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Sir Robert Buckell (1841–1925)

Mayor of Oxford 1885/6, 1890/1, 1896/7, 1904, 1916/17, and 1918/19


Portrait of Buckell

Robert Buckell (or Buckle) was born in St Ebbe’s, Oxford in 1841 and baptised at the original Methodist Church in New Inn Hall Street on 31 October. His father Robert Buckell senior (who was a plumber) and his mother Elizabeth were also born in Oxford.

His younger brother John Buckell was baptised at the same church on 1 December 1844, and his sister Elizabeth Buckell on 5 September 1847. She died near the beginning of 1848, and Robert's next sister was baptised there with the same name on 5 May 1850.

At the time of the 1851 census Robert was nine years old, living in St Ebbe’s with his parents and his younger siblings John (6) and Elizabeth (1).

His father Robert Buckell senior died at Church Street, St Ebbe's at the age of 48 in 1858 and his funeral was held at St Ebbe’s Church on 25 June.

Just eighteen months later his mother Elizabeth Buckell died of consumption at the age of 49, and her funeral was at St Ebbe's Church on 22 January 1860.

His parents are probably buried in Osney Cemetery.

Thus Robert Buckell became the head of the household at the age of 18.

The 1861 census shows Robert (19), a plumber like his father, living at 38 Church Street, St Ebbe’s with his 16-year-old brother John, who was also a plumber. They had a young lodger, and also a housekeeper (their 24-year-old cousin, Susannah Buckell). His sister Elizabeth (11) is hard to find.

On 12 December 1862 Robert Buckell was admitted free.

Near the beginning of 1863 in Oxford, Robert Buckell married Ann Ellen Goold, who was born at Radford in Somerset in 1842/3. They do not appear to have had any children.

Buckell and his wife are hard to find in the 1871 census.

In October 1873 Robert Buckell was taken into partnership by his father-in-law James Goold, a coal merchant who lived on the Cowley Road.

At the time of the 1881 census Robert (39), described as “Town Councillor, Member Local Board, & Coal Merchant (Municipal)”, was living at 46 Leckford Road with his wife Ann (38) and one servant.

In November 1881 Buckell, who had been found guilty of corrupt practices in the Oxford parliamentary elections of April and May 1880, lost his seat on the council. He stood again as a Liberal in the North ward in April 1882, but was narrowly beaten.

Buckell was eventually re-elected to the council, and became the leader of the City Liberals.

In 1885 Alderman Buckell was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1885/6), and there was hissing as well as cheering when the councillors heard the result. During his mayoralty he made a public appeal for the Oxford Eye Hospital. At least six new boundary stones were set up with his name during his first mayoralty: at Binsey, Godstow, Port Meadow near the car park, Port Meadow near Burgess Field, the Trout Inn, and the Marston Meadows.

By 1887 Robert Buckell was an auctioneer & house agent, valuer, and surveyor at 1a High Street.

In 1890 he was elected Mayor for a second time (for 1890/1)

Jackson's Oxford Journal of 21 March 1891 reports on a successful sale held by Robert Buckell, in conjunction with R. E. Bennett of Buckingham at the Clarendon Hotel where he sold some of the property of Owen Grimbly. This included Stanley Terrace in Stanley Road, four freehold houses in Catherine Street and Howard Street, a block of freehold houses in Cardigan Street and Union Street in Jericho, and freehold houses in Friar's Wharf and Rose Place.

At the time of the 1891 census Robert Buckell  (49) was living at 32 Beaumont Street with his wife Ann (48) and two servants.

In 1894 he opened his auctioneer’s business on the corner of Broad Street and Cornmarket.

In 1896 he was elected Mayor a third time (for 1896/7), and during his mayoralty the present Town Hall was opened by the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) on Wednesday 12 May 1897. The civic dignitaries joined the royal party after lunch, and thirteen horse-drawn carriages proceeded to the new Town Hall: Robert Buckell and his wife were in the twelfth carriage, with the Prince and his equerry in the carriage immediately behind. At the opening ceremony Buckell received an honorary M.A. from the University. (He was said to be the first Oxford citizen ever to receive an honorary degree from the University, but in fact George Claridge Druce received one in 1889 before he was matriculated.) The Prince of Wales returned to the Town Hall at 9pm for an “At Home” held by Buckell.

Buckell was knighted in 1899. His address was now Burnham House, Woodstock Road.

The Buckells are hard to find in the 1901 census.

His wife Ann Ellen Buckell died in Oxford at the age of 60 on 6 September 1903 and was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery three days later.

Buckell was a director of the National Electric Company, which planned to introduce electric trams in Oxford. In 1905 Oxford Corporation put forward a proposal to take over the (horse) Tramways Company and to introduce electric trams. The cartoon below shows the University's horror at the idea, and Sir Robert Buckell can be seen on the right of the top deck of the tram.

Tram cartoon

In the twentieth century Buckell served as mayor three more times: in 1905 (taking over from the mayor who had died at the beginning of January); 1916/17; and 1918/19.

In 1907 he moved to The Laurels at 4 Marston Ferry Road.

At the time of the 1911 census Sir Robert Buckell, a widower of 69 described as an auctioneer, surveyor, and valuer and an employer, was living at 4 Marston Ferry Road with his adopted daughter Edith Louise Adams (34), who acted as his housekeeper, and two servants (a cook and housemaid). Edith, who was born in Enstone, Oxfordshire in 1872, was the daughter of James Joseph Adams, a grocer, draper, and baker, and his wife Catherine Alice Lowe, who had married in West Derby in 1876.

Around this time Buckell went into partnership to form the Buckell & Ballard estate agency that survived into the twenty-first century.

In 1915 Buckell & Ballard's office on the corner of Broad Street and Cornmarket (see Taunt photograph of 1914) was demolished to make way for William Baker House, and the firm moved to King Edward Street.

In about 1920 Buckell moved to 4 Staverton Road in north Oxford.

† Sir Robert Buckell died at 4 Staverton Road on 1 June 1925 at the age of 83. The Oxford Magazine wrote:

Born a Freeman and dying the oldest Freeman of the City of Oxford, preacher, auctioneer, Chairman of the Watch Committee, member of the School Board, Thames Conservancy, City Magistrate, Worshipful Master of the Bertie Lodge, in each rôle he was conspicuous.

Buckell grave

He was buried beside his wife at Rose Hill Cemetery (Grave B1/158) on 5 June 1925. Their headstone (left) reads:

IN LOVING MEMORY OF
ANN ELLEN
WIFE OF
ALDERMAN ROBERT BUCKELL J.P.
WHO DIED SEPTEMBER 6TH, 1903,
AGED 60 YEARS.

AND OF
SIR ROBERT BUCKELL HON. M.A. J.P.
FOR FORTY YEARS ALDERMAN
AND SIX TIMES MAYOR OF THE
CITY OF OXFORD,
WHO PASSED AWAY JUNE 1ST, 1925,
IN HIS 84TH YEAR.

“HE GAINED NOT BY WHAT HE TOOK
FROM YOU, BUT BY WHAT HE GAVE.”

 

 

His effects came to £6,743 14s. 7d., and his executor was his adopted daughter Edith Louise Adams.

There are more memorials to Buckell in the present Town Hall than to any other Mayor, probably because of his many years of service. As well as his portrait in the Assembly Room (shown at the top of this page), he has his head carved in stone and two coats of arms.

Because Buckell was on the Municipal Buildings Committee when the new Town Hall was opened in 1897, his head is carved in stone (below left) in the Council Chamber corridor.

His arms (below centre) were added to the wall of the Lord Mayor’s Parlour when he served as Chief Magistrate in 1896/7. They are also set in one of the windows in the council chamber (right).

Buckell stone head

Buckell glass arms

Buckell wooden arms

In 2011 the six branches of Buckell & Ballard in Oxford were rebranded as Taylors.


See also:

  • Oxford Journal Illustrated, 26 May, 1915, p.9 (“Who’s Who in Oxford”)
  • Oxfordshire County News, 4 March 1898, p. 8
  • Oxford Magazine, 1924-5, pp. 532–3 (obituary)
  • Oxford Journal Illustrated, 3 June 1925, p. 4c (obituary)
  • Oxford Journal Illustrated, 10 June 1925, p. 5a (obituary)
  • Portrait of Robert Buckell on the wall of the Assembly Room in the Town Hall
  • 1851 Census: Oxford (St Ebbe’s), 1728/310
  • 1861 Census: Oxford (St Ebbe’s), 894/128
  • 1881 Census: Oxford (St Giles), 1499/117
  • 1891 Census: Oxford (St Mary Magdalen 1), 1167/120

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 22 March, 2021

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