Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Robert Pawling (1635–1709)

Mayor of Oxford 1679/80

Robert Pawling (or Pawlin or Paulin or Pauling) was born in Oxford and baptised on 16 August 1635 at All Saints’ Church. He was the son of Thomas Pawling of All Saints parish, and his three younger siblings were also baptised at that church: George Pawling (19 January 1636/70), Isabella Pawling (8 September 1639), and Thomas Pawling (26 October 1643).

When Robert was aged eight his father Thomas Pawling died: he was buried at All Saints’ Church on 3 October 1643. His younger brother Thomas died before his second birthday and was buried there on 12 April 1645.

On 23 September 1658 at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church, Robert Pawling  married Christian Townsend: both lived in All Saints parish. At the time of his marriage Robert was a young mercer of 23 who had recently obtained his freedom, and Christian was nine years older. She had been baptised at All Saints’ Church on 4 December 1626 and was the younger sister of another mercer, John Townsend (Mayor of Oxford in 1669 and 1682). They had the following children:

  • Isabell Pawling (baptised on 9 October 1660 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Susanna Pawling I (baptised on 18 February 1662/3 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Susanna Pawling II (baptised on 18 February 1664/5 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Cristina Pawling, “daughter of Robert and Christian” (baptised on 11 February 1665/6 at All Saints’ Church)
  • “Christyan Pauldin, daughter of Mr Robert” (baptised on 24 September 1666 at All Saints’ Church). This baptism took place only seven months after the baptism of Cristina.

Just two weeks after his wedding, on 6 October 1658, Robert Pawling was selected as Mayor’s Child by Humphrey Whistler. Pawling immediately took up a Chamberlain’s place on the council, paying the usual fine of 3s. 4d. for not serving as Constable. In September 1659 he was appointed a Cloth Searcher and Sealer.

126 High Street



Pawling’s mercer’s shop with his home above was in All Saints parish, probably at 126 High Street (left). This building is believed to have been re-fronted by him in the late seventeenth century.

The Vice-Chancellor’s accounts for 1661/2 show a payment of £6 10s “to Mr Pawlin the mercer for velvet and satin to cover the Domiduca’s” (a book of verses celebrating the arrival of the Queen).

In 1662 two of Pawling’s apprentice mercers, Edward Ringe and John Reade, were admitted free.

On 24 March 1663 Pawling (who was strongly anti-Royalist and Whig) was purged from the council by the Commissioners for Regulating Corporations.

In 1665 Robert Pawling was paying tax on six hearths in All Saints parish.

Pawling was assessed as follows for poll tax at 126 High Street in March 1667:

  • For himself: £3 1s. 0d. (£1 for his title, poll tax of one shilling, and £2 tax on his personal wealth of £200.
  • For his wife Mrs Christian Pawling: poll tax of one shilling
  • For his three children: poll tax of one shilling each
  • For his apprentices Richard Humphries and Thomas Combes: poll tax of one shilling each
  • For his servants Martha Whythers and Susanna Tredwell: three shillings each (i.e. one shilling in the pound on their yearly wages of £2, plus poll tax of a shilling)
  • For George Pauling: £3 1s. 0d. (poll tax of one shilling, and £3 tax on his personal wealth of £300).

In 1670 his apprentice Richard Humphry (or Humphries) was admitted free.

Pawling reappeared on the council scene again in 1672, when he undertook to pay the city’s share towards the common University & City Scavenger (i.e. street cleaner) until the council had time to raise a general tax.

Mather’s Farm, Headington


In 1673 Pawling was the tenant of Magdalen (now Mather’s) Farm in Headington (left), and attended St Andrew’s Church there, becoming involved in a dispute about a pew that had traditionally belonged to the farm.

He still maintained his business in Oxford, and the same year his apprentice Thomas Coombes or Combs was admitted free.

In September 1676 Pawling was offered a Bailiff’s place on the council, but he did not take it up. It was offered to him again in August 1679, and this time he took up his place on 1 September, swearing the usual oaths. The same day he was precipitated on to the Mayor’s Council and just two weeks later he was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1679/80). This all took place at the time of the Popish Plot, and indeed on the very day of his election the council granted the freedom of the city to Titus Oates and his brother. Anthony Wood has this to say about the new Mayor:

Robert Pauling, draper, chose Mayor of Oxford for the ensuing yeare. Wheras all mayors in memorie of man used to be mealie mouthed and fearfull of executing their office for feare of loosing trade, this person is not, but walks in the nights to take townsmen in tipling houses, prohibits coffee to be sold on Sunday, which Dr John Nicholas, vice-chancellor, prohibited onlie till after evening prayer, viz. till five of the clock; but this R. Pauling hath been bred up a Puritan. He is no freind to the University; a disswader of such gentlemen that he knowes from sending their children to the University because that he saith “’tis a debauched place, a rude place, a place of no discipline”. He will not take notice of Quakers’ meetings when he is enformed that there is such; but for a papist! he hates him as a devill.

Pawling selected Richard Keate as Mayor’s Child and John Longford as Mayor’s Chamberlain. On 24 February 1680 Wood had more to say about Pawling during his mayoralty:

I spoke to Mr Robert Paulin the mayor to let me see the book of wills in the towne office. He like a wise man acquainted his brethern with the matter, and so I was denied. He might have done it of himselfe.

In August 1680, at the time of the Pawling’s riding of the franchises, the Lord Steward visited the city, and action was taken to suppress the irregularities that had crept into this ceremony, “particularly the freemen pressing into the Mayor’s boat and the Musick not playing there as they ought to do”.

On 15 September 1680, Pawling informed the house that Prince James, Duke of Monmouth, would be unexpectedly in Oxford over the following two days, and the entertainments as well as Pawling were lampooned in a 14-verse ballad (Wood, III: 506–10). (The Duke was the illegitimate son of Charles II, and Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. He was proclaimed King after his father’s death, but was defeated at Sedgemoor and executed in 1685.) The day after his visit, Pawling proposed that the freedom of the city should be granted to the Duke, and this was unanimously agreed: he was duly given his freedom and a bailiff’s place on 18 September. The house unanimously requested that the Mayor and his brethren should “take such care for his Grace’s reception and a treate to be made for him, as may be most for the Honour of this Citty”.

On the same day, Pawling requested that the following people should be admitted free: Sir John Cope, the Hon. Thomas Wharton, Sir John Stonehouse, Sir Thomas Armstrong, Anthony Roe, Charles Humphries, Marmaduke Williams, John Wheeler, Nicholas Baynton, John Grubbamhow esq., and Colonel Benjamin Bacon. The council readily assented to his request.

On 30 September 1680, Wood (II: 496) described in his diary the “rascally speech” made by Pawling at the end of his mayoralty. If the rumours were true, it principally attacked the Bishop of Oxford (John Fell, who was also Dean of Christ Church); Richard Corpson (son of William Corpson of Oxford city, who had matriculated at Christ Church in 1667 aged 16); and the Vice-Chancellor of the University (Timothy Halton). Wood wrote:

Robert Pauling … called the bishop (Fell) “a grand hypocrite” (not by name), “though he prayed seven times a day, yet he had seven devills in him”. He said that “bedmakers’ sons were proud and imperious”, meaning Richard Corpson of Ch. Ch.… Robert Pauling spoke his speech (a droling speech) the day after Michaelmas day — that “the vicechancellor (Halton) had received his mother in towne and lodged her in an ale-house”. False — shee lodged in Benjamin Cooper’s house. —All this upon resentment of the Musick lecture last Act, by Edmund Northen.

I have been enformed that Mr Pauling reflected upon nobody in his speech but Edmund Northen and another; and that all besides that is reported of him, especially by Harris, is a lye; and that he refuses to shew his speech to no man.

The following May, Wood (II: 541) reports that while loyal citizens were trying to get their hands on an address of thanks to be given to the king, “some scruple it, as Robert Pauling the mercer, the mayor”.

In October 1681 Pawling resumed his place on the Mayor’s Council. In that year he was in serious financial difficulties, as a letter from the father of his apprentice Edmund Reed shows, and in July 1684 the council allowed Reed to be admitted free thirteen months before the end of his apprenticeship. Pawling was also discommoned by the University that year.

In September 1683 there was a move to expel James Parkinson from the University for whiggism, and Pawling was one of the two people who provided security for his appearance at the assizes.

Under the new Charter of 1684, Pawling was again removed from the council.

By June 1685, Pawling had moved up to his house in Headington, which was then a Puritan stronghold. Anthony Wood  (III: 145) records how on Monday 22 June 1685 (during Monmouth’s rebellion):

About 3 or 4 in the afternoon, Robert Pawling, late of Oxon, mercer, was brought under guard from his house at Hedington by command from the earl of Abendon [James Bertie], lord leivtenant of the county of Oxon, and committed prisoner to the Castle. About the same time, [John] Heburne, butler of New Inn, was committed to custody in the Castle.

Wood (III: 135–6) goes on to describe the trial on 31 July:

Robert Pauling, mercer, appeared before the judge (baron Sir William Gregory) at the nisi prius for writing a letter ful of treason concerning the late King to the duke of Bucks George Villiers. Which being sent to alderman William Wright to be conveyed to him, it was seised on in his house when searched, 1683. He was found guilty of high misdeameanour and of scandalum. Muddiman’s letter dated at Whitehall, Aug. 8, S., 1685. — “At the assizes held at Oxon, Mr Paulyng of that city was indicted for a libell found among alderman Wright’s papers and words against the earl of abendon James Bertie. Both which being made out by 4 witnesses, his councell could make no defence. So that the jury without going from the barr found him guilty.”

By letter dated 21 January 1687 King James II ordered the removal of 31 Oxford city councillors and the substitution of 25 new men. He ordered that William Wright and Robert Pawling should be made Aldermen and Justices of the Peace, but Pawling refused to accept office, so in March 1687/8 the King sent another letter ordering the election of Richard Carter in Pawling's place.

Robert Pawling did, however, come back on to the Mayor’s Council, but failed to put in many appearances as he was living “out of town”. In fact he was living in Westminster, London, and when the philosopher John Locke (whom Pawling had known since the early 1680s) was able to return from exile in 1689 after the flight of James II, after first staying with Mrs Rabsy Smithsby in Westminster to June 1690 he moved into Pawling’s home nearby.

On 1 August 1689 the council agreed that unless Pawling appeared at a meeting before the mayoral election at the end of the following month, he was to be proceeded against. He did not appear at the meeting on 29 September, but sent a letter of containing “several unhandsome reflections on our Hon. High Steward and the City”. The council were not satisfied that he would ever come and perform his duty, and it was decided by a great majority that his absence was prejudicial to His Majesty’s service and the affairs of the City, and so his place as an Assistant was declared void.

His wife Christian Pawling does not seem to have gone to London with him, as she died at Headington and was buried at All Saints’ Church in Oxford on 22 November 1707.

† Robert Pawling in the parish of St Clement Danes in London (with his death sworn by Alice Smith of “St Martin in ye Fields”), but his body was brought back to Oxford for burial with his wife at All Saints’ Church on 7 January 1709/10.

Another Robert Pawling

There is a second Robert Pawling, “a canting, preaching attorney”, who was around in Oxford at the same time as the Mayor of that name. This other Pawling paid tax on four hearths in St Peter-le-Bailey parish (probably 14 Queen Street) in 1665. The 1667 poll tax reveals that he had a wife and son. It is probably this Robert Pawling, and not the Mayor, who was granted a preaching licence in 1672 under Charles II’s Declaration of Indulgence to hold Presbyterian services in the house of Anthony Hall in Oxford (the Mermaid at Carfax). Wood confirms that Hall’s house in St Ebbe’s was used as a Presbyterian meeting house from December, and this continued until 1715. This Robert Pawling was buried in St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church in November 1682.

Mary, the daughter of Robert Pawling baptised at Holywell in 1662, may be this man’s daughter.

See also:

  • Clark, Andrew (ed.), The Life and Times of Anthony Wood, Antiquary, of Oxford, 1632–1695, Described by Himself, Vol. III, pp. 506-510, Appendix V. Here is reproduced a fourteen-verse ballad, to be sung to the tune of Packington’s Pound, entitled “A Ballad on the Duke of Monmouth’s Entertainment at Oxford by the Rt. Worshipful the Mayor (Mr Pauling) and the Worshipful the Aldermen and Bargemen of the City of Oxford”.

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 30 September, 2018

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