Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Nicholas Halse (c.1726–1800)

Mayor of Oxford 1785/6

Nicholas Halse was born in Redruth in Cornwall and is probably the child of that name, the son of James and Ann Halse, who was baptised there on 9 July 1726.

On 18 November 1751 at Holy Trinity Church, Over Worton, Oxfordshire, Nicholas Halse, described as being of Redruth, married Mary Billing of Oxford by license. The couple settled in Oxford and had the following children:

  • James Halse (baptised on 30 August 1752 at St Cross Church)
  • William Halse (baptised on 26 January 1755 at St Cross Church)
  • Elizabeth Halse (baptised on 28 August 1757 at St Cross Church)
  • John Halse (baptised on 12 February 1759 at St Cross Church)
  • Thomas Halse (baptised on 8 September 1760 at St Cross Church).

On 7 April 1752 Nicholas Halse was admitted free as a saddler of Holywell (St Cross) parish. The following month he took on an apprentice, George Durbridge, and on 30 September the same year was chosen to fill up one of the 24 places on the Common Council.

Halse’s saddlery shop was on the site of the present Indian Institute building. The four former shops that stood at what today appears to be the north-east end of Catte Street were actually part of Broad Street and in a different parish (Holywell). (By the 1840s, the address of Halse’s former shop was 32 Broad Street.).

Parson Woodforde was a regular visitor to this shop when an undergraduate (1758–1763) and mentions it a number of times in his diaries. On 13 February 1756 Halse had taken on another apprentice, Benjamin C[r]osier, who was the son of an Oxford labourer and had two-thirds of his apprenticeship fees paid for by the Blue Coat Charity, and on 7 January 1760 Woodforde mentions Crosier in his diary:

Peckham, Loggin, & Webber went with me to Halse’s the Sadler, where I threshed his apprentice Crosier for making Verses on me.

Then on 22 January 1763 Woodforde wrote,

Had some new Strapps put to my Skates this morning by Mr Halse the Sadler, for which I owe him 0.2.6. N.B. They are the new invented Strapps for Skates, by Halse.

Woodforde skated down to Sandford on them that afternoon, and two days later skated as far as Abingdon. He also bought at least two new whips from Halse and ran up other unspecified bills.

In April 1761, during Crosier’s apprenticeship, Halse took on a second apprentice, John Slatter.

On 30 September 1761 Halse was elected City Chamberlain.

In 1767 Halse’s eldest son, James, was apprenticed to the upholsterer Richard Holloway. (James was to join his father on the council in 1781.) The next year Halse took on his second son, William, as his own apprentice.

In Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 16 June 1770 Halse advertised that he made jockey caps.

In 1771 Halse’s former naughty apprentice, Crosier, took up a shop of his own in Cornmarket near the Cross Inn; and in October 1774 Halse's next apprentice John Slatter, who had remained with Halse for six years after completing his apprenticeship, went into partnership with John Cox in the High Street.

The 1772 Survey of Oxford showed that Halse’s shop at the north-east end of Catte Street had a frontage of 6 yards 2 ft 3 in.

On 17 December 1774 Halse’s son John (described as being the son of Nicholas Halse of Holywell, “pleb.”) was matriculated at the University of Oxford by Wadham College at the age of 15. He had previously been a chorister at Magdalen College, so must have attended Magdalen College School.

On 20 September 1773 Halse was appointed Senior Bailiff, but he had to wait another ten years until 29 September 1783 before he was chosen as one of the eight Assistants.

Halse was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1785/6), selecting John Wise Thorp as his Child.

Halse inscription

On 28 August 1786 at the end of his term of office, Halse “rode the franchise”, a duty undertaken by each Mayor at this time to inspect the city boundaries.

By the eighteenth century, whenever new boundary stones were erected they were inscribed with the year and the name of the current Mayor. The year 1786 and the words “N. Halse / Mayor” can still be seen on the back of the Free Water Stone (right), which marks the end of the Liberties of the City of Oxford and still stands on the Thames towpath at Long Bridges.

Halse is still listed as a saddler in Bailey’s Western & Midland Directory of 1783.

The lease on Halse’s property in Holywell was renewed by the council for a fine of £15 in 1796.

Halse resigned his place on the council and the duties of an assistant on account of his age in April 1799. He died in October the following year.

† Nicholas Halse died on 13 October 1800 and was buried at St Cross Church on 17 October. His death notice in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 18 October read:

On Monday last died, after a lingering illness, in the 75th year of his age, Mr. Nicholas Halse: He served the office of Mayor of this City in the year 1783, and continued one of the Assistants till the year 1798, when he resigned his gown on account of his declining state of health.

In his will he left his own house with its fixtures and fittings and his shop with all the items relating to his business to his second son William. His son John received £200; his daughter Mrs Elizabeth Grantham £500; and his youngest unmarried son Thomas the interest only on the sum of £400. His widow received the annual income and rent of his estate at Marston, and a house next door to his own for her lifetime. His eldest son James received nothing initially, but was with the other children given a fifth share in the proceeds of the sale of the property left to their mother after her death.

On 8 March 1802 his widow Mary Halse died at Oxford at the age of 74 (after a lingering illness, according to her death notice in Jackson's Oxford Journal, and was buried at St Cross Church.

Nicholas Halse’s children
  • James Halse was an upholder and cabinet maker who was made to take up his freedom on 6 November 1775. He came on to the common council in October 1781, and was named as Mayor’s Chamberlain in 1789. He remained in Holywell parish until his death in 1819. His daughter Sophia Halse married the surgeon George Hitchings (son of the Mayor Edward Hitchings) at St Cross Church on 18 September 1813.
  • William Halse continued his father’s business as a saddler in Holywell parish, but just after his death is described as “late of Broad-street” in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 12 May 1832. His house, which was near the Clarendon Building, was put up for auction. In 1816 the saddlery business is advertised as “Halse & Sherrard”.
  • Elizabeth Halse married the Revd Dr Valentine Grantham of St Mary Magdalen parish at St Cross Church on 16 June 1785. He became the Vicar of Scawby in Lincolnshire and Odell in Bedfordshire from 1798 until his death on 3 March 1829. They had two children: Mary and Henry Grantham.
  • John Halse obtained his BA at the University of Oxford in 1779 when he was 19, and his MA in 1784. He became Curate of Ewelme in 1790, and married Lewanna Lewis there: they had two children: Christopher John Halse who died relatively young, and Nicholas William Halse, who became a solicitor. In 1806 John Halse became Vicar of Welford in Leicestershire, where he died in 1810.
  • Thomas Halse died in Oxford in 1830: Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 20 March 1830 reports, “Yesterday morning died, at his residence in George-lane, after a long illness, Mr. Thomas Halse, in the 69th year of his age”.

See also:

  • Malcolm Graham, Oxford City Apprentices 1697–1800, entries numbered 2032, 2111, 2219, 2341, and 2366
  • PCC Will PROB 11/1355/171 (Will of Nicholas Halse of Holywell Oxford, proved 18 March 1801)
  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 13 March 1802: Announcement of death of Mrs Halse

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 2 May, 2021

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