01 April 2023
Sir Henry Royce And His 160-Year Legacy

You might not be familiar with his name, but you would definitely recognise the cars and brand which Sir Henry Royce founded and propelled to stardom.

Sir Henry Royce might be known to some as a quiet but hardworking man, but to others, he is the embodiment of the world-famous Rolls-Royce company. Even after 160 years, and long after his passing, his philosophy still rings true to this day “Seek for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists and make it better”.

Who knows what he may be thinking right now, gazing over the world below in confusion as electric cars and hybrids now rule the world. But, let’s take a moment to honour his legacy.

Humble beginnings

Born in 1863 and being the youngest of the family, Henry soon had to fend for himself due to the bankruptcy of his father, who was eventually sentenced to prison. At the age of 10, he began working on the streets of London, first as a newspaper seller and then as a telegram messenger.

In 1879, thanks to the support of his aunt, he began an apprenticeship at the Great Northern Works Railway (GNR) at Peterborough. His aptitude for design was honed here, as well as an innate ability to be versatile with any tools and materials. 

A spark was born

After spending another 3 years working for the Electric Lighting & Power Generating Company, the now 21-year-old Henry Royce wanted to set up his own company. In 1884, he founded the Manchester F. H. Royce & Co. This small startup Initially focused on small items such as battery-powered doorbells, but soon transitioned to heavy equipment such as overhead cranes and shunting winches.

The business was booming, but Henry Royce’s health wasn’t. In a bid to take an extended break, he embarked on a 10-week vacation to South Africa to meet his wife’s family. On the long journey home, he stumbled upon a book titled “The Automobile, its construction and management”. The rest, as we like to say, is history.

His first car was a lemon

Back in the United Kingdom, Henry Royce immediately bought his first car, a frankly crap 10 bhp Decauville. However, this was exactly what he wanted, as the car allegedly was so badly made it gave Henry Royce the inspiration that he could do much better.

The Decauville was the perfect car to dismantle: “Taking the best and making it better”, to be precise. This then led to a few new cars entirely based on the Decauville. After all, his mantra was “erase, alter, improve, perfect” and that constant evolutionary process led to some of his greatest engineering achievements.

It wasn’t just cars either. In 1927, a sleepy old aircraft engine with an initial output of 825 bhp was transformed in just four years into the Schneider Trophy-winning “R” engine which, in its final form, was capable of producing 2,783 bhp. Taking inspiration from it, the V12 variant of it was later married into the 1936 Phantom III, three years after Henry Royce’s death. 

Today, his legacy lives on, in some of the best cars ever built for the roads. These cars, like him, pushed boundaries and constantly challenge the mantra of being exceedingly excellent.

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