Two Wheeled Heroes: William Morris


William Morris is something of a legend in the automotive industry. Being from Oxford, his name is well known to me as much of his life and career was based here.

For those who don’t know the name, William Morris was one of the founders of Morris Motors and if you don’t recognise that name, you will surely recognise the car they are probably most well know for; The Morris Minor.

But obviously i’m not here to talk about cars.

A few months ago I visited the Morris Motor Museum in Long Hanborough, Oxfordshire. You can read all about my visit in my previous blog post here.

I found lots of interesting things in the Morris museum, including some truly stunning cars, but the most interesting thing of all was that William Morris actually started his career on two wheels.

In 1893, aged just 16 years old, Morris started a business repairing bicycles in his parents back garden. Not content with just repairing bicycles he also started making them. It was during this time that Morris also began racing bikes, becoming a champion in Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxford. He’d compete on bicycles that he’d made himself as a way to advertise his company.

Then in 1896, he opened his first shop on Oxford High Street and also the workshop on Longwall Street. One of the first bicycles that Morris built was a custom bike for an Oxford vicar, the Rev. Pilcher. The Reverend was, by all accounts, a very tall man and required a 27 – inch frame. While I found out this story at the Morris Motor Museum, I was disappointed to discover that they don’t have this bicycle on display there. It is, however, on display at the British Motor Museum in Warwick. And what do you know, I was there just a few weeks back at the VMCC Banbury Run!

And here it is. Kept in immaculate condition, looks as good today as it probably did over 100 years ago.

This photo is of the Morris works in 1903. Eight men including William Morris himself. (The man in the suit!) On a side note, I absolutely love this photograph, look at those t-shirts. This was over 100 years ago and they wouldn’t look out of place today. Just the t-shirts. Although I am all for bringing ties, caps and waistcoats back to the work place.

Although Morris owed much of his earlier success to bicycles, he could see the future was in the motor industry and in 1908 sold the cycle business and focused his attention on the automobile.

Of course this isn’t the end of the story for William Morris, it is, in fact, just the beginning. He would go on to do amazing things, including designing and building some of the most popular cars in British motoring history. He was also a great philanthropist, often giving generously to charities and worthwhile causes, like building 1700 iron lungs in his factory to give to hospitals across Britain. He also began a car manufacturing legacy here in Oxford and it’s one that continues to this day.

If you would like to find out more about this two wheeled hero, I would recommend taking a weekend trip to the Morris Motor Museum in Long Hanborough, Oxford.

Thanks for reading folks. Hope you are enjoying the blog so far.

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