IT was exactly 120 years ago this weekend when Monmouthshire’s Charles Stewart Rolls first met Henry Royce and motoring history was made.

But the world famous brand they created may never have existed without the input of the man who arranged that first historic encounter.

Charles Stewart Rolls driving the future King Edward VII at The Hendre. Photo: National Archives
Charles Stewart Rolls driving the future King Edward VII at The Hendre. Photo: National Archives (National Archives)

Henry Edmunds was born in 1853, in Halifax, and his engineer and iron merchant father gave him an informal apprenticeship, from which he developed a passion for the then-new world of electricity. 

Having befriended Joseph Swan (inventor of the lightbulb) he became a salesman for Swan Lamps . He was also friends with Thomas Edison and was at both the first successful sound recording and phone call.

In 1886, Edmunds became a partner in electrical cable-makers WT Glover & Co in Manchester.

The company’s fortunes were transformed with the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894 – and, more specifically, the docks and the world’s first dedicated industrial estate, Trafford Park.

Henry Edmunds
Henry Edmunds (Rolls Royce) (Rolls Royce)

Glover’s won the contract to supply the cabling for the vast arc-lighting system, which was designed and manufactured by another Manchester company, FH Royce & Co, owned by Henry Royce and the two men became business associates and close friends.

In 1899, Edmunds joined the Automobile Club of Great Britain & Ireland (later the RAC).and applied his inventive mind to the infant technology’s myriad challenges and possibilities.

The following year he entered the 1,000 Mile Trial from London to Edinburgh alongside The Hon Charles Stewart Rolls from the Hendre near Monmouth, with whom he became friends.

By 1904, Edmunds had taken a business interest in  a company making ‘chains’ that fitted to car tyres. They entered a competition, the Slide Slip Trials, but at the last minute found themselves without a suitable car. 

Edmunds asked Royce if they could use his first 10 HP car. Royce agreed and the car was hastily sent by train to London, where Edmunds drove it successfully in the 1,000-mile event. 

Edmunds was enormously impressed by the 10 H.P, and also knew Rolls was looking for a high-quality British-made car to sell in his thriving London dealership.

And he earned his place in history when, on May 4, 1904, at The Midland Hotel in Manchester, he announced: “Henry, may I introduce Charles Rolls”.