Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


John Knibb I (1650–1722)

Mayor of Oxford 1698/9 and 1710/11

Knibb blue plaque

John Knibb senior I was born in Claydon, Oxfordshire on 21 January 1650. He was the son of Thomas Knibb, a yeoman of Claydon in Oxfordshire, and Elizabeth Wise.

A blue plaque on the Church Room in Claydon (right) commemorates John and his older brother Joseph Knibb, and also his cousin Samuel Knibb.

In about 1664 John became an apprentice or assistant to his older brother Joseph Knibb, who was working as a clockmaker in St Clement’s, Oxford. After a year, the business moved to the south side of Holywell Street, a few doors along from the Broad Street corner.

On 11 December 1668 John's younger brother Daniel Knibb was matriculated at the University of Oxford by St Edmund Hall.

In 1670 John's older brother and business partner Joseph Knibb became a member of the London Clockmakers’ Company, so presumably John (then aged 20) thenceforth looked after the Oxford business on his own.

On 13 September 1672 John Knibb applied for his freedom, and although he had none of the necessary qualifications the council agreed to the suggestion of the Mayor, William Cornish, that he should be admitted free on 27 September 1673 on payment of £30. Knibb thought this was excessively expensive, and enlisted the help of Brome Whorwood, who was the MP for Oxford and a Doctor of Civil Law of Trinity College (which in 1667 had matriculated John as a privileged person). Whorwood managed to get John’s fine reduced to 20 marks, and he became a freeman by Act of Council on 11 April 1673.

Between 1673 and 1722 John Knibb took on ten apprentices, including Thomas Gillett in 1697 and George Wentworth in 1706.

John Knibb and his wife Elizabeth had the following children, all born in Holywell Street, Oxford:

  • Elizabeth Knibb (baptised on 24 March 1679/80 at St Cross Church)
  • Mary Knibb (baptised on 1 November 1681 at St Cross Church,
    buried there on 1 August 1704)
  • Hannah Knibb I (baptised on 16 November 1682 at St Cross Church,
    buried there 10 March 1687/8)
  • Jane Knibb (baptised on 4 January 1684/5 at St Cross Church,
    buried there on 13 April 1698)
  • John Knibb (baptised on 8 September 1689 at St Cross Church)
  • George Knibb (baptised on 20 March 1691/2 at St Cross Church)
  • Hannah Knibb II (baptised on 7 May 1693 at St Cross Church,
    buried there on 18 October 1693)
  • Joseph Knibb (baptised on 20 February 1694/5 at St Cross Church).

Knibb became a council bailiff in September 1686 and was chosen to fill up the 24, taking his oath in September 1688. On 11 April 1689 Knibb went with the Mayor to the Coronation of William & Mary at Westminster.

In 1690 he made the clock for St John’s College, Oxford.

On 16 November 1693, Anthony Wood records in his diary, “Borrowed a brass watch of Mr Knibb”.

In November 1697 Knibb was elected one of the eight Assistants, and in November 1698 started his first term as Mayor (for 1698/9).

In 1709 his son George Knibb (17) was matriculated at the University of Oxford from Hart Hall, and he soon became a Demy and later a Fellow of Magdalen College.

In September 1710 Knibb embarked on a second term as Mayor (for 1710/11), selecting the mercer Robert Vicaris as his Child.

During the mayoral year 1716–17 Knibb was chosen Alderman. Thomas Hearne said of him, “This Nibb is a man of so little understanding that he was never known to laugh”.

† Alderman John Knibb died in 1722 at the age of 72. Thomas Hearne recorded:

1722 July 19. Last night, about 8 Clock, died suddenly Mr Alderman Knibb of Oxford, an old, quite, harmless Man abt. 4 score years of Age. He lived by Smith-Gate in Holywell Parish [Smith Gate was in Catte Street, near the Octagonal Chapel]. ’Tis said he eat his supper heartily, went round New Parks with his Wife, sate himself down in his chair and died. A few days since I talked with him about Antiquities, when he told me he hath seen Anslap Spire in Bucks from Brill, he having, it seems, some Estate or Fortune at Anslapp.

He was buried inside St Cross Church on 22 July 1722. His wife Elizabeth Knibb lived for another 18 years and was buried with him on 27 December 1740. There is a memorial to them, their four dead daughters, their son Joseph’s wife, and their son John and his wife (below) on the wall of that church:

Knibb memorial

Near this Place Lyeth Interrd the
Daughters of IOHN & ELIZ: KNIBB
of this Parish.
, HANNAH, Jane, & MARY
as also
Died Iuly 22. 1722 Aged 72.
ELIZ. the Wife of Joseph KNIBB
who Died Dec. 5 1726 aged 24

Mrs ELIZTH: KNIBB Wife of the above
Aldern: KNIBB died Decr: 23 1740.

JOHN KNIBB Jnr: Ald’n of this CITY
died Feb: 14th 1754.

Also DEBH: his Wife died [Aug] 8th 1751

John Knibb’s four surviving children
  • Elizabeth Knibb (born 1679/80) never married and was buried with her parents on 5 December 1726
  • John Knibb (born 1689) also became Mayor of Oxford and died in 1754: see his biography. It must have been after his death that the above memorial stone tablet to the Knibb family was placed on the north wall of the aisle.
  • George Knibb (born 1691/2) became Rector of Appleton
  • Joseph Knibb (born 1694/5): subsequent history unknown.

See also:

  • John Knibb II, Mayor 1733/4 and 1747/8, his son.
  • MS Wills Oxon W. 208.371; 40/1/19
  • Oxford Mail, 12 August 2011: “17th century clock made by former mayor fetches £75K”
    (inscribed “Johannes Knibb Oxon Fecit, circa 1685” on its face)
  • Knibb one-name study by Alan Jackson, including this family
  • Blue Plaque in Claydon, dedicated to John Knibb, his brother Joseph, and their cousin Samuel
  • Oxford Mail, 18 October 1968
  • C. F. C. Beeson, Clockmaking in Oxfordshire 1400–1850 (Oxford: Museum of the History of Science, 1989), pp. 117–22
  • J. James, “Johannes Knibb Oxoniae fecit: the country lad who became mayor of Oxford”, Antique Collector, 1936, vol. 7, 212–15
  • Malcolm Graham, Oxford City Apprentices 1697–1800, entries numbered 422 and A44

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 19 May, 2020

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