Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


John Nixon (1588–1662)

Mayor of Oxford 1636/7, 1646/7, and 1654/5

John Nixon (or Nickson) was born in Bletchingdon in Oxfordshire in 1588. The parish register records that he was baptised there “on the Wensday before Shrovetide” in 1588, and that his father was William Nixon, probably the man of that name who had married Joan Silvester in the same church on 26 October 1586. He does not appear to have had any siblings.

The “Mother Nixon” buried at Bletchingdon on 23 September 1589 could have been his mother or grandmother.

John Nixon married Joan Stevenson of Weston-on-the-Green (the sister of Margaret Stevenson, who married Thomas Fifield, mother of Thomas Fifield, another future mayor), but they had no children. The portraits of John Nixon and his wife shown below can be seen in Oxford’s Town Hall.

Joan Nixon

John Nixon

Nixon set up business as a mercer in Oxford, and on 21 August 1620 was one of four people selected by the council to have one of the £25 interest-free loans for ten years provided by the will of Sir Thomas White (the founder of St John’s College).

On 2 October 1622 Nixon was elected on to the Common Council, and a year later he was granted a bailiff’s place, paying £5. In September 1623 Nixon’s apprentice Thomas Appelbie was admitted free.

In 1624 Nixon was granted a lease by the council of a house in the parish of St Mary-the-Virgin. It was opposite that church, and was on the site of 96 High Street, which was near the eastern side of the group of houses that were demolished in 1910 to make way for the Rhodes Building of Oriel College. He held this lease until his death.

In 1627 Nixon was elected Senior Bailiff, and in 1621 he was given responsibility, with three others, to see that “tools and instruments of punishment for the idle are provided at the City’s charge for the inmates of the house of correction”. On 11 October 1631 he was appointed Fairmaster.

In September 1636 Nixon was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1636/7), choosing John Fulkes as Mayor’s Chamberlain. In December Nixon requested that he might use his mayoral privilege of electing a Freeman or granting a Bailiff’s or Chamberlain’s place, and proposed Benjamin Rixe, upholsterer, as a Chamberlain. On 28 August 1637 Nixon announced that he would ride the franchises on the following Thursday, and desired those that proposed to dine with him to pay their money (1s 6d for the Thirteen, and 1s for everyone else).

In April 1638 Nixon was elected an Alderman.

In 1639 his apprentices Matthew Martin and Henry Fawler were admitted free.

Anthony Wood described Nixon thus:

He had a smooth flattering tongue and verie hard in his dealings in so much that it was a comparison among scholars

“like alderman Nixon,
hard and smooth like any sleick stone”.

Despite being a prominent Parliamentarian, Nixon contributed four pounds of powder and two pieces of match to a general royalist fund in 1642. On 19 September that year Wood (I:63) records that he was put up for mayor by the anti-Royalist Lord Saye, but that

the commons made choice of Dennis rather than of him, because at the comminge in of the kinge’s troopers he fled to Abingdon and left his owne towne, and “they would have a mayor that should not flie out of the towne if occasions served” &c.

On 19 September 1642 Wood (I:63) records that when the London troopers passed St Mary-the-Virgin Church on their way out of Oxford,

“one of them discharged a brace of bulletts at the stone image of our lady over the Church porch, and at one shott strooke of her hed and the hed of her child which she held in her right arme; another discharged at the image of our Saviour, over All Soules gate, and would have defaced all the work there, had it not byn for some townesmen (amongest whom, they saye, Mr. alderman Nixon was one) who entreated them to forbeare; they replienge that they had not byn so well entertayned here at Oxford as they expected &c.

(On 2 July 1662 the Virgin Mary’s head was replaced, and Wood (I:444) adds that John Nixon was recorded as saying that he saw many worship the statue.)

On 14 September 1643 the Mayor announced that he had received a letter dated 10 September from King Charles I at Shrewsbury Castle stating that he understood that there were several men, both aldermen and common council members, who had left the City to join the rebellion. The King recommended that these men should be disfranchised and removed. Alderman Nixon and twelve councillors were discovered to have been absent from the city (Wood repeats that he had “fled to London uppon the kinge’s comminge hither”), giving the council grounds for believing that they were “evilly disposed towards the King”. It was decided unanimously that Nixon and the rest should be disfranchised, forfeit the freedom of the City, and be deprived of any offices they held in the City.

In June 1646, just five days after the commencement of the evacuation of Oxford by the Royalist troops, the act of disenfranchisement was repealed. John Nixon was restored to his freedom and his place on the council, and three months later was elected Mayor a second time (for 1646/7). Details of his swearing-in were minuted thus:

On the day following Michaelmas day being Wednesday the thirtith day of September Mr John Nixon, Alderman and Mayor, came into the Guihald of this Citie and there tooke the Oath anciently used to be taken in the Exchequar att Westminster…. But in regard of the observacon of this day being the Solemne Monethly fast the other Oathes to be taken by the Mayor as allsoe the rest of the bussinesses usually performed on this day are respited till the day following.

Nixon selected Mathew Martin as Mayor’s Child and James Pinnell as his Chamberlain. On 5 November 1646 he “disbursed forty and two shillings and eight pence … upon diverse officers and souldiers for theire Curtesies in giveing him and the Citie Valleyes of shott”.

In December 1646 John Nixon was chosen by the council as Member of Parliament for the City of Oxford: he held this position until 1654.

On 24 August 1646 Nixon took on a new apprentice mercer, John Bowell.

In September 1647 Humphrey Boddicott was elected Mayor, but a Parliamentary Order of 4 October demanded “the Continuance of the old Mayor and Bayliffes in theire places until further order”, so John Nixon continued as Mayor. He appointed William Banting as his Child and Richard Weller as his Chamberlain.

In the subsidy of 24 June 1648 Nixon paid 5s. 4d. in the parish of St Mary-the-Virgin. He and his wife lived over his shop at 96 High Street (one of the buildings demolished to make way for the Rhodes Building of Oriel College).

On 12 September 1648, at the end of his extended two-year stint as Mayor, Nixon and one of the Bailiffs were sent to the House of Commons in London to find out if the election for a new Mayor and Bailiffs for the following year could take place. The election duly happened, and Nixon returned to his duties as Alderman, being appointed one of the City Coroners in 1653.

In September 1654 Nixon was elected Mayor of Oxford for a third time (for 1654/5). He nominated Elisha Cole as his Child and Mathew Tredwell as Senior Chamberlain.

Nixon is best remembered in Oxford for Nixon’s Free Grammar School, which he founded in 1658 for the sons of freemen. It opened in 1659, and survived for 235 years until 1894. The city council had first considered founding such a school in 1576, but only took action when Nixon offered £30 a year to pay a master’s stipend provided that the city provided a suitable schoolroom. In April 1658 it was reported in council that:

… a worthye Alderman of this Citty, by name Mr Alderman Nixon, in Testimony of his greate and affectionate desires of the honor of God in this place and of the good and welfare of this Citty and the Cittizens thereof, hath made the tender and promise of giveing Thirty pounds p. annum as a yearely stipend for a Schoolemaster to teach thirty or forty Boyes, sones of such of the freemen of this Citty as are not well able to beare the charge of it themselves, to write, reade, cast accompt, Cattechised and alsoe to have some knowledge of the Lattin Tongue so as to fitt them for Apprentices to any Trade whatsoever.

Anthony Wood added the sarcastic comment, “Note that though he [Nixon] had got all his estate by the Universitie, yet no caution was taken for poore priviledged men’s sons.”

Nixon left it to the City to find a suitable place for the school he would fund: the Guildhall Court was chosen, and the school opened on 19 April 1658. Nixon’s original promise of £30 a year as a stipend for the schoolmaster was changed to an endowment of £600, on condition that a lease for 1000 years at a peppercorn rent be made out to him and his heirs.

In appreciation of this gift, the council agreed in May 1659 that the “portraitures or pictures of the said Alderman Nixon and his now wife, whoe hath given greate incouragement to this worke of Charity, bee fairly drawne”. These are the pictures shown above that still hang on the wall of the Town Hall council chamber.

In January 1659 there was an election for Oxford’s two Parliamentary seats: in the first election Nixon lost by 222 votes to 472 to the Deputy Recorder Richard Croke, and in the second by 210 votes to 470 to the Sheriff of Oxfordshire, Unton Croke.

In May 1660 Nixon along with the other Aldermen took (of their own free will) the Oath of Allegiance to Charles II.

In September 1660 Nixon requested that Richard Houghton, master of the free city schools, should be given his freedom gratis.

In May 1661 it is recorded that Alderman Nixon was unable to do the work of a Commissioner of Barges owing to his weakness of body; but in August he took part in the procession that went out to meet Charles II, wearing a scarlet gown and tippet and with footmen and footclothes.

† Alderman John Nixon died on 14 April 1662, and was buried on 17 April in St Mary-the-Virgin Church, just to the east of the large south door, where the epitaph on his tombstone (written by Henry Cornish, Canon of Christ Church) can still easily be read:

John Nixon of this Citty Alderman
Ended that race he 73 yeares ran
In April 62. no merits he
Owned bUt Christs yet by its frUit the tree
Is to be knowne. Twice 20 free schoole boyes
Immortalize his name, and with less noyse,
Farr greater boUnties were disperst Unknowne,
Except to reapers where his seed was sowne.
May many more this worthy pattern lye,
A good faire copie for posterity.

Although Nixon and his wife had no children of their own, they appear to have fostered four children, as in March 1667 Mrs Joan Nixon was assessed as follows for poll tax at 96 and 96a High Street:

  • For herself: £3 14s. 4d. (£1 13s. for title, poll tax of one shilling, and £2 tax on her money). This indicates that her personal wealth was £200, as the tax on personal estate was £1 per £100.
  • For John, Christopher, and Margaret Stevenson and Joanna Martin, four children: poll tax of one shilling each
  • For her servants Elizabeth Smith and Dorothy Adams: three shillings each (i.e. one shilling in the pound on their yearly wages of £2, plus poll tax of a shilling)

Joan Nixon died on 18 August 1671 and was buried with her husband on 24 August. The lease of their shop and home at 96 High Street passed to her nephew Thomas Fifield.

Nixon’s School survived until 1894, when (despite opposition by the Oxford freemen) it was closed following bad reports by the government inspector.

See also:

  • Portraits of (1) Alderman John Nixon and (2) his wife Joan Nixon in 1638, attributed to John Taylor, on the wall of the Council Chamber in the Town Hall
  • Arms of Alderman John Nixon over the fireplace in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour in the Town Hall
  • Painting of Nixon’s School in the Old Town Hall Yard by Miss F.E. Ogan, in the entrance lobby of the Town Hall
  • PCC Will PROB 11/307/600 (Will of John Nixon, Alderman of Oxford, proved 30 April 1662)
  • Entry for John Nixon in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • Biography not yet available on the History of Parliament website

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 3 January, 2021

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