Headington history: People

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Lord Nuffield (William Morris) (1877–1963)

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

At the time of the 1851 census, when Emily Ann 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, Richard Pether’s daughter 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. By the time of the 1881 census, William Morris had two younger sisters, and the family can be seen living at Spring Cottage, Corner Gardens, Hallow, with Frederick now working as a draper’s clerk. The couple had seven children in all, but only William and his sister Emily survived infancy.

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.

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

Shortly after the 1891 census William Morris's father had to give up farming because of asthma, and the family moved to 16 James Street in East Oxford. William left school and took a job in a bicycle shop; by 1893 with £4 capital he set up a bicycle business at home; and the rest is history.

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 1925 William Morris and his wife moved to the village of Nuffield, where 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.

On 4 April 1934 Magdalen College sold to Lord Nuffield the whole of the Wood Farm estate, including Open Magdalen, for £26,000: he now owned the farm where his grandfather Richard Pether had been tenant for so many years.

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, and it was given its present name of the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in 1955.

Lord Nuffield must have sold Wood Farm to the city council in the early 1950s, as the development of the Wood Farm estate began in 1953.

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 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.

As well as the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, Headington has:

  • Nuffield Department of Anaesthetics
  • Nuffield Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences
  • Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine
  • Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences
  • Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology
  • Nuffield Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences.

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, t
he subject of many disputes between Richard Pether and the people of Headington

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 10 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 (left) 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 (who died in 1902, aged 87) and his grandmother Ann Ursula (who died in 1871, aged 51). Also buried in the grave are three of their children: their son Richard (who died aged 11 in 1867); and their two youngest daughters Anne and Elizabeth, who never married but cared for their father Richard in his old age.

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 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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