Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Robert Harrison

Mayor of Oxford 1688/9 and 1699/1700

Robert Harrison (1646/7–1716) was a draper of All Saints parish.

Harrison’s ancestors

Harrison’s grandfather was Robert Harrison, a yeoman of Stavely, Westmoreland.

Harrison’s father Thomas had come to Oxford as the apprentice of the mercer Thomas Dennis in 1633, and in about 1663 appears to have taken over his business at 127–9 High Street in All Saints parish. Thomas and his wife Anne had the following children:

  • Thomas Harrison (baptised at All Saints on 31 July 1645)
  • Robert Harrison (baptised at All Saints on 11 February 1646/7)
  • Ann Harrison (baptised at All Saints on 15 March 1648/9)
  • Dennis (= Denise) Harrison (baptised at All Saints on 23 February 1650/1)
  • William Harrison (baptised at All Saints on 8 December 1652)
  • Mary Harrison (recorded at All Saints as having been born on 17 April 1655)
  • John Harrison (recorded at All Saints as having been born on 5 March 1656/7)

Robert Harrison

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 seven 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 for not being 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


Harrison’s mercer’s shop and home were at 34 High Street (left), 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. In 1696 Harrison paid tax on twenty windows here.

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.

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

  • Robert Harrison (baptised at St Peter-in-the East Church on 16 March 1681/2)
  • Elizabeth Harrison (baptised at St Peter-in-the East Church on 27 January 1683/4)
  • Margaret Harrison (baptised at St Peter-in-the East Church on 14 February 1685/6).

Four Harrison burials at All Saints Church around this time give the parish of origin of the deceased as St Peter-in-the-East: Anne (22 October 1684), Elizabeth (3 September 1686), Elizabeth (26 September 1687), and Ann (19 April 1698). These may all be Harrison’s children.

By the charter of 15 September 1688 Richard Carter was nominated as Mayor for the year 1688/9, and he held his first council on 25 September. But at his second council on 28 September the City set aside the King’s nominations and elected new officers, with Robert Harrison as Mayor. 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 and 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 was knighted according to custom, returning to Oxford two weeks later. Anthony Wood writes:

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 Harrison took on his sister’s son, John Taylor, as his apprentice for seven years.

On 18 September 1699 Harrison was elected Mayor a second time, 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 Harrison 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, Sir Robert Harrison was dead. He was buried at All Saints Church on 13 November 1716, and a tablet was erected there in his memory.

Harrison’s family

Harrison’s daughter Margaret 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 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 (Sir Robert Harrison, One of the Alderman of the City of Oxford, 5 January 1717)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 11 September, 2012

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