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Charles Rolls

Statue of Charles Stewart Rolls in Monmouth Pioneering motorist and aviator.

Place of Birth:
Famous For:
Pioneering motorist and aviator.
Charles was the first British person to die in an aircraft accident.
On his legendary meeting with Frederick Royce, Charles Rolls expressed a wish for his name to be associated with the best cars in the world.

Suzanne Donald tells us more...

In Agincourt square in Monmouth stands the Statue of Charles Stewart Rolls. He is depicted in his flying outfit, holding a model of the Wright Biplane in which he was killed at the age of 32.

Rolls was a true pioneer. His aviation exploits are perhaps not as well known as his motoring exploits. Rolls travelled far and wide, but his home was in Monmouth.

He was born into the aristocracy, third son of Lord and Lady Llangattock, whose ancestral seat was at The Hendre in Monmouth.

Rolls was actually born in London, but the family maintained strong links to Monmouth.

They bequeathed their collection of Nelson memorabilia to the town, and through the building of the Rolls Hall, an entertainment venue which is now a library.

Furthermore, Charles' brother John McLean Rolls was later elected Mayor of Monmouth.

Charles Rolls attended Cambridge University and this is where his interest in the fledgling sport of motoring was born.

His first car was a three-and-three-quarter horsepower Peugeot - the first car ever seen at Cambridge. He caused quite a stir when he drove it home to Monmouth in two days.

Rolls won prizes for his motoring prowess, and was thought by some to be the best driver in the country, breaking records and winning races.

He was responsible for changing the national speed limit at that time from 4 mph to 12 mph - possibly the world's first boy racer.

Rolls went into business selling cars in 1902. In 1904 his legendary meeting with Henry Royce at the Midland Hotel in Manchester resulted in formation of the world-famous Rolls-Royce company.

The two men were from very different backgrounds, but their love of motoring united them. In 1906 they created the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, possibly one of the world's best loved cars, even today.

Being a restless soul, Rolls' interest turned to aviation. In Monmouth Museum there are photographs of his ballooning exploits launching from Monmouth Gasworks.

Perhaps ballooning was a little too slow for him for he soon turned his attention to aeroplanes. In 1910, he was the first to cross the channel non-stop both ways.

Sadly it all ended in tragedy. Rolls was killed in 1910 in Bournemouth when his plane broke up in mid-air. Perhaps there is some consolation in the fact that he died doing what he loved.

His coffin was brought home to Monmouth by train, accompanied by crowds of mourners. He was laid to rest in Llangattock churchyard, a few miles outside Monmouth.

The Llangattock family continued in their affection for Monmouth, but on the death of Charles' brothers Henry and John, the Lordship was discontinued.

Their name lives on through the company founded by their son - a name synonymous with luxury, quality, speed, elegance and stability, just as Charles would have wished.

your comments

Adrian Pilkington from Gisborne, New Zealand
Was it true that Charles Rolls disproved the theory that 'pigs couldn't fly' by taking two piglets for a ride in his aircraft?

Gilly Smith from Cardiff
Thank you for this information which I am sorry to say, I was not aware of before. It is fascinating to know we once had such an amazing pioneer living in South Wales who was so tragically killed at such an early age. Charles Rolls was a truly exceptional person, long live his memory!

Munn from Muswell Manor
More information and pictures of charles rolls on muswell was originaly called Mussel Manor the first aero club and where the Shorts built the worlds first factory and the Wright Brothers visited.

Vivienne Thomas, Monmouth Library
I've just returned from an event at the British Library where the bid we submitted for the digitisation of the Rolls family photographs narrowly missed winnning a "Turning the Pages" digitisation package. If anyone can point us to other funding for the unique resource to be made more widely available I'd be very grateful.

Kaleigh Flanagan
He was a good person and he loved his country.

Robert Ashley from Indiana
Charles was a great uncle of my grand mother, so I'm told. I know of a book written of my grandmother's family. Her name was Ada Liskey, Can anyone help to see his family tree?

(Editor's Note: You can reply to this by giving weblinks but no personal contact details)

Esther Samuels, Eastbourne
For many years my Uncle lived with Dorothy Rolls in Lancaster Gate, London. She was related to Mr Charles Rolls but I don't know what branch of the family. She never worked and lived off the money she got from the company.

Helen Rolls, Ipswich
Sounds like a very interesting man. I would love to know if we were related. Can anyone help on this matter?

Nick Ralls from Prinsted ,West Sussex,England
Kathy Smith should look at website might be of interest as rolls is a variant of ralls.

Alastair Carnegie
Charles Rolls was one of those "Magnificent Men" ,that he pranged his plane at an Airshow, was typical of the man. Poor Royce could not keep up with his partner....If a gearbox broke mid race, then it was faulty workmanship to blame, not the fact that Charles crashed the gearbox while careering downhill in neutral with the engine at Idle, and then engaged the clutch. They say an engineer can make something "Idiot Proof" but never "Farmer Proof" Charles I think had his feet on the ground, even when flying, and came from good farming stock, of the Genteel Variety. He was NO IDIOT!

mr p nesshead
I needed to write an essay on Charles Rolls and this site has been a real help thank you.

Ali Dixon, Plymouth, Devon
My great grandmother was Ellen Rolls-Vincent and it has always been said in the family that she was related to the Rolls family as in Rolls Royce. I am interested in your site and found out stuff that I never knew about Charles Rolls.

In answer to Chris Stewart's query I believe that last year there was rumour going around that the statue was to be demolished and replaced by a more modern statue celebrating Femininity in the 21st Century!!! Fortunately it proved to be a hoax. I can't remember whose 'brilliant' idea that was, but it worried a few people.

Chris Stewart
I heard there was an incident involving the statue last year. Do you know any more?

Kathy Smith from Cape Canaveral in Florida
I'm interested in my family tree and Rolls from England was my grandmother's maiden name. Related, I don't know, but was so very interested to read what your site had to offer. Charles sounded like a man that should have been in my life even if he wasn't. Thank you for sharing all the great information.

Monmouth Life

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