21/2013

Ever since I was little I've wanted a red rolls Royce with white interior. It's good to know the history of it now

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