William Richard MORRIS, Viscount Nuffield (1877–1963)

Car-maker and philanthropist

16 James Street, Cowley, Oxford

William Richard Morris was born in Worcester, the eldest son of Frederick Morris originally from Witney and Emily Ann, daughter of Richard Pether of Wood Farm, Headington, where they returned to live in 1880. William had dreams of becoming a doctor but family circumstances dictated that he must go out to work. In 1893 he was apprenticed to a cycle maker in St Giles’. Within the year he started up his own cycle business with £4 capital, based at the family home in Headington. When they moved to 16 James Street, Cowley St John (below), he made and repaired bicycles in a shed at the back and displayed the finished machines in the front window. He had a passion for bicycles and was himself a champion racing cyclist. In 1901 he rented 48 High Street as business premises and in 1902 acquired stables at corner of Holywell and Longwall Street in order to make motorcycles. In 1903 he married Lizzie Anstey.

16 James Street

Spotting the business potential of the motor car, he built the red-brick Morris Garage at the Longwall site for car sales, repair, and hire and opened a showroom in Queen Street. For serious car manufacture he needed somewhere larger and in 1913 acquired a disused military training college building in Temple Cowley. He was the first British manufacturer to develop mass production of cheap but reliable cars and after ten years had an annual turnover of £6 million. Production rocketed. In addition to the popular Morris Oxford designs was the prestigious MG (= Morris Garages) sports car (see plaque for Cecil Kimber). The plant came to cover the vast areas of the North and South Works on both sides of the road. By 1936 the economic and societal impact on Oxford was immense. Additional labour was needed and there was a great influx of people from Wales, Northern England, and Scotland. The outer suburbs of the city were developed to house the new workers.

His own life-style was modest and he devoted much of his fortune to philanthropic endowments, giving away some £30 million, estimated to be equivalent to over £700 million today. Medical causes were closest to his heart. His principal foundations in Oxford were the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in 1931 (see plaque for Professor Gathorne Girdlestone), the Nuffield Institute for Medical Research (1936), the creation of five Clinical Medical Departments presided over by Nuffield Professors (see plaque for Professor Chassar Moir), and Nuffield College which he had hoped would be dedicated to Engineering before being persuaded by the academic establishment that there was a need for postgraduate study of Social Sciences (see plaque for Dame Margery Perham). He also gave huge amounts to hospitals and other causes all over the country and in 1943 set up the Nuffield Foundation, a national charitable trust for medical, scientific and social research. The foundation’s benefactions amount to many millions each year.

In 1933 he and Lady Nuffield had bought a modest mansion near Wallingford called Nuffield Place, which remained his home until his death in 1963. He was made Viscount Nuffield in 1938. For many years the house was retained by Nuffield College with all furnishings and personal items just as he left it. It is now maintained by the National Trust.


  • E. J. Minns, Wealth well-given: the enterprise and benevolence of Lord Nuffield (1994)
  • R. Overy, William Morris, Viscount Nuffield (1976)
  • Hibbert: Encyclopaedia of Oxford (1988)

The plaque was unveiled at 16 James Street, Cowley, Oxford on 21 April 2004 by Jo Revis, President of the Bullnose Morris Association. Among those present were Kevin Minns, the great-great-nephew of Lord Nuffield and Dr Catrin Roberts, Assistant Director of the Nuffield Foundation.

Plaque to William Morris


Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board


later Lord Nuffield

Carmaker and Philanthropist
lived and built bicycles here 

Oxford Civic Society

© Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board


Email: oxfordshireblueplaques@gmail.com