One of Monmouth’s more memorable attractions is its poignant statue to one of its more famous sons, Charles Rolls (of Rolls Royce fame). The statue can viewed in the centre of Monmouth’s main square at the top of Monnow Street and at the opposite end to its famous fortified Monnow Bridge.
Charles Rolls was a man of money; born the third son of Baron Llangattock who had an estate The Hendre just outside Monmouth. The family did not have a happy time; Baron Llangattock died in 1912, just before the First World War; his eldest son died in action in 1916, and the second son also died young in 1916. Charles the third son was fascinated by transport and travel, and after funding talented engineer Mr Royce to build some of the plushest cars known to man died in an air crash in 1910 aged just 33. He was the first man to fly back and forth to France without stopping and sadly was the first British man to die in an automated plane crash (and the 11th in the world).
The Hendre still exists although alas the remainder of the family had to sell the estate in the early 1980’s after a golfing and luxury hotel idea went horribly wrong.
The statue was designed to celebrate Charles Rolls’ success as an aviator and he stands wearing flying goggles and holding a model of the plane that was to kill him. The plane lacks the tail plane which was the part of the vehicle that collapsed causing Rolls’ plane to nosedive out of control at an early air show in Bournemouth in 1910.
The statue is in Bronze and is just a bit bigger than life size at 8 foot high. I always found it very striking as it stands amongst the market stalls on a pink plinth in front of the imposing Shire Market Hall. The bronze was made by Welsh sculptor Sir William Goscombe John. Sir Aston Webb who designed the pink granite plinth went onto greater fame as he designed the main facade to Buckingham Palace in London in 1913, and the Mall which leads up to it. Obviously both sites are seen regularly on TV today as the Queen zips to and from the place.
I often sit a while and reflect upon the man in the old style flying jacket and wonder what else he might have achieved if he had lived. It is possible that he would have continued to push the boundaries of flying (he had reduced his role in the automobile company by the time he had died). I also reflect on the family where all 4 of the adult males would be dead within a five year period.
As an aside, Lady Llangattock (Charles mother) collected Nelson memorabilia, and her collection is stored in the Monmouth Museum which is just across the road and round the corner. This is also worth a visit.