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James Pears (1739–1803)

Mayor of Oxford 1793/4


James Pears (or Peers) was born in 1739 and became a carpenter and joiner of Oxford.

On 18 October 1768 in Hampshire James Pears (28), described as being of St Peter-le-Bailey parish in Oxford, married Elizabeth Beale of Hurstbourne Priors in Hampshire.

The 1772 Survey of Oxford shows Pears living at 65 St Giles, in the parish of St Mary Magdalen; and in an advertisement for building materials in Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 12 June 1773, his premises are described as being opposite St John’s College. That is also given as their address in the edition of 1 July 1775, when Elizabeth advertises herself as an embroideress.

Pears was made a freeman of Oxford on 26 July 1776, and was described as a “carpenter, joiner, builder, surveyor & admeasurer”. In September 1777 Pears was elected as one of the 24 members of the Common Council.

In June 1778 Pears took on Thomas Smallbones as an apprentice carpenter.

James Pears and his wife Elizabeth had two sons, the first born ten years after their marriage::

  • James Pears junior (baptised on 23 June 1778 at St Mary Magdalen Church)
  • William Beale Pears (baptised on 8 August 1780 at St Mary Magdalen Church:
    died on 10 April 1793 aged 13 years and buried at Iffley Church on 17 April).

Just two days before his elder son was baptised, Pears was (according to Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 20 June 1778) drawn by lot to serve on the militia.

In 1780 Pears was selected as Chamberlain by the Mayor and fellow carpenter, Vincent Shortland, and was also appointed one of the three Viewers of Nuisances.

In November 1780 Pears took on as his apprentice Francis Godfrey, who had originally been apprenticed to Richard Rouse);

By 1783, Pears was described in Bailey’s Western & Midland Directory simply as a “surveyor and builder” rather than a carpenter.

In September 1785 Pears was chosen as Junior Bailiff. In October 1786 the council decided to enclose the butter bench at Carfax, and Pears was asked to provide an estimate for enclosing it with a dwarf wall and iron “pallisadoes”.

In May 1788 he took on Thomas Edwards as his apprentice, and in January 1789 Richard Swallow.

In 1789 Pears rebuilt the roof of New College hall using pitch pine timbers and Westmorland slate, and also designed its plaster ceiling. In the same year he submitted an estimate to St John’s College for a new Presidential pew with a curved front for its chapel, access to which was to be gained by “a new Wainscott Stair Case with Moulded Noseings and Cutt Bracketts, Mahogany handrail with Ramps and Twists and 2 Curtail Steps”. This was either not erected, or removed in 1843. He also carried out extensive repairs to St John’s chapel in 1790/1.

Around this time Pears had individual portraits of his wife and each of his sons done by John Russell (1745–1806), Britain’s leading pastellist.

In 1792 Pears was elected one of the Mayor’s eight Assistants, and in 1793 was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1793/4), choosing Joseph Walker as his Child.

Around this time Pears went into partnership as a builder with a man called John Hudson, as an announcement of the end of this partnership was made after his death in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 21 April 1804.

In 1794 Pears began to build the Holmes Buildings for St John’s College to accommodate four fellows. He probably designed them himself, as no architect is mentioned.

On 28 July 1795 Pears’s elder son James, aged 17 was matriculated at the University of Oxford by New College. Pears was then described as still being of St Mary Magdalen parish.

By 1801 the Pears family had moved to Woodperry House in the parish of Stanton St John, as in September that year Pears’s son James was listed as living there when he paid game duty. This Georgian villa was built by William Townsend the elder between 1728 and 1731, in part Palladian, part Baroque style. When Pears lived there it was smaller than it is today, as the large north and south wings had not been added to each side.

James Pears continued to serve as Mayor’s Assistant into the nineteenth century. He died at Woodperry House at the age of 63 on 3 December 1803, and was buried at Iffley Church five days later: in the register he is described as being “late of Oxford”. Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 10 December 1803 published the following death announcement:

On Saturday last died, after a lingering illness, at Woodperry House, in this county, James Pears, Esq. aged 63, one of the Assistants of the Corporation of this city, and who served the office of Mayor in 1793.

The inscription below from Iffley Church gives the wrong date for Pears’s death: it looks as though it may have been confused with that of his grandson.

Pears inscription

The plaque reads:

Underneath this church lie the remains of

James Pears of Woodperry House in this county Esquire who died January 1st 1804 [should read 3 December 1803] aged 64 years

Elizabeth his wife, who died January 15th 1816 aged 73 years

Elizabeth Beale, mother of the above Elizabeth Pears, who died Nov. 9th 1792 aged 78 years

William Beale Pears, younger son of the above James and Elizabeth Pears who died April 10th 1793 aged 13 years

James George Pears, son of the Rev. James Pears and grandson of the aforenamed James and Elizabeth Pears, who died Jany. 1st 1801 aged 1 year.”

Pears’s widow Elizabeth Pears appears to have gone to live in Surrey with her son James, as she died in Guildford at the age of 74. She was buried at Iffley a week after her death on 22 January 1816.


Pears’s son and grandsons

Pears’s surviving son James Pears junior (1777/8–1853) was appointed Curate of Holton in 1801. He obtained his BCL from St Mary Hall in 1810 and was appointed curate of Pirbright in Surrey 1814. After a period as classical master at Marlow (Sandhurst), in 1823 he was jointly appointed Master of Bath Grammar School and Rector of Charlecombe in Somerset, a post he held until his death on 21 January 1853.

James Pears junior had seven sons, including:

  • James Robert Pears (eldest son) (1801–1865): Fellow of Magdalen College
  • Sir Thomas Townsend Pears (1809–1892): Army officer in the East India Company (see ODNB)
  • Edmund Ward Pears (c.1814–1878) (fifth son): Rector of St Peter, Dorchester
  • Steuart Adolphus Pears (1815–1875) (sixth son): Headmaster of Repton School (see ODNB)

See also:

  • PCC Will PROB 1408/104 (Will of James Pears, Gentleman of Stanton Saint John, Oxfordshire, proved 26 April 1804)
  • Malcolm Graham, Oxford City Apprentices 1697–1800, entries numbered 2591, 2613, 2831, and 2895
  • Hampshire Record Office 83M76/PI4/58: Marriage bond dated 17 October 1768 of James Pears of Oxford, carpenter and joiner, and Elizabeth Beale of Hurstbourne Priors
  • National Archives C112/178: Mansell v. Pears: Four leases from New College, Oxford, to James Pears and
    Mrs E. Pears, parish of Stanton St John, Oxon
  • George Williamson, John Russell, R.A. (London: G. Bell, 1894) has the following on the Pears family pastel portraits by John Russell: Mrs James Pears, née Elisabeth Beale (oval, then in the possession of Archdeacon Wilson of Rochdale), p. 172 (not reproduced); James Pears Jr as a child (61 x 46cm, then in the possession of Archdeacon Wilson of Rochdale), p. 158 (not reproduced); James Pears Jr as a child (61 x 46cm oval, then in the possession of Major T. C. Pears), p. 158, reproduced opposite p. 38; and William Beale Pears as a child in a red coat (61 x 46cm, oval, then in the possession of Major T. C. Pears), p. 158 (not reproduced). This book is available in Sackler Library, Oxford (928.9 Rus.W.)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 18 September, 2018

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