In contrast to Rolls, who had had a privileged upbringing, Henry Royce was working by the age of nine. Born in 1863 in Peterborough, England, Royce sold newspapers and worked as a telegram boy before his fortunes changed.
At 14 years old, one of Royce’s aunts paid for him to begin an apprenticeship with Great Northern Railway Works. Working under one of the outstanding engineers of the day, Royce took every opportunity to educate himself, spending his evenings studying algebra, French and electrical engineering. With a natural talent for engineering, Royce landed a job with the Electric Light and Power Company.
Royce’s true ambition was to make engineering his full-time job. He started a business with his fellow engineer friend, Ernest Claremont – working around the clock to make electrical components such as doorbells and dynamos. It was during this time that Royce patented improvements to the bayonet light bulb that are still in use today.
It wasn’t until he bought a second-hand two-cylinder French Decauville that Royce became interested in building motor cars. He had an instinctive desire for perfection and an innate work ethic that later became a pillar of Rolls-Royce philosophy: “Take the best that exists and make it better.”
Having found construction faults in the French Decauville, Royce vowed to do better. By the end of 1903, he had designed and built his first petrol engine – and in April 1904, he drove his first Royce 10hp motor car into town.