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John Watson (1729–1784)

Mayor of Oxford 1783/4


John Watson was born in Oxford in 1729. He was the son of the grocer Benjamin Watson and his wife Joanna, who moved from Aylesbury to Oxford in about 1725.


John Watson’s siblings

Watson’s parents Benjamin and Joanna had five children in Aylesbury:

  • Benjamin Watson (born 6 December 1715, baptised at Aylesbury Church eight days later)
  • Martha Watson (born 26 November 1718, baptised Aylesbury Church twelve days later)
  • Ann Watson (born 24 December 1719, baptised Aylesbury Church the next day)
  • William Watson (born 18 December 1722, baptised Aylesbury Church the same day)
  • William Watson (born 18 December 1722, baptised Aylesbury Church the same day).

At some point between 1723 and 1726 Watson’s parents moved to St Peter-in-the-East parish (probably to the High Street shop later run by John) and they had another four children there:

  • Mary Watson (baptised on 11 July 1726 at St Peter-in-the-East Church)
  • John Watson himself (baptised on 18 February 1728/9 at St Peter-in-the-East Church)
  • Joanna Watson I (baptised on 3 October 1732 at St Peter-in-the-East Church)
  • Joanna Watson II (baptised on 1 January 1735/6 at St Peter-in-the-East Church).

On 29 April 1743 when he was 14, John Watson was taken on by his father as an apprentice grocer for seven years. It appears, however, that his father died shortly afterwards, as a Benjamin Watson was buried at St Cross Church (where the Watsons had a family vault) on 20 October the same year.

John’s eldest brother Benjamin Watson (who back in 1727 had been transferred as an apprentice to his own father when he four years into an apprenticeship with a tallow-chandler) would now have been in his 30s, and presumably kept John on as his apprentice. (This Benjamin preceded John on to the council in 1758 and married Sarah Airey of Clerkenwell in London on 25 July 1751: they had eight children baptised at St Peter-in-the-East Church between 1752 and 1761, and their youngest daughter was baptised at St Cross Church on 31 July 1768. Their daughter Elizabeth was to marry the mayor Joseph Lock;)

On 23 June 1762 at Kiddington, John Watson (33) married Martha Douglass and they had six children:

  • John Watson I (baptised on 21 December 1763 at St Peter-in-the-East Church, died in infancy)
  • Robert Watson I (baptised on 19 February 1766 at St Peter-in-the-East Church)
  • William Watson (baptised on 2 September 1770 at St Peter-in-the-East Church)
  • Martha Watson (baptised on 22 March 1775 at St Peter-in-the-East Church)
  • John Watson II (baptised on 9 July 1778 at St Peter-in-the-East Church, died 1793 aged 14).

Watson had been appointed a Cloth Searcher in 1760, but was not elected on to the Common Council until 1765. In 1769 he was chosen as Mayor’s Chamberlain by William Wickham.

Memorial to Watson’s siblings

 

 

In March 1771 Watson’s unmarried sister Martha died, followed by his brother Benjamin in August. They were both buried in St Cross Church, and their memorial (left) on the wall of the church reads:

Sacred to the Memory of
BENJAMIN WATSON, Son of
BENJAMIN & JOANNA WATSON
Who died Augt 27 1771,
Aged 55 Years.
He was a most Dutyfull Son,
affectionate Husband, & a loving Father.

Also of MARTHA WATSON
Daughter of
BENJAMIN & JOANNA WATSON,
Who Died March 19th1771
Aged 53.

When his brother Benjamin died, John Watson, who was presumably by this time his partner, took over the family business, as Benjamin’s eldest surviving son was under 21.

The 1772 Survey of Oxford shows that Watson’s shop (which had a frontage of 9 yards 0 ft 9 in) was at 69 & 70 High Street (near the East Gate of the city, which was about to be taken down).

In 1775 there was a notice in Jackson’s Oxford Journal that debtors to the late Benjamin Watson & Co distiller or to his widow Sarah Watson should pay John Watson, distiller.

There is a report in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of a fire in the workshop of John Watson, grocer and tallow chandler of Eastgate, on 22 February 1773. The flames were stopped before reaching the next warehouse, where spirits were stored.

In 1774 John Watson was elected Senior Bailiff.

When John Watson took on his own eldest surviving son Robert (then aged 14) as an apprentice grocer on 21 February 1780 he is listed as a “distiller, grocer, tallowchandler, & soapboiler”, and in Bailey’s Directory for 1783 he is described as a “Distiller, Hop-Merchant, Grocer, Tallow-chandler, Soap-boiler, and Agent to the new Fire Office, Lombard street”. In Jackson’s Oxford Journal that year Watson was advertising his wax candles at 3/- a pound.

On 17 March 1783 Watson was elected Mayor’s Assistant and on 15 September Mayor (for 1783/4). He took up the post on 30 September, selecting John Sissill as Mayor’s Chamberlain, but died in office on 29 March 1784 at the age of 54.

Memorial to John Watson

 

 

Watson was buried in his family vault at St Cross Church and was described in Jackson’s Oxford Journal as “An honest man and a friend to the poor”. His memorial (left) on the wall of the church reads:

IN MEMORY
OF
JOHN WATSON ESQ.
MAYOR OF THIS CITY
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE
MARCH THE XXIX MDCCLXXXIV
AGED LIV YEARS.
AFFECTIONATE HUSBAND,
AN INDULGENT FATHER,
AND SINCERE FRIEND.

ALSO OF JOHN HIS SON
WHO DIED JANY. VIII,
MDCCLXXXXIII
AGED XIV YEARS.

AND LIKEWISE
OF HIS SECOND SON JOHN,
WHO DIED IN HIS INFANCY

Soon after his death a noticed appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal that Martha Watson, widow of the late John Watson (distiller and grocer) intended to carry on his business “notwithstanding malicious reports to the contrary”. On 31 December 1785 she took on their second surviving son, William, as an apprentice grocer for seven years. As can be seen from the above memorial, their third surviving son, John, died at the age of 14 in 1793.


See also:

  • Malcolm Graham, Oxford City Apprentices 1697–1800, entries numbered 1344, 1815, 2625, and 2754
  • PCC Will PROB 11/1118/389 (Will of John Watson, Grocer and Distiller of Oxford, proved 22 June 1784)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 18 September, 2018

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