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Archives Biographies: Viscount Nuffield

Early years

Born 10 October 1877 in Hallow, near Worcester, William Richard Morris, later Viscount Nuffield, grew up in Oxford. He left school at the age of 15 and was apprenticed to a local bicycle seller. At the age of 16, he set up his own bicycle-repair business. In 1901, he began to work with motorcycles, designing the Morris Motor Cycle, and in 1902 acquired a garage in Longwell Street from which he sold, repaired and hired cars.

The Morris Motor Company

Two years later he designed a car, known as the “Bullnose” Morris, and began to manufacture these in a factory in Cowley, Oxfordshire. During the First World War the factory was given over to the production of munitions for the war effort, but after 1919 there was a return to car manufacture. 

Between 1919 and 1925, Nuffield acquired three more factories in Birmingham, Abingdon and Swindon, and pioneered Henry Ford’s methods of mass production on the factory line. The Morris cars, being a design that could be produced economically, quickly became one of the biggest mass-production industries in the UK. As a result, by 1925, the annual output was 56,000 vehicles.


In 1927, Nuffield bought out the bankrupt Wolseley Motor Company and used their designs for an overhead camshaft 8hp car to produce the first Morris Minor in 1928. Ten years later he purchased the Riley and Autovia motor companies, combining them with his own companies to form the Nuffield Organisation. 

During the Second World War the factories were again dedicated to military production, including aircraft and tanks, and during the post-war years, the company also made tractors. In 1952 the Nuffield Organisation merged with the Austin Motor Company to form the British Motor Corporation, becoming the largest British car company of its day. In 1968, it became part of British Leyland.

Institution of Manufacturing Engineers

Nuffield was a member of the Institution of Manufacturing Engineers (formerly the Institution of Production Engineers, which merged with the IEE in 1991) and was their President from 1937 to 1939. The IET commemorates the Institution of Manufacturing Engineers at Savoy Place, the London home of the IET, with the Nuffield Room.

Nuffield supported the Institution of Manufacturing Engineers to set up the Research Department at Loughborough College, which subsequently developed into the Production Engineering Research Association based in Leicestershire. The Institution founded the Viscount Nuffield Paper in honour of his work while he was still alive, to be delivered annually on subjects related to the application of production engineering.

Baronetcy and philanthropist causes

Nuffield was created as a baronet in 1929, created as Baron Nuffield in 1934, and made a viscount in 1938.

Nuffield was married to Elizabeth Anstey on 9 April 1904- there were no children, and as a result, he dispersed a large part of his fortune to charitable causes. Nuffield is well-known for giving away almost as much money as he made – at least £30 million in his lifetime. In particular, he founded the Nuffield Foundation in 1943 with an endowment of £10 million in order to advance education and social welfare and also founded Nuffield College, Oxford. Morris also has a building named after him at Coventry University and also at Guy's Hospital London.

Nuffield died in August 1963, leaving his former home, Nuffield Place, to Nuffield College, Oxford.

The Viscount Nuffield/Mensforth Lecture

The Viscount Nuffield Lecture was established in honour of the life of William Richard Morris, Viscount Nuffield. Nuffield was President of the Institution of Manufacturing Engineers (IMfgE), formerly the Institution of Production Engineers (IProdE). The IMfgE amalgamated with the IEE in 1991 and so the Viscount Nuffield Lecture became a premier manufacturing lecture of the IEE and, in due course, the IET. 

The Viscount Nuffield/ Mensforth Lecture was established as a result of the combining of the Viscount Nuffield Lecture and the Sir Eric Mensforth International Manufacturing Lecture in 2003 and is now part of our EngTalks lecture series.