Here I am beside one of the biggest plaques I’ve saluted. It’s in the foyer of The Midland Hotel in Manchester and commemorates the meeting of Charles Rolls and Henry Royce which led to the formation of Rolls-Royce Limited in 1904. It was an unlikely partnership as they were rags and riches as follows:-
Rags : Henry Royce was from Peterborough in Cambridgeshire and started working aged 9, selling newspapers and working as a telegram boy. He was nuts about engineering and aged 14 began an apprenticeship with Great Northern Railway Works. He educated himself about mechanical engineering through the day and electrical engineering through the night. He set up his own business manufacturing doorbells and dynamos (he patented improvements to the bayonet light bulbs still used today.) He bought a second-hand French Decauville car and developed a desire for perfection. By 1903 he had designed and built his first petrol engine called “Royce”.
Riches : Charles Rolls was the son of Lord and Lady Llangattock and born in London and into money. He went to Eton and Cambridge University and was the first undergraduate to own a car. In 1903 he broke the world land speed record in Dublin driving at nearly 83mph (timing equipment was not approved so it was not officially acknowledged.) To fund his sporting activities he set up one of the first car dealerships in Britain called CS Rolls & Co.
These chalk-and-cheese chaps met here at The Midlands Hotel on Wednesday 4th May 1904. Though they came from opposite backgrounds they shared a passion to create the best car in the world (Rolls was 41, Royce was 26.) The company was formed and the first Rolls Royce car was built in Manchester. Henry drove it to his home in Knutsford in Cheshire and observed no faults.
It’s a smashing hotel and even though I’m quite scruffy I went inside to have a look. This beautiful Edwardian Baroque pile was built by the Midland Railway to serve as Manchester’s main hotel for rail-travellers. It took five years to build, cost £1 million (about £110 million now) and opened in 1903 taking over 70,000 guests in its first year. Manchester received only three bombing raids as it’s thought Adolph Hitler intended to use the hotel as the British Nazi headquarters. The Beatles were refused access to the restaurant for being "inappropriately dressed" (George wasn’t wearing a tie.) The Queen Mother stayed in November 1959 after attending a Royal Variety Performance at The Palace Theatre and Winston Churchill often stayed here. When he visited to give a speech at the neighbouring Free Trade Hall he said he couldn’t speak on an empty stomach and consumed 16 oysters and a bottle of champagne to “put him on” until the evening meal. After the speech he ate six courses until 3am. Princess Anne stayed once. She held a door open for a maid who said cheerfully, “Thanks, love!” Princess Anne was more amused than angered. A concert hall used to be one this site and Chopin was slow hand-clapped.
These days this fancy pile of bricks is owned by QHotels (formerly Quintessential Hotels) and it has 312 en-suite bedrooms, 14 suites, a health club and two restaurants. Too rich for my blood. I soon got out of there.
There’s the plaque to the right of the woman’s head…