Saturday, 11 March 2017

Hon Charles Stewart Rolls

In my fourth Edwardian Cosy Mystery, my heroine Flora, is taken ballooning by her father who introduces her to a fascinating young man who lived a fast and adventurous life which was to be cut short tragically soon.
Charles Stewart Rolls was an archetypal upper class young man whose name most people have heard of but about whom we know very little, and yet his name graces the radiators of some of the most exclusive cars in the world.

Born in 1877, the Hon Charles Stewart Rolls was an impressive 6ft 5ins tall, handsome and from a wealthy family, the third son of John Allan Rolls, 1st Baron Llangattock, an Army officer, Justice of the Peace and High Sheriff of Monmouthshire. Their country home was The Hendre, [Welsh for Winter Dwelling or main house] near Monmouth.

His eldest brother, John Maclean Rolls was destined to be the 2nd Baron Llangattock but died of wounds received at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The second son, Henry Allen Rolls, was a Lieutenant in the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia) who was wounded in WWI and died in 1916. A daughter, Eleanor Georgiana Rolls married Sir John Edward Shelley, the sixth Baronet Shelley and died in 1961.

Fascinated with engines and electronics, he installed a dynamo at The Hendre while in his teens, and wired part of the house before entering Trinity College, Cambridge. At 18, Charles went to Paris, where, with his father's assistance he bought a 3 3/4 hp Peugeot Paris-Bordeaux Phaeton for £225 - the first ever car based in Cambridge and one of the most powerful available at the time. When he took the 140mile trip home to Monmouth in his new motor car, the townspeople waited two days and nights to catch a glimpse of him as he drove over Monnow Bridge - only the third car owned in Wales.
Charles left university in 1898 with a degree in Mechanism and Applied Science, earning the nicknames "Dirty Rolls" and "Petrolls" because of his love of messing with engines. He worked on his father’s  steam yacht ‘Santa Maria’, after which he obtained a third engineer's (marine) certificate. He worked at the London and North Western Railway at their main locomotive engineering workshops.

In 1896, he joined and a group of auto enthusiasts, and campaigned against the 4mph speed limit, helping it's increase to 12 mph. A founding member of the Automobile Club of Great Britain in 1897 where he served until his death, Rolls was an enthusiastic racing driver. His first race was in France in 1899, finishing fourth in his class, driving an 8hp Panhard and Levassor.

Despite the inaugural London to Brighton Run in November 1896 there were still few automotive vehicles on the roads of Britain, so in 1900, Lord Northcliffe organised a ‘Reliability Run' over 1,000 miles from London to Edinburgh and back. This was intended to show detractors of the ‘horseless-carriage’ that the internal combustion engine could replace horse power.

Run on bumpy, unmade roads with no signposts and in open cars whatever the weather, no windscreen, the drivers wore 'autocoats', hats and goggles. Charles drove his Panhard Levassor and won the gold medal for best car in any class. Frank Hedges Butler, wine merchant and 1st hon. Treasurer of the RAC, took part, accompanied by his daughter, Vera, who became Charles Roll’s girlfriend. In 1902, the pair were on a drive when they collided with a horse-drawn trap in traffic from the Barnet Fair.
That same year, Charles started one of the first car dealerships in Britain. With £6,600 of financial backing provided by his father, C.S. Rolls and Co imported high-class French Peugeot and Belgian Minerva cars which they sold  through their ‘showroom’ premises in Fulham, London.

In June 1902, Charles entered the  Paris-Vienna three-day race covering 990km - legendary as being one of the toughest because it included the Arlberg Pass, a 6000ft climb up a wagon road, crossed by drainage ditches; and a dangerous decent which burnt out brakes and caused more than a dozen accidents.

In February 1903 Rolls competed in the fateful Paris to Madrid town-to-town race which claimed the lives of thirty-four drivers and spectators. He held the unofficial land speed record in 1903 piloting his 80hp Mors, a French car which he imported and distributed, to nearly 83 mph along the course in the Duke of Portland’s Clipstone Park.

After a slow start, Rolls’ business was doing well and he opened a showroom in Brook Street, West London and wrote for ‘Car Illustrated’, owned by a friend.

In May 1903, Charles entered the 800 mile race from Paris to Madrid in May which was intended to be a triumph of speed but ended at Bordeaux in chaos and disaster. 
Despite starting the faster vehicles first, the disparity of speeds meant there was over-taking on the road. Due to a lack of rain, the first cars raised huge clouds of dust which hampered the vision of following drivers as well as the crowd, some of whom strayed onto the roads trying to get a better view of the oncoming cars and several were run down.

On 4 May 1904, Charles met Frederick Henry Royce at the Midland Hotel in Manchester to discuss selling Royce motor cars. Royce was fifteen years older and had worked hard all his life, unlike the wealthy Charles, though despite this they became friends. Royce wanted to build the best cars, Charles wanted to sell the best, and both wanted them to be British.

Legend has it that when Royce showed Charles his motor car, he climbed aboard and asked Royce to go ahead and start her up, Royce replied, “My dear fellow, she’s already running!”  Charles borrowed one of Royce’s cars for his return journey to London; where he announced he had:-“...found the greatest motor engineer in the world”.

Thus Rolls-Royce was born; the first cars offered to the public in December 1904, with Charles as Technical Director. 
In 1906 Rolls won the Tourist Trophy and also broke the Monte Carlo-to-London record. When the staff at the Rolls-Royce plant in Derby heard the news, they hoisted Henry Royce aloft in triumph. That same year, Rolls exhibited Rolls-Royce cars at the New York Motor Show and was introduced to the Wright Brothers.


Charles’ first ascent aboard a balloon, was on the ‘Wulfruna’  in 1896 on a sixteen mile flight from Crystal Palace to Epping Forest.

Charles Rolls and Vera Hedges Butler
In 1901, Vera Hedges Butler had arranged a trip for her father, Frank,but before they were due to set out, Vera’s Renault 4.5 caught fire and the trip was cancelled. Instead, Charles suggested a trip with their friend Stanley Spencer in Spencer’s balloon, ‘City of New York’. They took off from Crystal Palace and whilst sipping champagne over Sidcup, Kent, discussed starting an Aero Club along the lines of the Royal Automobile Club, but allowing women as equal members. They leased a clubhouse at 119 Piccadilly, which it retained until 1961 and in 1910 became the Royal Aero Club.

Every weekend, weather permitting, he and his friends, and his girlfriend, Vera, could be seen at The Hurlingham Club at Ranelagh, or the Crystal Palace to ascend in balloons.

The Club membership quickly grew to nearly three hundred, The Hon. Lady Shelley – Charles Roll’s sister, Eleanor, was a member as well as being a keen motorist. The club owned three balloons where trips were charged at two guineas each. Races, contests, and exhibitions of aeronautic subjects and machines were held in the Club grounds.

Charles’ friend, Leslie Bucknall, invented a sport where balloons were chased by motor cars; originally intended to show the military that dispatches could be moved more quickly by balloon.
 Charles made over 170 balloon ascents and in 1903 won the Gordon Bennett Gold Medal for the longest single flight time and held the record for the Paris to Berlin flight.

His interest turned from balloons to powered flight, and in April 1910, he purchased the French Wright with a Wright Bariquand engine - not Rolls-Royce powered because Royce was yet to design a Rolls-Royce aero engine.

Together with the Wright brothers in America and the Short brothers, balloon makers to the Club, Charles acquired a Wright license for the first aircraft production line in the world at Leysdown and later at nearby Eastchurch.

From 1910 the Royal Aero Club, issued Aviators Certificates, Charles Rolls was issued with Certificate No 1. The Club trained most military pilots up to 1915, when military schools took over.

On June 2nd, 1910, Rolls flew his Wright biplane across the English Channel to France, was spotted over French territory without permission, and returned to England without landing. The trip was the third Channel crossing by air, Bleriot having made the first, and Jacques de Lesseps the second. Charles became the first man to fly non-stop across the English Channel both ways.

On the 12 July 1910, around twenty of the world’s most famous aviators travelled to Hengistbury Head, at Christchurch, Dorset which attracted approximately 2,000 visitors.

With a gusting wing speed of 20 to 25 mph, Charles came in to land. He shut off his engine, intending to glide in a broad circle down onto the target spot. He saw he would undershoot, so pulled back the controls to lift the nose and began a turn, when a stiff wind hit his plane beam-on. The 
two rear rudders broke loose from the tail plane which bent upwards, crumpled and snapped off. The tail boom broke away and the plane overturned and nose-dived into the ground.

Although Rolls fell only 20 feet, he fractured his skull, and died in the arms of a distraught friend, US colonel and aviator Sam Cody.

He was 32 years old

Charles was Britain`s first aircraft fatality in a powered aircraft, and the eleventh internationally. Lord Montague of Beaulieu interrupted his speech in the House of Lords to announce his death. Charles was buried at St. Cadoc's Church on 16 July 1910. He had a philosophical outlook towards the danger he courted, saying:

“All good engineering calls for casualties—so why not?”

As a symbol of mourning, the intertwined “RR” logo on the Rolls-Royce radiator plate was changed from red to black and his name retained as a mark of respect.



Monday, 6 March 2017

Review-Murder at Merisham Lodge by Celina Grace

Not only do I write cosy mysteries, I love curling up with one because, being empathetic, I know there won't be any nasty gory details to give me nightmares. Here is another I recently came across and to make it even more attractive, it's an historical one.

Book Blurb

A mansion, a title and marriage to a wealthy Lord – Lady Eveline Cartwright has it all. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to prevent her being bludgeoned to death one night in the study of Merisham Lodge, the family’s country estate in Derbyshire. 

Suspicion quickly falls on her ne’er-do-well son, Peter, but not everyone in the household is convinced of his guilt. Head kitchen maid Joan Hart and lady’s maid, Verity Hunter, know that when it comes to a crime, all is not always as it seems. 

With suspicions and motives thick on the ground, Joan and Verity must use all the wit and courage they possess to expose a deadly murderer who will stop at nothing to achieve their aim…

Murder at Merisham Lodge is the first in a new series of historical mysteries, Miss Hart and Miss Hunter Investigate, set in the 1930s. The author, Celina Grace, is the creator of the bestselling The Kate Redman Mysteries and The Asharton Manor Mysteries, as well as several standalone thrillers.


A delightful cosy mystery written in first person from the point of view of Joan Hart, which gave a charming and informative insight into the life of a kitchen maid in a large house in 1930. When the lady of the house is murdered and her son is arrested, Joan and her best friend Verity think something is wrong. They start to ask questions and watch the activities of those in the house, hampered by the fact their time isn’t their own and have to work around the demands of their employers and their superiors in the servants hall.

Despite these restrictions, and Joan’s natural insecurity where dealing with Inspector Marks, the policeman in charge of the case, the two women set about proving who really did bash lady Eveline’s head in. Their motive being natural curiosity and a sense of justice rather than self-interest, other than keeping their jobs if the family are all killed or jailed.

How the upstairs family regard the downstairs staff is well illustrated, as well as just how demanding  working as a servant must have been after WWI at a time when so many country houses had to reduce their staff numbers for the sake of economy; a trend that was to worsen with the coming of WWII. There is a scene where Joan works all day to produce a complicated meal which the family don’t even eat - I could feel her frustration at her wasted labour.

I really liked Joan, who had more nous than she gave herself credit for, and Verity was the delightful, more daring one of the two who wasn’t verse to helping herself to the brandy when the need arose.
I look forward to reading more of Joan and Verity’s adventures.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

A Knghtsbridge Scandal



1903 London is bustling and glamorous. With troubling secrets simmering and worrying signs of war Flora Maguire must solve a deadly mystery which leads right to the heart of the corridors of power.

Flora Maguire has escaped the country to enjoy some time in fashionable Knightsbridge, London. Extravagant shops, exuberant theatres and decadent restaurants mean 1903's London is a thrilling adventure, but there are dark secrets threatening from the continent.

When the body of a London socialite, and leading light of the burgeoning women’s movement, is found outside The Grenadier public house, Flora can’t resist investigating.

Mysterious letters are discovered in the victim’s belongings, strange links to the foreign office and why do the clues keep coming back to the assassination of a Baltic king?

As Flora closes in on the killer, it soon becomes clear she is no longer safe in London, but will her husband Bunny be able to get to her before it’s too late?

Available for Pre Order on Kindle