Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


John Wilkins (1690–1757)

Mayor of Oxford 1734/5 and 1744/5

John Wilkins was born in Warwick in c.1690. He was the only surviving child of the engraver Samuel Wilkins junior (baptised at All Saints’ Church in Oxford on 28 August 1675) and his wife Katherine.

His father had moved from Oxford to Warwick, but John came from a long Oxford line:

  • His grandfather, Samuel Wilkins senior was baptised at Hook Norton on 18 June 1619. In 1632 he was apprenticed to the Oxford goldsmith Thomas Berry and eventually had his own business in the city. He came on to the council in 1651 but was still only a Chamberlain in 1688, the year of his death. His seven children included John Wilkins the Elder (baptised 1651), who took over his father’s business.
  • His great-grandfather was Thomas Wilkins
  • His great-great-grandfather was the Oxford weaver John Wilkins
  • His great-great-great grandfather was Thomas Wilkins (d.1573).

135 High Street

On 28 August 1704 John was apprenticed for seven years to his goldsmith uncle, John Wilkins the Elder, an Oxford goldsmith, who was also on the council from 1701, but when he was elected one of the Mayor’s Assistants in 1719 paid a fine rather than serve. His premises and home were at 135 High Street (right)

When his apprenticeship was over, young John continued to live and work here with his uncle.


On 7 January 1727/8 his uncle died at the age of 77, leaving the bulk of his estate to John: Thomas Hearne wrote: “The rest Mr Wilkins hath left (being said, three or four thousand libs.) to a nephew who lived with him.”

John Wilkins continued to live at 135 High Street and took his uncle’s place as the University Goldsmith.


In September 1728 (at the age of 38) Wilkins was selected as Mayor’s Child by the new Mayor, Jeremy Franklin. He took up his Chamberlain’s place immediately, swearing the necessary oaths and paying the usual fine of 3s. 4d. for not serving as Constable.

In September 1731 he was elected Senior Bailiff.

On 19 September 1730 John Wilkins applied to marry by licence at the Church of St Benet's, Paul's Wharf, London:

Appeared personally John Wilkins of the parish of Allsaints Oxford Batchelor aged upwards of Twenty Six Years and alledged that he intends to marry with Catherine Marston of the parish of St. Mary at Hill London Spinster aged Twenty Two years

John returned to Oxford with Catherine, and they had just one child:

  • John Wilkins junior (baptised on 6 November 1736 at All Saints’ Church).

In February 1733/4 Wilkins took on his first apprentice, Stephen Hedges.

In August 1734 Wilkins was elected one of the Mayor’s eight Assistants. In September 1734 he was chosen as Mayor (for 1734/5), nominating George Tomkins as his Child.

In 1740 the family moved to 36 Castle Street in the parish of St Peter-le-Bailey. Wilkins continued to run his business from his shop at 135 High Street.

In September 1744 Wilkins was chosen as Mayor of Oxford for a second time (for 1744/5), nominating Edward Allen as his Child.

In May 1746 Wilkins took on George Tonge as his apprentice, and in about 1750 Edward Lock, who had just finished his apprenticeship in London, came to work for him.

His son John Wilkins matriculated at the University of Oxford from Worcester College on 22 November 1753, receiving his B.A. in 1757 and M.A. in 1760.

John Wilkins was “indisposed as to Body” when he made his will in 1754, but none the less remained one of the Mayor’s Assistants until his death on 22 December 1757. Jackson's Oxford Journal of 24 December 1757 reported:

Last Thursday died here after a lingering illness, Mr. John Wilkins, an eminent Goldsmith of this City, who had twice served the Office of Mayor and was a senior assistant in this Corporation.

Wilkins had appointed his two brothers-in-law, both surnamed Marston, as his son's guardians, but in fact John had just reached the age of 21 at the time of his father's death.

His wife Katherine Wilkins continued to run the business until May 1759, when Edward Lock took it over. She died in Bath on 15 January 1764s.

See also:

  • Ann Natalie Hansen, Oxford Goldsmiths before 1800 (At the Sign of the Cock, 1996), pp. 66–88, for (1) Walter Wilkins, (2) Walter’s nephew Samuel Wilkins, (3) Samuel’s son John Wilkins the elder, and (4) the latter’s nephew John Wilkins II (the mayor). See especially the family tree on p. 88
  • C.S.L. Davies, “The family and connections of John Wilkins, 1614–72”, Oxoniensia LXIX 2004 (2005), 93–107, which is primarily about the cousin of the Mayor’s grandfather who bore the same name, but includes the Mayor’s early family history
  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 24 December 1757 (death notice)
  • Malcolm Graham, Oxford City Apprentices 1697–1800, entries numbered 391, 1586, and 2095
  • PCC Will PROB 11/836/275 (Will of John Wilkins, Goldsmith of Oxford, 10 March 1758)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 24 September, 2018

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