[BITList] Combustible relationship

John Feltham wantok at me.com
Sat Mar 27 12:40:34 GMT 2010

To read this Life of the Day complete with a picture of the subject,
visit http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/lotw/2010-03-27

Royce, Sir  (Frederick) Henry, baronet  (1863-1933), engineer and motor car designer, was born on 27 March 1863 at Alwalton, near Peterborough, youngest of the two boys and three girls of James Royce (1830-1872), flour miller, and his wife, Mary (d. 1904), third daughter of Benjamin King, farmer, of Edwin's Hall, Essex. When he was four his father took his two sons to London, intent upon running a metropolitan flour mill. Financial trouble followed and the young Royce became a W. H. Smith newspaper boy, first at Clapham and then Bishopsgate. When he was nine his father died, leaving under £20. Henry's schooling lapsed into irregularity and for a time he was a Post Office telegraph boy in Mayfair.

When Royce was fourteen a kindly aunt paid £20 per annum for him to be apprenticed in the Great Northern Railway Company's locomotive works in Peterborough. After three years his aunt's funds ran out but the enthusiasm and skill of a railway workshop craftsman, with whom he boarded and who taught him much about the arts of fitting and filing, had given Royce a fascination with engineering which lasted all his life. He tramped in search of work and found it with a machine tool firm in Leeds at 11s. for a 54-hour week, but soon decided that London held better prospects. In 1882 he became a tester with the London Electric Light and Power Company, which was installing electric arc and incandescent lighting in London's streets. Simultaneously he attended evening classes run by the City and Guilds Institute and others at Quintin Hogg's Polytechnic Day School in Regent Street. He sufficiently impressed his employers for them to appoint him chief electrical engineer of a subsidiary, the Lancashire Maxim and Western Electric Company, set up to introduce electric lighting to Liverpool. Royce worked on theatre lighting until, months later, the company went into liquidation and he was thrown onto his own resources once more.

Meanwhile Royce's Liverpool work had introduced him to Ernest Albert Claremont (d. 1921), a young man with £50 capital to add to Royce's £25, and some electrical experience. In 1884 they formed F. H. Royce & Co., manufacturers of electric bell sets, lampholders, switches, fuses, and registering instruments, at Cooke Street, Manchester. Royce designed a drum-wound armature for a dynamo that had the distinct advantage of sparkless commutation in generating direct current. These dynamos were widely used in lighting cotton mills, factories, and ships and gained a strong reputation for reliability and longevity, engineering characteristics to which Royce gave high priority. The partnership was strengthened by ties of kinship and an additional £1500 capital on 16 March 1893 when Royce and Claremont married two sisters, daughters of Alfred Punt, a licensed victualler of London. With his wife, Minnie Grace (d. 1936), Royce set up home in Knutsford, in a house with a fine garden of which Royce, a dedicated rose and fruit tree grower all his life, was very proud. Shortly afterwards he brought his mother from London to live there.

In 1894 the partners converted their business into a limited company, Royce Ltd, bringing a friend with capital into the firm and appointing a young cashier and accountant, John De Looze, company secretary. De Looze freed Royce from the minutiae of paperwork so that he could concentrate on new technical ideas. Among these were electric cranes and motors for lock gates. Royce took out an early patent for a governor to control the downward speed of the crane arm, a project prompted by his horror of accidents. Between October 1897 and February 1899 the value of the firm's orders rose from £6000 to £20,000. The directors increased the company's capital to £30,000 to finance an expansion of productive capacity. Then came setbacks. The South African War checked domestic investment. In his specialist market, imports of cheaper cranes from Germany and the USA (many incorporating Royce's modifications) cut into sales. Royce refused to reduce the quality of his products in order to make his prices more competitive. For several years the company's financial results deteriorated. At the same time, Royce's interest was shifting from cranes to road vehicles, a cause of some anxiety for his colleagues.

When Royce bought a second-hand 10 hp Decauville, his first motor car, early in 1903 (having previously owned a De Dion-Bouton quadricycle), French manufacturers-enthusiasts operating in scattered workshops-dominated the infant car industry. American models were appearing but Royce regarded their engineering as primitive. Initially approving the design but not the engineering of the Decauville, Royce set out to rebuild it in his spare time. He ended up redesigning it and in autumn 1903 announced to his associates that he intended to build his own motor car. The two-cylinder 10 hp model emerged from the Cooke Street works on 1 April 1904 after months of overtime in which components were ruthlessly tested by multifarious experiments. Royce made most of it himself, aided by two apprentices, T. S. Haldenby and Eric Platford, and a toolmaker, Arthur Wormald, recruited from the Westinghouse works in Trafford Park. Three examples of this model were built. In the first months they tended to break down frequently but Royce, furiously insisting on high standards all round, persisted with his improvising, innovating, testing, and fitting so that, for their day, they became unusually reliable. Claremont bought one. A newcomer to the Royce board, Henry Edmunds, who was also a member of the Automobile Club committee, saw it and sent a photograph and specifications to his friend, Charles Stewart Rolls, who with Claude Goodman Johnson then ran an agency for French cars in London's West End. In the first week of May 1904 Rolls (who had previously approached William Weir (1877-1959) to supply a British-built car) and Edmunds went to Manchester, Royce having refused to go to London. Rolls was so impressed by the car that he agreed with Royce to become his sole agent and in this manner the famous partnership, echoing that of S. F. Edge and Montague Napier, began.

While Rolls, aristocratic and flamboyant, advertised Royce's cars in a series of reliability trials and races during 1904-6, ably understudied by Johnson, who organized sales, Royce concentrated on production. At first he manufactured a variety of models based on four chassis of 10, 15, 20, and 30 hp, the most successful being the four-cylinder 20 hp Grey Ghost. When Rolls-Royce Ltd was formed on 15 March 1906, with Claremont as chairman (as he remained until his death), Royce became chief engineer and works director with a salary of £1250 and 4 per cent of the profits above £10,000; he was the most highly paid man in the firm. After difficulties in raising capital, in December 1906 Johnson, the managing director, decided that the best way to secure a market share and cut costs would be to standardize the production of a very superior motor car. Royce set to work and designed the 40/50 hp Silver Ghost, 'his greatest achievement'  (Lloyd, 1.22), which remained in production, substantially unchanged, from 1907 until 1925, when it gave way to Phantoms and Wraiths. Demand, which for Royce's cars was always ahead of supply, was strong for the Silver Ghost: 2813 were produced between 1907 and 1916, and between 1919 and 1925, 3360, the price rising from £985 to £1450 as a result of wartime inflation.

To cope with demand for the Silver Ghost, in June 1908 the motor section of the firm was separated from Cooke Street, Manchester, and transferred to Derby. By this time Royce, so long oblivious to the discipline of the balance sheet, was well recognized by the company's board as a poor production engineer but a brilliant designer. When he fell seriously ill in September 1908, his health having suffered from four years of incessant work, Johnson persuaded him to work in a drawing office at home with the assistance of a team of draughtsmen. News of Rolls's death in 1910 triggered a breakdown in Royce's health and in 1911 he underwent a major operation. Johnson, who realized that Royce's talents were the firm's greatest asset, persuaded him to live in a villa in the south of France with a drawing office and a personal staff of eight in adjacent premises. This unusual (for that time) separation of design and production lasted for the remainder of Royce's career: he divided his time between his homes at St Margaret's Bay, Kent (to which he moved in 1912) or West Wittering in Sussex (to which he moved during the First World War) in summer, and the villa at Le Canadel on the French riviera in winter, and never again came within a hundred miles of Derby. He nevertheless continued to control the main designs, keeping in close contact with experiments and other activities for another twenty years. In motor car design the original features of his work were the silent cam form of the valve-gear, the friction-damped slipper flywheel and spring drive for the timing gears, his battery ignition, the Royce expanding carburettor, and the wear-proof steering.

Although Rolls had often pressed him to design an aero-engine, he took no practical interest in the matter until the outbreak of war in 1914. Then he was persuaded by the sight of an airship struggling across the channel to modify the Silver Ghost engine for use in aeroplanes. After investigating various types of air-cooled engine, he at length characteristically made up his mind not to deviate from liquid cooling. Starting from a 12-cylinder V engine, he produced the 200 hp Eagle for the Admiralty early in 1915. This was one of two aero-engines that were neither a technical nor a production failure during the war (the other was the Hispano-Suiza). Some 6100 were ordered and it played an important part in the war. The Eagle was followed by the Falcon (2175 ordered), the Hawk in 1915, and later the Condor. Eagle engines powered the Vickers Vimy bomber which took Alcock and Brown on the first west-to-east crossing of the Atlantic in 1919. At Royce's instigation the company entered the Schneider Trophy competitions in 1929. With Ernest Walter Hives in charge of development, Royce modified the 850 hp Kestrel engine (which he designed in 1925) into the 'R' engine. Installed in the Supermarine S6 seaplane designed by R. J. Mitchell, it won the trophy. Further design work by Royce and metallurgical research at Derby improved the engine again and allowed Britain to win and keep the Schneider Trophy in 1931 (with a world speed record at 408 m.p.h.). Out of the experience gained from transatlantic and Schneider competitions, Royce laid down the prototype for the Merlin, a twelve-cylinder V engine, 'an exact scale-up of the Kestrel'  (Lloyd, 2.160), which powered Spitfires and Hurricanes in the Second World War. Royce remained jealous of his position to the last. When the firm acquired Bentley Motors in 1931 he harshly subordinated W. O. Bentley, a rival designer and engineer, to the position of sales assistant in the Rolls-Royce London showroom.

Royce had only two directorships throughout his career, at Royce Ltd of Manchester and Rolls-Royce Ltd of Derby. He was a member of the institutions of mechanical, electrical, and aeronautical engineers. He was appointed OBE in 1918 and created a baronet in 1930. There were no children from his marriage. Royce died at Elmstead, his West Wittering home, on 22 April 1933. He was survived by his wife.

David J. Jeremy 

Sources  I. Lloyd, Rolls-Royce, 1-2 (1978) + H. Nockolds, The magic of a name, 2nd edn (1950) + M. Pemberton, The life of Sir Henry Royce: with some chapters from the stories of the late Charles S. Rolls and Claude Johnson (1934) + D. J. Jeremy, 'Royce, Sir Frederick Henry', DBB + A. Bird and I. Hallows, The Rolls-Royce motor car and the Bentleys built by Rolls-Royce, 4th revised edn (1975) + DNB
Archives Inst. CE + Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London, sketches relating to automobile brakes + Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts' Club, Northamptonshire, technical corresp. and papers
Likenesses  F. D. Wood, bronze statue, 1922, Rolls-Royce Ltd, Derby · W. McMillan, bust, 1934, Rolls-Royce Ltd, Derby · P. North, photograph, Royal Aeronautical Society, London [see illus.] · portrait, repro. in Engineering (28 April 1933) · portrait, repro. in Engineer (28 April 1933)
Wealth at death  £112,598 8s. 11d.: probate, 6 June 1933, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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