Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


John Harris (1596–1674)

Mayor of Oxford 1663/4

John Harris: head of statue at Burford Church
©Burford Church

John Harris was born at Burford in 1596, and apprenticed in Oxford as a tailor.

Harris’s first wife was Elizabeth, and they had three daughters:

  • Annisia or Annis Harris (baptised on 12 April 1621
    at St Martin’s Church, Oxford)
  • Jane Harris (baptised on 7 July 1622
    at St Martin’s Church, Oxford)
  • Frideswide Harris (baptised on 13 June 1624
    at St Michael's Church, Oxford).

The baptisms suggest that the family moved from St Martin’s parish to St Michael’s in about 1623.

His first wife Elizabeth Harris was buried inside St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church on 26 January 1629/30, and his daughter Jane Harris on 27 July 1634.

In about 1630 John Harris married his second wife, Anne, who was twelve years his junior. Anthony Wood mentions that Alderman Harris’s wife (presumably Anne) was the daughter of a Master of Arts of St John’s College named Lynck. They had the following children:

  • Anna or Anne Harris (baptised on 26 December 1631 at St Michael's Church)
  • Unnamed stillborn son (buried on 31 January 1633 at St Michael's Church)
  • Elizabeth Harris (baptised on14 June 1635 at St Michael's Church)
  • Jane Harris (baptised on 2 February 1636 at St Michael's Church;
    buried there on 12 January 1637)
  • Maria Harris (baptised on 25 November 1638 at St Michael's Church)
  • John Harris I (baptised on 30 November 1640 at St Michael's Church;
    buried there 10 October 1642)
  • John Harris II (baptised on 17 September 1644 at St Michael's Church)
  • Charles Harris (baptised on 27 February 1647/8 at St Michael's Church).

Harris was admitted free on 17 September 1633 (for 20s. fees and 2s. 6d. for a bucket) because he had served a freeman of Oxford for six years, and would have finished his apprenticeship if his master had not left the city.

On 13 September 1639 Harris, who by then was Master of the Company of Tailors, was granted a Chamberlain’’s place for £10, and he was appointed a Bailiff in 1640 and senior of the two “Gentleman Bailiffs” in September 1642.

On 2 September 1643 Mr John Harris of St Michael’s parish was given permission to hang out the sign of a Golden Lion at his home (16 Cornmarket). He was charged four shillings in St Michael’s parish at the time of the 1648 subsidy.

On 26 January 1657/8 at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church, his daughter Anne Harris of St Michael's parished married William Driver of St Margaret’s Westminster (with the two parishes transposed in the register). Their daughter Elizabeth appears to have gone to live with John Harris.

On 14 January 1659 Harris was fined a shilling for coming to a Council meeting without his gown.

Harris’s wife Anne was a sponsor at the baptism of Anne Wood, third child of Christopher Wood (brother of the diarist Anthony Wood), born on 27 December 1661.

On 16 January 1663 John Harris was chosen by scrutiny to be one of the eight Mayor’s Assistants, and on 14 September 1663 he was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1663/4), winning 469 votes against his opponent’s 405. He selected Thomas Eustace to have a chamberlain’s place as the Mayor’s Child, and Owen Warland junior to be Mayor’s Chamberlain.

In 1665 Harris paid tax on seven hearths in St Michael’s parish (in a house on the north side of Market Street, according to H. E. Salter). He was assessed as follows for poll tax in that parish in March 1667:

  • For himself: £2 1s. 0d. (£1 for his title, poll tax of one shilling, and £1 tax on his money, which must have been assessed at £100)
  • For his wife: poll tax of one shilling
  • For his granddaughter Elizabeth Driver: poll tax of one shilling
  • For his servant Jane Newman: three shillings (i.e. one shilling in the pound on her yearly wages of £2 10s., plus poll tax of a shilling)

The elder of his two surviving sons, John Harris junior, became an apothecary, and was matriculated by the University of Oxford as a tradesman at the age of 22 on 14 September 1666. His father was described in Alumni Oxonienses as a “pleb”.

On 9 September 1667 Harris was elected an Alderman for the North-West ward, paying £10 and taking three oaths and subscribing the declaration, also taking his oath as Alderman and giving the macebearer a purse and a piece of gold to put in it.

In the year 1668/9 Harris was reimbursed by £17 13s. 4d. for entertaining the Lord Lieutenant and his Deputy, and by £15 19s 0d for new liveries for the City waits.

On 1 June 1671 Charles Harris, the second surviving son of John Harris, was admitted to the Middle Temple. His father is described as “gent” in the Middle Temple Admissions Register.

Harris’s other son John Harris died at the age of 28 and was buried at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church on 25 November 1672.

In about 1674 John Taylor was paid £5 for drawing Alderman Harris's picture, and Peshall mentions a portrait of Alderman Harris that used to hang in a meeting room in the old Guildhall: this may be the portrait at the foot of this page.

† Alderman John Harris died at the age of 80 on 14 August 1674 and was buried inside St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church in Oxford three days later. The oval grey memorial of marble and alabaster shown below can still be seen on the wall of that church:

Memorial to John Harris

HSE [Hic sepultus est]
Ioannes Harris Civitatis huius
Aldermannus et Expraetor dignissimus,
Religioni, Regi, ac Patriae,
Pessimis etiam temporibus fidus
Natus Burfordiae Anno 1594
Denatus Oxoniae 1674 Aetat: 80.
Utriusque loci pauperibus ad octingentas libras liberalis
Qua Munificentia tanta
Monumentum sibi posuit marmore omni perenni[u]s

Lege bone Civis, et imitari aude

Binas duxit uxores, Elizabetham et Annam
ac natas quarum Eliz: peperit Annisiam, Ianam et
 jam Frideswidam.  Anna (et sola adhuc in vivis)
defunct AnnamElizabetham, IanamMariam,
Ioannem primum, et secundum,
et Carolum
Qui Maerens potuit Anno 1675

Here lies buried John Harris, Alderman and most worthy former Mayor of this City, who was faithful to his religion, his king, and his native land, even in the worst of times. He was born at Burford in the year 1594 and died in Oxford in 1674 at the age of 80. He was liberal to the poor of each of these towns to the extent of £800, and by such outstanding munificence he set up a monument to himself more lasting than all marble.

Read, good Citizen, and dare to imitate

He took two wives, Elizabeth and Anna, of whom Elizabeth bore Annis, Jane, and then Frideswide.

Anna (now still alive and desolate) bore Anna, Elizabeth, Jane, Maria, the first and second John, and Charles, who in grief set up this monument in the year 1675.

John Harris in Burford Church
©Burford Church

The above statue of John Harris is in Burford Church. The inscription underneath the statue (pictured below) reads:

The Statue of that Worthy Benefactor, John Harris late Alderman & Mayor of the City of Oxford: and Native of this place. He gave to the poore of ye Towne of Burford 200li. to be thus disposed (viz.) One 100li. to be lent unto Tradesmen gratis, & the proffitt of the other 100li. to place out children apprentices. Hee died the 14th of August 1674.

Erected in gratefull memory att the charges of this Towne in the time of Richard Haines, Edmund Heming, Bayliffs

Inscription to John Harris in Burford Church
©Burford Church

Memorial to Ann Harris

Memorial to Alice Harris

Harris’s wife Anne Harris died at the age of 78 and was buried in the middle aisle of St Michael's Church on 6 September 1685. Her memorial plaque (above left) reads:

To the memory of Mrs Ann Harris, widdow & relict of that worthy benefactor John Harris late Alderman of the City of Oxford. She departed this life on the 4th of September 1685 in ye 79th yeare of her age and lies buried by her husband neare this place.

There is a very similar memorial in that church (shown above right) to her daughter-in-law Mrs Alice Harris, wife of Charles. It reads:

Neare to this place lyeth the body of Alice, the wife of Mr Charles Harris son of Alderman John Harris. She was eldest daughter to Alderman William Wright by Christian his first wife daughter to John Smith Esq. heretofore Mayor of the City of Oxon, and departed this life December 31 1693 haveing prepared her selfe for a Resurrection to a better by Faith and dayly Repentance. Her knowne Humility, Meeknesse, Patience, Charity and Devotion are her best & most lasting Monument. To the remembrance whereof this was erected by her Deare and Mournfull husband.

By his will of 1672, Harris left land at Garsington to the City to provide pensions of £4 a year for four poor freeman aged over 50. (two to be members of the Tailors’ Company, and one to be from St Michael’s and another from St Peter-in-the-East parish). They were required to attend the City Church (St Martin’s at Carfax) wearing special gowns with badges bearing the arms of the tailors’ company.

He also gave a benefaction of £200, to be used for interest-free loans of £10 each to twenty Oxford tradesmen to be repaid by £1 yearly (six to be members of the Tailors’ Company, and two to be from St Michael’s and another two from St Peter-in-the-East parish). Harris’s eldest son Charles was to administer these payments, and the charity still existed as late as 1884.

In memory of his father, Charles was given a bailiff’s place on the council on 25 August 1674. He rose to the position of one of the Mayor’s eight Assistants, but according to Wood resigned in April 1682 when the council refused to give a piece of land for him to found a hospital. By his will of 1713 he gave the council lands in Lenborough in Buckinghamshire) and a house in All Saints parish to provide £30 a year to Balliol College and pensions of £4 each to four freemen, who were also required to attend St Martin’s in gowns and badges. Charles’s wife Alice died on 31 December 1693 and was buried in the chancel of St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church, and he was also buried there on 5 August 1713.

John Harris



The portrait on the left hangs in the Council Chamber of Oxford Town Hall, and is inscribed on the frame “Alderman Henry Wise, 1711”, but was originally identified as another Mayor of Oxford, Thomas Wise.

The city council has now identified it as the portrait of John Harris mentioned by Peshall, but:

(1) it has been identified as an eighteenth-century painting, whereas John Harris died in 1674

(2) it does not resemble the effigy on his tomb in Burford

See also:

  • PCC Will PROB 11/346/309 (Will of John Harris, Gentleman of Oxford, proved 18 November 1674)
  • Victoria County History of Oxfordshire: Volume IV: Oxford, facing p. 157: photograph of the silver badge worn by the pensioners of John Harris’s charity. (Original badges can also be seen in the Town Hall plate room)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 3 September, 2019

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