Sir Henry Royce
Frederick Henry Royce was born in Alwalton, Huntingdonshire, near Peterborough, the son of James and Mary Royce and was the youngest of their five children.
Some readers may know very little about Sir Henry. Others would know quite a lot about him. But it is worth recording again some of his history and, by extension, that of Rolls-Royce.
Frederick Henry Royce was born on 27 March 1863. Not into a wealthy family, but as the son of a miller. Commencing work as a telegram delivery boy, he was later apprenticed to the Great Northern Railway. Royce was interested in electricity, and developed his knowledge of this industry at night school. He formed F. H. Royce and Co. in 1884 when he was twenty-one. That Company manufactured dynamos and electric cranes; parts of one of the latter were acquired by the Foundation.
In 1903 Royce bought a small Decauville car manufactured in France, and set about improving it to his standards. This led to the production of a 10hp, 2-cylinder automobile he named ‘Royce’, which first ran on 1 April 1904. Two more cars of the same type and specifications were produced, and of the three, only the engine of one remains in the Manchester Museum.
The Honourable Charles Stewart Rolls met Frederick Henry Royce (as he then was) in May 1904. Rolls, a pioneer motorist and car salesman, was impressed with Royce and his car, so they subsequently formed Rolls-Royce Limited in April 1906. The first 40/50hp, 6-cylinder car – a model retrospectively known as the ‘Silver Ghost’ after the most famous example of the type – made its appearance in November 1906, and with many improvements in its design, was produced for the next nineteen years.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Sir Henry turned his energies to aero engines, and a long line of superb aero engines was begun. First came the Eagle, then the Hawk, followed by the Falcon and Condor. More than half of the Allied aircraft in that war flew with Rolls-Royce engines, all designed by Sir Henry. Nearly seven months after the war ended, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown in a Vickers Vimy biplane fitted with two Rolls-Royce Eagle engines completed the first aerial crossing of the Atlantic. Subsequently, the Kestrel aero engine was produced, which in turn led to the ‘R’ engine for the 1931 Schneider Trophy races, and ultimately, the Merlin V-12 powerplant based on the design of the ‘R’ engine.
In all his designs Sir Henry Royce demonstrated an attention to detail never previously seen in the automotive and aeronautical worlds. His work ethic was inspired by his personal motto: Quidvis recte factum quamvis humile præclarum (Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble). Today, there are many fine examples of Royce’s determination to strive for perfection in engineering.
The principal objective of the Sir Henry Royce Foundation, Australia is to honour Sir Henry's life and work, to publicise, preserve and maintain examples of his engineering genius, and perpetuate his engineering philosophy, namely the pursuit of excellence.
He was named Baronet Royce of Seaton (Rutland) on June 26, 1930. 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.
Click on the audio link below to listen to a very interesting 12 minute audio on Sir Henry from the Grace Gibson radio series 'Famous Fortunes’. This enjoyable series can be obtained through their website (www.gracegibsonradio.com). Well worth listening to.
The Foundation is grateful and acknowledges the permission granted by Grace Gibson Productions to bring you this audio classic.