10 May 2024

Nuffield College and
the embarrassment
of Lord Nuffield’s
lifelong antisemitism

Nuffield College, Oxford, owes its name and endowments to the indistrialist William Morris, Lord Nuffield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Oxford University is in the process of confronting the legacy it has inherited that are rooted in slavery, racism and colonialism.

The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ protests have raised questions about the continuing presence of the statue of Cecil Rhodes looking down on the High Street, with many calls for its removal. It has become a focus for public debate on racism and the legacy of colonialism. In response, Oriel College has placed a small notice below his statue on the Rhodes Building, explaining that his statue is controversial and that the college is addressing this.

For three centuries or more, the library at All Souls College was known as Codrington Library. But in 2020, All Souls College decided to stop using that name to make plain its abhorrence of slavery.

Nuffield College is a small postgraduate college specialising in the social sciences (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

However, with the frightening rise in antisemitism, perhaps Nuffield College also needs to critically examine its legacy and the way it continues to honour William Morris (1877-1963), Lord Nuffield, and to address his Nazi sympathies and his vociferous and vile lifelong antisemitism.

Nuffield College is a small postgraduate college, specialising in the social sciences. The new Porters’ Lodge at the large Worcester Street gates and main entrance opened last Friday (3 May). This was the main entrance location planned by the architect Austen Harrison in the original designs for Nuffield College, and the previous entrance at New Road has been closed.

Nuffield College owes its name to its founder, William Richard Morris (1887-1963), first Viscount Nuffield. The college website portrays him as a benevolent industrialist and ‘one of Britain's greatest philanthropists.’ He founded the Nuffield Foundation and the Nuffield Trust and bestowed his largesse on Oxford, giving away millions to worthy causes.

Morris once declared: ‘I can only promise you this, that for the rest of my life I will do my best for mankind.’ But it was a hollow promise, for Morris was a pro-Hitler Nazi sympathiser and was once the leading financier of far-right politics in pre-war Britain, and also an oppressive and cruel employer.

The college website labels him ‘the British Henry Ford.’ The website misses the irony in this, for Henry Ford was a virulent racist and clung to his antisemitic views throughout his life, and used his vast resources and influence in a sustained campaign to spread bigotry and conspiracy thinking. Ford refused to employ Jews in white-collar jobs, and he was a supporter of various antisemitic organisations, including the Ku Klux Klan.

So I find it baffling, to put it mildly, that Nuffield, who was a Nazi sympathiser and an antisemitic racist, is still apparently feted uncritically in Oxford.

Nuffield helped the Radcliffe Hospital to purchase the Radcliffe Observatory site (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Morris always managed to maintain a veneer of social respectably and he became Sir William Morris in 1929 when he was given the title of baronet. But by then his fascist sympathies were known publicly and he played a central role in the growth of fascism in pre-war Britain in the 1930s

He became a bankroller of extremist politics in 1930, when he donated £50,000 – the equivalent of £3 million today – to Oswald Mosley’s New Party, later the British Union of Fascists.

Mosley’s blackshirts wanted a Britain that was exclusively for people of ‘British Birth and Parentage,’ and advocated collaboration with Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany. He described William Morris as his ‘chief backer’. In 1932, Morris gave Mosley another £35,000 – £2 million today – to set up Action, the blackshirt ‘newspaper’.

Action was violently antisemitic, speaking of the ‘filthy, obscene Jewish Communists.’ It wanted to deprive Jews of the vote and advocated ‘holding them under restraint’ to protect native Britons. It claimed Jews controlled the ‘financial democracy’ of the world, oppressed hard-working Britons and stole their money for their own kind. It accused Jews of seeking to ‘destroy Christianity’ while using their control of the media to divert eyes elsewhere.

Action also defended the Nazi treatment of Jews, describing it as ‘mild’ and ‘justified’ and claiming it was far less harsh than the treatment of Catholics in other parts of Europe.

As public opinion turned against fascism, Morris became more subtle in his support for the far-right, and his veneer of social respectability was enhanced in 1934 when he was given a peerage with the title Baron Nuffield.

Although Nuffield stopped funding Mosley directly, for many more years he retained his subscription to antisemitic newspapers, including the Duke of Northumberland’s anti-Jewish newspaper The Patriot. He became a leading figure in the Anglo-German Fellowship, was founded in 1935 to enabled aristocrats and bankers to build bridges with Nazi Germany. The guests at their dinners included Nazis such as Heinrich Himmler, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Rudolf Hess, and leading members were guests at the Nuremberg rally in 1936.

Mosley’s blackshirts were actively organising violent attacks on Jews on the streets of London, and this reached a climax with the Battle of Cable Street in the East End of London on 4 October 1936.

Nuffield was a leading advocate of appeasement when he was advanced or promoted in the peerage by Neville Chamberlain in 1938 with the additional title of Viscount Nuffield.

During World War II, Morris was involved in the National Front After Victory, a far-right organisation later known as the National Front. Despite the defeat of the Nazis and Fascists in World War II, Morris clung to his extremist beliefs. He wrote in his diary, ‘It is a well-known fact that every government in my England is Jew controlled regardless of the party in power.’

The Morris Garages site on Longwall Street site was redeveloped in 1980 and is now student accommodation for New College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Admittedly, Morris donated generously to the university, helping to fund Nuffield College, donating generously to Saint Peter’s Hall which became Saint Peter’s College, endowing four medical professorships in the university, setting up the Oxford Medical School, and helping the Radcliffe Hospital to acquire the Radcliffe Observatory site.

But he amassed his wealth through his Oxford factories, where workers endured poor conditions and low wages. When his workers organised against the appalling conditions and low wages in his factories, Morris threatened to fire anyone who joined a union.

The buildings Morris first acquired in Longwall Street back in 1902 became the Oxford Garage and later the Morris Garages in 1910. The Longwall Street site was redeveloped in 1980, retaining the original frontage, and is now used as student accommodation by New College.

However, while the Longwall Street site of the Morris Garage lauds Nuffield’s achievements in the motor industry, I could see nothing referring to his ugly antisemitism, racism and bigotry.

I am not advocating that Nuffield College should change its name. But if Nuffield College or New College wanted to find someone else’s name to highlight and to start to bring some balance into the equation, I would suggest the name of Abe Lazarus (1911-1967), who led the first successful strike in a Morris factory in 1934.

Abraham Lazarus was born in London into a Jewish family. His mother was Irish and spent Abe’s early years nursing him through rheumatic fever. In his teens he became a Communist Party activist, but his trade union activities in Oxford were supported by local Labour Party activists too.

On the eleventh day of the strike at the Morris factories in 1934, the management agreed to raise wages and to recognise the unions. The victory of the striking Morris workers ushered in a wave of left-wing political activism across Oxford in the 1930s. The Labour Party saw a resurgence in Oxford, the Transport and General Workers’ Union saw an increase in members, and the Communist Party gained support among Morris factory workers.

Lazarus also helped to protect Oxford’s Jews from fascist intimidation in 1936 by organising crowds of students and workers to successfully disrupt a visiting Oswald Mosley the British Union of Fascists in Oxford during the ‘Battle of Carfax.’

Lazarus stood many times in the Cowley and Iffley ward in Oxford City Council elections, but was never elected. When he stood in Cowley in 1937, he was on a joint ticket with Frank Pakenham (1905-2001). He came close to winning the seat, and the election launched the political career of the future Lord Longford. Pakenham stood against Quintin Hogg in Oxford in 1945, but lost by almost 3,000 votes. That October, he was made a Labour life peer with the title of Baron Pakenham of Cowley in the City of Oxford. He later succeeded his brother as the Earl of Longford in 1961.

During his final years, Abe Lazarus worked as a librarian at the Bernal Peace Library. The modern office building the Labour Party and the Unite union share in Cowley is named Abe Lazarus House in his honour.

Shabbat Shalom

Would Abe Lazarus (1911-1967) be an appropriate figure to commemorate at Nuffield College? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Easter 2024:
41, 10 May 2024

The Ascension depicted in the West Window in Norwich Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Easter is a 50-day season that continues until the Day of Pentecost (19 May 2024). This week began with the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Easter VI), and yesterday was Ascension Day (9 May 2024). Easter was celebrated in the Greek Orthodox Church on Sunday (5 May), and today is known in the Orthodox Church as ‘Bright Friday.’

Throughout this Season of Easter, my morning reflections each day include the daily Gospel reading, the prayer in the USPG prayer diary, and the prayers in the Collects and Post-Communion Prayer of the day. As yesterday was Ascension Day, the Ascension theme continues in the photographs in my prayer diary this morning.

I have yet another medical appointment in Stony Stratford later this morning. But, before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

3, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

The Ascension depicted in the East Window in Saint Giles Church, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

John 16: 20-23 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 20 ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. 22 So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.’

The Ascension depicted in a stained-glass window by Burlison and Gryllis in Saint Michael’s Church, St Albans (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Today’s Prayers (Friday 10 May 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Thy Kingdom Come.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with some Reflections.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (10 May 2024) invites us to pray:

Father God, we pray in hope for all people who have not yet heard the Good News of Jesus Christ and his love for the world. May they hear it for themselves and respond and follow him.

The Collect:

O God the King of glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
we beseech you, leave us not comfortless,
but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us
and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal God, giver of love and power,
your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into all the world
to preach the gospel of his kingdom:
confirm us in this mission,
and help us to live the good news we proclaim;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Risen, ascended Lord,
as we rejoice at your triumph,
fill your Church on earth with power and compassion,
that all who are estranged by sin
may find forgiveness and know your peace,
to the glory of God the Father.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Ascension depicted in a stained-glass window in Saint Thomas the Apostle Church, Heptonstall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org