Matters of moment, July 1980

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The Sir Henry Royce Memorial Foundation 

 “The Battle of Waterloo may or may not have been won on the playing fields of Eton, but the Battle of Britain was certainly decided over Calshot Water” – Motor Sport 1944. 

It is gratifying that motoring history is being properly recognised in this age when so many of us enjoy the benefit from living in the past, especially when such interest centres round restoring and running historic motor vehicles. The Veteran Car Club of Great Britain has its Club headquarters at Jessamine House, Ashwell, Herts, where its Library is housed. The Bentley DC has its Museum and Headquarters in The WO Bentley Memorial Building at Long Crendon, Bucks. Now the Rolls-Royce EC has combined with the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Foundation to open Headquarters and a Museum in The Hunt House at Paulerspury in Northants, where the Rt Hon The Lord Hives performed the opening ceremony on May 18th.

The R-R EC, founded in 1957, now has a membership of over 4,800 enthusiasts dedicated to the memory of the Hon CS Rolls and Sir Henry Royce and the products that sprang from that unusual but effective partnership of 1905. It is a remarkable institution, being, for instance, the only Motor Club to have had the honour of being reviewed by a reigning Monarch in a Royal Palace, when HRH Queen Elizabeth took the salute at a drive-past of some 400 pre-war Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars at Windsor Castle in 1977, and last year it organised the greatest assembly of one-make products ever held by a single Motor Club (in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum) when the Battle of Britain Commemoration Day was remembered at Duxford by the presence, before a large number of spectators whose payments went to charities, of every Rolls-Royce-powered land and air vehicle made by that famous British Company since its inception, some 500 Rolls-Royce and Bentley being there. WB’s couplet at the head of this Editorial signifies how much we owe to Sir Henry Royce and the Rolls-Royce Company, because from the R-type racing Rolls-Royce aeroplane engine designed and built to win the last Schneider Trophy seaplane race stemmed the R-R Merlin aero-engines that gained for us victory in The Battle of Britain …. 

Now the R-R EC is closely linked with the Rolls-Royce Memorial Foundation, which has been promoted to provide a safe home for all existing archival material of the Rolls-Royce Motors and Aero Company since its formation in 1906, to constitute a centre for artefacts and knowledge pertaining to all Rolls-Royce matters, and to encourage and assist modern engineering techniques and teaching in the manner that Sir Henry Royce pioneered. To this end the Foundation intends to research for the first time the masses of newly-available material relating to R-R history, promote lectures, seminars, technical meetings and forums, even maybe to institute Foundation scholarships (in the Tradition of Royce’s motto “Quidvis Recte Factum, Quamvis Humiale Praeclarum” of course!), and definitely to display properly at The Hunt House not only the valuable material already donated by the Rolls-Royce Company but to gather in the vast wealth of dispersed R-R items now in museums, commercial organisations and private hands. Of these aims, a comprehensive Library and research facilities for authors and others ranks high and eventually a high-class workshop is visualised. If all this is a far cry from the former simple days when old cars were run by a few enthusiasts for the fun of the thing, we can only say that the clock cannot be put back …. 

Thus, last May, we were invited to the opening of the Foundation at The Hunt House, purchased in 1978 for this purpose, a mid-1800s listed building built originally as the Headquarters of the Grafton Hunt. After lunch for the VIPs at the Wicken Country Club (well-known to Silverstone habituees and where Geoff Duke used to stay), at which we met R-R EC executives, Stanley Sedgwick, President of the BDC, who came in a Silver Shadow, Dennis Miller-Williams, the R-R PRO, also in a Shadow, and Stanley Sears, on holiday from Portugal and touring Britain in a little Honda, among many others, we went in convoy along country lanes well sign-posted by the R-R EC, to Paulerspury, where we were allowed to park in the school playground and the big concourse of visitors’ Rolls-Royces was accommodated on the playing-field. (Being without a Rolls, Motor Sport used an open VW Golf Karmann, perhaps to be excused at this illustrious gathering as the “Rolls-Royce of small cars”?) Rolls-Royce Motors Ltd, by the way, generously provided the refreshments, at a big marquee in the yard of The Hunt House, licensed for the occasion. After introductory speeches by Lt-Col EB Barrass, OBE, the Club’s energetic Secretary, John Schroder, Chairman of the Trustees of the Royce Foundation, and Roy Brooks, Chairman of the R-R EC, the opening of the Foundation building was performed by Lord Hives. He is the surviving son of Hs, the famous Lord Hives, Companion of Honour, DSc, who worked briefly with Rolls in 1903 and joined the Company as a tester in 1908. He did the London-Edinburgh top-gear run and drove the 101 mph London-Edinburgh Rolls-Royce at Brooklands in 1911 and he was on one of the R-R team-cars in the 1913 Alpine Trial. Hives then had a great deal to do with aero-engine design and development during WW1 and continued this work until Royce’s death in 1933, when he became in effect the Rolls-Royce Company’s Chief Engineer. Incidentally, his work just after the Armistice had included, we are told by the R-R EC’s recently appointed National Press Officer, Malcolm Tucker, testing to destruction a Hispano Suiza, to establish comparisons with the· post-war 40/50 hp Rolls-Royce -we feel sure that the Hispano Suiza Clubs will want to learn more of this, even if they have to join the R-R EC or make a substantial donation to the Royce Foundation to obtain !he information! It is presumably in the now-legendary “Royce Bible”.

Lord Hives or Hs as he was called in the Company, later did the groundwork that led to the introduction of the 3½-litre Derby-built Bentley and he led the team that was responsible for the R-type R-R racing aero-engines aforesaid, so that the words he wrote for the stained-glass window at Derby which was created in memory of the RAF fighter-pilots who were killed in the Battle of Britain, have an especial significance: “This window commemorates the pilots of the Royal Air Force who turned the work of our hands into the salvation of our country”. In 1947 Hives was appointed Managing Director of Rolls-Royce Ltd, and his death in 1965 at the age of 79 brought to an end an era which has left an indelible stamp upon this great Company which continues to inspire its policy. So it was entirely appropriate that his son, the present Lord Hives,  consented to “cut the tape” on his father’s behalf on May 18th.

In his speech Lord Hives said he remembered the excitement of going with his father on a test chassis and of the mimosa at Royce’s house at Le Canadel, hence its name, and of how Royce would send great boxes of mimosa to his mother, and butter and fruit from his other home at West Wittering. Royce would like to walk down to the harbour at Le Canadel and his knowledge of the boats there was profound -you could see the pebbles the water was so clear, “but I don’t suppose it is now” remarked His Lordship. He recalled the prototype Rolls-Royce Twenty refusing to stay in top gear and when they tried to stop the lever jumping out of gear it jammed and wouldn’t move -but Royce sent a telegram from Le Canadel which cured the trouble immediately. (Someone whispered “Perhaps he told them to oil it”) He told of how his father was delivering an early Rolls-Royce to a customer when it broke down in Covent Garden Market and the porters, who had probably never seen a motor before, pelted Lord Hives with rotten fruit. However, he got going again and the customer paid for his car in sovereigns, so many that Hives had to hide them in his clothing and even in his boots. Hives’ son said his father was an impatient man, given to grinding his teeth; a very determined person, of whom it was said that when his other son was shot down Hitler had already lost the war … ! Lord Hives congratulated the Club on fostering the formation of the Foundation in the right way at the right time, and he went on to say that we have a lamentably small number of trainee engineers and how vitally important people and their separate characters are to any enterprise -it is the management, the engineers and the workforce that are so important to the success of any company. His father was on the shop floor, talking with his shop-stewards, until shortly before his death. Lord Hives, who is a farmer, said that he had been terribly proud to have been invited to Duxford and he was delighted to have been asked on behalf of his father to declare open this unique Royce Memorial Foundation. 

So this typically British occasion unfolded, in the sunshine under a cloudless sky, at the pleasant Northampton village with its two registered village greens, as a big assembly of R-R enthusiasts stood by to toast this latest venture so important to followers of the Royce tradition. The champagne corks popped (Eric Barass told us the Welsh Section of the Club was entrusted with opening the bottles, as they are Methodist), the crowds moved round the carefully-chosen cars in The Hunt House yard, and Lord Hives was presented with the three-volume Rolls-Royce history by Ian Lloyd, and Lady Hives with a bouquet. Before Lord Hives cut-the-tape there were brief speeches by Bob Barrymore on behalf of the R-R OC of America, Bruce Ross representing the R-R OC of Australia and the R-R EC’s President, Mr Edward Harris, whose idea the Club was and who must be pretty astonished at what has happened since. Bound volumes of the Overseas’ magazines changed hands and from Australia an enormous cardboard cheque of 2,000 Australian-dollars. Then it was time to look at the exhibits in The Hunt House, led by Rolls-Royce ex-employees. First, however, those immaculate cars lined-up before the yard outbuildings. There was a 1901 two-cylinder Decauville similar to the one that started it all, an open Derby-Bentley, a fine pre-1914 40/50 Rolls-Royce two-seater, a closed 1911 Ghost, a delightful Twenty tourer, even a Ghost engine …. 

The Foundation, for which some £124,000 has been raised already, the target now. being £200,000, is not yet quite ready for daily visitors, so the time is not ripe for a detailed description of what treasures it contains. So in a very quick tour of The Hunt House we just noted things at random. In the Reception area there was every sort of model Rolls-Royce, from scale miniatures to “Lady Penelope’s” six-wheeler and other comic Rolls-Royces. That alone must still be making many model-enthusiasts’ mouths water. We spotted big displays of historic documents, Royce’s personal workshop vice, the overmantel from Claude Johnson’s office, the little model of a R-R cylinder block and crankshaft used to illustrate Henry Grylls’ memorable lecture on “The History of a Dimension”, a sectioned 40/50 hp engine, the 2½-litre oh-camshaft experimental “Peregrin” engine with 3-speed gearbox and rh gear lever. There were test meters from the Derby works, a Silver Ghost engine in a showcase, from Jack Barclay Services Ltd: (it was labelled this, although purists know there was but one Silver Ghost, which, oddly, we did not see on May 18th), a sectioned 20/25 hp R-R engine donated by Fred and Bill Cooke (will it make those short of spares weep?), a display of R-R tools, backed up by coachbuilders’ tools, Royce’s drawing-board and some engineering drawings he completed just before he died, and a big portrait of John de Looze to commemorate his retirement in 1943. There was a picture display of Salmons’ bodywork as applied to Rolls-Royce chassis, with Mr Petts from the present Company in attendance to answer queries, and of course every sort of R-R photograph, from the old days to recent rallies (one noticed that Hay’s Bentley at Le Mans was not forgotten), the 1913 and 1914 Alpine Trial Cups, displays of differing R-R badges, mascots and coachbuilders’ plates, etc., and a vast assortment of WW1 aviation material, etc. 

The building is on three floors. The ground floor contains the Library, storage rooms, mechanical display areas and the Foundation’s Board-Room. The R-R EC has leased from the Foundation a suite of offices on the first floor, on which there is also a large Conference Room. The second floor is devoted to the Museum and Exhibition displays, divided into four rooms, for exhibits appertaining to Rolls-Royce beginnings up to 1920, the period 1921-40, from 1941 to the present, with the fourth room devoted to aeronautical items. Chassis cards, drawings and original parts and castings will be of very great value to researchers. 

It should be emphasised that although the R-R EC is separate from the Foundation, it shares completely in its ideals and long-term planning, and the day-to-day administration of the Club will be done from the Foundation building. The Foundation is a Charitable Trust supported by voluntary contributions and it presumably hopes to raise some finance itself, from its shop and its future functions. The venture is most impressive· and very praiseworthy. 

Of course, Rolls-Royce ceased to race officially after the 1906 TT and those who advocate more sporting makes, such as Bugatti, WO Bentley and Alfa Romeo, etc, may feel, after a visit to Paulerspury, that all motor cars are much alike when broken down to their component parts and that some of the more exciting complete Rolls-Royce cars and the aero-engines are needed at The Hunt House, to liven things up. On the other hand, Rolls-Royce is so much a part of Britain’s heritage that proper recognition and safeguarding of its history is long overdue and the large number of Rolls-Royce cars that has survived, many of which are used frequently, underlines the great interest that exists in the aims and the work of the Royce Memorial Foundation. Apart from the historic documentation and the indoor exhibits, the environs of The Hunt House provide scope for such later “extras” as maintenance workshops, a vehicles’ museum and workshop, car-parks, a cinema, and even accommodation for a resident Caretaker/Curator. When the Foundation is in full working order Motor Sport will no doubt take another look, at what will be Rolls-Royce history as never before so comprehensively laid out. 

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