SIR HENRY ROYCE, Bart, SEEN FROM 1964: IVAN EVERNDEN, MBE
The text of an address given by Mr Ivan Evernden at Nottingham University. (Note that the text has not been edited in the light of forty years of research since this paper was presented - in some ways it reflects some of the myth around the Rolls-Royce story that many of us were brought up with. If you want to read more on the subject, the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust's publication No 12 "Henry Royce - Mechanic" by Donald Bastow gives more detail about Royce's life and methods of working. Evernden's conclusions about the status of engineering designers in Britain have, alas, not changed that much for the better. The pictures and captions have been added: the originals used by him in his address have not survived).
Last May I was asked if I would talk to you about Sir Henry Royce as seen in the light of the present day, thirty years after his death. I readily agreed, and since then I have been trying to discover what made for his great success and how well he and his doctrines would serve this modern age.
Almost fifty years ago, when World War I was at its most critical stage, I was discharged in category C3 from any further military service and was ordered by the Ministry of Munitions to do work of national importance, being given the choice of working as a draughtsman at either Fetters of Yeovil, Vauxhall Motors, or Rolls-Royce Ltd of Derby. At that time there was a grave shortage of draughtsmen, and particularly those with experience in the relatively new branch of engineering - the internal combustion engine. The fact that I had been a student in the Faculty of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at King's College London was considered to be an ample qualification and my application to Rolls-Royce Ltd was readily accepted.
The salary was 30 shillings (£1.50) for a 43½ hour week. In the late January of 1916 I started work in the drawing office of the Madsen Automatic Rifle Department, designing cutters, jigs and fixtures. Only a few months later the rifle project was abandoned and I was transferred to the Airship Design Office, which was engaged in the design of power eggs for the North Sea and 23 Class airships. The Eagle, Falcon and Hawk aero-engines were then in production and design and development projects were going ahead to increase the power and reliability of these power plants.
It was then that I first heard of the mysterious person by the name of Royce, though even more frequently called the 'Old Man', who, though never seen, obviously controlled the design projects and who was feared by all in authority in the company, yet at the same time was revered and respected. I discovered that he lived and worked at St Margaret's Bay near Dover and that with him he had two or three designers. Any design made at Derby had to be taken or sent to him for approval, which it received only after very considerable revision.
A brief study of the early life of Royce and of the company's history is necessary to understand how this rather bizarre set-up came into being.
Frederick Henry Royce was the fifth child of an unsuccessful miller of Alwalton near Peterborough. When the business failed his father took him to London, where the young lad sold papers for W. H. Smith and Son. When Henry was but nine years old his father died and during the following five years he worked to keep the family from starving, having little to eat and no regular schooling; only about one year in all. Then an aunt sent him to be an apprentice at the works of the Great Northern Railway at Peterborough. After but three years his aunt died and he had to leave and to go to work for a toolmaker. This, he told me, was a very valuable experience.
When the toolmaker failed, Royce went back to London to a job with the Electric Light & Power Company, who were pioneers in the lighting of streets and public buildings. Here he met Sir Hiram Maxim, pioneer and explorer. He acquired a great liking for the new science of electricity and worked hard at night school to repair his deficient education.
When this venture failed he was in Manchester and, with the little money which he had saved, he joined a friend, Albert Claremont in setting up in business making small electrical fittings such as lamp-holders and door bells. Later this little concern was to become Royce Ltd, well respected makers of dynamos, motors, electric cranes and conveyors.
During the depression, brought about by the Boer War, Royce turned his attention to the motor car. He bought a Decauville, which he immediately started to improve upon and by 1904 he had designed and made a car of his own.
So followed the partnership with the Hon. CS Rolls and the first Rolls-Royce car in 1905. A plethora of models then ensued culminating, in 1905, in the Silver Ghost, the car which was to make him famous and whose basic design was to remain unchanged for twenty years and to be a monument to his ability to improve by evolution.
On July 12th 1910 the Hon. C. S. Rolls (far left) was killed at a flying meeting at Bournemouth and later that year Royce became very ill, stricken by an illness considered by his specialists to be fatal. This was the culmination of years of undernourishment, over-work and lack of rest. The miracle happened and Royce recovered, but ordained never to return to the factory at Derby. Claude Johnson, managing director and colleague of Royce, arranged for him to live in the winter in the south of France, at Le Canadel, where he had built for him the Villa Mimosa, a drawing office and a garage for two cars. This was a crucial time in the development of the company and it was essential that the genius of Royce should not be lost.
In the summer he was to live at St Margaret's Bay near Dover accompanied by two or three designers. A year later, at Le Canadel Royce was once again seriously ill. He was rushed to England in a special Silver Ghost ambulance to undergo a serious operation - an operation in these days not often successful. Yet again Royce recovered to work hard for another 22 years. From then onwards there was to be no workshop activity for him, his sole activity being confined to the solution of problems by logical reasoning and deduction. The designer was his only tool and designing his sole means of research, whilst drawings were his chief means of communication. Thus it was that the bizarre set-up of the chief engineer & designer living and working never less than two hundred miles from the factory came into being.
After the advent of World War I Royce was compelled to spend the whole of the year in England. In the team at his house then were A. G. Elliott and Maurice Olley, the former to become vice-chairman of the company and the latter to make a great career with the General Motors Corporation of America, and renowned in the automobile industry for his work on the steering and suspension systems of motor cars.
AG Elliott (left) and Maurice Olley (right)
The company was asked to manufacture an aero engine called the RAF la, designed I think by the Government, but it was inevitable that Royce would not rest content with a design which so offended his conception of sound mechanics. So, in the August of 1914, he started work on the designs of 12-cylinder ‘V’ engine of 20.32 litres capacity and having liquid cooling. This engine was named the ‘Eagle 1’. The following year, in April, the engine ran its initial test giving 225 HP at 1800 RPM; just 25 HP more than had been predicted.
Such a phenomenal achievement as this was made possible, in spite of the peculiar set-up of the organisation, because there were at Derby men like Hives, Wormald, Platford, Haldenby and Harvey-Bailey who had been trained by Royce in his ideology of engineering and they respected and revered his authority. Also, as founding director and chief engineer of the company, he could insist that design had a priority in the policies of the board of directors. Until his death in April 1933 he supervised the major designs of aero engines and motorcars as well as the modifications to them.
Of course he made mistakes, quite a few rather bad ones. Fortunately, both for the company and for himself, he was powerful enough to be unassailable and needed not to fear the consequences. Thus continuity was preserved.
By the autumn of 1916 life in the little village had become very hectic: shells from the long-range enemy guns crossed the Channel, air raids were made on the nearby fortifications. The military personnel grew and food became scarce, whilst invasion precautions made movement difficult and often hazardous. So a new home was found for Royce at West Wittering, Sussex, a very small village on the eastern limb of Chichester Harbour, now well known to holiday makers and yachtsmen, but then remote and isolated. The house was a long two-storey building one room deep with a wing at each end. It had a lovely old English lawn in front; at the rear was a large garden, the whole surrounded with meadowland. Two small reception rooms in the east wing were set aside as drawing offices. Immediately above was his secretary's office and Royce's bedroom.
In 1918 I was privileged to get a glimpse of this remote control centre, when I was invited to join the staff, having been groomed by Hives in what to wear, what to say and when to say it. Arriving at Chichester around midday, I was left to make my way, a distance of eight miles, by the carrier's horse-drawn cart. With innumerable stops on the way the journey took over two hours. After being installed in a little thatched inn called the 'Dog and Duck', I received a message to join Royce and his staff for tea. Afterwards we adjourned to the drawing office, a room lit by large round wicked paraffin lamps. The walls were pale cream, the floor was covered with coconut matting and the tables scrubbed until they were white. The reason for this evening session I later learned was the peculiar but logical hours of work imposed by Royce. One worked most of the morning and then had several hours of leisure until afternoon tea at about 4.30pm. Work went on then officially until 8pm, but on special occasions it lasted until 10pm. This was one of those occasions. His theory was that, when living in such isolated yet beautiful surroundings, most benefit could be derived from leisure in the afternoon, especially during the shorter days.
The design problem under discussion was one in which Royce derived much enjoyment to the extent that he seemed loth to accept any solution. He licked it like a child with a toffee apple that he wanted to last. It concerned the provision of a facile means of adjusting the position of the nose bearing of the Eagle epicyclic reduction gear to line it up with the crankshaft, which, having white metal bearings which had been fitted by hand scraping, could be as much as 15 thou. eccentric with the spigot on the crankcase in any direction. Finally Royce invented a double eccentric mounting for the bearing, which had a vernier setting. Having ascertained the degree and direction of the maximum eccentricity, this could be set on the vernier scale.
Although I was sent back to Derby the next day for no specific reason, this short interlude was sufficient to show me how design problems were attacked by the Royce method. A review was made of all of the evidence given by Derby which made a new design essential. Then began the search for a solution which would be simple in nature, not demanding a high degree of accuracy in manufacture and which could be easily operated. The mental atmosphere was tense and I went to bed exhausted.
Three years later I was summoned to return to West Wittering, together with my chief, B.I. Day and colleague Bill Hardy, to form an addition to the Elmstead Drawing Office, to be housed in an artists studio called Camacha situated in the village a quarter of a mile away. This was described as a temporary measure to hasten the completion of the designs for the 20 HP. Rolls-Royce, then known to us as Goshawk II. It lasted twelve years.
There was little change in Elmstead, except that the oil lamps had given place to electric lighting, which consisted of two motor car headlamps per drawing board supplied by a car dynamo and powered by a rather ancient Gardner engine, the whole having been engineered by Royce himself.
The oil lamps had been bequeathed to us at 'Camacha'.
Nominally, the working hours had returned to the normal period of 9am to 5.30pm with one hour for lunch. However, Royce was seldom in circulation before 11 am. After a spell in his own office before lunch and a stroll along the shore in the afternoon he would often call on us people little before knock-off time, full of a new idea. A design session could then go on until after 7pm to be broken up only by his nurse calling him back for the evening meal.
What was the life of a designer like under these unusual circumstances? Domestically, whether single or married, it was limited. Some gave it up, to return to the amenities of town life. If one was capable of making one's own amusements and was a lover of the countryside and the sea, it was a grand life. For the designer, in many ways, the conditions were ideal - a roomy office, a mild sunny climate, clean air and absolute quiet with no telephone and no callers, Royce or his secretary excluded. Devoid of any direct contact with the factory personnel and the day to day worries of development engineers and test department, there were no distractions.
This did not mean that we lived in complete isolation. On the average, Hives, Rowledge and members of the design and development staff at Derby paid fortnightly visits to West Wittering to give news of the latest tests, and to discuss current problems. Usually a car and experimental pieces were brought to demonstrate relevant features, good or bad. It was the custom for a prototype, made to our designs, to be brought to us to illustrate the problems encountered in its manufacture and during its initial tests.
In summer, these meetings were held under the mulberry tree on the lawn at Elmstead, continuing indoors until late evening. Furthermore, Royce insisted that major experiments which we conducted at Derby should be the subject of a detailed written report, because he believed that during any experiment it is so easy to omit certain facts and observations necessary to the logical proof of the conclusions arrived at. The writing of a report brings to light these omissions and they can be remedied before the apparatus is dismantled. The compiling of these reports must have been akin to the preparation of a brief for the Council for the Defence. If there was a flaw in the evidence, Royce would find it. The sentence was not a light one.
What of the personnel composing the design team? All had worked for a considerable while in the drawing office at Derby. The chief, A.G. Elliott, had been with Royce for at least seven years. All had received technical training of the polytechnic standard. As far as I am aware, I was the only university graduate, a fact which I was advised to keep secret, which I did until five years later when, inadvertently, it leaked out. The petrol engine and motorcars were not in the curriculums of the ancient universities. The internal combustion engine in my day was the gas engine. Graduates were not attracted to the then new motorcar industry. To take up Civil or Mechanical Engineering was considered to be following a profession. Motorcar engineering had no academic status and therefore it did not attract university graduates. However, some ten years later, and not long before Royce died, I was instrumental in getting appointed to our office two young graduates, both of whom now hold very high posts in the industry.
Normally new people were recruited from Derby. Whilst a high standard of ability to design was essential, it was by no means the only qualification needed. One's acceptability to Royce depended also on personality, manner of speech and mannerisms, style of dress and private life. Some came and failed to make the grade of the first few days. To obviate the loss of acceptable candidates, each was asked to sign a contract to serve, for a period of at least three years at any place where so directed. This covered going in the winter to Le Canadel.
Royce was no draughtsman. He worked mentally all of his waking hours, making small sketches on the back of an envelope or any odd piece of paper that was at hand. However, he could read, with extreme rapidity, the most complicated drawing, to the extent that he could see the components in the flesh, visualising the mechanism working and so sense the loads to which the parts would be subjected, and the stresses and strains which would ensue.
Years of practical experience gave him an eye for knowing the right size for any particular piece, such as a shaft. If he criticised one's calculated dimension it was wise not to argue and to remake the calculation, for it was the calculation and not Royce that was usually in error. His power of logical deduction was so highly developed that to follow his reasoning was like a walking child trying to keep pace with his father, who takes the fewer steps to cover the distance. Royce once remarked 'If we could observe to the full a given phenomenon and through logical reasoning fully comprehend, there would be no problems left to solve'.
Whenever possible, Royce based each new design on a previous one, either of his own making or of a competitor. I can recall more than one instance when he took up a design discarded by a competitor as a failure, and made it into a success, because he realised that the idea had been good but the execution faulty. He believed in the process of evolution and often said 'I am a mechanic and not a pioneer'.
Perhaps his most outstanding quality was the patient attention he would give to the very smallest detail of a design. He would spend an hour or more with one at the drawing board reviewing every conceivable solution of a simple problem, which too many would seem to be a trivial matter. The expression 'good enough' never failed to invoke his wrath.
The provision of the adequate attachment of two or more pieces to each other always received great attention. At the outset of his career he realised that, with a few exceptions, the largest bolt he would use would be 0.375 ins in diameter, and that the majority would be much smaller. Consequently, the mild steel bolts in common use in heavy engineering would be inadequate. He chose to use 3.5% nickel steel. Likewise, because the Whitworth thread in these smaller diameters was too coarse, making the core diameter too small, for sizes up to and including 0.187 ins diameter he chose British Association Threads, and for all of the larger sizes British Standard Fine Threads. He chose to use square headed bolts in preference to the orthodox hexagon head to reduce the amount of stock which had to be turned away, but more importantly because the square head could be held from turning by the use of a step or spigot on the component. A simple exercise will show how this is not really adequate using a hexagon head and a clearance hole.
No full nuts were used, only half-nuts, and these were made in a lower grade of steel than the bolts so that the female thread of the nut would be slightly less strong than that of the bolt; a good feature he believed. His aero-engine experience made him ever conscious of the need to save weight. Castings in iron or bronze were avoided if at all possible and preference was given to aluminium. It is of interest to note that the first Royce car had an aluminium engine crankcase, sump and wheelcase whilst the gearbox and axle casings were made of the same material. He liked very much to use sheet metal, sheet steel or sheet aluminium, because he could be sure of its physical properties. He would make brackets in sheet steel and having gas welded joints if such were unavoidable provided always that the weld occurred at a point of low stress and not tensile stress. In those days the welding was done by a gas torch.
Examples of Royce's attention to the details of design are innumerable and could well form the subject of a book. I have chosen to illustrate just a few. The first relates to the attachment of a lever to a shaft by friction in which the clamping bolt is placed to one side to make the flexible portion of the boss as long as possible. Note the weight saving on the bolt boss. The second illustration shows a control rod ball end (two views are shown below, with the ball end complete and dismantled). Of particular interest is the spherical seat of the bolt and nut to relieve the former of any bending stress, the bolt being only 5 BA. The last is the waisted stud, used to save weight, to avoid stress concentration and to provide elasticity. The stud end which was threaded into the aluminium was made one size larger than that of the nut end for an obvious reason.
Set-screws of course were not possible for use in aluminium, but Royce would not tolerate their use even in steel because, in a clearance hole, unless a balanced tightening torque is applied, the stem is bent, the threaded portion is tilted and the head digs into the surface of the component.
Keys of any sort were never favoured, because of the stress concentration they engendered. When no reversal of torque was present parallel serrations were used, but when reversal of torque was present, as in the case of the attachment of the steering wheel to its column, taper serrations of Royce's own design were used.
As the years went by Royce became poorer in health. Sometimes for days he could not leave his room. More and more responsibility fell upon his team. A year before he died his chief assistant Elliott accompanied by Jenner went to Derby to join their design team. Others, like myself, elected to stay on with our master until they must leave him. In April 1933 we stood on his lawn, whilst a very old Silver Ghost hearse was ticking over quietly on the road outside, waiting to pay our last respects to 'The Old Man'.
In the period up to the outbreak of World War II the design team, headed by A.G.Elliott, were able to retain most of the power which Royce possessed; however, the influence of the development, commercial and production interests inevitably impinged more strongly upon them. In a measure this may have been a good thing.
Came the war and most of the motor car designers were absorbed by the aero-engine drawing office. Only the assistant development engineer, W.A.Robotham, myself and several others were left to tidy up the records in a squash court belonging to the former. Very soon we became involved in the installation of the Merlin aero-engine in the Cromwell tank and, moving to an old iron foundry, remained so occupied until the conflict was in its closing stages.
It was upon this relic of the old motor-car team, augmented by recruits taken on from outside the company, that devolved the responsibility of designing the post-war Rolls-Royce and Bentley motor cars. It was a great help when later Bill Hardy rejoined the team, which still had a nucleus of Royce trained men, including the engine specialist, Charles Jenner.
The changes brought about by the war heralded a new era; one in which speed was essential to the reconstruction programme. In the motor car division the chief engineer and his assistants were all graduates of the development department. They were less at home working with drawings than they were with pieces. They were suspicious of drawings and somewhat out of their depth in the design office.
This condition gave rise to a model-making shop which could make designs appear in the flesh. The development department consisted of a band of experts, mostly university graduates, each specialising in one or two aspects of the motor car, e.g. brakes, steering and suspension, cooling, silencing, etc. They could make designs in the flesh and which could be tested on the bench and often in a car on the road. These were much more easily understood than lines on a piece of paper. The designer was of use chiefly to put these experimental pieces on paper. The difficulty came when the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle had to be assembled by the designer to make a motor car.
Unfortunately, the design of a complex mechanism such as the motor car must consist of a series of compromises. It is seldom possible for each of the specialists to have his requirements met in their entirety. The best motor car is the result of the cleverest compromise and perfection is approached but never reached. A system arose in which the designer worked very largely under the direction of his counterpart in the development department. He breathed down his neck.
A design conference met at least once a week to iron out the differences and make the compromises which could not be reached locally. As chief designer it was very difficult for me to have any real control over what was drawn. Obviously this set-up was the exact opposite to that which obtained in the days of Sir Henry Royce, yet who would dare to say it was wrong, for it produced some very fine motor cars which were worthy of the name which they bore.
The solution of a mathematical problem usually can be reached by more than one method and the same is true of design. The method used is dependent on what is available, and only with a Royce is the Royce system a possibility. Such a brain may not appear in a lifetime.
In the immediate post-war system the status of the designer had fallen to its lowest ebb, the pendulum had swung a complete half-cycle. I believe that the post-war set-up was slow and very costly. Exploration on the drawing board is very cheap compared with the making of experimental pieces and scrapping them. Royce used to call us the knights of the India rubber; and India rubbers are cheap.
Somewhere between these two extremes the best solution must lie and I believe it is now being found. The designer must be given a status and authority relative to the specialists, the research and the development engineers, to enable him to make compromises with power to enforce them. A great responsibility would devolve upon the chief designer, who must be freed to spend his time at the drawing boards. All too often his time is occupied in attending meetings with other departments, attending to personnel matters, writing reports and the like. I would strongly support the idea that he be given an assistant to deal with such matters.
The right sort of people have got to be attracted to a career as a designer. In the past, rates of pay and the prospects of promotion have tended not to attract the right type of person in the respect of education and technical training. Often, if he were so attracted, he felt himself to be in a blind alley occupation with limited prospects. It has been the custom to relate the rate of remuneration of a person to the number of bodies he controls. Some designers, and good ones at that, are born to work along. Royce said that every designer must draw himself, and that three other people was the largest number he could supervise.
It is a grave error to measure status only on the ability to build an empire. Until recently, I believe, designers often failed to obtain full membership of some of the learned institutions, because they had too few bodies under their control. This unfortunate state of affairs has now been rectified, thanks largely to the findings of the Fielden Committee on Engineering Design. I trust that this report, made by a committee of which my late chief, S.H.Grylls, had the honour to be a member, will be read and acted upon by all in authority in matters of design and not relegated to a shelf in the library, there to lie forgotten. It should be made possible for one to make a good career as a designer without making any financial sacrifice, or suffering any loss of status. The notion that one must get out of the drawing office to seek a more lucrative future must be destroyed; then, and only then, will it attract the right sort of people.
You ask me how I see Royce in the light of modern times. If he could have lived that long he would have revelled in all of the new discoveries in knowledge, in processes and materials. He never grew old in thought or mental outlook. Whilst it is idle to think of a set-up like that of the Royce Age without another Royce, it is possible that some part of that arrangement might be revived today. There is much to be said for having a part of the design staff set aside for the study of things for the future, and sufficiently removed and isolated from the factory and current problems. A distance of 200 miles in this country today might prove to be too much isolation although greater distances do occur in the USA. So often, in the past, these project design offices have failed in their objective because they have been allowed to become regarded as the rival of the design office proper. This difficulty can be avoided, in a measure, if the chief designer is given real overall control, and if the designs made by the project office are complete and ready to be made and tested; not sketches which have to be the subject of a design study before they can be produced.
There is a pen portrait of Ivan Evernden in the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Foundation publication "Hives' Turbulent Barons" by Alec Harvey-Bailey. In it, much is made of his involvement with coachwork styling, a topic not mentioned in his Nottingham University address. His earliest involvement, encouraged by Royce, who always wanted the lightest possible bodies on his chassis, was with the Sports Phantom project. During the 1930s, he was involved with liaison with coachbuilders, notably with Park Ward when Rolls-Royce obtained control. However, many would consider that the two most enduring designs of his were the prototype Phantom II Continental of 1931 and his last, the Bentley R Type Continental of 1952.