The previous post was about our visit to Waddesdon, the home of the Rothschild family. These folks made their money in banking, and from the second generation they were pretty much born rich and got richer. They literally had great difficulty in spending their money, and put a lot into their estate. Compare the photographs of their weekend retreat with the ones from William Morris’s home.
Here’s another approach.
William Morris was born in 1877 and about the age of 15, he dropped out of school and took on a short apprenticeship to a bicycle repairman. In a couple of months, he had learned all he could there, and opened his own shop. But when cars began to be built in the UK, he was fascinated. He gathered a few friends and founded Morris Garage (MG — get it?) near Oxford. By 1912 he was making cars, and continued to build this empire through the early ’50s.
William had married a young lady he met in his cycling club, but they never had children. In the ’30s they bought a nice home, built in 1914, about eight miles out of town in an up-and-coming golf club development area, and named it Nuffield Park, after a nearby village. They added to it. It’s in the hands of the National Trust now, which is how we happened to visit it. The interior is pretty much as it was when he died in 1963. It’s pretty grand compared to ordinary houses, but compared to some of the stately homes, it’s a garden shack. It’s also full of pretty ordinary stuff, including a 1956 television and radio sets from the ’30s and ’40s.
Morris had a workshop built into his bedroom. He re-soled his own shoes, fixed all the gates and fences on the property, and carpeted the hallway with leftover pieces of carpet from the factory office.
In the ’50s, the many UK car businesses began to merge, and by 1955 he had sold or merged most of his businesses.
As he had no heir, William started working at giving everything away. He founded and endowed Nuffield College at Oxford, and it’s the fourth-highest endowed college now. During the late ’40s, he was heartbroken at the polio epidemic, so he designed and had built 5000 iron lungs to be given to hospitals throughout Britain. There’s one on display in an outbuilding on the estate. Even though he didn’t like the idea of unions, he understood why they needed to exist, and established a profit-sharing trust for his employees.
There’s a pub named for him in Cowley, near where the factories used to be.