Where Rolls Met Royce - Atlas Obscura

Where Rolls Met Royce

The Midland Hotel

Two of the most notable names in automobile history are commemorated at the place where they're said to have first met. 


The Midland Hotel is among Manchester’s most notable hotels. The elaborately decorated late-Victorian building was constructed between 1898 and 1903 near Manchester Central Station for the Midlands Railway Company, and when it opened, it was Manchester’s sole grand railway hotel. The hotel has been known to host many important visitors. However, the hotel has made a point of honoring two individuals who first met in Manchester: Charles Steward Rolls and Henry Royce.

Charles Steward Rolls was born into a wealthy aristocratic family in London in 1877. Growing up, Rolls developed an interest in automobiles. He studied mechanical engineering at Cambridge University and is credited as the first graduate of Cambridge University to own a motor car. In the early 1900s, Rolls set up one of the first car dealerships in Britain with a friend named Claude Johnson. They sold imported cars, but Rolls wanted to sell British cars.

Henry Royce was born into a working-class family in 1863 in Peterborough, England. He started working at the age of nine, and by 14 he became an apprentice with the Great Northern Railway Works, where he began teaching himself engineering. Royce changed jobs several times before 1884, when he set up a business with Ernest Claremont in a factory south of Manchester’s city center. The business initially made dynamos and electrically operated cranes, but after seeing motors cars while on a holiday abroad, Royce decided to experiment with building automobiles.

Henry Edmunds was a friend of Charles Rolls and a business acquaintance of Henry Royce, and he suggested that the two should meet. According to the oft-told story, the three men met for lunch on May 4, 1904, in the Midland Hotel. Afterward, Royce showed Rolls one of the cars he had made. Rolls started selling Royce’s cars, which he began branding as “Rolls-Royce.” Rolls’ business and Royce’s automobile manufacturing business formally merged in 1906.

Today, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars (now owned by BMW) is renowned for its luxury automobiles, but enthusiasts still recognize the importance of the fateful meeting between Charles Rolls and Henry Royce. Though the actual location of their meeting has been disputed. According to Ed Glinert’s investigation of the claim in I Love Manchester, there are no records that prove that this meeting happened at the Midland. “Neither Edmunds, Rolls or Royce ever mentioned the Midland Hotel,” he writes. “It’s very unlikely they met there and very likely they met somewhere else in Manchester.”

Though the truth of the story is in question, that hasn’t stopped the Midland from celebrating its alleged role in automotive history. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars placed a small plaque at the location, and the hotel itself installed a commemorative terracotta sculpture on the wall of the alcove just outside the front entrance. It depicts Charles Rolls, Henry Royce, and one of their early automobiles.

Know Before You Go

The Midland Hotel is located in the center of Manchester and can easily be reached on foot, by car (including by a Rolls-Royce automobile), or by public transport. The larger commemorative terracotta sculpture is on the west wall of the alcove leading to the front entrance. The smaller commemorative plaque is inside the front entrance. Several special events related to Rolls-Royce have been held at the hotel over the years, so it is potentially a good place to see a vintage Rolls-Royce. Additionally, the nearby Science and Industry Museum has a 1905 Rolls-Royce on display.

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