MGC News – June 2020

MGC conversations with Richard Mixture, June 2020

Nuffield, where is it?

Hello, it’s Richard here again.

Now have you ever wondered where Nuffield is? No? I know the man Lord Nuffield died in 1963 at 85 years of age, but where is Nuffield? You know, the place Nuffield. Is it a place? I’d often wondered that. I mean if you’re the Prince of Wales there must be a place called Wales that I can find on a map. But Nuffield? Well, I found out that it’s actually a village in Oxfordshire with a vast population of 939. I had wondered whether it was a made-up name taken from a field of Nuffs, whatever they might be. Roald Dahl might know.

Seeing as I have wondered about this for an exceptionally long time, I purchased a book called ‘Lord Nuffield and his Double Legacy’ by David Cranston and Peter Morris. This book appealed to me as it is only 98 pages long, so it wasn’t going to tax my simple mind too much. I just wanted to get a flavour of who this man was, the man who was always standing alongside Cecil Kimber in many of whose photos, you do know who Cecil was don’t you? Once I’d finished the book, I was eager to learn more about this fascinating English industrialist.

On his dad’s side of the family, William Richard Morris comes from a long line of yeoman Morrises dating back to 1278. You do know what a yeoman is don’t you? In this case it is a freehold landowner. Now, in 1877 Emily Ann Morris (nee Pether) gave birth to baby Will in Worcester, England. His father, Frederick Morris, was a clothier’s assistant, then a draper’s clerk and later a bailiff for his father-in-law Richard Pether.

Young WRM went to a church school in Cowley until he was 14 years of age. “Outside school hours (and occasionally within them), he would occupy himself in fishing, rambling and cycling through the countryside. On at least one occasion he received a punishment from the headmaster after he arrived back an hour late for afternoon school, having prolonged his midday break fishing,”

During the late 1800s bi-cycling took off in a big way, in fact “In 1896 the American suffragist Susan Anthony said the bicycle had done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” It also broadened the gene pool. “By 1880 there were about 230 cycle clubs in the” UK, and William got involved in this bicycle boom. After leaving school he started work in a bicycle shop. In less than 12 months he requested a raise but was refused, so with £4 capital he decided to set up a repair business of his own in a shed at the rear of his father’s home. In the 1901 census he was describe as a bicycle manufacturer and employer and was racing his own machines. A year later at 25 years of age he designed the Morris Motor Cycle.

In 1903 he married 25-year-old Lizzie Maud Anstey, a dressmaker in an Oxford department store. They met through a cycling club. In the same year Morris’ business collapsed. A well-to-do Oxford undergraduate and a businessman approached Morris in 1900 to set up a partnership which they called Oxford Automobile and Cycle Agency. “Morris blamed the business collapse on the reckless spending of the undergraduate.” Morris was regarded as Oxford’s best technical man, so it was easy for him to re-establish a business and vowed never to enter a partnership again.

Many still thought the motor car would never replace “the fashionable trotting pony and trap”. Morris didn’t agree so in 1906 he expanded his Oxford Garage business producing cycles and motor cycles and repairing them. The expansion also included a taxi service and hire cars. He also changed his business name to Morris Garage, (does that ring any bells?). In 1904 it was estimated that British roads were traversed by some 8,500 motor cars and by 1910 the figure was 50,000. Morris became convinced that there would be a high demand for a reasonably priced car.

William designed his own car in 1912, the Bullnose Morris, which was constructed from components that he bought in. A substantial shareholding was purchased by the Earl of Macclesfield and by 1914 WRM Motors had produced 1,000 cars. Later that year, war broke out just as he was planning to expand car production, so activities turned to producing mine sinkers and other munitions to assist with the war effort.

Between the two World Wars production expanded with tens of thousands of cars sold each year and Morris became Britain’s largest manufacturer. He purchased factories at Abingdon, Birmingham and Swindon and in 1926 he bought SU Carburettors and the following year bought Wolseley Motors for £750,000. He started exporting cars to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Malaya and Shanghai. Morris started the practice of going to Australia every winter and was usually accompanied by employee Wilfred Hobbs. He had a map of Australia on the wall of his office and a boomerang on a shelf.

An interesting aside was the appointment of Cecil Kimber in 1921 who was selected as sales manager with Morris Garages … need I say more? I hope you all know the rest of this story.

Car production continued throughout the 1930s and in 1939 the millionth car rolled off the line which Morris bought himself and presented it to the Ladies’ Association of Guy’s Hospital. He became the hospital’s largest benefactor.

The Cowley works was busy during the Second World War (1939 – 1945) repairing aircraft, building tanks, Bren gun carriers, midget submarines and torpedoes. Immediately after the War, production began on the pre-war Morris Eight and Morris Ten cars. Prior to the War, Alec Issigonis had designed a replacement for the Eight and drove the prototype around during the conflict. In 1948 the new Morris Minor was launch at the Earls Court Motor Show, as was the Morris Oxford which replaced the Ten.

Morris retired in 1954 after negotiating with Austin’s chairman, Leonard Lord, to merge the two companies to form the British Motor Corporation in 1952 which was the third largest automobile company in the world. Morris was its chairman for the first year and was replaced by Lord.

Morris was recognised for his contribution to British industry and was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1918, created a baronet in 1929, followed by a baron in 1934 leading to Viscount Nuffield in 1938. Nuffield did not have any children therefore his peerage was extinguished at his death.

He was also appointed an Honorary Colonel of the 52nd Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery in 1937, made a Fellow of the Royal Society, 1939, a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, 1941, and a Companion of Honour, 1958.

During his lifetime Morris gave away thirty million pounds which is about AUD $2 billion today. Some of the beneficiaries include the University of Oxford, Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital, the Birmingham General Hospital and the Oxford Hospital. His generosity extended to the provision of club rooms, sports facilities, dental and medical services and he made a major effort to employ disabled people. “In fact, in the early 1950s there were 700 disabled people working for the Nuffield organisation.” There are many anecdotes about his philanthropy toward the end of the book.

He was the founder of the Nuffield Foundation, the Nuffield Trust, Nuffield College, Oxford, and was President of the British United Provident Association, BUPA.

There are many tales about this interesting man spread throughout this book such as the one regarding not being eligible for membership of a golf course because he was a tradesman, so he bought the golf course! Evidently part of this story is not true, but he did buy the golf course. “On one occasion he walked into a social services department wearing an old raincoat and asking questions about helping old people. He was about to be shown the door when he said, ‘It seems as if you are on the right lines, I’ll give you £50,000 for a pilot project.’”

He was undoubtable an amazing, brilliant man, a beacon of the 20th century.

There are a few errors sprinkled throughout this book. For instance, William Morris’ father “married Emily Ann Pether, daughter of Richard Pether”. In the next paragraph Richard is referred to as “Mr Pepper”. Don’t let these indiscretions affect the story because it is a fascinating one about a very interesting man. The man who supported Cecil Kimber create the sports cars that we love.

Oh, by-the-way the MGC is noted in the appendix, page 98, I’m not sure why.

Remember ladies and gentlemen keep ‘em tuned and stay well, stay very well!