Sir Henry Royce

From Humble Beginnings
Sir Henry Royce has long been remembered as the famous car maker from Derby, partly due to the large statue of him outside his company’s city headquarters, but his success with Rolls-Royce was the last chapter in a long and varied career that took him across the country. Frederick Henry Royce was born near Peterborough in 1863 as the youngest son of a mill owner but, when the business sadly failed, he found himself growing up in London and starting work as a teenager.

The  Henry Royce plaque

The Henry Royce plaque

Sir Henry Royce’s early career.
Royce’s working life began not in the automotive industry but in the railways with an apprenticeship at Great Northern Railway in 1878. Three years later, with little money to his name, he tried a few short term jobs at a tool company in Leeds and the Electric Light and Power Company in London and Liverpool. In 1884, Royce moved again and set up a business in Manchester called F H Royce & Company and by the 1890s he had begun to settle down and make a name for himself. In 1893 Henry married Minnie Punt and started a home in the city and the following year his company began making dynamos and cranes with initial success. Once demand began to drop at the turn of the century, Royce turned to a different form of manufacture and began to experiment with the engines he would become famous for.

Rolls-Royce.
It is impossible to think of the name Royce without putting the word “Rolls” in front of it and that is because of the success of Henry Royce’s biggest achievement. On May 4th 1904, Henry Royce met a man named Charles Rolls after the latter had seen one of his models at a car show in London. Rolls was impressed by the Royce’s decision to work with two cylinder engines and the creation of the Royce 10 and, in December that same year, agreed to take on all subsequent models and sell them as Rolls-Royces. From that moment, one of the most famous automotive partnership was born and the pair went on to have great success until 1910 when Charles was killed in an air crash. Rolls may have no longer been around but the name carried on and Henry continued to contribute to Rolls-Royce cars until the day before his own death in 1933.

Sir Henry Royce

Sir Henry Royce

The death of Sir Henry Royce.
Henry Royce suffered with ill health for many years; in 1911 he became ill due to his poor eating habits and lifestyle and was forced to move away from his Derby home in 1912 – the same year that he separated from his wife. His poor health and distance from the factory did nothing to weaken his work ethic and creativity and he set about continuing his work and insisting that all plans and designs still had to be personally approved before they could be used. Henry died in West Wittering on April 22nd 1933 but, on the night before he passed away, he was able to send one final design to Derby via his nurse – an adjustable shock-absorber that would allow his company to create the first Bentley.

Merlin engine being built

Merlin engine being built

Sir Henry Royce’s legacy at home and across the nation.
Derby became in important landmark in the life of Sir Henry Royce and his work in the city had a significant impact on its place on the world map. Royce moved his factory and family to the area between 1907 and 1908 so that the company could have a larger premises and he personally designed the building to his usual, exact specifications. Today, the names Derby and Rolls-Royce still go hand in hand and the current 400,000 square metre estate is responsible for a large percentage of the area’s employment and gives the city a higher export value per capita than any other UK city. Recently, this connection was honoured further when Royce received a blue plaque for his services to Derby.

This plaque is just one of the many memorials in this great man’s name and his honours are as wide ranging as a window in Westminster Abbey and the memorial foundation that has been dedicated to honouring his work since 1977. He may have been a humble man that saw himself as little more than a mechanic but he will always be remembered for his outstanding contributions to the country.