Modest lifestyle of man who gave away millions

Nuffield Place, near Wallingford, the home of Oxford car magnate William Morris

Nuffield Place, near Wallingford, the home of Oxford car magnate William Morris

First published in News

WHEN Lord Nuffield had his appendix removed, he was flabbergasted by his surgeon’s use of anaesthetic.

Having had a tooth pulled without the use of anaesthetic not long before, he noticed the difference.

So impressed was he that in 1937 he paid £2m (the equivalent of £123m today) for Robert Mackintosh, to be made chairman of medicine at Oxford University, the first position of its kind, to research the emerging science of anaesthetics.

Oxford Mail:

  • Lord Nuffield

When university dons told Lord Nuffield “any idiot can use anaesthetics”, he reportedly quipped: “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

Now Lord Nuffield’s appendix, preserved and pickled, sits on a shelf in his workshop, exactly as he left it when he died in 1963.

Oxford Mail:

  • Visitor experience manager Louise Walker points out Nuffield’s pickled appendix, among the items on his tool bench 

Oxford Mail:

  • The appendix on the shelf

Other medical paraphernalia in the house pay tribute to his lifelong fascination with medical science.

His Cowley car factory even produced a revolutionary, wooden-framed “iron lung” for polio victims, one of which is on display.

He built and donated 800 of the machines – half the total in the country at the time – at a cost of £6m in today’s money.

It is said that Morris would have trained to become a doctor if he could have afforded it.

But growing up in an East Oxford terrace, the young William did not have the opportunity to study.

He began his working life at 14, repairing bicycles in the shed at the bottom of his father’s garden in James Street.

He used a starting capital of no more than £4 to design his first car, the Bullnose Morris, at a garage in Longwall Street.

So successful was the company he started that he was able to donate £1bn in today’s money to charity, mainly to medical science.

Today, the Nuffield Health charity runs 32 private hospitals, 65 gyms and hundreds of corporate fitness facilities.

But Nuffield Place pays testament to a man who stayed close to his working class roots.

The record collection is full of Gilbert and Sullivan and other light-hearted music hall.

In a room upstairs, Lord Nuffield – made a viscount in 1930 and a baron in 1934 – kept a workshop where he fixed clocks for fun.

Assistant house steward Claudia Bolling, 48, who lives in Wallingford, said: “He achieved amazing things and sadly he has been forgotten.

“So many people come to the house and don’t realise the connection between the Nuffield hospital and William Morris. I always say everyone in this county has either driven a Morris car or been treated in a Nuffield hospital.”

Oxford Mail:

  • A guest bedroom, preserved as it was when Lord Nuffield died in 1963, with visitor Lesley Hunter in the mirror

He left the house to the Oxford college he founded, Nuffield College, which took care of it, sporadically opening it to the public, for the next 48 years.

In 2011, following a national fundraising campaign, the National Trust bought the house from the college for some £600,000.

Now, the trust is inviting the public to come and celebrate the house’s 100th birthday, and its most famous owner.

Though, according to staff, he is still not well-known enough.

Visitor experience manager Louise Walker said: “This house is a really wonderful part of British history that no one knows about.

“Lord Nuffield was an amazing man who donated pretty much his entire fortune to charitable causes and no one remembers it.”

Centenary celebrations at the house continue until September 14, with activities including a tapestry of the house which visitors can add to.

Nuffield Place is open Wednesday to Sunday 11am to 5pm until November 4. Admission costs £8.

FELL IN LOVE WITH THE HOUSE

CATHERINE and Julian Clare fell in love with Nuffield Place on their first visit.
So much so, in fact, that they both volunteered to work there as room guides once a month.

Oxford Mail:

  • Mrs Catherine Clare

But Mrs Clare had no idea she had a family link with the place.
Sorting through some of the books in the library, she came across a volume of dentistry with an inscription to Lord Nuffield from her great uncle, Frank Wilkinson.

He had been director of the Eastman Institute for Medicine, London and presented Lord Nuffield with the volume knowing his interest in the field.

Mrs Clare, 58, a former paper conservation expert from Windsor, said: “When we first came here, it was such a lovely feeling, it has a good vibe.
“I didn’t really know anything about Lord Nuffield, and I hadn’t connected the hospital with the Morris car.

“I think people would know a lot more about him if he had been Lord Morris.”
Mrs Clare and her husband, 63, a former drawings restorer at Windsor Castle, volunteer at Nuffield Place once a month.

She said Lord Nuffield’s library housed a small, but eclectic, mix of books ranging from manufacturing to gardening and 1930s personal fitness guides.

FROM SHIPPING MAGNATE TO CAR INDUSTRY KING

LORD and Lady Nuffield bought their house in 1933 and lived there until they died.

It was built by John Bowring-Wimble, a member of the Bowring shipping empire, for he, his wife Annie and their children Brenda and Leslie.

Designed by world-famous arts and crafts movement architect Oswald Partridge Milne and originally called Merrow Mount, it was completed in 1914.

Visitor experience manager Louise Walker said: “What we found particularly interesting, which we explore in the displays, is that this well-to-do family were building this country cottage and advertising for staff at that time (months before the outbreak of war).

“Did they know what would happen and just carry on? We don’t know.”

Either way, it seems the family stayed there throughout the war, with newspaper cuttings talking about the family at the home in October 1914.

Mr Bowring-Wimble was made an Oxfordshire Justice of the Peace in 1925.
He chose the location for the family home after joining Huntercombe Golf Club, like Nuffield after him, and taking a shine to the area. He died suddenly in 1927, aged 59.

The family stayed for another five years.

Lord Nuffield was so enamoured with Huntercombe Golf Club that in 1926 he bought it and ran it as a sole proprietor until he sold it to its members in 1963. Lord and Lady Nuffield moved to the club in 1927, building a whole new wing to live in, before moving to the then Merrow Mount.

When he was made a Lord in 1929, he could not be Lord Morris because there already was one, so he chose Nuffield, a village near Huntercombe, and renamed the house.

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