Morris Garages: The Man Behind the MG

The world as MG enthusiasts know it today would not be the same if it was not for a man named William Richard Morris, later Lord Nuffield. MG, as almost everyone knows, stands for Morris Garages.

Morris established his vast car manufacturing empire from humble beginnings. He was born October 10, 1877 in Worcestershire, England, the eldest of seven children. His father was a clerk in a clothing store. When Morris was three years old, the family moved to Oxford, where his father helped run his grandfather’s farm.

Morris dropped out of school at the age of 15 to take a job to support the family when his father became ill. Young Morris became an apprentice to a local cycle trader, but was soon mending and building bicycles on his own. He saved up enough money to set up his own bicycle business within a year. The business prospered and expanded. He designed the Morris Motor Cycle in 1901 (an engine fitted to a bicycle frame) and a year later acquired a garage where he sold, repaired and rented cars. Morris married Elizabeth Anstey on April 9th, 1904.

Morris designed his first car, the Bull Nosed Morris, in 1912 and began large scale production at the former site of a military training college in the Cowley area of Oxford. He introduced the first Morris Oxford car in 1913. With the outbreak of World War I, his Cowley car factory was given over to produce munitions. After the war, car production resumed and Morris began to purchase more factories. He opened car manufacturing plants at Abingdon, Birmingham, and Swindon between 1919 and 1925, and introduced Henry Ford’s mass production technique to the United Kingdom.

In 1922, the fate of the sportier MG was cast. Morris appointed Cecil Kimber to be general manager of Morris Garages in Oxford. Under Kimber’s direction, the standard Morris Cowleys were modified by lowering the chassis and fitting more sporty bodywork. Morris Garages first advertised the “MG Special four-seater Sports” in 1924 and the now famous octagonal MG badge appeared for the first time.

In 1928, the M Type was introduced at the fall car show in London. It was the first in the long line of MG Midgets. The Midget proved to be so popular that a larger factory site had to be found to produce enough to satisfy the demand in the newly tapped small sports car market. The company purchased an old leather factory in Abingdon in 1929 and converted it into a car assembly plant which was MG’s home for more than 50 years.

William Richard Morris was knighted in 1929. He was elevated to a Viscount in 1938 and took the name of Nuffield after the Oxfordshire village where he was living. He is remembered not only as an industrialist, but also as a philanthropist who gave away approximately Ã?£30 million to worthy causes over the course of his lifetime. (That is the equivalent of more than Ã?£600 million, or approximately $1 billion in today’s money.)

Lord Nuffield (Morris) died at his home, Nuffield Place, Henley-on-Thames, on August 22, 1963 at the age of 86. He is buried at Holy Trinity Church, Nuffield, Oxfordshire, England. The impact of his generosity continues up to the present day.

The late Lord Nuffield founded the Nuffield Trust for the Forces of the Crown in 1939. The trust has provided money to make living conditions more comfortable for members of the British Armed Forces on deployment from the time of the Second World War up to the present.

His largest benefaction is The Nuffield Foundation which was founded in 1943. Funding from the Nuffield Foundation is used to support education and social welfare projects. Nuffield College at the University of Oxford was also originally funded by Lord Nuffield. Other charities which bear his name include the Nuffield Nursing Homes Trust which runs the Nuffield Hospitals.

Nuffield’s home, Nuffield Place, is now a museum. The house, which was build in 1914 and purchased by Morris and his wife in 1933, serves as a memorial to the unostentatious tycoon and philanthropist. It is located at Huntercombe, near Nettlebed, Henley-on-Thames. The interior is filled with mementoes of Nuffield’s various interests – gadgets, smoking and golf. Models of cars are everywhere. Cupboards in his bedroom contain a miniature workshop with do-it-yourself tools, which Nuffield used to amuse himself when he could not sleep.

Nuffield Place is open eleven times a year, beginning with the last Sunday in April and on the second and fourth Sundays of the month from May to September. If you ever travel to England, you’ll want to make sure you make a stop at Nuffield Place and get to know “The Man Behind the MG” a little better.

Over the years, there were a lot of changes in the ownership of the original Morris Garages. MG merged with the British Motor Corporation (BMC) in 1952. In 1968, BMC merged with Jaguar and the Leyland Motor Company and became the British Leyland Motor Company. The Rover Group took over the conglomerate in 1986, which was later purchased by the German company BMW.

A deal in 2000 renamed the company The MG Rover Group. MG Rover Group went into receivership in 2005. According to a press release, the assets of MG Rover were sold to Nanjing Automobile Corporation (UK) Ltd. There are rumors that Nanjing Automobile is working with a British consortium to revive the MG and Rover brands. But most MG enthusiasts will likely agree that a 21st Century model will never hold the same allure that the classics of today command.

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