Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


William Thorp I (1727–1800)

Mayor of Oxford 1775/6 and 1789/90

William Thorp (or Thorpe) was born on 13 December 1727 in London, and came to Oxford with his parents when he was about 9 years old.

10 and 11 Holywell


Thorp’s parents were William Thorp senior, a native of Melton Mowbray, and Joan Pitt (born 23 December 1695). According to the family register of R. J. Spiers, Joan was a native of Oxford.

His parents were of high Tory principles and refused to take the oath of allegiance to the House of Hanover, and consequently William senior, who was a stocking manufacturer in the Temple, London, could not keep open shop, and so they returned to Joan’s city, moving into 10 Holywell Street and carrying on the trade of a mercer.



Right: 11 and 10 Holywell Street, viewed from the entrance to New College. William Thorp grew up in the house on the right.

The following extract from a letter dated 13 January 1749/50 written by Dr Humphrey Owen, Principal Librarian of the Bodleian, to Dr Richard Rawlinson shows the respect in which Thorp’s father was held:

I have made enquiry about a house proper for a gentleman of your description but can hear of no one that is in a good situation where you can be properly accommodated, except at one Mr. Thorp’s a stocking weaver in Holywell and a very honest man: the same Dr Keill formerly lived in, which has a very pretty garden and outlet into the Parkes, who would be very glad to receive a gentleman of your character.

William Thorp junior started off as a framework knitter, commencing business in about 1748 in a house that used to face the door of the Schools in Catte Street, just to the north of the “Gateway to the Rackett Court”. This shop stood on the site of the present Indian Institute. This group of four shops in Holywell parish was deemed to be part of Broad Street, and Thorp’s shop was later designated No. 31. The 1772 Survey of Oxford shows that it had a frontage of 6 yards 1 ft 6 in.

Thorp purchased the Freedom of the City of Oxford in 1755, and on 30 September that year he was appointed Mayor’s Child by William Wickham and came straight on to the council as a Chamberlain.

Thorp (described as being of Holywell) married his first wife, Elizabeth Hester of St Aldate’s parish, the daughter of the cook of All Souls College, on 1 January 1752 at St Aldate’s Church. They had one child:

  • Sarah Thorp (born on 23 January 1753, died unmarried on 23 March 1832 and buried at St Mary Magdalen Church).

Just over two years later, on 14 April 1754, Thorp’s wife Elizabeth died, and was buried two days later at the same church.

Thorp married his second wife, Elizabeth Wise of St Martin’s parish, on 23 August 1756 at St Cross (Holywell) Church: her father was a mercer, and closely related to Alderman Thomas Wise. She brought him the house at 32 Broad Street where they went to live. They had four children:

  • John Wise Thorp (born on 9 November 1757 and baptised at St Cross Church on 13 November 1757)
  • Frances Thorp (born on 15 December 1760 and baptised at St Cross Church on 28 December 1760)
  • William Thorp (born on 30 August 1762 and baptised at St Cross Church on 7 September 1762)
  • James Thorp (born on 22 July 1764 and died as a baby).

Thorp was celebrated in Oxford as a hosier, particularly for his silk stockings. When Parson Woodforde was at New College between 1758 and 1763, he visited Thorp’s hosiery shop nearby many times. He bought six pairs of black stockings for £1:2:0 from Thorp in November 1760 and two pairs of white cotton stockings for eight shillings in December 1762.

On 15 September 1760 Thorp was appointed Senior Bailiff, handing the keys of the city over to the new Senior Bailiff just a year later on 29 September 1761. His new scarlet gown on this occasion cost the city the princely sum of £16 (less his contribution of 5s). During his year of office, he attended the coronation of George III and dined in Westminster Hall (obviously not having his father’s scruples about Hanoverians), and wrote an account of the occasion.

In May 1764 Thorp was granted a lease by the council of property in St Martin’s parish (141 and 142 High Street) that had formerly been leased to the haberdasher John Wise, who was probably his wife’s father.

Thorpe’s second wife Elizabeth died on 5 September 1765 (“of putrid sore throat”, according to the announcement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal) and was buried at St Cross Church on 12 September 1765. Just over a year later the same newspaper reported the marriage of Thorp to his third wife, Miss Mary Martindale of Ely, on 8 November 1766.

On 20 November 1767 William’s father of the same name died at the age of 70: Jackson’s Oxford Journal states that he had declined his trade in favour of his son. Although described as being “of Holywell” in the register, he was buried at St Aldate’s Church, presumably with his wife, three days later.

On 9 September 1768 the council granted William Thorp a new lease for 32 Broad Street, described as his tenement near Smithgate in Holywell parish, for a fine of £15, and this was renewed in 1796.

Parson Woodforde returned to Oxford in the 1770s when he was in his thirties, and he again patronized Thorp’s shop: he records that in October 1771 he bought four pairs of stockings to wear under silk for twelve shillings; in January 1774 three pairs of worsted stockings and six pairs of thread socks for a guinea; and in April 1774 two pairs of silk stockings for £1 10s.

In September 1771 Thorp was appointed to a Committee to view the City estates and report to Council on their condition. In May 1775 he was appointed one of the Assistants, and on 18 September that year was appointed Mayor (for 1775/6), nominating the brewer Sutton Thomas Wood as his Child. In 1776 Thorp was appointed to a Committee to inquire into the state of Sir Thomas White’s Charity.

On 14 January 1779, when Thorp’s second son William was matriculated at the University of Oxford from Trinity College at the age of 16, Thorp is described as a “gentleman”. William gained his MA in 1785 and was Vicar of Sandfield-on-Thames from 1807 until his death on 12 February 1835.

On the marriage of his son John Wise Thorp on 27 January 1784, Thorp took him into partnership and moved the business to 44 Broad Street, and the old shop at 32 Broad Street was converted into a parlour.

Jackson’s Oxford Journal reports that on 17 April 1789 Thorp’s mother Joan (described as Mrs Thorp, a hosier’s widow) died at the old family home at 10 Holywell in her 94th year, having shown no sign of illness until the previous evening. She was buried at St Aldate’s on 22 April.

On 14 September 1789 Thorp was appointed Mayor of Oxford for the second time (for 1789/90), choosing James Halse as his Chamberlain and Samuel Carson as his Child.

In the 1790s Thorp had a place on the Market Committee.

William Thorp died at the age of 72 on 30 September 1800 and was buried at St Cross Church on 6 October; his wife Mary died nine years later at the age of 81. A memorial (left) on the wall of that church reads:

Memorial to William Thorp


Sacred to the Memory
who twice served the office of Mayor
of this City.
He died September the thirtieth 1800
Aged 72 Years.
Also to the Memory of his two Wives
ELIZABETH who died Sepr. 8th 1765
And MARY who died Decr. 14th 1809.

There is no mention on the memorial of his first wife also called Elizabeth who died in 1754, presumably because she was not buried at this church.

See also:

  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 9 June 1894): “Retrospective of a good old Oxford family” (the Thorps)
  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 4 October 1800 (death notice)
  • MS Wills Oxon 101.20 (Will dated 17 October 1791 and proved on 11 November 1800)
  • John Wise Thorp, Mayor 1805, 1822 (his son)
  • William Thorp II, Mayor 1833, 1844, 1848 (his grandson)
  • John Thorp, Mayor 1845 (his grandson)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 3 January, 2021

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