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British Industrial History

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William Richard Morris

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May 1934.
October 1937.
December 1937. 25 hp drop head coupe Wolseley.

William Richard Morris (1877-1963) (aka Lord Nuffield), 1st Viscount Nuffield GBE CH was the founder of the Morris Motor Company and a philanthropist.

1877 October 10th. Born in Worcester the son of Frederick Morris, an accountant, and his wife Emily Ann Pether, the daughter of a farmer of Wood farm, Headington.

1881 Living at Spring Cottage, Hallow, Worcestershire: Frederic Morris (age 31 born Witney), Draper's Clerk. With his wife Emily Ann Morris (age 30 born Cowley) and their three children; William Richard Morris (age 3 born Hallows, Worc.); Alice Gertrude Morris (age 2 born Hallows, Worc.); and Emily Ann Morris (age 2 months born Hallows, Worc.).[1]

The family moved to his mother's family farm in Headington, Oxford where his father become bailiff. Morris was brought up there, and attended the Cowley village school until the age of fifteen.

1891 Living at Brasenose Lane, Headington Quarry, Oxon: Frederick Morris (age 42 born Witney), Farm Baliff. With his wife Emily Morris (age 40 born Cowley) and their three children; William Morris (age 13 born Comer Garden, Hallow, Worcs); Alice Morris (age 12 born Comer Garden, Hallow, Worcs); and Emily Morris (age 10 born Comer Garden, Hallow, Worcs).[2]

His father was forced to retire from farming because of asthma and in 1893 Morris was apprenticed for a short time (nine months) to a cycle maker in St Giles', Oxford.

1893 Aged 16 he set up a business repairing bicycles from the family home at 16, James Street, Oxford. He began to assemble his own bicycles from parts ordered from the flourishing Midlands cycle industry - his custom-built machines gained a reputation in Oxford for reliability and good value.

1900 As a competitive cyclist he held all seven speed championships for cycle racing in the counties of Oxford, Bucks and Berks. He stopped racing in 1902.

1901 The business being a success he opened a shop at 48 High Street and began manufacturing as well as repairing bicycles.

1900 / 1901, he began to work with motorcycles, designing the Morris Motor Cycle

c.1901/02 Traded as Morris and Cooper

1901 Living at 16 James Street, Cowley: Frederick Morris (age 53 born Witney), Cycle Agent Manager. With his wife Emily Ann Morris (age 50 born Cowley) and their three children; William Richard Morris (age 23 born Worcestershire), Cycle Manufacturer - Employer; Alice Gertrude Morris (age 22 born Worcestershire), Milliner; and Emily Ann Morris (age 20 born Worcestershire), Dress maker.[3]

1902 Acquired a garage in Longwall Street (or Holywell Street) to manufacture motorcycles. He traded as William R. Morris.

1903 Became a partner as Oxford Automobile and Cycle Agency; Morris was works manager but this went bankrupt in 1904.

1904 Exhibited the three-speed motorcycle at the 1904 Stanley Cycle Show

1904 April 9th. Married Elizabeth Anstey (Lizzie Maud Anstey)

A small bank loan allowed Morris to restart the business but now in motor cars. He sold the cycle business.

1909 Set up the Morris Garages, where he sold, hired, and repaired cars. Sales quadrupled in four years and by 1913 Morris was a successful and respected Oxford businessman.

1910 Commenced work on designing a car and discussed the matter with William Henry Martin Burgess the agent for White and Poppe who then helped him promote the cars to agents in the UK through his work.

1911 Living at 280 Iffley Road, Oxford: W. R. Morris (age 34 born Worcester), Motor Garage Proprietor and Engineer - Motor Car and Motor Cycle - Employer. With his wife L. Morris (age 34 born Oxford). Also his nephew W. Anstey (age 2 1/2 born Leeds). One servant.[4]

1912 Formed W. R. M. Motors

1912 Designed a car, the Bull Nosed Morris and began manufacturing at a disused grammar school in Cowley, Oxford[5].

1912 At the 1912 Motor Show at Olympia he met Gordon Stewart, who had a showroom in Woodstock Street, off Bond Street, and he agreed to take the first few hundred made. His company later became Stewart and Ardern

1929 Created a baronet

1934 Became Baron Nuffield

1938 Became a Viscount

1943 Founded the Nuffield Foundation with an endowment of £10 million in order to advance education and social welfare. Also founded Nuffield College, Oxford.

1963 August 22nd. Died.

1963 Obituary [6]

Viscount Nuffield - mechanic and benefactor. From the shape of his finger tips - spatulate, with broad, well defined nails - as well as from their sensitive, delicate movements, one could tell that the late Viscount Nuffield was a good mechanic. Like all good mechanics he had sympathetic understanding of people. He knew how easy it is to make a mistake, either when working in hard metals or in human affairs.

In his early days he suffered experiences that hardened his determination to be an individualist, and equally decided him to be helpful to those less well placed than himself.

He made no pretence to be an academic engineer. He had the kind of intuitive judgment of design that enabled him to put into practice the theory that what looks right, is right. One had only to be a passenger in a car he was driving to realize that he was a master of machinery; his love for messing about with carburettors transcended, I am sure, any pleasures he obtained from the mere making of money. True, he logically regarded profit as essential, both as a yardstick of efficiency and a proper feedback for expansion.

Viscount Nuffield became an Honorary Member of the Institution in 1938. Among his other honours—far too numerous to list here in full—were honorary degrees from seven universities and the freedom of several cities, including Oxford. He was Honorary President of Guy's Hospital and Governor of several other charitable institutions. He was Chairman of Morris Motors from 19191952.

Very few people really knew him. Being let down by a partner - the only one he ever had - in early life soured his soul and prevented him from ever letting any man get really close to him. The real tragedy of his life is that he had no children. The title "Nuffield" is defunct. But during the years 1934 to 1963, when it blazoned across the economic scene, it lighted many a lamp of mercy and kindness. Apart, altogether, from its industrial significance, it should ever be revered and never forgotten.

1963 Obituary[7]

"WE regret to record the death, on August 22, of Lord Nuffield, whose fame, both as an industrialist and as a philanthropist, has given him an assured place in history.

Lord Nuffield was born William Richard Morris on October 10, 1877, and received only an ordinary elementary school education. At the age of sixteen he went to work in a bicycle shop at Oxford to learn the trade and nine months later, in 1893, he was in business on his own, having borrowed £4 as his capital. For a time he hired out and repaired bicycles, then he began to sell them. Soon he had a bicycle of his own design, and then a motor cycle, on the market. In these early days in business Morris was careful to save money, and in 1904 he had sufficient capital to branch out into the retail motor trade, taking agencies for several motor car and motor cycle manufacturers. So the well-known Morris Garages came into being. Motoring, however, was then the prerogative of the rich, for such cars as were available were expensive to buy and to run. Morris believed that there was a market for a cheap and reliable British car.

In 1912, after two years of development work, he acquired a small factory in Oxford to produce a car of his own design, and within a short time the first few Morris Oxfords were on the road. But before much could be done the 1914-18 war intervened, the Morris factory was turned over to war work, and it was not until 1919 that Morris was able to resume his task of producing a car which would appeal to (and be within financial reach of) the man in the street. A year later, when other manufacturers were raising their prices, Morris reduced his by £100. It was a courageous move which some said at the time would prove disastrous, but events soon showed it to be quite the reverse; three years later the sales of Morris cars had almost tripled. In 1924 Morris bought the Birmingham firm of E. G. Wrigley, which he reconstructed as Morris Commercial Cars Ltd., and by 1926 his output was 1000 cars a week.

At about this time Morris Garages started to produce a sports car based on the standard Morris, and another famous name M.G. was launched. With his business now on a firm footing Morris's personal fortune was growing, and it was in 1926 that he made the first of his many gifts to the academic world £10,000 to the University of Oxford. From that time onwards the growth of his fortune was matched by the ever-increasing scale of his gifts. The years 1927 to 1930 saw the first donations to a cause which Morris made especially his own medicine and it is in this field perhaps (though it is far from being the only one) that his philanthropy is best known. Morris's many benefactions were never made on mere impulses. They were designed to implement well thought out schemes, and he gave to all of them the same careful consideration that he practised in his business life.

William Morris was created a baronet in 1929, raised to the peerage in 1934 as Baron Nuffield, and further advanced in the peerage in 1938 as Viscount Nuffield. His business continued to grow. The Wolseley Motor Co had been acquired in 1927, and in 1938 the Riley car business was taken over. By 1939 1,000,000 Morris vehicles had been made. In the troubled years leading up to the 1939-45 war Lord Nuffield set up Nuffield Mechanisations Ltd. to make army tanks, and in 1938 he started an aircraft factory near Birmingham. In the following year Lord Nuffield was appointed Director General of Maintenance at the Air Ministry, a position which, at his own request, he occupied without salary.

Not long after the war, in 1948, the Nuffield tractor was introduced, and an agreement was made with the Austin Motor Company for pooling the resources of the two organisations. A complete merger of the Morris and Austin businesses followed in 1952, when the British Motor Corporation was formed, with Lord Nuffield as the first chairman. He retired from the chairmanship six months later, but became honorary president of the Corporation, a position he held until his death.

The honours bestowed on Lord Nuffield were many. He held honorary degrees from several universities, the freedom of a number of towns and cities, and life governorships of hospitals and medical institutions. But although his fame and fortune were great, Lord Nuffield lived quietly and unostentatiously, his personal needs being few and his interests in his work and benefactions.

As an employer Lord Nuffield was firm but kindly and approachable. Always a very hard worker himself he expected of his employees that they should give value for their money, and in return he paid them well. From the earliest days he had advanced ideas on industrial welfare which he put into practice in his factories. He was, for example, a pioneer of holidays with pay, and in the provision of recreational facilities. Nor was he a mere figurehead, remote from the day-today activities of his works. Those who remember the various Morris factories a few years ago will know what a familiar figure he was to the workpeople.

In management matters Lord Nuffield held views which today would be regarded as highly unorthodox, for he had no use for political interference with business and not much sympathy with organised labour as such. He believed that if management and men acted fairly towards each other on a basis of mutual trust, industry would be healthy and business would prosper. It was his belief, too, that management should really manage the business in all respects, and this belief he held throughout his working career. Preference shares in the Morris companies were sold to the public in 1926, but the founder of the business took care to retain the controlling interest, and he kept the ultimate control right up to the merger of 1952 with the Austin Company.

Always an individualist, Lord Nuffield was nevertheless very willing to learn from others. He travelled widely and visited among other places Detroit, where he studied the mechanisation of motor car manufacture, but his factories were not modelled on any of those he saw in his travels; they were his own creation.

Lord Nuffield has been described as the architect of the British motor industry as it now is, but it is as a man rather than an industrialist that he will best be remembered. Vast wealth, which his outstanding business abilities brought him, was recognised by Lord Nuffield as imposing a great responsibility. The world will remember him for the splendid way in which he discharged the duties he believed wealth brought with it."

1963 Obituary 'Death of a Mechanic'[8]

"Giants were born in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Many a well-known engineering firm was founded by someone born between 1875 and 1900. But Lord Nuffield, whose obituary we print on another page of this issue was a giant among giants. Independently from Henry Ford in America, he was the pioneer in this country of the cheap popular motor car; and for their time what wonderful cars they were! Sturdy, reliable and cheap to buy and to run; all those who ever drove a bull-nosed "Cowley" will cherish the recollection. But Morris was a pioneer of other things besides the mass-production of cars. He also saw the need for widespread repair and maintenance services at a time when such ideas had hardly entered other people's heads. He was a fine mechanic, rather than an engineer; but one of the things which made him great was his ability to pick fine engineers to serve him and to realise his ideas. He had, too, a hard-headed business sense. He needed it. For the production of cars soon became a hlghly competitive business and many were the once flourishing companies that went bankrupt or were bought out by others. But in his case hard-headedness was not linked with a hard heart. He was well in advance of his time in in his treatment of those who worked for him. The same mixture of a hard head and a softer heart lay at the root of his munificent philanthropy. He did not merely give away millions of pounds to deserving causes. Hard thought lay behind each piece of munificence. Indeed it may be said of some of his gifts that he saw the need for them before or better than others. Lord Nuffield, in fact, was a very great man."

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1881 Census
  2. 1891 Census
  3. 1901 Census
  4. 1911 Census
  5. The Times, 18 December 1952
  6. 1963 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  7. The Engineer 1963 Jul-Dec
  8. The Engineer 1963 Jul-Dec