Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Sir Robert Harrison (1646/7–1716)

Mayor of Oxford 1688/9 and 1699/1700

Robert Harrison was born in Oxford near the beginning of 1647 and baptised at All Saints’ Church on 11 February 1646/7 He was the son of Thomas Harrison and his wife Anne and the grandson of Robert Harrison senior, a yeoman of Stavely, Westmoreland. Robert's father Thomas Harrison had come to Oxford as the apprentice of the mercer Thomas Dennis in 1633, and appears to have taken over his business at 127–9 High Street in All Saints parish. Robert's next four siblings were also baptised at All Saints’ Church: Thomas Harrison (31 July 1645); Ann Harrison (15 March 1648/9); Dennis (= Denise) Harrison (23 February 1650/1); and William Harrison(8 December 1652). The dates of birth only of the next two were recorded in the parish register; Mary Harrison (17 April 1655) and John Harrison (5 March 1656/7).

In 1660, when he was 14, Robert Harrison was taken on as an apprentice draper by his father (who had himself been elected on to the council in 1650); but his father died in 1665 before the apprenticeship was complete.

In 1667 Harrison’s widowed mother, Mrs Anne Harrison, paid a shilling in poll-tax for herself and for three of her children (Robert, Anne, and Denise). Their property appears in the All Saints parish list between the Chequers and the Bear off the High Street.

On 30 September 1674 the new Mayor (William Walker) proposed the admission of Harrison as his Child, to have a chamberlain’s place. Harrison came straight in and took the usual oaths, paying 3s 4d to avoid serving as Constable.

On 20 September 1680 Harrison was elected Senior Bailiff. On 16 August Sampson Rawlins paid a fine of £15 to avoid taking up a position as one of the Mayor’s eight Assistants, and Harrison was chosen in his place.

In about 1680 Harrison’s sister Denise (“Dennis”) married John Taylor. Harrison himself also must have got married about this time, and moved into his own shop at 34 High Street.

34 High Street


Robert Harrison’s mercer’s shop and home was at 34 High Street (right), in the parish of St Peter-in-the-East. This building has an eighteenth-century front on what is thought to be a seventeenth-century house.

Anthony Wood made purchases at this shop: for example in February 1682 he wrote,

On the 10th (F.) I paid Mr. Harrison my mercer in full of all demands due from me 5li 7s., for which I have his acquittance. He abated me in the whole 1s. 7d.

In 1696 Harrison paid tax on twenty windows here.

Robert Harrison had the following children, all of whom were probably born in this house:

  • Robert Harrison junior (baptised on 16 March 1681/2 at St Peter-in-the-East Church)
  • Elizabeth Harrison baptised on 27 January 1683/4 at St Peter-in-the-East Church);
    buried at All Saints’ Church on 3 September 1686)
  • Margaret Harrison (baptised on 14 February 1685/6 at St Peter-in-the-East Church).

Three other Harrison burials at All Saints’ Church around this time give the parish of origin of the deceased as St Peter-in-the-East, and these are likely to be children who died before baptism: Anne Harrison (22 October 1684), a second Elizabeth Harrison (26 September 1687), and Ann Harrison (19 April 1698).

By the charter of 15 September 1688 Richard Carter was nominated as Mayor of Oxford for the year 1688/9, and he held his first council on 25 September. But at his second council on 28 September 1688 the City set aside the nominations of King James II and elected new officers, with Robert Harrison as Mayor (for 1688/9). He chose Francis Astrey as his Child, and proposed Edward Prince as Town Clerk. Harrison was thus Mayor in a Coronation year, and on 16 February 1689 he proclaimed William & Mary King and Queen of England, setting claret to run through Carfax Conduit; and at their Coronation on 11 April 1689 Harrison served in the butlery at Westminster Hall, and on 12 April 1689 at Whitehall was duly knighted according to custom, returning to Oxford two weeks later. Anthony Wood wrote:

Robert Harrison, mayor, who served in the wine-cellar at the coronation, recieved the honor of knighthood some days after. And Apr. 27 (S.) came home, was met by several horsmen and conducted to his dore in S. Peter East with shouts, ringing of bells, and acclamation.

The rest of Sir Robert Harrison’s mayoral year was less eventful, and on 15 August he “rode the franchises”.

Arms of Sir Robert Harrison





The arms of Sir Robert Harrison (left) are set in the window of the Lord Mayor’s Parlour, overlooking St Aldate’s



In September 1696 Sir Robert Harrison took on his sister’s son, John Taylor, as his apprentice for seven years.

On 12 April 1689 his son Robert Harrison junior was matriculated at the University of Oxford from Merton College at the age of 15.

On 18 September 1699 Sir Robert Harrison was elected Mayor a second time (for 1699/1700), choosing Henry Wise to have a chamberlain’s place as the Mayor’s Child. During his term of office, on 17 April 1701, he was elected Barge Commissioner.

Harrison remained on the Mayor’s Council after his year of office, and on 23 April 1702 accompanied the Mayor to London for the Coronation of Queen Anne.

On 19 March 1703 hr was elected an Alderman: he took the usual oaths, gave the macebearer a purse with a broad piece of gold in it, and paid the usual £10 and £10 in lieu of entertainment.

On 4 February 1704 it was agreed that Harrison should entertain the Judges at his house for the next seven years at the usual rate of £4 for each assizes.

On 8 May 1705 Harrison stood for election as Member of Parliament for Oxford, but came last with only one vote (compared to the 628 and 551 votes of the two who were elected). He remained on the Mayor’s Council, taking up the position of Keykeeper again and continuing to serve as Barge Commissioner.

On 2 August 1714 Harrison and three others (including the Mayor) met on their own and all took the oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy and made and repeated the Abjuration oath. On 20 October 1714 Harrison attended his third Coronation, that of George I.

During the Jacobite riots, Thomas Rowney (Member of Parliament for Oxford) wrote thus to the Lord High Steward on 17 November 1716:

I am affraid we shall very quickly loose Sr Robert Harrison, He is very weak, And we shall then be divided [?] about an Alderman and an Assistant.

Rowney was right: within a matter of days he was dead.

† Alderman Sir Robert Harrison died in 1716 and he was buried at All Saints’ Church on 13 November that year. A tablet was erected there in his memory.

Sir Robert Harrison’s two surviving children

Robert Harrison obtained his M.A. in 1704 and served as Rector of Luddenham, Kent from March 1713 until his death in 1755.

Margaret Harrison was married three times: first to a barrister called Knap, then to Dr John Hudson (1662–1719), Principal of St Mary Hall and Keeper of the Bodleian Library, by whom she had just one daughter, Margaret, in 1711 (who married the Revd John Boyce, son of the Mayor of the same name); and thirdly to the Revd Anthony Hall.

Thomas Hearne wrote of her on 24 July 1711:

Dr Hudson’s Lady (being the only Daughter of Sir Rob. Harrison of Oxon, Kt, a Young Woman of about 26 or 27 Years of Age) was brought to bed of a Daughter. They were married about April 1710 [’Twas on April the 2d. in 1710). She had been married before to one Mr Knap, a young Barrister of Law, & formerly Commoner of Univ Coll. who died quickly without any child by her. This Girl was baptis’d on Thurday Aug 2d. 1711 in the Church of St. Peter in the East by Mr. Josiah Pullen, Minister of that Place.

See also:

  • Malcolm Graham, Oxford City Apprentices 1697–1800, entry numbered 6
  • PCC Will PROB 11/556/40 (Sir Robert Harrison, One of the Alderman of the City of Oxford, 5 January 1717)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 3 January, 2021

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