Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Thomas Williams II (c.1605–1674)

Mayor of Oxford 1653/4

Thomas Williams was born in c.1605. He was described as a “haberdasher of small wares” when he was admitted free on 21 February 1632 (paying a fee of £5 and 2s. 6d. for a bucket). He appears to have sold periwigs as well as household items like mousetraps and whips. In addition he sold “mirrours and perspectives”, which probably explains why he chose to display a pair of spectacles on the token he issued. He was later described as a milliner

Williams’s shop, which he rented from New College, was towards the west end of the High Street in All Saints parish. In 1637, 1652, and 1674, it is described as being just to the west of Redcock’s (118/119 High Street), which pinpoints it as having stood on the site of the eastern side of the former NatWest Bank building at 120 High Street.

The Thomas Williams of All Saints parish who married Elizabeth Hulcock of St Mary Magdalen at St Giles’ Church on 2 February 1628/9 was probably the future Mayor. The following year (on 30 July 1630) William, son of Thomas Williams, was baptised in All Saints’ Church, and buried there four months later on 24 November 1630.

As there is a gap of six years before any more children of Thomas Williams are baptised at All Saints’ Church, it seems likely that the baby’s mother also died around this time.

Thomas Williams then appears to have married a woman called Sibell/Sibella, and between 1636 and 1654 there were six children baptised and/or buried at All Saints’ Church described simply as being the son or daughter of Thomas Williams, and a seventh (Thomas II) who is more specifically described as “son of Thomas and Sibella Williams”:

  • Katherine Williams (baptised on 12 June 1636 at All Saints’ Church, buried there on 11 December 1636)
  • Thomas Williams I (baptised on 5 December 1637 at All Saints’ Church, buried there on 12 June 1653)
  • Benjamin Williams (baptised on 26 January 1639/40 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Sarah Williams (baptised on 14 July 1642 at All Saints’ Church)
  • John Williams (baptised on 24 September 1646 at All Saints’ Church, buried there on 23 June 1673)
  • Mary Williams (no baptism recorded, buried at All Saints’ Church on 3 February 1650/1)
  • Thomas Williams II (baptised on 25 April 1653/4 at All Saints’ Church).

Williams served as a Constable for the South-East ward in 1633/4. On 2 October 1634 the new mayor, John Sare, asked if he might nominate Williams as his son, to have a Chamberlain’s place, and this was granted.

On 25 September 1640 Williams was elected to a Bailiff’s place, paying five marks, and the next month was chosen to be one of the two Moneymasters.

In about 1641 Williams’s shop burnt down, and the event was the subject of a sarcastic poem in 1642 called “Zeal over-heated” (republished with a different concluding verse in 1654).

On 14 September 1643 the Mayor reported that he had received a letter from King Charles I at Shrewsbury Castle stating that several members of the council had left Oxford to join the rebellion, and recommended that such men should be disfranchised. A search of the city records revealed that Williams and twelve other council members had been away from the city (most of them since his Majesty’s stay there), indicating that they were evilly disposed towards the King. The council agreed unanimously that they should all be disfranchised, forfeit the freedom of the City, and be deprived of any offices in the City that they might hold.

Three years later, on 29 June 1646, this council act was repealed and Williams and the others were restored to their freedom and places on the council. Williams again appears in the list of Bailiffs in October that year, and in the following October was also appointed a Keykeeper. On 18 September 1648 he was elected Senior Bailiff.

It is believed that a Baptist group was established in Oxford shortly after the surrender of the royal garrison in 1646, and Williams was later described as an Anabaptist. A fire in his shop at Christmastime in about 1653 inspired a poem entitled “Zeal Overheated”, in which his religion was ridiculed.

On 2 December 1651 Williams was appointed one of the eight Mayor’s Assistants, paying the customary £5. On 19 September 1653 he was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1653/4), nominating John Croney as his Child and Joseph Browne as his Chamberlain.

In October 1658 Williams was one of the group selected to travel to London with letters of congratulation to the new Lord Protector, Richard Cromwell.

On 20 December 1660 Williams is described as a milliner rather than a haberdasher when his apprentice, Thomas Eustace, was admitted free. The same day he took on his own son John, who had reached the age of 14, as his apprentice.

In April 1661 Williams was appointed a scrutator at the parliamentary election, and in August 1661 he went out with the Mayor and senior councillors in a scarlet gown with footclothes and footmen to meet the new king, Charles II, on his visit to the city.

On 31 May 1662 it was announced that 31 persons had been removed from the Council as a result of the Corporation Act of December 1661: this figure included Williams, one of the eight Assistants. He does not appear to have been admitted back on to the Council, probably because he was by now well known as a fervent Anabaptist.

On 18 December 1662 Williams’ wife Sibell Williams (with her name in the register given as Isabell) was buried at All Saints’ Church.

In 1664 Thomas Williams married his next wife, Mrs Alice Hitch, the widow of John Hitch.

In 1665 Williams paid tax on five hearths in All Saints parish in 1665, and in March 1667 he was assessed as follows for poll tax at his High Street home and shop:

  • For himself: poll tax of one shilling
  • For his wife: poll tax of one shilling
  • For his son: poll tax of one shilling
  • For his servant Mary Nash: three shillings (i.e. one shilling in the pound on her yearly wages of £2, plus poll tax of a shilling).

This assessment showed that he had no personal wealth, nor any apprentices.

In 1672, when Williams renewed his lease with New College, he is still described as a milliner.

On 12 January 1673/4 Williams made his will, appointing his wife Alice sole executrix. He signed his will with a mark, suggesting that he was already very ill; and less than two months later he was dead.

† Thomas Williams died near the beginning of 1674, and was buried at All Saints’ Church on 5 March 1673/4. In his will he anticipated that the value of the goods and wares in his shop might amount to £500, of which he left £100 to his only surviving son Benjamin; £5 to his “son-in-law” Theophilus Poynter; and the residue of his estate to his wife, Alice.

By 1687 the mercer Thomas Southby had taken over the lease of Williams’ shop. An Alice Williams, possibly his widow, was buried at St Mary the Virgin on 5 November 1699.

Family of Thomas Williams

Five of Williams’ eight children failed to survive to adulthood, and the only child mentioned in his father’s will is Benjamin. Theophilus Poynter is also mentioned as being his “son-in-law”, but as Theophilus’s wife was called Mary and Williams does not appear to have had a daughter of that name, it is likely that the term stepson is meant here. If he was Alice’s son by an earlier marriage, it would explain why she appears to have been buried in Poynter’s parish church of St Mary-the-Virgin.

  • Benjamin Williams was baptised on 26 January 1639/40, and paid tax on ten windows in St Martin’s parish in 1697. A man of that name was chosen to deputize temporarily as the Mayor’s sergeant on 7 September 1694 and was officially elected second sergeant to the Mayor on 2 November 1694. He remained in this position until his death five years later, and was buried at St Martin’s Church on 6 January 1699/1700.
  • Sarah Williams (baptised 14 July 1642) became the first wife of the wealthy university surgeon Theophilus Poynter. They had just one daughter Mary (born shortly before 1667), and Sarah died shortly afterwards. Mary became the third wife of a London upholsterer called Medcalf and died on 3 April 1692, leaving two children Theophilus and Mary, the great-grandchildren of Thomas Williams.
  • Theophilus Poynter (1636–1709) came from a high-born family in Whitchurch in Hampshire. He was a chirurgeon who lived in Cheyney Lane (St Michael’s parish) and then Catte Street (St Mary the Virgin parish). Poynter forfeited his freedom of the city on 28 September 1666 so that he could be matriculated by the University as a privileged person the very next day. He married Mary Crips after the death of Sarah Williams (above), and went on to have another five children, but only one of his six children outlived him. He died on 22 September 1709 at the age of 73. There is a monument to his family in St Mary-the-Virgin Church, as well as a diamond in the floor with his initials.

See also:

  • Bodleian MSS. Ox. Dioc. c 3, f.14; c9, f.13, concerning Anabaptists
  • H. E. Salter, Surveys and Tokens, pp. 450–1, and token numbered 109, with “THOMAS WILLIAMS AT YE” around an image of a pair of spectacles on the obverse, and “SPECTACLES IN OXON” around the initials T.W. on the reverse
  • PCC Will PROB 11/345/338 (Will of Thomas Williams, Milliner of Oxford, proved 8 July 1674)

The following poem was inspired by a fire in Williams’s shop. It was written by R. W[eaver] and published in his book Songs and Poems of Love and Drollery (1654).

A a Relation of a lamentable fire which happened in
in a Religious Brother’s Shop, who though he laboured in all mens vocations,
yet were his trades fewer than his tricks to fetch over the wicked,
that he might afford the godly a better pennyworth

To the Tune of Chivey-Chase.

Attend ye Brethren every one,
And listen with a pair
Of swaggring ears that have out-grown
By many an inch the hair.
But with lesse grief he could have seen’t
(As he then said to some one)
Had but the Apocripha been in’t,
And Prayers that we call common.
Of Popish flames I will relate
To you a dismall story,
Which turn’d a Zealots Shop of late
Into a Purgatory.
The Practice there of Piety
And good St. Kathrine Stubs
Were Martyrs, which oft quoted he
Had heard in several tubbs.
There dwels in Oxford near the place
Where holy Cornish teaches,*
One that in all trades had such grace,
The wicked he over-reaches.
Then being of his Dods bereft,
And Cleavers all and some,**
You may presume that there was left,
Of Comforts never a crum.
This Brother first a stoick was,
For about the world as he did passe,
His wealth he carried all.
A Chest of Cambrick and Holland
Was turn’d to a box of tinder,
His Virgin Tapers out were brand,
The Extinguishers could not hinder.
But when his sin had made his pack
Too heavy for his Shoulder,
I’th’foresaid place he eas’d his back,
And turn’d a stay’d housholder.
They that his Taffaties did see
And various Ribbons, strait
Concluded that in burnt silk he
Was largely worth his waight.
In all vocations by and by
He grew so great a meddler,
That though th’Exchange his Shop stood nigh
You’d take him for no Pedler.
Of smoaking Canes there lay great store,
His eyes had soon espy’d them,
They ne’re were truly fir’d befoe,
As he had oft bely’d them.
By slight of tongue he could fetch o’re
All sparks that came unto him,
Except those which two nights before
Christide were like to undoe him.
His hobby horses erst so tame
Smal babes of grace might run
A race upon them, now became
Hot as the steeds i’th’sun.
When he to sleep himself had set,
And dream’d of no worse fires
Than those his zeal and’s little peat
Kindl’d in his desires.
Mirrours and perspectives then might
Be burning Glasses call’d;
The Feaver was so hot that night,
That Perriwiggs grew balde.
He heard some cry fire, fire, amain,
And say that he was slack;
Great John of all trades would again
Be brought to his first Pack.
Then moustraps, fly flaps, and whole shelves
Of whipps, with others some
Such fatal instruments themselves
Suffr’d a Martyrdome.
Then hasting down to see what burn’d.
The smoak his breath did stop,
Alas, his new Exchange was turn’d
To a Tobacco shop.
And to conclude the flame being done,
Some that were there did swear,
Though Christmas was not yet begun,
That ’twas Ashwednesday there.
His wife came too at the report,
Her cloaths hung in such pickle,
As she had new come from the sport,
After a Conventickle.
Dear Brethren then be not so hot:
For if unto your harm,
Your zeal like this take fire, I wot,
You’l wish you were luke-warm.
The Second part     12
And first in these sad flames she spy’d
A spruce Geneva Bible,
With gilded leaves and strings beside,
That were not contemptible.
God blesse this Land and keep it Aye
Against all that oppose:
And let the Supream head bear sway
Instead o’th’supream nose.

* Henry Cornish, Canon of Christ Church
** Dods and Cleavers wrote a commentary on Proverbs

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 24 November, 2019

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