Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Ralph Kirby (1731–1786)

Mayor of Oxford 1773/4

Ralph Kirby was born in Ferry Hinksey, Berkshire and baptised at North Hinksey Church on 11 July 1731. He was the eldest and only surviving child of Ralph Kirby senior, a gentleman, and Margaret Wilkes, who were married at St Peter-in-the-East Church in Oxford on 21 May 1730.

His three siblings were also baptised at North Hinksey Church: Rachel (11 July 1831), John (29 May 1735), and Margaret (30 December 1737). Margaret died soon after birth and was buried at North Hinksey on 8 January 1737/8, and John died of smallpox at the age of five on 11 June 1740 and was buried at Charlton-on-Otmoor church the same evening.

Ralph Kirby’s father, described as “Ralph Kirby of Ferry Hinxy”, died when his son was nine, and was buried at Charlton-on-Otmoor Church on 5 October 1740; and the Margaret Kirby who was buried at North Hinksey on 27 May 1741 was probably Ralph's mother, which would mean he was orphaned at the age of nine.

On 25 March 1745 when he was 14 years old, Ralph Kirby was apprenticed to the Oxford grocer John Phillips (who was to be Mayor in 1757, 1766, and 1779).

Ralph Kirby duly became a grocer, and his shop was in Magdalen Street, on the corner of George Street, in the parish of St Mary Magdalen. On 6 July 1751 he took on his first apprentice, Francis Coates, and on 31 October the same year he was admitted free after 5¾ years of his own apprenticeship, paying the same fine as his master paid for his admission, namely two guineas.

On 14 August 1752 at Bicester, Ralph Kirby, described as being of St Mary Magdalen parish, married his first wife, Winifred Westcar of Souldern, and they had one son:

  • Ralph Kirby junior (baptised on 25 March 1754 at St Mary Magdalen Church),
    appears to have died soon after birth

His wife Winifred Kirby does not appear to have recovered from the birth and was buried at Charlton-on-Otmoor three days after the baptism on 28 March 1754. It seems likely that the baby also died and may have been buried with her.

On 3 November 1753 Kirby was named as Mayor’s Child by the new Mayor, John Nicholes, and immediately took his place as Chamberlain. He was appointed a Cloth Searcher in 1754 and Senior Bailiff in 1756. The Churchwarden of St Mary the Virgin in 1754 is also named as Ralph Kirby.

In the mid-1750s Kirby took a second wife, Elizabeth. (This is likely to be the Elizabeth ives of Fawley, Buckinghamshire who married a Ralph Kirby on 9 June 1755.) They had three children:

  • Ralph Kirby II (baptised on 8 August 1757 at St Mary Magdalen Church,
    buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on 27 February 1760)
  • William Kirby (baptised on 4 August 1758 at St Mary Magdalen Church)
  • Ralph Kirby III (baptised on 24 November 1763 at St Mary Magdalen Church,
    buried at North Hinksey Church on 25 December 1763).

Kirby took on John Walker as an apprentice in 1757 and William Hayes in 1763.

His second wife Elizabeth Kirby died on 5 March 1764 at the age of 34 and was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church three days later. There is a diamond-shaped memorial stone to her in the floor of the church (near the entrance to what is now the shop) that reads:

Memory of
ELIZ; the Wife of
RALPH KIRBY who died
March the 5 1764
Aged 34 Years
Also Ralph their son
died in his Infancy

On 13 October 1764 at Kidlington Church, just seven months after the death of his second wife, Kirby married his third wife, Miss Mary Smith of Kidlington (a lady “with a fortune”, according to Jackson’s Oxford Journal). They had six children, all of whom survived:

  • Ann Kirby (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 8 August 1765)
  • Mary Kirby (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 13 July 1767)
  • Ralph Smith Kirby (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 11 March 1769)
  • Thomas Kirby (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 10 January 1771)
  • Richard Kirby (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 22 January 1773)
  • John Kirby (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 4 October 1775).

Kirby was made a Fair Master in 1767, and in 1771 he was appointed on to the committee of six men to act with the university committee in purchasing houses and settling a new market in Oxford.

Kirby took on his fourth apprentice, George Hawkins, in 1770, but discharged him two years later for misbehaviour.

In 1772 a survey of every house in the city was taken in consequence of the Mileways Act of 1771 and Mr Kirby’s house on the corner of George Street and Magdalen Street (later added into the road) had a frontage of 9  yards exactly.

In February 1772 Kirby was elected one of the eight Assistants, and in September 1773 Mayor (for 1773/4), selecting John Treacher as his Child.

Kirby took on Richard Culpepper as an apprentice in 1773 and John Syddenham in 1774. On 30 October 1775 he resigned both from his position as Assistant and from the Market Committee, and on 22 June 1778 his apprentice Culpepper was transferred to another grocer.

Kirby was still listed as a “Grocer, Tea-dealer, and Chandler”, however, in Bailey’s Western & Midland Directory for 1783.

Kirby died at the age of 55 and was buried inside St Mary Magdalen Church on 26 February 1786.

His daughter Anne Kirby married Richard Tredwell of St Aldate's parish at St Mary Magdalen Church on 31 December 1795.

His third wife Mary died on 30 January 1796 just a month after her daughter's wedding (at the age of 63 according to the St Mary Magdalen parish register, but 66 according to the memorial below) and was buried there on 4 July 1796.

Ralph Kirby memorial



The inscription to Kirby and his third wife Mary on the wall of the church (left) reads:

Near this Place
is deposited the remains
of MR RALPH KIRBY of this Parish
who departed this Life
Feby. ye 20th 1786,
Aged 55.
Also MARY, his wife,
who departed this Life
June ye 30th 1796,
Aged 66.

Erected by their six surviving
children in Dutiful Memory
of the Best of Parents.

  • Malcolm Graham, Oxford City Apprentices 1697–1800, entries numbered 1905, 2039, 2178, 2257, 2407, 2479, and 2517
  • MS Wills Oxon Bd. 109.64; 82/4/34

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 8 May, 2021

Oxford Mayors home Small Shark Oxford History home