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Morrell familylocked

(per. c. 1790–1965)
  • Brigid Allen

Morrell family (per. c. 1790–1965), brewers, came to prominence with Mark Morrell (1771–1843) and James Morrell (bap. 1773, d. 1855), who established a long-lasting brewing business. They were the second and third sons in the family of three sons and two daughters of Mark Morrell (1737–1787), a miller, and his wife, Phyllis Greenwood (d. 1780). Their father had taken over the subtenancy of the mills at Wallingford, Berkshire, from his own father, Jeremiah (d. 1766). A part-time brewer, Mark Morrell senior could not compete seriously with the Wells family, the dominant brewers in Wallingford.

The younger Mark Morrell was born in March 1771 at Wallingford and baptized at St Peter's Church, Wallingford, on 24 April 1771. He was educated at a private academy in Reading and at the age of fifteen, in the year before his father died, was apprenticed to a London brewer, William Tunnard of Southwark. James Morrell was born in Wallingford and baptized at St Peter's, on 14 September 1773, and served an unhappy apprenticeship, in his home town, probably to a maltster, before briefly setting up a business there on his own account. After the death of their father in 1787, the family milling business was inherited by their elder brother, Charles.

In 1797 Mark and James Morrell together moved to Oxford, where their uncle James Morrell (1739–1807) was a solicitor and one of the most influential men in the city. With loans of capital from him (which they repaid out of income during the course of the next ten years), they went into partnership with the brewer Edward Tawney, a bachelor in his early sixties, who owned a brewing business in the suburb of St Thomas's. The intention was that they would buy out Tawney, and he handed over the brewery to them in 1798. After Tawney's death in 1800, the trustees of his estate signed over to them the lease of the brewery premises from the ground landlord, Christ Church, with the freeholds of a malthouse and nine tied public houses in Oxford and the surrounding country.

Under the ownership of the Morrell brothers, the brewery greatly expanded its output and tied estate. In common with many other brewers in early nineteenth-century England, they benefited from the national recession of the 1790s and the post-war slump which followed Waterloo: such businesses gained trade at the expense of small-scale brewing victuallers and other individuals and independent institutions. By the time James—who outlived Mark—transferred his share in the brewery to his son in 1851, the number of public houses attached to the brewery had increased to a sizeable tied estate of about seventy-five houses, of which two-thirds were freehold. Much of the brewery premises, including Edward Tawney's former malthouse in Tidmarsh Lane, Oxford, was rebuilt, and two steam engines were installed to power machinery in the brewhouse.

On 17 December 1807 James Morrell the brewer married Jane Wharton (1789/90–1814), the seventeen-year-old great-niece of Edward Tawney; they had two sons and one surviving daughter. In keeping with the frequent practice of brewers to invest their substantial earnings in banking, James entered in 1808 into a partnership with his cousin Robert Morrell (d. 1849), an Oxford solicitor, and Richard Cox, a former mercer and experienced banker, and Cox's son. All the partners utilized the bank's funds; but the Coxes borrowed so flagrantly that the Morrells expelled them from the partnership in 1831, acquiring most of Richard Cox's assets, including various landed properties near Oxford and a share in a coalmine in the Forest of Dean.

Mark Morrell never married. He died, of bronchitis, aged seventy-two, on 20 March 1843 at 1 Fisher Row, Oxford (a riverside house occupied by three generations of the family between 1800 and 1856). He was buried close to the brewery, at St Thomas's Church. Mark Morrell's main recreation was hunting, and for the last two decades of his life he leased Bradley Farm, Cumnor, from Merton College, as a country residence. He died a wealthy man, with investments worth over £113,000, in addition to his share in the brewery and its various properties. Both he and his cousin Robert, whose death in 1849 brought to an end the banking partnership, left their main estate to James Morrell.

The surviving founding partner of Morrells brewery lived for six more years. James Morrell died at his house on Headington Hill, St Clement's, Oxford, on 10 November 1855, and was buried at St Clement's Church on 15 November 1855. The main beneficiary of his brother and cousin, he died a wealthy man. His only surviving son was also a James Morrell (1810–1863), who was born at 1 Fisher Row, Oxford, in March 1810.

Educated at Eton College, James Morrell junior inherited an extensive patrimony, and became a JP and master of the old Berkshire hunt (1848–1858). He married Alicia Harriet Everett (1821/2–1864), daughter of a former high sheriff, the late Revd William Everett, in November 1851, and had one child, Emily Alicia [see below]. In 1856, the year after his father's death, he employed the fashionable London architect John Thomas to build Headington Hill Hall as an extension to his father's former small country house on the hill just east of Oxford. He also employed W. H. Baxter, the superintendent of the university botanic garden, to plant the grounds with exotic trees and shrubs. At the brewery he appointed a manager, who took responsibility for most administrative decisions and also oversaw the running of the brewery and the family home farm at Blackbird Leys, part of an extensive freehold landed estate which James and his father had acquired piecemeal to the south and east of Oxford.

The younger James was a portly figure, fond of lavish entertainment, and with many friends in county society. His early death at his home on 12 September 1863 came at the end of five years' worsening disease of the lungs following a fall while out hunting. On 10 February 1864 his widow, Alicia, also died, and the orphan heir, Emily, was entrusted to the care of an aunt, while the brewery and the family's landed estates were administered for the next half-century by trustees. In the late nineteenth century the trustees presided over continuing expansion at the brewery, which, by the end of the century, with an estimated working capital of £760,000, was high in the second rank of richest British breweries. Tied public houses doubled in number between the 1850s and 1900, and in 1878 the trustees bought the freeholds of the brewery premises and adjoining properties from Christ Church, allowing them to expand beyond the original cramped site.

One of the trustees originally appointed in James's will was his friend, solicitor, and second cousin Frederick Joseph Morrell (1811–1883), a grandson of the James Morrell (1739–1807) who had founded the law firm of Morrell in Oxford and had acquired the freehold of his business premises at 1 St Giles'. Frederick Morrell was solicitor to the University of Oxford and, with the brewery manager as co-trustee, he effectively administered the brewery and the family's estates during the eleven and a half years between James's death and the appointment of new trustees a year after Emily's marriage. His son Frederick Parker Morrell (1837–1908), the last of the line of Oxford solicitors, was a close and supportive friend of George Herbert Morrell (1845–1906), Emily Morrell's third cousin and later her husband. Neither of the younger Frederick's sons, Hugh or Philip Morrell (1870–1943), kept up the family's connection with the law firm; and, while Philip and his wife, Lady Ottoline Morrell, constituted a notable presence on the Oxford social scene through their tenancy of Garsington Manor both during and after the First World War, Philip Morrell's pacifism alone would have ensured that they remained remote from their more conventional brewery cousins.

Emily Alicia Morrell (1854–1938), born on 4 January 1854, at 20 St Giles', Oxford, became the richest heiress in Oxfordshire. A ward in chancery, she led a sheltered life until the age of twenty, when she married George Herbert Morrell. The latter was a demonstrator in physiology at Oxford's university museum, and courted Emily in the face of stern opposition from two of the trustees of her estate. G. H. Morrell later served as high sheriff of Oxfordshire in 1885 and was MP for Mid-Oxfordshire in 1891–2 and 1895–1906. The couple had two sons, and lived at Headington Hill Hall in some state: the house and grounds were used for large parties and lawn meets and provided the venue for some of the earliest outings of the Morrell brewery employees. Emily's husband died on 30 September 1906, at Bad Nauheim, in Germany, but she lived on for over thirty years. Her own death occurred at Streatley House, Streatley, Berkshire, on 14 September 1938.

James Herbert [Jimmy] Morrell (1882–1965), George Herbert's and Emily's elder son, was born on 9 July 1882 at Headington Hill Hall, and was educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he rowed in the college eight and studied physics, graduating with a third-class degree in 1904. In 1913 he married Julia Denton, daughter of Sir George Denton, a former governor of the Gambia; they had two sons and two daughters. Like his father and grandfather before him, Jimmy Morrell strongly supported the Oxford (University and City) volunteer rifle corps, the university branch of which became the officer training corps shortly before the outbreak of the First World War; he served as adjutant to the Oxford University officer training corps during the war. Having attended meetings of the brewery trustees in an unofficial capacity since at least 1914, he became acting manager of the brewery in 1926, and continued in that capacity, drawing a salary from the trustees, until the trusts were broken in 1943. He then converted the private firm to a limited company, Morrells Brewery Ltd, with himself as chairman, and with a board initially composed of himself and two former trustees. He was highly regarded as a county councillor, served as high sheriff of Oxfordshire, and until the mid-1930s combined his brewery duties with a position as university demonstrator in physics.

During the inter-war years, as colleges ceased to brew their own beer and a large proportion of Oxford undergraduates spent part of their free time drinking beer, Morrells Brewery began 'to identify and target a specifically university element among its customers' (Allen, 116). The university rowing club eight was first supplied with free pre-boat race beer in 1938: they received College ale, which at 1073° had the highest gravity of all Morrells beers. After the wartime period of austerity, when only ‘dark’ and ‘light’ beers were produced, a wide range of distinctive traditional ales, including College, Graduate, and Varsity, were reintroduced. These were sold through a smaller number of refurbished tied houses, mainly within a 30 mile radius of Oxford. The brewery's ordinary beer became lighter, in order to suit changing tastes, and it also began to produce lager under licence.

Jimmy Morrell fought off many takeover bids and worked to preserve the integrity of his small, independent brewery, by then the only one still brewing in Oxford. He died of complications following a hip replacement, at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, Oxford, on 17 July 1965. His eldest son, Colonel Herbert William (Bill) James Morrell (b. 1915), succeeded him, first as managing director, then as chairman of Morrells Brewery Ltd until 1986. In the 1990s competition from larger breweries led to the company being put up for sale. Purchased by Michael Cannon's Morrells of Oxford Ltd, the Oxford brewery was closed in 1998 and relocated to Dorchester.


  • B. Allen, Morrells of Oxford: the family and their brewery, 1743–1993 (1994)
  • The late James Morrell esq (1863)
  • H. S[topes], Brewery companies (1895)
  • Oxford Times (23 July 1965)
  • F. Tarrant, ‘Guardian of Morrells’, Oxford Times (15 July 1994) [interview with Margaret Morrell]
  • T. R. Gourvish and R. G. Wilson, The British brewing industry, 1830–1980 (1994)
  • M. Seymour, Ottoline Morrell: life on a grand scale (1992)
  • d. cert. [James Morrell (1773–1855)]
  • d. cert. [James Herbert Morrell]
  • d. cert. [Mark Morrell]
  • d. cert. [Emily Alicia Morrell]
  • d. cert. [James Morrell (1810–1863)]
  • b. cert. [Emily Alicia Morrell]
  • CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1863) [James Morrell (1810–1863)]
  • CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1966) [James Herbert Morrell]
  • CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1939) [Emily Alicia Morrell]
  • CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1906) [George Herbert Morrell]


  • Oxon. RO, title deeds, family and estate papers


  • portrait (James Morrell), priv. coll.

Wealth at Death

investments over £113,000, plus share in brewery and its various properties—Mark Morrell

under £100,000—James Morrell: probate, 16 Nov 1863, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£42,577 19s. 5d.—Emily Alicia Morrell: probate, 10 June 1939, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£196,254—James Herbert Morrell: probate, 4 Feb 1966, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]