Rolls-Royce is Manchester’s most famous motor manufacturer. Although situated in Derby from around 1907, the first Royce cars were built in Hulme, in the firm’s Cooke Street works, where their reputation was established. The meeting between Charles Rolls and Fredrick Royce took place in the newly built Midland Hotel in 1903. Although brief, 5 0r so years of manufacture in Manchester certainly left its mark.
Hulme has changed beyond recognition since the Rolls-Royce factory was there, with two major redevelopments in the 1970s and 1990s. Despite this, there is still evidence of the association of Rolls-Royce. Roads are named after the pair: Rolls Cresent and Royce Road, and a local primary school is also named after Rolls. There is also a commemorative sculptural plaque pictured below. It is displayed in the forecourt of the Midland Hotel and celebrates the Manchester beginnings of the firm. Finally, one of the first Rolls-Royce cars made is on display at the Museum of Science and Industry.
Although fairly modest these physical remembrances are coupled with a wealth of research on the firm that is unrivalled, a testament to the great enthusiasm for the firm’s history among many motoring historians. There are dedicated publications such as The Roycean, “annual journal for those with a serious interest in all aspects of the illustrious Rolls-Royce car company”; The Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust Historical Series, a collection of numerous works on the firm; the Rolls-Royce Motor Journal Series. Rolls-Royce also have a very extensive collection of associated archive material, both at the Rolls-Royce Heritage trust and the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club. There are also dedicated publications to Rolls-Royce’s time in Manchester, foremost of which is M. Evans, In the Beginning – the Manchester origins of Rolls-Royce, and a number of detailed publications by Tom Clarke, editor of The Roycean.
It is easy to get swept up in the myriad of publications on Rolls-Royce, however in terms of Rolls-Royce’s time, and its size in Manchester, the firm’s significance is relatively small, perhaps even over emphasized due to the influence of the wealth of material relating to the firm. So far I have discovered around 140 manufacturers of motor vehicles in Manchester, most of which have only a few sources, no surviving vehicles and no published research.
A typical example include, Albert Jones (see advertisement above) situated in nearby Moss Side, “Maker of the World-renowned “Albert” motor bicycles.” A hyperbolic claim, yet this advert is the only significant source I have so far discovered for this small manufacturer.
The story of why Rolls-Royce became one of Britain’s most successful firms is well documented, I am more interested therefore, in the motivations and experiences of the myriad of hidden, numerous, and less successful contemporaries. Despite this it is important to note the continued presence of Rolls-Royce to the place where it began.