Headington history: People

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William Morris, Lord Nuffield (1877–1963)

William Morris, Lord Nuffield was born in Hallow, Worcestershire on 10 October 1877, but came back to the Oxford area with his parents at the age of about four.

He is always regarded as a Cowley lad; but his mother Emily Ann Pether was a girl from Headington, and he too appears to have spent his formative years (from the age of 4 to 14) there.

At the time of the 1851 census, when his mother Emily was just six months old, she was living at Wood Farm, which her father Richard Pether leased from Magdalen College.

On 7 November 1876 at Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry, Emily Ann Pether married Frederick Morris, who originated from Witney but was currently working at Hallow in Worcestershire as a clothier’s assistant.

Frederick initially took Emily away from Headington and back to Hallow, where on 10 October 1877 Emily gave birth to their first child, the future Lord Nuffield, whom they named William Richard Morris, presumably after his two grandfathers. The couple had seven children in all, but only William and his two younger sisters Alice and Emily survived infancy.

At the time of the 1881 census, William Morris was living at Spring Cottage, Corner Gardens, Hallow, with his father Frederick (who was now working as a draper’s clerk), his mother Emily, and his two sisters.

Soon after the 1881 census, the family of five came back to Headington seeking support from Emily’s father. Richard Pether (now a widower of 64) now had 370 acres to look after and duly made Frederick Morris his farm bailiff.

In the late 1880s Richard Pether also took on the lease of Brasenose Farm from Brasenose College, and ran it jointly with Wood Farm, and by 1891 employed William's father Frederick as his farm bailiff. At the time of the 1891 census William Morris (13) was still at school and living with his parents and sisters at “Brasenose Lane” in Headington Quarry, presumably in a cottage near Brasenose Farmhouse (below), which was itself listed as uninhabited in that census.

Brasenose Farm

Just after the 1891 census William started an apprenticeship with a cycle-maker in St Giles' Street, and in 1893 started making his own bicycles from home in Headington with £4 capital.

In 1894 William Morris's father had to give up farming because of asthma, and the family moved to 16 James Street in East Oxford. At the time of the 1901 census William (23), described as a cycle manufacturer and employer, was living at 16 James Street with his father Frederick (53), now described as a cycle agent, his mother Emily (50), and his sisters Alice (22) and Emily (20), who were respectively a milliner and a dressmaker.

On 9 April 1903* at St Giles's Church, William Richard Morris married Lizzie Maud Anstey, the daughter of William Jones Anstey and his wife Elizabeth. They were both aged 25: William was described as a cycle engineer, and Lizzie (who was born at Walton Crescent in 1877 and baptised at St Giles's Church on 2 October that year) was living at 8 Woodstock Road at the time of her wedding, and her father was described as a lecturer, although he had formerly been a farrier. They had no children.

At the time of the 1911 census William (34), described as a motor garage proprietor and engineer, and Lizzie (34) were living with Lizzie’s nephew and one servant at 280 Iffley Road. Meanwhile William’s parents were now living at 59 Argyle Street in East Oxford, and his father Frederick was described as an accountant: he died in 1916 and his mother Emily Ann in 1934.

In Kelly's Directory for 1914/15, William Richard Morris is listed twice under Temple Cowley: as a private resident in the Manor House there, and in the commercial section as “W. R. M. Motors Limited (W. R. Morris, Managing director), motor engineers, The Cowley Motor works”.

In 1925 William Morris and his wife moved to the village of Nuffield in Oxfordshire, and they lived at a house called Nuffield Place for the rest of their lives.

In 1929 he was given a baronetcy, and in 1934 a barony, becoming Lord Nuffield, taking the name of the village where he then lived.

On 4 April 1934 Magdalen College sold to Lord Nuffield the whole of the Wood Farm estate, including Open Magdalen, for £26,000, so that he now owned the farm where his grandfather Richard Pether had been tenant farmer for so many years and which he knew as a child. He agreed “at all times hereafter to preserve as a permanent open space or permanent spaces” the present Magdalen Wood”.

In 1938 he became Viscount Nuffield. His main connection with Headington as an adult relates to the enormous gifts he gave towards medical research and hospitals. One evening in the summer of 1930, the wife of the orthopaedic surgeon Robert Gathorne Girdlestone opened the door of the Red House in Old Road to find an unknown gentleman who introduced himself as “Morris of the car factory” and who gave her a cheque for £1,000 to help keep the Wingfield Hospital in good repair. In 1933 it was rebuilt and renamed the Wingfield-Morris Orthopaedic Hospital. In 1955 it was renamed the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre.

The 1939 Register shows Lord and Lady Nuffield living at Nuffield Place with their two servants.

In the early 1950s Lord Nuffield sold Wood Farm to the city council and the development of the Wood Farm estate began in 1953, but the earlier agreement to preserve Magdalen Wood was honoured.

Lord Nuffield’s wife Lizzie died on 20 May 1959 at the age of 81, and he died at Nuffield Place on 22 August 1963 at the age of 85. They were cremated at Oxford Crematorium in Bayswater Road, Headington: their ashes were buried at Nuffield parish church, and there is a memorial plaque to them (below) at the crematorium (with Lizzie Maud wrongly named as Elizabeth Maude):

Nuffield plaque in crematorium
© Trevor Coppock Photography, Auckland, New Zealand

* Many sources give the year of their wedding as 1904, but the St Giles's parish register and the GRO both confirm that it took place in 1903.

Lord Nuffield's name is remembered in Headington by Nuffield Road, and in the following medical establishments:

and the healthcare charity that runs the Manor Hospital is called Nuffield Health.

Elsewhere in Oxford, Lord Nuffield is remembered by:

There are also Nuffield Professorships of Anaesthetics, Economics, Clinical Medicine, and Sociology

His house near Henley-on-Thames, Nuffield Place, is now owned by the National Trust and is a memorial to him

More on the Pether family

Richard Pether was born in Cowley in 1815 and baptised at St James's Church Cowley on 10 September. He was the son of the carpenter John Pether and his wife Ann.

He and his younger brother Henry farmed at Bartlemas Farm, and Richard was described as a butcher of Temple Cowley; but in about 1850 he split from his brother and took on the lease of Wood Farm, which was owned by Magdalen College, thus bringing his family into the recently established parish of Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry.

Wood FarmWood Farm in 1878. The wooded area to the south-east is Open Magdalen.
This was the subject of many disputes between Richard Pether and the people of Headington

(more information here)

Richard & Anne Ursula Pether had eleven children, but only six survived childhood:

  • Anne Ursula Pether (baptised on 3 January 1846 at Cowley St James Church; died in infancy and buried there on 16 April 1846)
  • Mary Ellen Pether (baptised on 28 March 1847 at Cowley St James Church); married the wine merchant John Wheeler at Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry on 16 February 1869
  • Sarah Kate Pether (baptised on 26 December 1848 at Cowley St James Church); married the grocer William Field Cox at Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry on 19 April 1870)
  • Emily Anne Pether (baptised on 13 October 1850 at Cowley St James Church); married Frederick Morris and was mother of Lord Nuffield; died 1934
  • Kate Pether (baptised on 20 June 1852 at Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry); married the farmer and miller Vincent Ball at the church on 7 November 1876 (on the same day that her sister Emily was married)
  • Richard Pether (baptised on 14 August 1853 at Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry); died aged 6 months, buried at Holy Trinity on 12 December 1853
  • Walter Pether (baptised on 30 November 1854 at Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry); died aged ten months, buried at Holy Trinity on 15 September 1855
  • Richard Pether (baptised on 11 May 1856 at Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry); died aged 11 while boarding at Mr Hurst’s School in Littlemore, buried at Holy Trinity on 17 December 1867
  • Anne Pether (born on 9 September 1857 and baptised 11 October at Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry; died unmarried aged 86 and buried there in August 1944)
  • Henry Pether (baptised on 11 September 1859 at Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry); died aged one, and buried at the church on 9 August 1860
  • Elizabeth Pether (born 26 February 1861 and baptised 9 May at Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry); died unmarried aged 82 at Littlemore Asylum on 19 September 1943 and buried at that church four days later.

At the time of the 1861 census Richard Pether employed twelve men and eleven boys to look after the 207 acres of Wood Farm; ten years later, his land had increased to 295 acres; and twenty years later to 370 acres, worked by 17 men, three women, and six boys. This growth is probably explained by the fact that Richard, as well as taking on Brasenose Farm in the late 1880s, had, much to the anger of the people of Quarry, encroached on Open Magdalen.

With no surviving son to take over the farm, Richard Pether moved away from Wood Farm in 1895, when he was 80, and went to live at Unity House in Larkins Lane, Old Headington with his two unmarried daughters, Annie and Elizabeth (Bessy). He died at the age of 88 on 30 March 1902 (the year his grandson produced his first motorcycle) and was buried with his wife and son Richard in the graveyard of Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry. His effects came to £1,746 1s. 4d.

The Pether family continued to own Unity House, and Mrs Emily Ann Yockney, Lord Nuffield’s sister, lived there with her family until 1912.

Pether grave

The Pether family grave (above) is situated immediately in front of the C. S. Lewis signpost at Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry. Here lie Lord Nuffield’s grandfather, Richard Pether (died 30 March 1902, aged 87) and his grandmother Ann Ursula (died 21 December 1871, aged 51). Also buried in the grave are three of their children: their son Richard (died 13 December 1867 aged 11, wrongly inscribed 1857); and their two youngest daughters Anne and Elizabeth, who never married but cared for their father Richard in his old age: Anne died in 1943 and Elizabeth in 1944.

Next to this grave are three child-sized graves whose inscriptions are now illegible: they must belong to Richard and Ann Pether’s other three boys, who all died before their first birthday in the 1850s: Walter, an earlier Richard, and Henry.

Lord Nuffield and his horn of plenty

This cartoon, entitled THE HORN OF PLENTY: “SAY WHEN!”, was published in Punch on 2 December 1936. Underneath is written “With Mr. Punch’s congratulations to Lord Nuffield, who has increased his enormous gift to Oxford University for Medical Research by another £750,000.”

There is a much fuller entry on Lord Nuffield in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
The ODNB online is available free to many public library users, including those in Oxfordshire:
enter L followed immediately by your library ticket number in the “Library Card Login” box

Wikipedia: William Morris, 1st Viscount Nuffield

Irene Lowe in Australia, who is descended from Richard Pether’s older brother William
(one of the first emigrants to Western Australia in 1838) and his wife Irene
has drawn up a Pether family tree

Morris family tree: brief details from The Complete Peerage

© Stephanie Jenkins

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