Ever wanted to step back in time to the 1930’s? A visit to Nuffield Place near Henley on Thames is a great way to do it. The National Trust, who now own the property, have made the experience possible by dressing the house in such a way that it appears the occupants have simply stepped out for a moment and might return at any time.
Nuffield Place – originally named Merrow Mount – was built in 1914. William Morris, one of the greatest philanthropists of the twentieth century, bought the house from the widow of the original owner in 1933. As Morris had recently been given a peerage and taken the name Lord Nuffield, the house was renamed to reflect that.
At the time of purchase, Lord Nuffield made some additions to the house – including a large billiard room at the front – as well as redecorating the whole house from top to bottom. Lord and Lady Nuffield were so frugal that the house was never redecorated after that date, despite the fact that they lived there for around thirty years. Hence it has become somewhat of a life size time capsule.
For so wealthy a man, Nuffield Place is a very modest property in both size and decoration. Although Lord and Lady Nuffield owned many beautiful things, this was not a couple who splashed out on indulgences for themselves. The house has a feel of homeliness and comfort rather than one of opulence.
The couple never forgot their humble beginnings, despite becoming titled and rubbing shoulders with kings and queens. Born in 1877, William Morris left school at the age of 14 and became an apprentice in a bike shop to help support his family. When a pay rise was denied him, Morris set up his own bike shop with a capital investment of just four pounds.
William Morris’ fascination with how things were built led him to experiment with making motorised vehicles and in 1913 he built his first motor car. From this first Morris Oxford to the post-war Morris Minor and then MG, Morris’ cars became known around the world and he gained phenomenal wealth. However, instead of spending the money on himself, William Morris made it his business to find those in need, giving away huge sums of money and looking for ways to help make people’s lives better.
Nuffield Place is beautifully decorated for the period and it’s lovely to see some of Lord and Lady Nuffield’s treasured things on display.
Visitors’ suitcases sit open, half unpacked in the guest room. A tea tray rests beside a bed and a closet door, left open as if by mistake, reveals a colourful wardrobe of dresses and robes. It is also noticeable that although the rooms are a very good size, there are only single beds. It seems that everyone slept alone in Nuffield Place, something that was very common among the wealthy in the early part of the twentieth century. Lord and Lady Nuffield’s bedrooms are side by side, joined by a sun porch, but they are separate nonetheless.
Nuffield Place is a very interesting National Trust property to visit. The house has a friendly, comfortable feel to it and there are lots of beautiful gardens to walk round. It’s a very different experience to walk round a historic home that looks like it is still actually being lived in. I had a real sense of the character of the occupants and I feel the property gives a great taste of what it might have been a member of the upper middle class in the 1930’s. The feeling I took away was one of living history – while Lord and Lady Nuffield may no longer be with us, the home they created together lives on in a small corner of the Oxfordshire countryside at Nuffield Place. (Please click on the link for more visitor information.)
If you enjoyed this post you may also like Grey’s Court – A Charming Tudor Country House.