Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Matthew Harrison (c.1556–1630)

Mayor of Oxford 1611/12

Matthew Harrison (or Harryson/Haryson/Harrisson) was born in c.1556, the son of William Harrison, a yeoman of Newbiding in Tibshelf, Derbyshire.

On 25 March 1572 he was apprenticed for seven years to the Oxford mercer Thomas Rowe, with the promise of 3s. 4d. and double apparel at the end of his term.

Harrison duly became an Oxford mercer himself, and was was admitted as a Hanaster in the mayoral year 1577–8. He was elected on to the Common Council at the end of September 1581 and in 1583 was made a Chamberlain.

On 30 April 1581 at All Saints’ Church, Matthew Harrison married his first wife Ellen or Helen Levins, daughter of
Alderman William Levins
, and they had one son:

  • Henry Harrison (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 17 March 1586/7);
    buried there on 9 April 1587.

In 1583 Richard Eedes introduced Harrison, who by then was also landlord of the Bear Inn behind the south side of the High Street, into his Iter Boreale, a satirical travelogue in Latin.

Between 1584 and 1600 Harrison took on five apprentice mercers: Robert Andros of Sandford (29 September 1584); Philip Gadburye of Kidlington (25 March 1588); Robert Silvester of Mansfield (29 September 1593); William Clarke of Bristol (24 August 1596); and Thomas Redfearne of Wiltshire (25 March 1600).

On 25 August 1586, at the request of his father-in-law Alderman Levins, Matthew Harrison was promoted to the position of a compounder bailiff on the council for a fee of 40s.

His first wife Ellen Harrison died in 1587 and was buried on 13 November at All Saints’ Church.

On 16 September 1588 Harrison was elected Senior Bailiff.

On 21 December 1590 at St Martin’s Church, Matthew Harrison married his second wife, Mary Plumpton, but during the following year (the precise date is not given in the register), she was buried at the same church.

In September 1594 Harrison was appointed a Surveyor of the Fair. On 11 April 1599 he was elected one of the eight Assistants, paying his £5.

On 11 December 1605 it was agreed that ‘Mathew Harrison and his tenaunts may sett uppe a sign at his house, late in the tenure of widow Lynger”. This house was the Sun in St Martin’s parish, next to St Martin’s Church at Carfax, and this meant that either he or his tenant could keep an inn there.

On 16 January 1607 Harrison’s two apprentice mercers, William Clarke and Thomas Redfearne, were admitted free at the same time.

On 21 August 1609 Harrison was chosen as Alderman and was “sworne to the supremacy”.

On 16 September 1611 Alderman Matthew Harrison was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1611/12). He gave £20 to the city, the interest on which was to be used as the Mayor, alderman, and assistants thought fit, either in setting the poor on work or to be lent to four poor freemen for terms of three years. In the June of his year of office, he led a deputation to the Privy Council in London “about the controversies betwixt the Cyttie and Universitie”.

On 6 February 1615 and 13 February 1617 his apprentices Leonard Harrison and Thomas Lewis were respectively admitted free.

Harrison made a donation of £20 to the House of Correction in the council year 1626/7.

† Alderman Matthew Harrison was buried in All Saints’ Church on 20 March 1629/30.

In his will he mentions a son William Harrison, a daughter-in-law Anne Harrison, and a grandchild Matthew Harrison. The latter is probably the Matthew Harrison, son of William, who was baptised at All Saints’ Church on 25 August 1620.

In 1631 the capital he had donated in 1611 was given to the Master of the Workhouse.

See also:

  • Robert Eedes, Iter Boreale (1583): online here with English translation
  • Anthony à Wood, Survey of the Antiquities of the City of Oxford Composed in 1661–6 (ed. the Rev. Andrew Clark, Oxford, 1899) vol. III, index s. v.
  • PCC Will PROB 11/157/495 (Will of Mathew Harrison, Alderman of Oxford, proved 5 May 1630)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 27 September, 2018

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