Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Thomas Harris (d. 1628)

Mayor of Oxford 1603/4, 1609/10, and 1622

Thomas Harris (or Harrys) was the son of William Harris, a husbandman of Sibford, Oxfordshire.

On 24 June 1574 he was apprenticed for eight years to the woollen draper Henry Dodwell, with the promise of double apparel and 6s. 8d. at the end of the term.

Thomas Harris married his master’s daughter, Rebecca Dodwell, and they had at least one child, Grace Harris, who married James Chesterman, an attorney of St Martin’s parish, in about 1610.

Harris became an Oxford woollen-draper/hosier (and later an ironmonger). Twyne records that he lived in “a corner house at Carfoxe”.

Harris was first elected on to the Common Council on 3 October 1589, and on 9 September 1591 it was agreed that he was “to have the rooms of a chamberlain and a bailiff for £6 13s 4d”. On 8 April 1592, however, it was agreed that he should be committed to prison,

for that he denyeth to pay the money that he agreed to pay for his compounding for the roomes of a chamberlayne and bayliffe, and that he shall remayne in prison untill he shall pay the same money and make his humble submyssion for the same.

He evidently paid up, because he is listed as a bailiff in October that year. In October 1593 he was selected as a “Taster of flesh and fish”, and was also elected Junior Bailiff. In October 1598 he was made a supervisor of mills. His apprentice, John Gildred, was admitted free in October 1601.

On 4 May 1603 it was agreed that Harris should be one of the group attending the Mayor at the Coronation of King James I in London on 25 July, but in the event no one from outside London was allowed to attend because of plague.

In September 1603 Harris was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1603/4), requesting that William Potter should have a bailiff’s place “in respect of the freeman he might have placed”.

On 11 December 1605 it was agreed that:

Mr Thomas Harris in consideracion of his greate paynes and travaile in ryding and following and attending the causes and suits of this cytie both in procuring the cyties charter and following the suits of the cytie against such common bakers as refuse to grynd at the Castle Mills and other causes and wearing his apparell shall have the xiiiili. and odd money which the cytie oweth unto him uppon his accompt made upp twenty pounds to be paid unto him.

And on 14 January 1606:

Forasmuch as Mr Thomas Harris heretofore at the request of this cytie hath followed our suyte, reteyned our counsell, is onely acquaynted with our causes and hath all our books, he is againe to be intreated to sollicite and follow our suyts this next terme, the cytie making him recompence both for his travayle and charges.

On 9 July 1607 Harris was made an Alderman, and in 1609 he was elected Mayor a second time (for 1609/10), requesting that James Chesterman, gentleman (his son-in-law), should be admitted free.

Twyne (v.374) describes a quarter sessions at Christmas 1609, when the circulating judge, Sir David Williams, gave precedence to Harris above the Vice-Chancellor of the University (John King, Dean of Christ Church):

When Dr. Kinge, Dean of Christ Church, was Vice-Chancellor, there happened to be a quarter sessions about Christmas, 1609, whereat Sir David Williams, who was one of the circuiting judges for Oxfordshire, was present in the upper Gildhall; unto which also came the mayor of the towne, one Alderman Harris, whom the judge placed at his right hand; and the Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Kinge, cominge in, a while after, did offer allso to set at the judge’s right hand, and would have displaced the mayor; which the judge would not suffer, allowinge of the Mayor’s placinge, and that it was due unto him and not to the Vice-Chancellor. Whereupon the Vice-Chancellor made no stirre about it then, but sate there all the while below the mayor. And when they rose from the bench and were come down into the street, goeinge up towards Carfax with a purpose to dine all together at the Starre, the judge did again cause the mayor to take the hand of the Vice-Chancellor; whereuppon, about Alderman Wright, his house, beinge a corner house at Carfoxe, the Vice-Chancellor would goe no further, but called back the Bedell and turned downeward to Christ Church. Whereuppon the judge asked him, sayinge, “What! Mr. Vice-Chancellor, will not you dine with us?” unto which the Vice-Chancellor replied that he could have a dinner at home at Christ Church, and takinge no other leave, departed and went home to Christ Church and came no more to that sessions at that time. After which the time the mayors did begin to expect the precedencie of the Vice-Chancellor, and sometimes they had it and sometimes not….

In July 1610 Harris was present at the laying of the first stone of Wadham College by the Vice-Chancellor and Dr Rives of New College.

In 1611 he was removed from his place as an Alderman, as Twyne goes on to record:

Now what befell the mayor, Thomas Harris, afterwarde who was put uppon this against his will by the judge, you shall understand that because in his mayoralty he gave way too easily for the Towne, alienatinge away the site of the Auston Fryres to Mr. Wadham for the foundation of his college, without reserving any yearly dinner for the Towne, as it is at New College, and allso for certain words which he had lett fall in their Counsell House against my Lord Knolles, then their Steward, about of a readinge of a certain record which he said was so old and hard to read that his lordship could scarce read it, his lordship being incensed thereat as a thinge spoken to his dishonour, he the said alderman after the time of his mayoralty was difranchised by the Towne and put out of his aldermanship and another chosen in his place; whereuppon he frequented St Mary’s church, etc., and the University conceiving that he was used the harder for their sakes, wrote to the Lord Knolles about it, whose answer in letter thereunto was read in a convocation held 12 March, 1612, though it be not registered; wherein among other things he called him “base mechanicke”, etc., but at length he was restored again with much ado.

Twyne was restored to his aldermanship in 1616, and in September 1617 he was appointed mill master.

Following the death of John Davenant in April 1622, Harris took over as Mayor of Oxford for the last six months of the mayoral year (April to September 1622), taking his oath to the University at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on 29 April. He was put to “much expense” riding to London with his presenters, and was reimbursed by the council.

On 21 November 1626 it is reported that he was again abusing the Mayor that year (John Dewe) and two members of his Council:

Forasmuch as it is proved by sufficient witnesses upon othe that Mr Alderman Harris did, on Sunday the 12th day of this instant November when the Bell did ringe to Sermon, openly at Penniless Bench in the publique hearinge of many, abuse the Mayor of this Cittie, Mr Alderman Potter, and Mr Henry Bosworth, and did saie three or foure times that Mr Mayor was a base Companion, and that he had sued him for the parish money and that it was nowe come to execucon he durst not come to the Bench; And being thereof told by Mr Bosworth and that it was fitt for him to give better termes of Mr Mayor, he replied againe of Mr Mayor that he was a base Companion and a base fellowe, and that he hid his head and durst not come thether for feare of the execucon; He alsoe there said that Mr Bosworth was a base fellowe and did then and there alsoe brawle and chide to the disturbance of his Majesty’s peace, and said that Mr Alderman Potter did perk up and tooke his place from him for that he was to be deputie to the Mayor in the his absence, of right in respect of his senioritie; and for and by reason of other abuses and contempts done and offered to the Mayor, to this house, and to the whole Cittie, and contrarie to his former promise of conformity when he was restored to his aldermanship after his first expulsion; It is now thought fitt and soe ordered, agreed, and concluded by and with the consent of this house, that he shalbe and is (ipso facto) expelled from this house and office of aldermanship, and from all place and voice in this house, and another is to be chosen in his turne.

Harris brought a suit against the city under a writ of restitution, and the Mayor, bailiffs and “divers other citizens” went to see the Judges of the Assizes when they were in Oxford to obtain their advice about this writ. The Judges advised them to call a Council, and at that Council it was agreed that the whole matter should be left in the hands of the two Judges. In October 1627 the two late bailiffs went to London to hear the final decision of the Judges, which was that Thomas Harris should be restored to his position of alderman. The problem was solved the following year by the death of Harris.

† Alderman Thomas Harris was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on 15 May 1628. Anthony Wood recorded the inscription on his tomb inside the church thus:

Here lyeth the body of Thomas Harris, one of the Aldermen of this citie of Oxon, who was three times Mayor of this cittie, and died the 10 of May 1628.

See also:

  • MS. Wills Oxon W. I. 131/5/5

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 23 September, 2018

Oxford Mayors home Small Shark Oxford History home