Lecture meeting on 9th September 2019

The Rolls Royce Story

Talk by: Bruce Lawson

In 1900, aged 22, Charles Stewart Rolls was the best-known motorist in Britain, better known that Jeremy Clarkson today, having won the Thousand Mile Trial of that year, the event that launched motoring as a practical popular concept. Rolls followed his success in the trial by racing, in highly dangerous inter-city races in Europe. He drove the fastest time ever thus far achieved in Britain, although this was never ratified. At the same time, Rolls ran a large car sales and service show room in London, employing 70 staff at one time, with space for 200 cars. In the space of six months, he persuaded the secretary of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland (later RAC), Claude Johnson, to join him and then shortly after he discovered Henry Royce and his three Royce cars, the engineering genius, with whom Rolls name is forever linked. This triumvirate of talented engineers and businessmen took Rolls-Royce to the pinnacle of motoring excellence which the company has occupied ever since.

Rolls for relaxation helped create the new sport of hot air ballooning and raced for his country. He then joined a select band of intrepid pioneers who sought to prove the theory of powered flight. He was a confidante of the Wright Brothers, during their early years in their aviation experiments, which were amazingly disbelieved in America. He was the first to fly the English Channel both ways, but weeks later he perished at Bournemouth Air Show. Engineer, salesman, aristocrat, pioneer and businessman, Charles Stewart Rolls offers us a timely reminder of British invention, courage and ingenuity a century ago.

A report of the meeting by Clive Barrett is available to download.

Speaker biography

Born in Worcestershire, Bruce Lawson’s life has never been dull. A little eccentric perhaps, this is a man who launched a major radio station in Hereford/Worcester, played rugby for Jamaica, walked through the Channel Tunnel for charity and stood for Parliament or the Welsh Assembly 3 times (without success!) Nearing retirement, Bruce found a replacement career as a writer and speaker. In 2009, he read Andrew Marr’s The Making of Modern Britain which featured Rolls who co-founded Rolls-Royce and found it “a ripping good yarn”. The result was the biography Charles Rolls of Rolls-Royce. “Rolls was the Richard Branson/James Dyson of the Edwardian Age.

Bruce has lived in Wales in Montgomery for 20 years and lectures on both Rolls-Royce, Charles Rolls his life and early motoring in Britain. About sixty talks so far, including at Rolls-Royce Motors in Goodwood and on the Queen Victoria, (Cunard, not the pub in Eastenders).  Bruce has just published a second biography, the life of Gwyn Steinbeck, second wife of American Nobel writer John Steinbeck and mother of his two sons which has had its controversial debut in the USA (see www.mylifewithjohnsteinbeck.com)

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