Yesterday JFB and I visited Nuffield Place (NT) is the former home of Oxford car maker William Morris (later Lord Nuffield) and his wife Elizabeth, usually known as Lilian
The Morris’s story is a classical “rags to riches” one – both families were working-class, financially insecure and, as youngsters, William and Lilian had, like the majority of their generation, access to only elementary education. She became a seamstress at Elliston’s, he became an apprentice cycle maker.
But Morris was practical, hard-working and had a good feel for business – within 20 years he had founded the British car industry and was one of the richest men in the world. He was also generous with his money – setting up charitable foundations, some of which continue to this day and giving eye-watering sums towards improving medical care, education and agriculture.
Nuffield Place is not obviously the home of a multi-millionaire – it’s small, unpretentious and feels like a home. Despite their wealth, the Morrises weren’t ones for airs and graces or conspicuous consumption (they only put the heating on when they had visitors) – Lilian was even regarded as mean, but that is to disregard the visceral fear of someone who has grown up in the shadow of genuine poverty.
There was an interesting introductory talk by one of the volunteers, although, in true National Trust style, it tended to the hagiographic. Morris was a great man who did much good in his lifetime and had a profound and lasting influence, but he could be autocratic and, counter-intuitively, resistant to changes in manufacturing and management style.
The house dates from the beginning of the 20th century and was designed according to the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement. The Morrises bought it in the 1930s and remodelled the house, but it still remains, to a great extent, a house in a garden. The house and its contents are very much as the couple left it; the garden immediately round the house is delightful – several areas are still in the process of renovation and it will be interesting to see how they develop.
Nuffield Place is well-worth a visit – the tea room is a bit limited and The Field Kitchen in nearby Nettlebed proved a better option.
Photos of the house and garden – including, if you look carefully, a photograph of your correspondence in the style of Van Eyk (35 photos)
Photos of cars (and a significant bicycle) – mostly arty shots (16 photos)
William Morris, biography (if you don’t want to read it, there’s a podcast)
Nuffield Place – official page