Life of Tredegar Percy Morgan

"Tudor Architecture" takes the name from the Tudor monarchs who ruled England from 1485 when Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, defeated King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, to 1603, when Elizabeth I died. It's distinguished by half-timbering, with an exposed wood frame filled in with plaster, brick, or stone. The style continues today as Tudor Revival.

Tudor mansions dot the English landscape. In the reigns of Henry VII and Henry the VIII, a family named Norris constructed a mansion in Lancashire, on the north bank of the River Mersey.

Speke Hall, Lancashire, England

"Speke," an Old English word for brushwood, was applied to local roads, places. The Norris mansion is Speke Hall. Speke Hall was completed in the late 16th century, about the time that William Shakespeare was establishing a reputation as playwright and poet in London. It is an outstanding example of Tudor architecture, with a great hall, great parlour, wings, and gardens. The Norris family remained Catholic after the Reformation, paying fines for it. Speke Hall has secret rooms to hide Catholic priests. Thomas Norris became a Protestant during the English Civil War of the mid-17th century, but the Norrises being Royalist adherents to King Charles I, their estate was seized by Oliver Cromwell's parliamentary forces.

Speke Hall, aerial view

The family regained Speke Hall after the Restoration of Charles II, but the enormous house could not be maintained and fell into disrepair. It and the 2,400 acre-property were sold in 1795 for £73,000 to a wealthy merchant, Richard Watt. Watt's descendants restored Speke Hall and lived in it until 1943 when Miss Adelaide Watt died and left the house to the National Trust. Part of the property was sold before World War II and became the local airport. Lancashire was divided in 1974 to form the separate county Merseyside. The area is famous today for the city of Liverpool, home of the Beatles. Liverpool Airport, on the Norris family's original property, is now John Lennon Airport. Speke Hall, now maintained by the National Trust, is open to the public. We will return to Speke Hall.

Percy Tredegar Morgan was born in London in 1862, of a distinguished family of Welsh origins. Morgan is a very Welsh name, and Tredegar is a town in South Wales. After school in Merton, Surrey, Percy Morgan entered Oxford University as a junior candidate, but left when only 14 to take a position with the London accounting firm Turquand, Youngs & Co.

After learning bookkeeping, auditing, and other skills, he left England for the United States at age 21 to take a position with London's Victorine Gold Mining Company at the Kingston Mine in Austin, Nevada. That he was skilled in business at an early age is shown by his being promoted to superintendent in 1882, aged only 20.

He subsequently went to Denver, Colorado opening an office with an English partner, William Hanson, providing accounting, auditing, and other business services. He became superintendent of the Republic Mining and Smelting Company in Cooke City, Montana and may have participated in a vigilante committee there.
Percy Morgan, c. 1892

Percy Morgan apparently found Montana's brutal winters intolerable, and left about 1885 for San Francisco. Langley's San Francisco Directory, a useful historical source, first lists him in 1887, as "secretary Electric Development Co., 323 Pine Street, residence Cosmo Club," obviously a bachelor residence.

Young Montana mine superintendent Percy Morgan, around 1885.

Morgan's business and accounting career progressed rapidly. He was instrumental in organizing the Nevada Gypsum and Fertilizer Company, Eureka Mining Company, and the Sunset Telephone-Telegraph Company, which reorganized with Pacific Telephone & Telegraph.

The picture that emerges of Percy Morgan is of a focused, determined individual. His was not a rags-to-riches story, like Abraham Lincoln's; he began life with advantages and built on them. By 1892 Morgan was a fixture in San Francisco's business community. About 1893 he married Fanny Babbit Ainsworth, called "Daisy," from an affluent Oakland family. Langley's 1897 Directory gives Morgan's address as 2213 Buchanan Street, just off Clay (the block is now occupied by California-Pacific Medical Center).

About this time Morgan bought a 100-acre property just above today's Foothill College. He joined the Pacific Union and Bohemian clubs. At the end of the 19th century his business interests included a directorship of the Union Trust Company and Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank.

With several others Morgan formed the California Wine Association (CWA), the largest wine-producing cooperative in the world, stimulating the Napa and Sonoma wine industries. The great earthquake and fires of April 18, 1906, the anniversary of which was just commemorated, destroyed most of the CWA's San Francisco wine cellars. The CWA relocated to Richmond, California, to a site still known as Winehaven.

Wineheaven, Richmond, California, c. 1910

For all his successes, Morgan was dogged by health problems, which are obscure. In 1911, aged only 49, he retired on the recommendation of his doctor from most of his business concerns. In those days doctors prescribed rest in the form of a sea voyage to recover from whatever ailed patients. Morgan and his family took a three-year European sojourn.

Percy Morgan, Jr. with his parents in Venice, c. 1911

Their visits to the continent - Austria, France, Switzerland - are documented in photographs.

Daisy and Percy Morgan with sons Percy Jr.and Jack in the south of France

They undoubtedly also saw much of the British Isles, including Wales. As Speke borders on Wales, they likely also saw Speke Hall.

Percy Morgan's last entry in Langley's San Francisco Directory was 1910, still on Buchanan Street.

About 1910 Morgan had built a house called Little Gables on his Santa Clara County property for his parents, come from England to retire.

Little Gables, c. 2009

Here is Morgan, his father, and sons John and Percy Jr.

When he returned from Europe in 1914, he began construction at the property of an enormous Tudor Mansion influenced by, though not identical to, Speke Hall.

San Francisco architect John Powers designed an L-shaped structure - Speke Hall is O-shape - of over 15,000 square feet. During construction the Morgans apparently lived at Little Gables. The completed Tudor mansion was named Lantarnam Hall (one L), after the district of Llantarnam (two Ls), in Southeast Wales.

Construction, furnishing, and decorating costs came to the enormous sum of about $400,000. The house is on a hilltop just above Little Gables.

From "Architect and Engineer", May 1920

The main entrance is a stone archway. On the left is the house proper; on the right is a great hall for entertaining.

Inside the main house is a great stair hall, supposedly a replica of the one in Hatfield House, home of Hertfordshire's Cecil family.

The house included a library, several bedrooms, a dozen fireplaces, servants' quarters, and formal dining room. Furnishings, art objects, and artifacts were acquired by Morgan during his European sojourn.

Morgan's construction of a British or European mansion is not in itself unique. There are other British or continental European mansions in the United States; William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon Castle a conspicuous example. Some capitalists went the other route of acquiring a palatial residence in Europe; Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie bought Skibo Castle in northeastern Scotland. Morgan's Llantarnam Hall is unique, however, in Santa Clara County. Locally, only Filoli and the Carolands mansion in San Mateo County compare, and Hearst's Wyntoon estate in Shasta County, unless anyone can cite something I've overlooked.

On January 1, 1916 Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur was inaugurated as third president of Stanford University. On May 3rd Percy Morgan was appointed to a ten-year term as trustee, replacing Frank Miller, who retired due to ill health. Stanford Alumnus magazine that spring reported

…Mr. Morgan was chosen for a place on the Stanford board on account of his wide knowledge of banking and of organization finance, which will be helpful to the trustees in their administration of the $20,000,000 endowment from which the university derives its income.
Mr. Morgan calls himself a retired businessman…but since his return (from Europe) he has been called upon so often to serve on committees and boards where his keen business judgment would be invaluable that he has become one of the busiest men in San Francisco… He is now…a member of the reorganization committee of the People's Water Company of Oakland, the General Petroleum Company and the San Francisco and Oakland Terminal Railways; he is one of the Sloss Securities trustees who are conserving and administering the Sloss estate; he is on the executive committee of the Natomas Company of California, and he is a director of the Union Trust Company and of the Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank of San Francisco. He has a beautiful home at Los Altos, only a few miles from the Stanford Campus.

Wilbur's administration made major changes: the introduction of tuition, the quarter system, reorganization of athletics, opening a new hospital, and a campus art gallery. As trustees were guarded in their statements and records, we do not know how much Morgan participated in debates or decisions. Certainly he was influential about financial matters. Because of his extensive European travels and personal art collections at Llantarnam Hall, Wilbur asked Morgan's advice on the Stanford Museum collection. In a letter to Wilbur, Morgan demurred that he was not an expert on Museum objects, but would try to help decide what was attractive, and what might induce other collectors to donate. Morgan himself donated a firearms collection. Wilbur also asked Morgan's advice on the new University library (Green Library, designed by Arthur Brown, Jr.), on grounds, and on landscaping.

Personally, Morgan is hard to assess. He was conservative, even elitist, with little sympathy for social criticism or workingmen. He staunchly supported American entry into the "Great War," as World War I was called at first, in contrast to another Stanford figure, Herbert Hoover, who was opposed. The Morgans had two sons, Percy Jr. and John Ainsworth Morgan, but Percy Sr. made no attempt to send either to Stanford, possibly considering it too new and non-establishment. Percy Jr. took entrance examinations for Harvard University but did poorly. Intervention by Ray Lyman Wilbur was rebuffed by Harvard President Lawrence Lowell. Both sons attended Princeton and served in World War I.

Early in 1920 Percy Morgan was injured in an automobile accident near Salinas, California. Examination and treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore failed to bring recovery. Morgan came home in such deep despondency - "depression" nowadays - that his wife had him watched by servants and family. She should have had his firearms removed. Early morning April 16, 1920 Morgan stole out of his bedroom to a downstairs room, pointed a shotgun at his chest, and pulled the trigger. He died instantly. Private services were held at Lantarnam Hall.

Please continue with Part 2 of the presentation, A Series of Stonebrook Court manor owners








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