Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

The accidental millionaire philanthropist William Morris.

Posted in William Morris - Lord Nuffield of Nuffield Place NT. by sheelanagigcomedienne on September 21, 2012

WILLIAM MORRIS WHO BECAME LORD NUFFIELD WAS A VERY UNASSUMING INDUSTRIALIST AND PHILANTROPIST. He was an accidental millionare. He gave away the equivalent of  2 billion.

We visited Nuffield Place which has opened this year as it was bequeathed to the national Trust by Nuffield College which has owned it since 1963 and left it mostly intouched. One visitor said: Seeing where and how Viscount Nuffield (William Morris) and his wife lived is really refreshing in this day and age where “Celebrity” must be flaunted.

The house and grounds are delightful but not what you might expect of someone who gave away hundreds of millions of pounds(in his lifetime) to good causes,particularly those associated with education and medicine. Every room is filled with interesting,sometimes curious personal belongings!

A comfortable Thirties home, with its china displays, cocktail cabinet and radiogram, Nuffield Place is furnished as though its owners have just stepped into their much-loved garden: there are framed photographs, letters and smoking paraphernalia everywhere.

Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia must have been startled when, in 1954, he dined at Nuffield Place, near Henley-on-Thames, home of Lord Nuffield, founder of Morris Motors and one of the richest men in the world.

Lady Nuffield had laid the table and the food, brought from the local golf club and warmed up, was taken into the dining room by Lady Nuffield herself. Morrris had bought the local golf club – The  Huntercombe- as they had refused him membership!

But the true heart of the house is Lord Nuffield’s bedroom. The beige carpet, like that used in his cars, is made from offcuts. His bed, jammed against the fireplace, has monogrammed sheets and there is also a jerry-built lamp with trailing wires rigged up by him. And what looks like a wardrobe is actually a tool cupboard and workbench, where he would tinker at night.He really must have been quite  an eccentric geek with some asperger’s traits.

According to David Williams of The Telegraph:It’s the dream of every amateur mechanic – especially those with insomnia. Imagine, when sleep eludes and you can’t block out the problems of the day, pulling on your dressing gown and walking to the large, built-in wardrobe in the corner of your bedroom.

You swing open the doors, flick a switch on the lamp inside and there, instead of rows of shirts, suits and ties, are all the tools you would ever need to mend a clock, patch up an old bicycle lamp or resole a battered but loved pair of shoes.

There are dozens of well-used spanners, screwdrivers, bradawls, saws, files, pincers and pliers, of course. But also an electric grinder and polisher, a cobbler’s last, packets of Phillips stick-on soles, a blowtorch, even an RAC brake-tester and soldering equipment.

Fantasy? For most of us, perhaps, but this is the bedroom of Lord Nuffield, philanthropist, sportsman, keen cyclist, engineer, dog-lover and once reputed to be the world’s wealthiest individual. He’s better known as Sir William Morris, the man who gave us the Bullnose Morris, the Morris Cowley, Morris Minor and countless other British favourites.

Now, the nocturnal secrets of this inspiring man, who in his lifetime not only founded the Morris Motor Company but gave away £2 billion (in today’s money) to good causes, are being laid bare for all to see.
William and Elizabeth’s bedrooms were separated by a sunny room with a television and fly sprayer! She had been a seamstress and continued making her own clothes!
The Oxford Times said;  Here, too, are the long-case clocks which Morris  repaired himself and liked to have keeping good time; and the exercise horse for keeping fit.Also redolent of the man are the ingenious cocktail cabinet, and the automatic match dispenser which the gadget-loving tycoon must have offered with some pride to his guests relaxing in the drawing room, amid Persian rugs and comfy wing chairs.

The sheet music for Songs for Smokers, written by Cockney music hall star Albert Chevalier recalls the magnate’s own fondness for tobacco.

“Morris and his wife grew up in ordinary terraced houses in East Oxford,” Dr Head continued, “but unlike many modern millionaires, they didn’t live a life of luxury and didn’t show-off with collections of paintings or antiques.

“For influential visitors, the house has a rather stylish and impressive formal drawing room, dining room and guest bedrooms. The Morrises themselves felt more comfortable in their small private sitting room/study with their Scottie dogs, hardly bigger than the parlours of the houses where they grew up.”Sir William Morris’ house open to the public – Telegraph

I was so impressed by William and Elizabeth’s very ordinary home. There is reproduction furniture and floral pictures, Victorian prints and some watercolours of Oxfordpictiures and tapestry which are merely wall decorations and I am sure reflect her taste. I like to believe he let her be the homemaker so long as he had his bedroom workshop and could indulge his taste for music hall songs and be allowed to smoke.
I highly recommend this latest NT acquistion for an inspiring day out near Henley. Indeed, it is interesting to compare and contrast his namesake’s home The Red House which is also an NT property. I believe that the opening of his simple home home will help to make people aware of the contribution of this very modest man to industry, medicine and science in an age of celebrity and obsession and the excessive greed of the sycophantic money men.

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