Charles Rolls

27/8/1877 - 12/7/1910

Record updated 28-Aug-07

Pioneer motorist and aviator, the Honourable Charles Stewart Rolls is best remembered for his association with Henry Royce. He was killed when his Wright Flyer crashed in Bournemouth in 1910.

Charles Rolls
The Honourable Charles Stewart Rolls was born at 35 Hill Street, just off Berkeley Square, London, into a wealthy landed family. In addition to their properties in London, the family also large estates in Monmouthshire, South Wales. His father, John Allan Rolls, was a Justice of the Peace and High Sheriff of Monmouthshire, later to become Lord Llangattoch of the Hendre in August l892.

Rolls was educated at the Mortimer Vicarage Preparatory School in Berkshire and then Eton until March 1894. He gained a place at Trinity College Cambridge where he studied engineering.

He was a keen racing cyclist and gained a half Blue in 1896 and was made Captain the following year.

In October of 1896 he went to Paris and, with the help of his father, he aquired a 3 3/4 hp Peugeot Phaeton. He became known as "Dirty Rolls" or "Petrolls" owing to working on the car himself.

That year, along with other motoring enthusiasts, he broke the law which forbade automobile travel at over 4mph (6.4km/hr). Their actions led to the speed limit being raised to 12 mph (19.3 km/hr).

He graduated in January 1898 with Class II Ordinary Bachelor of Arts degree by Special Examination in Mechanism and Applied Science, and gained a Master of Arts in 1902. 

He became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in February 1898 and spent time in the workshops of the LNWR (London and North Western) Railway at Crewe. He had a reputation for being very careful with his money, economical with food and with a very modest intake of alcohol.

Along with his interest in cars he was also interested in aviation and made his first balloon flight on the 8th September 1898. In all he made more than 150 ascensions and crossed the channel several times in balloons.

In 1900 Rolls won a 1,000 mile reliability trial in a Panhard. The event was promoted by Lord Northcliffe and organised by his partner, Claude Johnson, alsoa founder member and Secretary of the Automobile Club.

In 1902 Rolls established one of Britain's first car dealerships importing and selling the French made Mors. In 1903 he established a world land speed record of 93 mph in Dublin driving a 30hp Mors.

Then in May 1904 Henry Edmunds introduced Rolls to Fredrick Henry Royce at the Midland Hotel, Manchester, though it would not be until 1906 that they would form the partnership of Rolls-Royce. 

Rolls was chosen as a member of the British team for the 1905 Gordon Bennett race. The other drivers were Earp, Bianchi, Cecil Edge and John Hargreaves. Theray won the race for France driving a Richard Brasier. Rolls finished 8th in his Wolseley Beetle, the first British driver to finish. This was the last Gordon Bennett race for cars, the following year it became a race for balloons and from 1909 for aeroplanes.

He teamed up with Royce in 1906, Royce providing the technical expertise and Rolls the financial backing and business acumen. Rolls won the RAC Tourist Trophy race that year on the Isle of Man, driving a 20hp Rolls-Royce at an average speed of 39.43m.p.h. for the 161 miles. He went to the New York Auto Show to exhibit their cars and also attended an exhibition organised by the Aero Club of America and was introduced to the Wright Brothers. This meeting switched Rolls' interest from balloons to powered aircraft.

In 1907 he drove his TT winning car in the opening parade at Brooklands, though he never raced at the track.

He was a founding member of the Royal Aero Club and was issued with the second pilot's licence to be issued, dated March 8, 1910. JTC Moore-Brabazon was the holder of the first.

On June 2 of that year he became the first man to make a non-stop double crossing of the English Channel by plane but in the JUly he was killed later at the Bournemouth International Aviation Meeting, in celebration of the town’s centenary, when the French built moving tail plane, which had been fitted to his Wright Flyer just two days earlier, broke off.

He became the first Briton, and the eleventh internationally, to be killed in an aeronautical accident.