Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


John Townsend I (1623–1701)

Mayor of Oxford 1669/70 and 1682/3

John Townsend (or Townesend or Tounesend) was baptised at All Saints’ Church on 19 November 1623. He was the son of Stephen Townsend, who had originally been matriculated by the University to work as a privileged person but became a mercer after marrying John's mother Susanna, who was a mercer’s widow. John's parents had three other children baptised at that church: Robert Towsend (3 August 1620); Edith Towsend (3 August 1620); and Christian Towsend (4 December 1626)

In 1625 John Townsend’s father Stephen Townsend leased a piece of waste ground in All Saints parish (the site of the present 9 High Street) where he built his house/shop, and in 1626 he purchased a bailiff’s place on the council, but he advanced no further as he died young. He was buried at All Saints’ Church on 4 July 1631.

John was only eight years old at the time of his father’s death, and his mother Susanna appears to have run the mercer’s business for a while. John eventually took it over, and was admitted free on 19 May 1648 “in respect that his Mother was an Ancient freeman’s wife of this Citie”.

Townsend was elected to the Common Council in October 1650, and was appointed a Cloth Searcher the next year. Around this time he appears to have married his first wife, Joanna, and they had just one child, probably named after his mother:

  • Susannah Towsend (described as the daughter of John and Joanna when baptised at All Saints’ Church
    on 24 September 1652); she was buried there the next day.

In August 1653 Richard Miller chose Townsend as his Child and he was granted a bailiff’s place. In September 1654 he was elected Junior Bailiff.

In the late 1650s Townsend must have married his second wife, Mary, and they had the following children:

  • Mary Townsend  (baptised on 22 November 1660 at All Saints’ Church and described in the baptismal register as the daughter of John and Mary)
  • Elizabeth Townsend (definitely his daughter and eventually his heir, but no baptism found)
  • Stephen Townsend (defiitely his son and eventually his heir, but no baptism found).

In 1662 Townsend was elected one of the Mayor’s “Gentlemen Assistants”.

In 1665 Townsend paid tax on seven hearths at 9 High Street, and in March 1667 was assessed as follows for poll tax there:

  • For himself: £2 1s. 0d. (£1 for his title, poll tax of one shilling, and £1 tax on his money) This indicates that his personal wealth was £100, as the tax on personal estate was £1 per £100.
  • For his mother Mrs Susanna Townsend: poll tax of one shilling
  • For his wife Mrs Mary Townsend: poll tax of one shilling
  • For his two children: poll tax of one shilling each
  • For his lodger Alexander Townsend: poll tax of one shilling
  • For Susanna Whitfeild: poll tax of one shillling
  • For his apprentice William Allyn: poll tax of one shilling
  • For his maid Elizabeth: three shillings (i.e. one shilling in the pound on her yearly wages of £2, plus poll tax of a shilling)

Anthony Wood records in his diary that he bought a “frese coat” from Townsend for a pound on 4 December 1668.

In September 1669 Townsend was chosen as Mayor, nominating Thomas Hands, a cordwainer, as his Child.

On 5 November 1669 his mother Susannah Townsend was buried at All Saints’ Church 38 years after her second husband’s death.

Townsend resumed his former position as a Gentleman Assistant until on 25 August 1674 he was made an Alderman.

As an Alderman, he makes a number of expense claims from the Keykeepers: in the year ending Michaelmas 1678, he claimed £15 19s 6d for new liveries for the City wait and a staggering £123 for entertaining “our Lord High Steward” (George, Duke of Buckingham); in the year ending Michaelmas 1679, £3 11s 6d for treating the commissioners who disbanded the soldiers”; and the following year, £23 14s 0d for gloves “for the King and the Duke of Bucks and others” and £17 1s 4d for the livery coats for the City waits.

On 11 February 1679 Townsend stood for election as one of the two Members of Parliament for Oxford, but only secured one vote (compared with the 937 and 723 votes of the winners). He fared just as badly at the next two elections.

In September 1682 Townsend was elected Mayor a second time (for 1682/3), selecting the portrait painter John Taylor as his Child. Anthony Wood tells the story of how a Town & Gown fight on 11 April 1683 ended up at the Mayor’s door near Carfax; and how on 18 May that year Townsend went on foot with all the Common Council from the Guildhall along the High to the East Gate to meet the Duke of York. Townsend as Mayor and his brethren

presented to him in the name of the city a rich pair of gloves with golden fring (as the fashion then was), and to the duchess 12 pair of fine kid-leather, and lastly to the lady Anne (for they all sate in one coach) 12 pair also of the same, all valued (as they say) at 45li and odd shillings.

As his daughter Mary is not mentioned in his will, it is likely that she died. Two women called Mary Townsend were buried at All Saints’ Church: one on 20 February 1683/4, and one on 12 March 1694/5. The first is more likely to be his wife than his daughter, but it is not impossible that it is the other way round.

In October 1684 Townsend was elected Commissioner for Barges. He was one of the six persons chosen to attend the Mayor at the Coronation of James II on 23 April 1685.

Despite all this grandeur, he continued to trade as a mercer, and on 23 March 1689, Anthony Wood bought “worsted at Alderman Townsend’s”.

In 1696 Alderman Townsend paid tax on twenty windows on a property in All Saints parish (about the position of the present 9 High Street).

† Alderman John Townsend died in 1701 and was buried on 13 November at All Saints’ Church (even though he had stipulated in his will he wished to be buried at St Aldate's Church). In his will he left legacies to his daughter Elizabeth Townsend, his sister Edith Kiblewhite, his son Stephen Townsend and his granddaughter Mary Townsend

See also:

  • PCC Will PROB 11/463/219 (Will of John Townesend, Alderman of Oxford, proved 11 February 1702)
  • John Townsend II, Mayor of Oxford 1720 (not obviously related)

Another John Townsend in All Saints parish?

A man called John Townsend had the following children in All Saints parish. He does not appear to be the second Mayor of that name, as the latter had no connection with All Saints:

  • Diana Townsend (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 29 January 1681/2)
  • Anne Townsend (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 14 June 1685)
  • John Townsend (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 20 December 1686)
  • Charles Townsend (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 19 November 1688)
  • Mary Towsend II (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 4 September 1690).

A Diana Townsend (probably his daughter) was buried at All Saints’ Church in 1710.

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 3 October, 2018

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