The Hon. C S Rolls Albums

By Tom Clarke

The Hon. C. S. Rolls Albums. 3 compact discs. Published by the Royal Aero Club Trust, 2006.  [Please contact us for more details.]

Rolls was one of the founders of the Aero Club in 1901 (given Royal patronage in (1910) when he was beginning his tentative experiments in fixed-wing flight but ballooning was the only viable air travel at this time. The Club today is still responsible for aeronautical sport in Britain much as the R.A.C. oversees motor sport. So it is entirely appropriate that the Royal Aero Club should begin the digitisation of its vast archive with the three Rolls albums donated by the family after the great man’s early death.

With approximately 270 pages on the discs (showing hundreds of images) the albums cover far more than Rolls’s aeronautical forays. In fact they begin with the early 19th century drawings he used for his lectures on the history of transportation – steam road carriages, adventurous women on hobby horses and 3-wheel treadle ‘cycles’, fantastic air machines of all sorts. These were the forms of transport that captured Rolls’s imagination from childhood.

The albums are not entirely chronological and clearly were added to, or created, by Rolls’s family from his remaining papers and memorabilia. But what wonderful and evocative material it is. All his early school and university events, motoring invitations from 1896 onwards, membership cards, licences, event programmes, banquet menus, and humorous postcards from Brabazon and others. The feast continues with his mature years - photographs with the Wright brothers (plus rare colour postcards of their machines) and Hawley of the American Aero Club, Rolls on French dirigibles, at aviation meetings, his planes and gliders, ballooning parties on the family estate and elsewhere, and early aerial views of London and Paris. One of the smallest items turns out to be of the greatest interest, a 4-page booklet prepared in January 1909 for the directors of Rolls-Royce detailing the financial position after the flotation, profits each year, and production figures for 1905-8.

The final album ends with telegrams to Lord and Lady Llangattock from the King and Queen and other members of the royal family individually expressing their sympathy on Rolls’s death. As a social document these albums are a superb resource for interpreting more of Rolls’s life and period. A final postcard testifies to Rolls’s hero status at the time: the pavilion he flew over at Southbourne moments before his death, re-erected at West Wratting in Cambridgeshire as a memorial to him. It is to be hoped that the Royal Aero Club can issue more discs of aeronautical history as good as this first excellent offering.

Article reproduced with kind permission of the author.

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