Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


John Parsons (1752–1814)

Mayor of Oxford 1788/9 and 1808/9

John Parsons was baptised at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on 12 April 1752. He was the son of Thomas Parsons and Grace Godfrey of Oxford. His father was a china, glass, and tea merchant at 92 High Street. This had stables at the rear in Magpie Lane, and his father was also a waggon-master organizing the carriage of goods between Oxford and London.

John’s cousins (sons of his father’s brother Isaac) were Herbert Parsons (also to become Mayor) and Dr John Parsons (who was to become Master of Balliol and Vice-Chancellor of the University, as well as the husband of John’s sister). His mother’s sister Deborah was married to James Thomson.

John’s father Thomas Parsons died on 21 November 1762 at the age of 54 and was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church three days later.

On 8 October 1766 John's widowed mother Grace Parsons paid £105 to apprentice John to the mercers James Clarke & Thomas Castle for seven years.

On 4 February 1774 John became a Freemason, and at the beginning of 1775 he took over the business at 90 High Street (on the right in the photograph below) of the hatter and hosier Fortnum, who was retiring. As an undergraduate Parson Woodforde had visited Fortnum’s hatter’s shop many times, and when he came back to Oxford in his thirties, he continued to visit Parsons, writing on 8 July 1775: “Had a New Hat of one Parsons who succeeded Fortnom in his Business—I owe him for it—1:1:0.”

In October 1775 the council agreed to commence an action against Parsons to oblige him to take up his freedom, and in September 1776 the new Mayor, Edward Lock, nominated him as his Child. Parsons immediately took up his Chamberlain’s place. In 1778 he was appointed a Cloth Searcher.

92-93 High Street



Jackson’s Oxford Journal announced on 24 March 1781 that John Parsons had entered into partnership with another mercer, William Fletcher of 93 High Street, but that business would initially continue in both shops.

This Fletcher & Parsons business was soon to expand into 92 High Street. By 1790 they extended their business into banking, and for over two hundred years 91–92 High Street (left, now the Old Bank Hotel) remained a bank.

In September 1780 Parsons was elected Bailiff.

On 3 February 1785 at St Mary Magdalen Church, John Parsons married his cousin Elizabeth Thomson, the daughter of the late gunsmith James Thomson.

In 1782 he brought his cousin, Herbert Parsons, into his business.

In 1786 John Parsons was elected one of the Mayor’s eight Assistants, and in 1788 Mayor (for 1788/9), proposing Thomas Adams as his Child. During his year of office, together with the Recorder and Town Clerk he presented a Loyal Address to King George III and Queen Charlotte.

John Parsons returned to serving as one of the Mayor’s Assistants, and in about 1790 the banking side of his business started to develop seriously. In December 1792 his mother Grace Parsons died at the age of 85, and was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on the last day of that month. John then inherited the freeholds of the Old Bank properties.

In April 1798 Parsons was elected Commissioner of Sewers and Barges, and in October 1800 he came on to the Market Committee.

In 1801 Parsons defeated Edward Lock (a rival banker who had himself then been twice Mayor of Oxford) for the position of Alderman, a struggle reputed to have cost each of them £400. In 1806, however, when Parsons stood against Lock again, this time for the mayoralty, he lost, and Lock started a third term.

John Parsons and William Fletcher The Enclosure Award Commissioners for Headington in 1802 mention John Parsons as occupying a house in Headington follows:

One other [carriage road of the breadth of 40 feet] branching out of the said Turnpike Road [now London Road' near to the public house called the Britannia, and extending across Young Style Furlong to the Corner of the Premisses, in the Occupation of J. PARSONS, Esq. being Part of the Road from Oxford to other Parts of the Village of Headington.

This house may have been Headington Manor House. On 8 December 1806 the Lord of the Manor of Headington took out a mortgage on both the Manor House and Holly’s Farm, Headington, with William Fletcher and John Parsons of Oxford, bankers.

Two years later, in 1808 (a full twenty years after his first term of office) John Parsons was elected to serve as Mayor again (for 1808/9). His wife Elizabeth died during his mayoralty, and was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on 20 June 1809.

Inscription John Parsons



By the time John Parsons drew up his will in 1813, he described himself as “late mercer now banker”. He died on 12 February 1814 at the age of 62 in his High Street home, and was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church across the High Street.

A diamond-shaped stone in the floor of the base of the tower (now the church shop) reads:

[wife of]
Died [ … June1809]
— · —
Died 1[2] Feb

Parsons almshouses



Parsons left a bequest of £500 Consols to support the Bluecoat School for Boys, and in 1816 eight almshouses (left) in Grove Place (now renamed Kybald Street) were built in accordance with his wishes.

The inscription high over the centre of the almshouses reads:

In fulfillment of the charitable intention of
Alderman of this City who died Feb. 12 1814
This Alms House for Four Poor Men and Four
Poor Women was erected and endowed in the Year 1816

Inscripton over the almshouses

In 1959 the row of eight almshouses was taken over by University College for their own use; but they were replaced by new “Parsons’ Almshouses”, designed by Thomas Rayson and built on the east side of Stone’s Almshouses in St Clement’s.

See also:

  • Herbert Parsons, Mayor 1810 and 1820 (his cousin)
  • William Fletcher, Mayor in 1782, 1796, and 1809 (his banking partner)
  • L. F. Bradburn, The Old Bank (92 and 93 High Street) Oxford (Oxford, 1977)
  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 19 February 1814, p. 3b: Announcement of Parsons’ death
  • PCC Will PROB 11/1554/86 (Will of John Parsons, late Mercer, now Banker and Alderman of Oxford, proved 8 March 1814)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 27 April, 2022

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