Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Thomas Fifield (1636–1690)

Mayor of Oxford 1676/7

Thomas Fifield (or Fyfield or Fyfeild) was born in Oxford in 1636 and baptised at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on 2 August that year. Anthony Wood records that he believed that he was descended from the Fyfield family of Fyfield near Witney, using their arms of “ermine on a cheif gules 3 besants, over that in the middle stands a lozenge argent”. Thomas's grandfather was certainly William Fifield of Witney.

Thomas's father, Thomas Fifield senior, was described as a mercer in 1636, but by1639 he was Head Butler of Christ Church. His mother was Margaret Stevenson of Weston-on-the-Green (sister of Joan Stevenson, the wife of another Oxford Mayor, John Nixon). The register of St Mary-the-Virgin Church in Oxford shows that Thomas’s parents were married at the chapel of St Bartholomew’s Hospital on 12 April 1632. Thomas's two older siblings were also baptised at St Mary-the-Virgin Church: Joane Fifield (4 February 1632/3) and John Fifield (26 August 1634). Soon after Thomas's birth they appear to have moved to St Ebbe's, as their next two children were baptised at St Ebbe's Church: Edward Fifield (25 April 1639) and Margaret Fifield (7 February 1640/1).

Thomas Fifield junior came on to the common council in October 1658, paying the usual fee of 34d to avoid serving as Constable. He was a mercer in the parish of St Mary the Virgin.

On 8 July 1662 Fifield refused openly to pay a shilling fine for not being present at the previous Council meeting, and went from the house “in greate contempt and scorne of this house”, whereupon he was suspended until such time as he gave satisfaction for this contempt. He was not reinstated until 26 January 1663, after he had paid the fine.

His father Thomas Fifield died in 1662 and was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on 21 October: he was described in the register as still being butler of Christ Church. Anthony Wood transcribed a large marble stone lying before the lower south door in the south aisle thus:

Here lyeth the body of Thomas Fyfeild, who departed this life the 18 day of October, Anno Domini 1662,
aged 53 yeares.

This part of the stone is no longer legible, but the part below this relating to Fifield’s mother Margaret Fifield, who died 27 years later in 1689, can still be made out.

In 1664 Thomas Fifield was appointed a Cloth Searcher (an appropriate job for a mercer).

It seems likely that on the death of his uncle John Nixon in April 1662 he took over his mercer's shop at 96 High Street (one of the shops demolished to make way for Oriel College's Rhodes Building). In 1665 he paid hearth tax on five fireplaces in his premises in St Mary-the-Virgin parish, and on 15 February 1665/6 he was granted a licence to put up the sign of a Black Lion rampant there.

In the 1660s Thomas Fifield married Sarah Cave (the daughter of former Oxford Mayor Walter Cave), and they had at least five children:

  • Thomas Fifield (still alive in March 1667,
    but recorded as having been buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on 3 May 1667)
  • Walter Fifield (baptised on 4 September 1663 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church)
  • Elizabeth Fifield I (baptised on 17 December 1667 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church;
    buried there on 15 June 1668)
  • Elizabeth Fifield II (baptised on 23 May 1668/9 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church)
  • Sarah Fifield (baptised on 22 May 1676 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church).

At the time of the March 1667 poll tax Thomas Fifield was assessed as follows in St Mary-the-Virgin parish:

  • For himself: £1 1s. 0d. (poll tax of one shilling, and £1 tax on his money). This indicates that Fifield’s personal wealth was £100, as the tax on personal estate was £1 per £100.
  • For his wife Sarah: poll tax of one shilling
  • For his sons Thomas and Walter: poll tax of one shilling each
  • For Edward Fifield: poll tax of one shilling
  • For his servant Audrey Steeles: three shillings (i.e. one shilling in the pound on her yearly wages of £2, plus poll tax of a shilling)

In October 1666 the Mayor proposed Abraham White as his Chamberlain, but the Common Council opposed this, putting up Thomas Fifield, who lost. He may still have been feeling bitter about this episode in September 1669, because when the Mayor’s second serjeant was sent to him to inform him that he had just been elected Junior Chamberlain and to get him to come to the house to take his oath, Fifield said that he would not come and would not accept the office. The Mayor and Council then sent one of the Bailiff’s sergeants to summon him, but he found that Fifield had taken his horse and left the town. The council ordered £5 to be levied by distraint from Fifield and promptly elected another Chamberlain.

On 17 September 1669 the serjeants gave the keykeepers six collars which they had distrained from Fifield for not attending a former council.

On 11 October 1669 Fifield paid his fine of £5 for not accepting a Chamberlain’s office and for “sending unhandsome language to Mr Mayor and the house”. His civility so impressed the council that he was granted a Bailiff’s place for a further fine of £5. Then on 29 September 1670 Fifield was elected Senior Bailiff and also chosen moneymaster.

In 1671, on the death of Mrs Joan Nixon (Fifield’s maternal aunt and the widow of the former Mayor of Oxford John Nixon), Fifield inherited the lease of the Nixon home and shop at 96 High Street (one of the shops demolished to make way for Oriel College's Rhodes Building).

On 21 May 1675 Thomas Fifield was elected one of the eight Assistants, and immediately took his oaths and paid £5 according to custom. In September 1676 he was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1676/7). He chose Samuel Hunt as his Child and Edmund Couzens as his Chamberlain.

On 12 May 1676 his apprentice Samuel Councer was admitted free.

In July 1677 Fifield was elected an Alderman and one of the Barge Commissioners.

On 20 October 1677 Fifield rode to Woodstock with the Mayor and other senior councillors to meet the High Steward George Duke of Buckinghamshire. Three days later, on 23 October Fifield’s uncle, Richard Fifield, died in his house, and he was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church.

On 11 February 1679 Fifield stood for election as one of the two Members of Parliament for Oxford, but only secured 48 votes, compared with the 937 and 723 votes of the winners. (He fared even worse at the next two elections.)

On 21 June 1679, his only surviving son Walter Fifield was matriculated at the University of Oxford from Trinity College at the age of 16. He obtained his M.A. in 1686.

On 27 February 1683 his apprentice Ralph Allen was admitted free.

On 22 July 1683 Thomas Fifield was again granted a lease of a house opposite St Mary-the-Virgin Church, formerly leased to his uncle, John Nixon (. It was held by the Fifield family until 1719.

In June 1684 Fifield was fined again for not attending Council.

On 23 April 1685 Fifield was one of the six people chosen to attend the Mayor at the Coronation of King James II.

On 14 January 1685/6 there was a vote at the Quarter Sessions as to whether Hind, a tailor who lived near St Mary Magdalen Church, should stand seven or three times in the pillory for saying, “The granatiers did well in taking off the King’s head.” Fifield voted that he should stand in the pillory just three times.

On 16 February 1687/8 the Mayor read produced a letter from King James II and his Council naming a number of people, including Fifield, who were to be removed and displaced from their office. Fifield left the council building immediately. He was reinstated in September 1688 under his Majesty’s new charter to the City, and was one of the six people who attended the Mayor at the Coronation of William and Mary on 11 April 1689.

Wood records that on 7 November 1686 a woman gave birth in Alderman Thomas Fifield’s porch in St Mary-the-Virgin parish.

Fifield’s mother Margaret Fifield died at Binsey on 16 October 1689 and was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church two days later.

† Alderman Thomas Fifield died on 10 May 1690, and Anthony Wood recorded in his diary: “May 10, S., about 3 in the morning, alderman Thomas Fifield died.” He was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on 13 May 1690, and Jackson records that there was a memorial stone for him, but it is no longer traceable.

He was survived by his wife and their three children Walter, Elizabeth, and Sarah.

Fifield’s widow Sarah Fifield died in 1694 and was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on 19 October that year. She had not yet finished executing her husband's will of over four years before, and the task was passed on to her son Walter, who was her administrator.

Their only surviving son Walter Fifield, who was awarded his B.D. in 1696, died on 19 February 1700/1 at the age of 36. He was buried two days later at of St Mary-the-Virgin Church, and in the register he was described as a Fellow of Trinity College.

There is a black floor slab in front of he south-west door of St Mary-the-Virgin Church commemorating both Mrs Fifield and Walter that is just readable.

Anthony Wood's patronage of Fifield's draper's shop, 1664–1684

In his diary Wood records many purchases in Fifield’s shop made over thirty years, and in most cases there was a separate tailor’s bill for the making of the item:

  • Material for a black shag coat for £1 5s 6d in October 1664
  • Material for a black “shaloone” suit and a studying gown of necterello for £2 15s 9d in April 1665
  • Material for an English tammy gown for £2 4s in June 1666
  • 2½ yards of material for £2 5s in January 1667
  • Unspecified bill for £2 10s in November 1667
  • A “sad pair of colour stockings” for 5s in October 1668
  • Velvet for 24 books of verses, 1669/70: £13 11s
  • Unspecified bill for £2 16s in March 1670
  • Material for a “Brussels camlet vest and tunick” in April 1670
  • Material for a silk doublet for £1 9s in May 1671
  • Unspecified bill for £6 6s 11d in May 1675
  • Material for a doublet, buttons for coat, stuff for a riding cap, etc for £1 4s in May 1677
  • Material for a riding camlet coat for £1 18s in May 1678
  • “Paid alderman Field for a pair of worsted stockings, in the presence of his mother, 5 shillings and 6d
    in May 1679
  • For facing his coat: 3s 9d in March 1680
  • Material for a “lac’d creap gowne”, 6s 8d in April 1684 (“It looks russet, and he cheated me”)
  • For the mourning suit for Mr Sheldon’s funeral, £3 11s, September 1684.

See also:

  • PCC Will PROB 11/399/328 (Will of Thomas Fifield or Fifeild, Mercer and one of the Alderman of the City of Oxford, proved 22 May 1690)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 28 September, 2018

Oxford Mayors home Small Shark Oxford History home