Mayor of Oxford 1676/7
Thomas Fifield (or Fyfield or Fyfeild) (1636–1690) was born in the parish of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford. 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”.
Fifield’s father, Thomas Fifield (the son of William Fifield of Witney) was described as a mercer when Thomas junior was born in 1636. By 1639 when his next son was baptised, he is described as Head Butler of Christ Church.
Fifield’s mother was Margaret Stevenson of Weston-on-the-Green (sister of Joan Stevenson, the wife of another Oxford Mayor, John Nixon).
The register of the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford shows that the Fifield’s parents were married at the chapel of St Bartholomew’s Hospital on 12 April 1632. They had the following children:
- Joane Fifield (baptised at St Mary the Virgin on 4 February 1632/3)
- John Fifield (baptised at St Mary the Virgin on 26 August 1634)
- Thomas Fifield (baptised at St Mary the Virgin on 2 August 1636)
- Edward Fifield (baptised at St Ebbe’s on 25 April 1639)
- Margaret Fifield (baptised at St Ebbe’s on 7 February 1640/1).
Thomas Fifield junior came on to the common council in October 1658, paying 3s 4d for not being Constable. He was a mercer in the parish of St Mary the Virgin, and may have taken over the old shop of his father.
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.
On 21 October 1662 Fifield’s father was buried at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, and is 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, who died 27 years later in 1689, can still be made out.
In the early 1660s Fifield married Sarah Cave (he daughter of former Oxford Mayor Walter Cave), and they had at least five children:
- Thomas (alive in March 1667, but recorded as having been buried at St Mary the Virgin on 3 May 1667)
- Walter (baptised at St Mary the Virgin on 4 September 1663)
- Elizabeth I (baptised at St Mary the Virgin on 17 December 1667, buried there on 15 June 1668)
- Elizabeth II (baptised at St Mary the Virgin on 23 May 1668/9)
- Sarah (baptised at St Mary the Virgin on 22 May 1676).
In 1664 Fifield was appointed a Cloth Searcher (an appropriate job for a mercer). In 1665 he paid hearth tax on five fireplaces in his premises in St Mary’s parish, and on 15 February 1665/6 he was granted a licence to put up the sign of a Black Lion rampant there.
At the time of the March 1667 poll tax he was assessed as follows in St Mary’s 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 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 widowed maternal aunt , the lease of the Nixon home and shop at 96 High Street passed to Fifield.
On 21 May 1675 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. He chose Samuel Hunt as his Child and Edmund Couzens as his Chamberlain.
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 his nephew buried him in St Mary’s 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, Fifield’s only surviving son Walter was matriculated at the University of Oxford from Trinity College at the age of 16. He obtained his M.A. in 1686.
On 22 July 1683 Fifield was granted a lease of a house opposite St Mary’s, 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 for 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 a woman gave birth in Alderman Thomas Fifield’s porch in St Mary’s parish on 7 November 1686.
Fifield’s mother Margaret died at Binsey on 16 October 1689 and was buried at the Church of St Mary the Virgin Church two days later.
On 10 May 1690, Wood records in his diary: “May 10, S., about 3 in the morning, alderman Thomas Fifield died.” Fifield was buried at St Mary’ the Virgin on 13 May 1690. Jackson records that there was a memorial stone for him, but it is no longer traceable.
Fifield’s widow Sarah was buried at St Mary’s on 19 October 1694. Their only surviving son Walter, who was awarded his B.D. in 1696, died on 19 February 1700/1 in his 37th year. He was buried two days later at of St Mary the Virgin Church, and in the register he is described as a Fellow of Trinity College. There is a black floor slab in front of he south-west door of St Mary’s commemorating both Mrs Fifield and Walter that is just readable.
Anthony Wood made many purchases in Fifield’s draper’s shop. 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
- PCC Will PROB 11/399 (Will of Thomas Fifield or Fifeild, Mercer and one of the Alderman of the City of Oxford, proved 22 May 1690)