He was born in Berkeley Square, London but retained a strong family connection with his ancestral home of Hendre, Monmouth, Wales. He was a son of the 1st Baron Llangattock. Rolls was educated at Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge, and from his youth was interested in engines. He teamed up with Henry Royce to found the manufacturing company in 1906, Royce providing the technical expertise to go with Rolls's financial backing and business acumen.
Rolls was also a pioneer aviator. He was a founding member of the Royal Aero Club and was the second person in Britain to be licensed to fly by them. He was the first man to make a non-stop double crossing of the English Channel by plane. In the same year, 1910, he was killed in an air crash at Bournemouth when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off. He was the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident.
A statue in his memory, in which he is seen holding a biplane (which prompted American writer Bill Bryson to compare him to King Kong in his book Notes From a Small Island) was erected in Agincourt Square, Monmouth.
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