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'Everyone wanted to work at Morris Motors'
Buy this photo » Ernie Wright
WRM Motors began in 1912 when former bicycle manufacturer William Morris turned his attention from the repair of cars to building them.
Morris left school at 15 and set up a bike repair service from his Oxford home. He then opened a shop at 48 High Street, where he began building cycles.
In 1901, he built the Morris Motor Cycle and also acquired a garage in Longwall Street, from which he repaired cars.
But Morris had a bigger dream; to make affordable cars for the ordinary man, and he wanted to assemble them in Oxford. In 1913, he opened a factory in the former Oxford Military College at Cowley and parts were brought in for assembly by a newly-recruited workforce.
Ernie Wright, 83, from Abingdon, started work at Morris’s aged 14, and retired from the company 50 years later aged 65.
He said: “I started as an electrician’s mate, but took a pay cut to become the company’s first electrical apprentice.
“Every young lad wanted to work for Morris’s.
“They had machinery so advanced it was unheard of.
“One day, not long after I started, I was sent to Lord Nuffield’s office to just change the light bulb in his toilet. I was up a ladder when he came in.
“He said: “Tell me sonny, do you want to be the boss?
“I said: “No sir, I just want to be a good electrician.”
“When I got home and told my dad he batted me around the kitchen.”
Allan Webb, now 86, joined the Cowley plant in 1950, aged 24, after completing an apprenticeship at Morris’s radiator factory in Woodstock Road, Oxford.
He said: “I started work in the MG Riley design office for £7 a week and was one of thousands of workers in Cowley, but you wouldn’t have known it.
“We enjoyed a great social life, all provided by Morris, with sports and social functions and at Christmas our children were all bussed in for free parties.
“I would cycle in from Old Marston each day and then home again for lunch.
“We had staggered lunch hours with Pressed Steel opposite because otherwise there would have been thousands of cycles going down the Garsington Road together.”
The workforce churned out a number of popular cars.
The two-seater Bullnose Morris was followed by a coupe and the larger Morris Cowley and Oxford.
In 1928, the Morris Minor made its debut and 86,000 were built in the next five years.
The Morris Eight was followed by a wide range of models in the 30s.
In 1939, Morris became the first British motor company to have produced a million vehicles.
Designer Allan Webb worked on the Riley Pathfinder and Magnet and later the popular Morris 1100.
He said: “Cowley was a production factory with all the parts brought in, but even so it was impressive.
“You could watch as a piece of steel would travel across the road from Pressed Steel and then be dropped onto the line.
“Then you could follow it as it travelled up that line with workers adding wheels, an engine, everything, until it rolled off the other end complete and ready for testing.”
Mr Webb’s job relocated to Longbridge in Birmingham 1961.
He retired 25 years ago and says he has no regrets about staying with the company for his whole career.
- The Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon, Warwickshire, is home to the world’s largest historic collection of British cars and draws together the collections of the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust. The car collection boasts more than 250 cars which span the classic, vintage and veteran eras and includes iconic cars such as Austin 100 HP, Land Rover No1, Morris Minor No1, the first and last Mini , MG old No1, and the Thunderbirds Fab1 car.
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