Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


John Wayte (d. 1589)

Mayor of Oxford 1555/6 and 1561/2

John Wayte (or Waite) was the son of Thomas Wayte, a wax-chandler who had also served as bailiff on the council, and his wife Agnes. They also had a daughter called Elizabeth (d.1514) and a son called Nicholas.

John Wayte's mother Agnes Wayte died on 26 July 1521 and his father Thomas Wayte in c.1538: both were buried inside All Saints’ Church.

The John Wayte who was admitted free as a Hanaster in the mayoral year 1537/8 was a painter, and may not be the same man: in 1540 he took on two apprentice painters: Henry Perkins of Buckinghamshire (24 February) and Antony Heberd (25 March). Heberd’s long enrolment details survive, and include the stipulation: “He shall doe noe fornycasion in hys masters howse. Alehowses, Tavernys & onthryfty company he shall not keep.”

By 1542 John Wayte the future mayor was a mercer and haberdasher, and he took on six apprentices in this trade: Thomas Wayte, son of Walter Wayte of Oxford, deceased, who is likely to have been a relation (1 November 1542); Robert Spencerley of Henley (25 March 1547); Richard Bryan of Henley-on-Thames (24 August 1550); Roger Butler of Oxford (25 December 1558); and William Pearse of South Hinksey (29 September 1559).

It was probably around this time that he married his wife Grace, and they had at least one child, John Wayte junior.

On 4 August 1543, Waite was granted a lease by the council “to have in farme the tenement lying at the West Gate of Oxford, late in the tenur of Fryer Bryan, wyth certen ground there, for xxi yeares”.

Wayte was living to the west of St Martin's Church when on 4 November 1543 he paid a subsidy of 2s. 8d. in the North West Ward on goods worth £8.

Wayte is listed as a council bailiff in October 1547, when he subscribes two shillings a year in support of Margaret Northern’s charity. In October 1551 he and William Tilcock were put in charge of organzing the Frideswide and Austen Fairs, and in June 1552 he and five others were appointed to have the “oversyghte, rule, and government of Portman Eyght [Port] medow”.

In August 1553 Wayte was elected Member of Parliament for Oxford.

In September 1554 a new system was adopted whereby the number eligible to stand for Mayor was increased to 13 (including the Mayor and the four aldermen), and in future aldermen were to be recruited only from among the eight assistants. “Eyght of the dyscretest persons of the sayd Cytye” were duly elected as the new Mayor’s Council, and this number included Wayte.

In October 1554 Wayte was appointed with two others to ride to London to give instructions to their Counsel about Port and Cripley Meadow. The next year he was again elected Member of Parliament.

On 29 September 1555, Wayte, now described as a mercer, was elected Mayor of Oxford for the first time (for 1555/6). During his mayoral year, the three Protestant Martyrs were burnt at the stake in Broad Street: Latimer and Ridley on 16 October 1555, and Cranmer on 21 March 1556. The bailiffs’ accounts show that they were well fed, but included at the end are “thry lode of wod fagottes to burne Rydlaye and Latimer” and “chardges layd out and paide for the burning of Cranmer”.

On 8 July 1556 it was agreed that:

Mr Wayte, now beyng Mayer, and all ther hereafter that shall be chosen Mayer forthe of the nomber of the viij persons, shall have rome and place next to the Aldermen of the same Cytye as yn all places, and to sytt uppon the benche yn the Guylde hall, and to ware hys apparell as an Alderman, except the scarlett cloke.

In October 1556 a “bargayne” purchased by Wayte in St Mary’s College (which stood on the east side of New Inn Hall Street) was disallowed by the city, and the matter went to arbitration: the £40 bargain consisted of slate and timber bought from the High Steward, Lord Williams. In the spring of 1557 Wayte was in prison in the Bocardo over a financial irregularity during his mayoralty: he confessed a debt of £42 4s 7d and was allowed to pay it back over eight years. He still pretended that he had an interest in St Mary’s College and the was “lord of the same”, and on 30 April 1557 was “dysmyssed bothe of the number of eight, and also out of the Counsaill house”.

None the less, four years later In 1561 the High Steward (the Earl of Bedford) ordered that two extra assistants should be chosen to the usual eight, including Wayte, who he described as “an honest and religious governor”. Accordingly on 18 September 1561 Wayte was re-elected an Assistant, and just eleven days later was chosen as Mayor of Oxford for a second term (for 1561/2). It was agreed in the January of his mayoral year that “Mr Mayre and Mr Wood shall goo unto London abowt the suete of Saynct Mary Colledg”.

Twyne describes how Wayte was annoyed by the Master and Fellows of Lincoln College ringing the bells at his parish church, All Saints, at their gaudy on St Hugh’s Day, and as a result initiated the town’s practice of ringing the city bells on coronation day:

Mr Waite beinge then mayor of Oxford and dwellinge therabouts, being much displeased with their ringinge (for he was a great precisian) came to the Church to knowe the cause of the ringinge. And at length beinge let in by the ringers, who had sut the doores privately to themselves, he demanded of them the cause of their ringinge, charginge them with popery, that they rang a dirige for Queen Mary, etc., because she died upon that day. The most part answered that they did it for exercise; but one, seeinge his fellowes pressed by the mayor so neere, answered that they runge not for Queen Marie’s dirige but for joy of Queen Elizageth’s coronation and that that was the cause of the ringinge. Whereuppon the mayor goinge away, in spite of that answer, caused Karfox bells to be runge, and the rest as many as he could command, and so the custom grewe.

His brother Nicholas Wayte died in 1565 and was buried in All Saints’ Church on 25 August.

In April 1568 Wayte paid a subscription of ten shillings towards the lottery in the south-east ward.

In the mayoral years 1569/70 and 1574/5, Wayte’s apprentice haberdashers William Pearce and Fulk Dyke were respectively admitted free; the latter had been reassigned to him for a short period at the end of his apprenticeship on 5 March 1574.

On 14 February 1575/6 Waite was granted a lease by the Council of “the churche of Brydwell and hys garden theire, wche he nowe holdethe”. (The city Bridewell was then on the site of Frewin Hall.)

In 1576 the chapel of St Mary’s College with an adjoining garden was demised to Wayte for 21 years for a yearly rent of 26s. 8d. According to Anthony Wood, the University had initially been denied possession of St Mary’s as a Hall by Wayte in 1556, “who pretended that he had interest and that he was lord of the same”.

On 4 June 1576 the Earl of Leicester wrote to the University in the cause of Edmund Bennett v. John Wayte, who had sued each other in the Mayor’s Court. When Wayte saw that judgement was likely to go against him, he “procured himselfe to be priviledged in th’Universitie, and in the latter ende of Lent last brought in to ye Towne Court ye Universitie seale chalenginge theirby himself, and ye determination of his cause to the Universitie”. As he was now a privileged person of the University, the town disenfranchised him on 31 July 1578:

Hit ys agreed at this Counsell that from henceforthe Mr Wayte, who hathe taken the priveledge of the Universitie, and forsaken to be justified by the Mayor and Bayliffs of this Towne, shalbe quyte disfraunchesed, and be taken as one not free of this corporation.

His son John Wayte junior died in 1587 and was buried inside All Saints’ Church.

† John Wayte appears to have died in 1589 and was buried inside All Saints’ Church, although there is no record of his burial in its register.

Anthony Wood describes a marble to Waye's family that stood in the earlier All Saints’ Church thus:

On another marble are the effigies of a man and a woman in winding sheets: out of his mouth is this written in a scroule:–
O blyssyd Trinitie upon oure soules have mercy:

and out of hers, this:–
That by Christ's passion saved they may be.

Underneath is this inscription:

Off your charite pray for the soules of Thomas Wayte, wax-chaundler, sumtymes bylye of thys towne, and Agnes his wiffe, which Agnes decessed the xxvi day of Julye, the yere of owre Lord god MVCXXI and the said Thomas dyed the …day of … in the yere of owre lord god MVC…

He died about the yeare 1528. Armes on this tombe are a chevron between 3 tapers burning without colours. Elizabeth, daughter of the said Thomas, was buried here also anno 1514; Thomas his son anno 1548. Nicholas Wayte buried here 25 Aug. 1565, and John Wayte, severall times mayor of Oxon.
John Wayte gent. anno 1587 (sone of J. Wayte); Grace, his wife, 10 March 1585.


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©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 3 September, 2019

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