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. In fact, it appears the occupants have simply stepped out for a moment and might return at any time.
Coats hang on pegs in the front hallway and a handbag sits on a chair.
Nuffield Place – originally named Merrow Mount – was built in 1914. William Morris, founder of Morris Motors and one of the greatest philanthropists of the twentieth century, bought the house in 1933. As Morris had recently been made 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. He also redecorated the whole house from top to bottom. However, 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. It’s basically a life size time capsule.
From the newspaper left lying on a chair to the bowl of nuts and tin of mints on the side table, there is a real impression that you are walking through a home that is actually lived in.
One of the most remarkable men of the 20th century, William Morris – later Lord Nuffield – was born in 1877. He left school at 14 and became an apprentice in a bike shop to help support his family. When he was refused a pay rise, Morris walked out, and set up his own bike shop with a capital investment of just four pounds.
William Morris was a bit of a whiz-kid, and his fascination with how things were built led him to experiment with making motorised vehicles. 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 Morris gained phenomenal wealth.
Instead of spending the money on himself, William Morris gave away over £30 million pounds in his lifetime. From setting up a foundation which lent wedding dresses to women who served in World War 2, to manufacturing and giving away iron lungs (a device which saved the lives of thousands affected by polio), Morris never rested in his quest to help make ordinary people’s lives better.
Morris married Elizabeth Anstey in 1903. The couple never forgot their humble beginnings, despite becoming titled and rubbing shoulders with kings and queens.
More About Nuffield Place
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.
Although Lord and Lady Nuffield lived very frugally, Nuffield Place is beautifully decorated for the period. There are original items owned by the couple 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. The decor is tasteful but modest, not really what you would expect to see in the home of a man who was worth millions. The panelling in the stairway was almost identical to the panelling my late in-laws had in their second last home, which was built in the 1930’s.
A Fascinating Day Out
It’s so cool 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. The property gives a great taste of what it might have been a member of the upper middle class in the 1930’s.
Nuffield Place is a fascinating property to visit. The house has a friendly, comfortable feel to it and there are lots of beautiful gardens to walk round.
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.
For more information and opening times, please visit the National Trust website.