HE was a pioneer of motoring and one half of the Rolls-Royce partnership, but it was Charles Rolls’ passion for aviation that brought him to Bournemouth and the end of his life.

And in pioneering spirit, Rolls was the first Briton to die in a powered aircraft accident when he crashed at Southbourne on July 12, 1910, during the first International Aviation Meeting in Great Britain.

He was aged 32.

During his relatively short life, Rolls developed an enthusiasm for many modes of transportation. He was educated at Eton College where his interest in engines earned him the nickname dirty Rolls.

At Cambridge he studied mechanical and applied science and, when he was 18, he ventured to Paris to buy his first car, a Peugeot Phaeton, which is believed to have been the first car based in Cambridge.

He was also a keen cyclist and, after graduating from Cambridge in 1898, began working on the steam yacht Santa Maria followed by a position at the London and North Western Railway in Crewe.

He even became an experienced balloonist and made over 170 balloon ascents.

He was introduced to Henry Royce by a friend at the Royal Automobile Club, Henry Edmunds, a director of Royce Ltd.

Following an historic meeting between Rolls and Royce on May 4, 1904, the first Rolls-Royce car was unveiled at the Paris Salon in December.

Although Royce was never too impressed by flying, Rolls was enamoured, and from 1907 onwards his interests turned increasingly to aviation. In 1909 he bought one of six Wright Flyer aircraft built by Short Brothers under licence from the Wright Brothers. He made more than 200 flights.

By 1910 he was the best-known aviator in the country and also became the first man to make a non-stop double crossing of the English Channel by plane, taking 95 minutes.

He negotiated a strictly private deal with Royce and the other directors which saw him retire from day-to-day work as the car firm’s technical managing director.

A few days later, he set off for Bournemouth by train because he’d been booked for speeding in Hyde Park. He was on his way to the town’s centenary celebrations which featured musical concerts conducted by Sir Edward Elgar, masked balls, processions of Boy Scouts and an air show.

A new aerodrome had been created in the suburb of Southbourne; hedges had been torn up and more than 40 allotments removed; a system of multi-coloured flags had been prepared for the displays of aerial daredevilry. Large cash prizes were on offer.

An over-excited journalist later claimed Rolls arrived to Bournemouth with a look of doom – a strange foretelling of a sudden and fearful end that turned his cheeks grey.

It was very gusty, bad weather for the Wright biplane he would fly for the show. A French rival who had already flown and crashed, without injury, went over to warn Rolls to delay but he refused and took off, planning a circular flight to be followed by landing on the appointed mark close to the judges’ tent.

Those watching thought he was coming in too high and reported a sickening snap as part of the aircraft came away; he plunged down and crashed.

He was thrown to one side of the wreckage and, at first, looked unscathed but he had been killed instantly. Friends and admirers formed a circle around the body and a news photographer who tried to snap him was set upon and his camera was grabbed and smashed.

More than 100 years later, members of the Charles Rolls Memorial Trust continue to commemorate him annually in the playing fields of St Peter’s School.

At this year’s service, the Mayor of Bournemouth, Cllr Eddie Coope, gave a speech reflecting on Rolls’ legacy.

He said: “In 1910, the public outpouring of grief for this popular pioneer was reflected by public donations towards a statue built in his home town of Monmouth. A statue at Dover commemorates his two-way flight across the Channel a month before his death, and in 2010 the Rolls-Royce aero engine company renovated this plaque for Bournemouth’s bi-centenary.”

Plans were announced at the service for a new public memorial at the Broadway featuring a Wright Flyer sculpture surrounded by a garden with seating.

Stephen Robson, chairman of the trust said: “It’s a great shame that the current memorial plaque is now surrounded by houses and so it’s only this annual commemoration that allows the public to see it.

“The new memorial would serve as a focal point and education feature for Bournemouth’s aviation heritage and a reminder of the loss of Charles Rolls.”