One of the godfathers of motoring and aviation history, Charles Rolls, will today (22 March 2010) be commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque in recognition of his outstanding contribution to these industries. The Plaque will be unveiled by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, founder of the National Motor Museum and former Chairman of English Heritage, at 11.30am today at 14/15 Conduit Street, Mayfair, W1; Rolls's place of work from 1905 to 1910. Lord Montagu commented, "This building is of great historic interest, having been the West End headquarters of Rolls-Royce, and many people, both famous and otherwise, have passed through its door to purchase their vehicle".
Charles Rolls was born in Mayfair in 1877. The fourth man in England ever to own an automobile, Rolls invested in his 3.75hp Peugeot in 1895, sparking his love affair with the motorcar. Two years later he became a founder-member of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland (later the RAC). Rolls was quite the Lewis Hamilton of his day – he took part in numerous 'goggles and dust' trials in England and on the Continent, during which he broke the land speed record several times.
It was in the early part of the twentieth century that the legendary Rolls-Royce brand was born. To fund his racing and trialling, Rolls formed a car sales and service firm in 1902. The foundation of this company led to the famous meeting in Manchester with the engineer Henry Royce in May 1904, and Rolls becoming the sole agent for Royce Cars. Rolls-Royce Ltd was formally incorporated in March 1906.
During the early 1900s, Rolls became increasingly interested in aeronautics. A founder member of the Royal Aero Club, during his lifetime Rolls made over 160 balloon ascents and was one of the first people to fly solo in Wilbur Wright's newly invented aeroplane. On 2 June 1910 he became the first man to fly non-stop across the Channel and back. Sadly, in July of the same year, Charles Rolls' passion for adrenaline, adventure and risk-taking finally caught up with him and he was killed whilst taking part in a flying tournament at Bournemouth. He was the first British casualty of the modern age of powered aviation.
Howard Spencer, English Heritage Historian said:
"Rolls was not an engineer, but an extraordinarily able publicist for motoring in general and for Royce's peerless cars in particular. As an aviator, Rolls scored a notable double cross-channel 'first', and was among the first to predict that aircraft would become 'a practical and dependable conveyance'. "English Heritage felt that it was fitting that the Blue Plaque should be erected on the centenary year of his death at Conduit Street; an address that was associated with the Rolls-Royce brand as showrooms and offices for most of the twentieth century. It was here that Rolls had his office from 1905 to 1910; and it was from here that he gave demonstration drives of early Rolls-Royce models. "Rolls had achieved much of significance by the time of his tragic and untimely death at the age of 32. His legacy to the automotive and aviation industries is unquestionable and he is a most worthy recipient of an English Heritage commemorative Blue Plaque."
The Blue Plaque in honour of Charles Rolls will be unveiled by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu on 22 March 2010 at 11.30am at 14/15 Conduit Street, Mayfair, W1. Also speaking at the unveiling ceremony will be Philip Hall, Librarian and Archivist of the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club.