Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


John Townsend II (1648–1728)

Mayor of Oxford 1720/1

John Townsend (or Townesend) was born in 1648 and became the apprentice of the Oxford mason Bartholomew Peisley.

On 29 September 1672 at St Giles’s Church, John Townsend married Elizabeth Morrell [recorded as Morall]: both were described as of that parish. They had the following children:

  • Katherine Townsend (baptised on 20 December 1674 at St Giles’s Church)
  • William Townsend (baptised on 17 December 1676 at St Giles’s Church)
  • John Townsend junior (baptised on 12 December 1678 at St Giles’s Church)
  • George Townsend (baptised on 17 January 1680/1 at St Giles’s Church).

On 2 October 1674 when he was aged about 26, John Townsend was admitted free.

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

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

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

Townsend was selected City Chamberlain in September 1709 when he was over 60. He became Junior Bailiff in September 1711, and a keykeeper and inspector of nuisances in September 1714.

On 6 February 1716 his apprentice John Osborn was admitted free.

In September 1719, at the advanced age of 71, John Townsend 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”.

John 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 monument in St Giles's churchyard, designed by his son William

[He passed away on 23 May in the year of our salvation 1728 at the age of 80]

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

His last apprentice Daniel Booden was admitted free on 13 September 1728.

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. 4 September 1784) completed the work on the Radcliffe Camera, built the old Oxford 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. In 1797 his foreman, Thomas Knowles, took over the Townsend business and founded the Knowles building firm which survived until 2017.
  • 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's Church, Oxford”, Oxoniensia LXXII (2008) (Oxford Architectural & Historical Society, 2009)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 24 February, 2021

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