Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Isaac Lawrence (1716–1784)

Mayor of Oxford 1759/60, 1768/9, and 1784

Isaac Lawrence (or Lawrance/Laurence/Larance/Learance) was was baptised at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church on 3 September 1716. He was the eldest son of the chandler Thomas Lawrence (Mayor of Oxford in 1737 and 1745) and his first wife Mary.

Lawrence was apprenticed to his father, but not admitted free until 4 March 1745, when he joined his father in the family business, with an emphasis on wine and groceries rather than candles.

Isaac Lawrence and his first wife Dorothy had three children:

  • Thomas Lawrence (born c.1742)
  • Isaac Lawrence (baptised on 29 December 1743 at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church)
  • Richard Lawrence (baptised on 8 December 1745 at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church;
    died aged five weeks and buried inside the church on 25 January 1745/6).

Lawrence’s first wife Dorothy died at the age of 32 and was buried inside St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church on 18 October 1748.

On 16 October 1753 at Enstone, Isaac Lawrence married his second wife Elizabeth Rock (or Roque), the daughter of Samuel Rock Esq of Nuneham and Zenobia Newton. They had the following five children:

  • Samuel Lawrence (baptised at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church on 24 November 1754)
  • Rock Lawrence (baptised on 20 May 1756 at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church;
    died just before his third birthday and buried inside the church on 9 May 1759)
  • Charles Lawrence (baptised on 25 October 1757 at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church)
  • Dorothy Lawrence (born on 22 March 1760 and baptised at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church on 23 March 1760)
  • Deborah Lawrence (baptised on 7 September 1762 at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church).

In September 1746 Lawrence was appointed a cloth searcher. He was selected as Mayor’s Child by Richard Tawney on 30 September 1748, taking up a place as one of the Mayor’s Assistants. By 1751 he was a Chamberlain.

In September 1752 Lawrence took on his two eldest sons Thomas and Isaac as apprentices. He advertised his wares regularly in Jackson’s Oxford Journal at this time: below is an advertisement from the edition of 2 April 1757:

Which are Made and Sold by
Isaac Lawrence, Grocer, in Oxford,
Are warranted made of the Best Fruit only;

Are bright, strong, clean, and dry, and of a Flavour very
near that of Madeira. Price by the Gallon 3s. 6d. by the Hogshead cheaper

On 2 July 1762 Lawrence was granted a lease by the council of a house, bake-house, stable, and garden in St Mary Magdalen parish: this appears to have been in George Street (then George Lane).

Lawrence was a Chamberlain by 1752, and on 1 October 1753 he became Junior Bailiff.

On 31 December 1758 he was elected one of the Mayor’s eight Assistants, and on 1 October 1759 he embarked on his first term as Mayor (for 1759/60), naming John Brown as his Chamberlain and John Allen as his Child.

Lawrence’s eldest son Thomas died of a fever on 26 February 1765, five days after hurting his leg, and was buried inside St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church on 1 March 1765.

In 1766 the City got into such debt that they tried to sell its two parliamentary seats. As a result, the Mayor and ten councillors (including Lawrence) were committed to Newgate Prison in London for four days: they were discharged with a reprimand from the Speaker of the House of Commons on 10 February 1768.

On 30 September 1768 Isaac Lawrence started his second term as Mayor (for 1768/9), naming Townsend Pitman as his Chamberlain. Pitman died in July 1769, and Lawrence then selected William Fletcher in his place.

In 1772 a survey of every house in the city was taken in consequence of the Mileways Act of 1771. Lawrence had a house in St Michael’s parish with a frontage of 5 yards, 2 ft. and 2 in. (which according to H. E. Salter was on the site of the present 51 Cornmarket) and a warehouse with a frontage of 10 yards, 2 ft. and 7 in. (just across Frewin Court, at the north end of the Star/Clarendon Hotel, where the entrance to the Clarendon Centre is now).

On 21 January 1773, Jackson’s Oxford Journal reports that Lawrence was attacked by footpads when coming down the hill towards Botley from Witney, but managed to escape before they could rob him.

Jackson’s Oxford Journal in 1783 carries advertisements for English Wines made by Isaac Lawrence, grocer, namely Orange Wine at 5s. per gallon, Red at 5s. per gallon, and Old Sim Raisin at 4s. per gallon, and he also advertised Jamaican Rum, French Brandy, and Marlborough cheese. In Bailey’s Western & Midland Directory for 1783, the family business is listed as “Lawrence J. and Son, Grocers, and Sweet-makers”.

In 1784 Lawrence’s home was burgled by three Oxford labourers name John Hawkins, William (alias Bumper) Smith, and Edward Ladds: they stole about £37, two pairs of earrings in a snuffbox, and a few bottles of port. Richard Hawkins, the younger brother of John, was also implicated, as he had been Lawrence’s servant, and all four were sentenced to death at the Quarter Sessions of 22 April 1785. Bumper Smith later received the King’s Pardon and was transported to America for 14 years, while the Secretary of State sent an urgent respite for ten days for John Hawkins.

The person who had been elected Mayor of Oxford for 1783/4 (John Watson) died on 29 March 1784, and as a result Isaac Lawrence was appointed as a stand-in Mayor (from April 1784).

Unfortunately Isaac Lawrence himself died at the age of 70 less than four months later, on 19 July 1784 in Finchampstead in Berkshire, so a third Mayor had to be appointed for that year.

Isaac Lawrence’s children who survived to adulthood
  • Isaac Lawrence junior (born 1743) married Mary Townsend at Horspath on 28 June 1767. He was probably originally destined to take over the family business, but he died ten years before his father on 18 August 1774 and was buried inside St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church six days later.
  • Samuel Lawrence (b.1754) went into business with his father. He married Mary Andrews of Burford (a lady of “genteel fortune”) at Swalcliffe on 6 January 1780, and they had two children baptised at St Aldate’s Church: Isaac Newton Lawrence in 1783 and Samuel Rock Lawrence in 1784. On 31 July 1784, following his father’s death, Samuel put an advertisement into Jackson’s Oxford Journal to say that he would carry on his father’s grocery business as before. He was elected on to the council in September 1785. On 8 February 1787 he took on as his apprentice his servant Joseph Andrews, who may well have been a cousin on his mother's side. It appears that in 1801 Samuel Lawrence ceased trading in his father’s shop, as on 19 December that year J. Andrews (presumably his former apprentice Joseph) announced in Jackson’s Oxford Journal that he had “re-commenced selling [wines and groceries] in Lawrence’s original House, in the Corn Market”. After this takeover of the Cornmarket shop, there are numerous advertisements for Rheumatic Powder “prepared and sold by Mr Lawrence at his Residence opposite All Souls’ College, Oxford”, and also sold by Isaac Newton Lawrence in Witney. Joseph Andrews died at the age of 58 in 1830 and was probably still living at the Cornmarket shop, as he was buried in St Michael's churchyard; and his former employer Samuel Lawrence outlived him, dying on 28 June 1833.
  • Charles Lawrence (b.1757) lived to be 82 and died on 11 April 1840 at Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire. He does not appear to have married.
  • Dorothy Lawrence (born 1760) married John Wise Thorp (Mayor in 1805 and 1822) at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church on 27 January 1784, and their two sons were both to become Mayors of Oxford. Dorothy died on 27 June 1796.
  • Deborah Lawrence (b.1762) married Samuel Trash of Wokingham at St Michael-at-the-Northgate Church on 16 August 1787. Their daughter Ann was baptised at St Mary-the-Virgin Church in 1794, and their son Frederick at St Michael’s in 1800. Deborah died on 31 January 1836 at the age of 73.

See also:

  • Thomas Lawrence, Mayor 1737 and 1745 (his father)
  • William Thorp II, Mayor 1833, 1844, 1848 (his grandson)
  • John Thorp, Mayor 1845 (his grandson)
  • Malcolm Graham, Oxford City Apprentices 1697–1800, entries numbered 2055, 2056, and 2798
  • PCC Will PROB 11/1121/432 (Will of Isaac Lawrance, Grocer of Oxford, proved 27 September 1784)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 3 September, 2019

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