Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


John Townsend II

Mayor of Oxford 1720/1

John Townsend (or Townesend) (1648–1728) was the apprentice of the mason Bartholomew Peisley.

On 29 September 1672 he married Elizabeth Morall [Morrell] at St Giles’s Church, and both are described as of that parish. On 2 October 1674 he was admitted free.

John and Elizabeth had four children baptised at St Giles’s Church:

  • Katherine Townsend (20 December 1674)
  • William Townsend (17 December 1676)
  • John Townsend (12 December 1678)
  • George Townsend (17 January 1680/1).

Townsend took on as apprentices William King in 1704, John Osborne in 1706, and Daniel Boodan in 1713.

In September 1699 “Mr. John Townsend, senior, mason” (already over 50) was chosen to be one of the 24 members of the common council.

Elizabeth, wife of John Townsend, was buried at St Giles’s Church on 11 March 1706/7.

Townsend was selected City Chamberlain in September 1709, Junior Bailiff in September 1711, and a keykeeper and inspector of nuisances in September 1714. Then in September 1719, at the advanced age of 71, he was elected one of the Mayor’s eight Assistants, and in September 1720 Mayor (for 1720/1), choosing Edward Law as his Child. Thomas Hearne wrote of him:

Yesterday Mr Townesend, the mason, father to [William] Townesend who hath a hand in all the buildings in Oxford and gets a vast deal of money that way, was elected Mayor of Oxford. This old Townesend is commonly called “Old Pincher” from his pinching his workmen.

Hearne describes the customary breakfast Townsend gave at the end of his year of office as being “so splendid that the like hath not been known many years”.

Townsend died at the age of 79 on 23 May 1728 and was buried in St Giles’ churchyard two days later.

Townsend's tomb from south
Above: John Townsend’s tomb from the south

Detail from the south side, reading

Detail from the south side, stating that John’s son William had erected this monument

Townsend’s descendants
  • His son William Townsend (1676–1739) worked on the Radcliffe Camera, Convocation House, the Botanical Garden, Magdalen Bridge, the Clarendon Building, and at Magdalen, Corpus Christi, Oriel, All Souls, St John’s, University, Trinity, Worcester, Christ Church, and New Colleges. Thomas Hearne expressed surprise that although John was so against the University, his son William was employed “in all the Buildings in the University, tho’ ’tis well known he hath spoil’d most, if not all, the Buildings he hath been employ’d in”. William was also a sculptor, and carved busts in St Mary the Virgin Church and Christ Church Cathedral
  • His grandson John Townsend (d.1746) was mason to Christ Church and worked on the Radcliffe Camera and St John’s and Corpus Christi Colleges (Will)
  • His great-grandson John Townsend (d.1784) completed the work on the Radcliffe Camera, built the Town Hall, worked at the Queen’s and Exeter Colleges, and constructed the Gothic fan vault over Convocation House in the Bodleian Library
  • His great-great-grandson Stephen Townsend (1755–1800) was matriculated at the University as a “lapidary” on 13 May 1785 and carried on the family business. His foreman, Thomas Knowles, was to take over the Townsend business in 1797 and become the founder of the Oxford building firm that still survives today.
  • His daughter Catherine Townsend married Jeremiah Franklin of Oxford at St Giles Church on 2 July 1699

See also:

  • John Townsend I, Mayor 1669 and 1682 (but not obviously related)
  • Malcolm Graham, Oxford City Apprentices 1697–1800, entries numbered 339, 432, and 804
  • H. M. Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of British architects, s.v. Townesend
  • H. M. Colvin, “The Townesends of Oxford”, The Georgian Group Journal, 10 (2000), 43-60
  • Geoffrey Tyack, “The restored tomb of John Townesend at St Giles Church, Oxford”, Oxoniensia LXXII (2008) (Oxford Architectural & Historical Society, 2009)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 11 September, 2012

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