Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


John Galpin (1824–1891)

Mayor of Oxford 1873/4 and 1879/80

John Galpin was born in Oxford in 1824. He was the son of William Galpin (born in Crewkerne, Somerset) and Lois Busby (born 1798/9 in Combe, Oxfordshire), who were married at Yeovil on 10 February 1822.

John’s father William Galpin was a carpenter who came to Oxfordshire to find work, and probably met there his future wife Lois Busby (born in Combe, Oxfordshire in 1798/9). They married in Yeovil on 10 February 1822 and had the following children:

  • Susan Galpin (born in late 1822:
    died aged one and buried at St Giles’s Church on 2 November 1823)
  • William Robinson Galpin (baptised at Combe on 20 December 1823)
  • John Galpin (born at Spindlelove’s Yard and privately baptised at St Giles’s Church, Oxford on 7 January 1825)
  • Joseph Galpin (baptised at Combe on 26 August 1827, with the family still described as being of St Giles’s parish).
  • Elias Galpin (born at Gloucester Green and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 6 December 1828)
  • Jane Galpin (born at Gloucester Green, Oxford and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 20 December 1829)
  • Thomas Galpin (baptised Gloucester Green, Oxford and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 25 December 1831)
  • Henry Galpin (born at Gravel Lane and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 29 December 1833;
    died in infancy)
  • Henry Busby Galpin (born at Gravel Lane and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 31 January 1836:
    died aged 21 months and buried at the church on 3 October 1837)
  • Elizabeth Galpin (born at Gravel Lane and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 25 March 1838)
  • James Galpin (born at Gravel Lane and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 29 January 1840).

John’s parents began their married life at Spindelove’s Yard in St Giles’s parish, but by 1827 they had moved to Gloucester Green in the adjacent parish of St Mary Magdalen. By 1833 their address in that parish was described as Gravel Lane.

By the time of the 1841 census, the Galpins were living in Gas Street, St Ebbe’s. John at 16 had already left home, and was an apprentice carpenter with Margaret Wyatt’s building firm at the south-west end of St Giles’ Street.

in the first quarter of 1843 in Oxford, John Galpin (18) married Oxford-born Catharine Green (20), evidently in haste. They had the following children:

  • Lucy Mary Galpin (born in Oxford in 1843, reg. third quarter)
  • George John Galpin (born at Blackfriars Road, Oxford in 1844 and privately baptised by St Ebbe's Church on 19 April);
    buried on 23 September 1844
  • John Green Galpin (born in Oxford in 1845/6, reg. first quarter of 1846)
  • George Richard Galpin (born in Lambeth in 1847, reg. fourth quarter)
  • Charles Alexander Galpin (born in Lambeth at the end of 1850, reg. first quarter of 1851)
  • Frederick J. Galpin (born in Lambeth in 1852/3)
  • Julia Harriett Galpin (born in Oxford in 1855, reg. fourth quarter)
  • Arthur William Galpin (born in Oxford in 1857, reg. Abingdon district third quarter)
  • Henry F. Galpin (born in Oxford in 1860).

John & Catherine Galpin began their married life in Oxford, but in about 1846 the family moved to London, where Galpin worked for a building firm. The 1851 census shows John (26) described as a carpenter living at Doris Street, Lambeth with his wife Mary (29) and their children John (5), George (3), and Charles (four months); his 19-year-old brother Thomas, also a carpenter, was living with him, as well as another carpenter and his wife and two children.

Meanwhile in 1851 Galpin’s eldest daughter Lucy (7) was staying at Bridge Street, St Ebbe’s, Oxford with her widowed maternal grandmother, the seamstress Mrs Elizabeth Green; and Galpin’s own parents were living at Bath Street, St Clement’s, where they remained for the rest of their lives. Their joint grave can be seen in St Clement’s churchyard.

In 1854 John Galpin (29) brought his family back. to Oxford when he was appointed Surveyor to the Paving Commissioners there. At the time of the 1861 census Galpin, described as “Surveyor to Oxford Improvements Committee”, was living with his wife and eight children in the parish of Cowley, probably at Donnington Lodge in Iffley Road. From 1864 to 1868 Galpin was Surveyor to the Local Board, with responsibilities that included drainage. He was responsible for designing Hythe Bridge.

In 1858 Galpin had begun to engage in speculative developments in the housing business, and when the Oxford Building and Investment Company was registered in February 1866, he was its Secretary and Surveyor. He was also manager of the Oxford and Berks Brick Company, and a partner with one of his sons in a timber business at Abbey Wharf, and with another son in an auctioneering and estate firm.

Galpin’s growing prosperity is reflected in the fact that by the time of the 1871 census, where he is described as an “Auctioneer and Surveyor”, he was living at Northern House in Summertown and the family had two servants. Five of his children were still at home: Charles (20), who was an auctioneer’s clerk; Frederick (18), who was a surveyor’s clerk; Julia (15); and Arthur (13) and Henry (11), who were at school.

In politics, Galpin was a Liberal. He was elected Sheriff of Oxford for 1872/3 and an Alderman in 1872. In 1873 he was elected Mayor (for 1873/4) and again in 1879 (for 1879/80). He was also a Justice of the Peace.

In the early years of the growth of the suburb of North Oxford, Galpin was a principal developer, acting as broker between builders and lessees and arranging finances. Together with the builder John Dover, he concentrated on the Norham Manor estate and the Warnborough Road area. But competition for sites increased, and when T. S. Omond became Estates Bursar of St John’s College in 1877 he questioned earlier “gentleman’s agreements”. Galpin found himself with a lot in Farndon Road from which the gravel had been removed and said, “I cannot but think that from some quarter or other there is someone giving me a sly poke and that an inch or two below the belt.” The business started to fail and by 1881 was in a very shaky state.

28 Beaumont Street


By the time of the 1881 census Galpin had moved back to Oxford from Summertown and was living at 28 Beaumont Street in St Mary Magdalen parish (right) with his wife Catherine and their youngest son Henry Galpin (21), who was an articled clerk to a solicitor, and two servants (a housemaid and cook).

On 27 October 1881 Galpin’s wife, Catherine died at 28 Beaumont Street at the age of 59 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 31 October.

On 11 September 1882 (less than a year after Catherine's death) at St Mary Magdalen Church, John Galpin (57) married his second wife Eliza Ann Howard (36), the daughter of the auctioneer William Henry Howard and his wife Ann: she was a teacher of music who had been living at 9 Iffley Road with her widowed mother.


The crisis for the business came in 1883. In March that year the directors announced that they would not pay any dividend on half-year savings, and in April the Oxford Building and Investment Company went into liquidation. An effigy in alderman’s robes, representing Galpin, was paraded through the streets of Oxford and dumped outside Galpin’s house in Beaumont Street, but the police removed it before it could be burned.


In August 1883 the Oxford and Berks Brick Company also went into liquidation, followed by Messrs Galpin & Son in November. The liquidator Walter Gray (who himself was to become Mayor in 1888) took over Galpin’s offices in New Inn Hall Street.

† John Galpin died on 16 March 1891 at the age of 66 at 36 Pembroke Street, St Aldate’s, and his funeral was held at St Mary Magdalen Church on 19 March, followed by interment in St Sepulchre’s Cemetery with his wife. The following announcement appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 21 March 1891:


We regret to announce this week the death, after a short illness, of Mr. John Galpin, at his residence, 37, Pembroke street, St. Aldate’s, on Monday evening last, aged 66. He had in recent years suffered from occasional attacks of gout, and on Thursday, the 12th inst., was seized with paralysis, from which he never rallied, and gradually sank.

Mr. Galpin was a native of this city, and after an absence of some years returned on being appointed in 1854 to the office of Surveyor to the Paving Commissioners, a body which existed up to the formation of the Oxford Local Board. On ceasing his connection with the Commissioners he engaged in business as an auctioneer and surveyor, and in November, 1886, contested the East Ward, and was returned to the Town Council. He was re-elected in 1869 and 1872 without opposition, was opposed in 1875 but again returned, and in 1878 was again re-elected without opposition, and in November of the latter year he was created an Alderman. He served the office of Sheriff in 1872, and was twice Mayor, in 1873 and 1879, and it is somewhat singular that in his Mayoralties there were one uncontested and four contested Parliamentary elections….

Mr. Galpin was the Chairman of the Water Works Committee for several years, and suggested the formation of the reservoir on Headington Hill, and he was also President of the East Ward Liberal Association for many years. He was one of the founders of the Oxford Building and Investment Company, in which he held the offices of Secretary and Surveyor, and continued to do so until its collapse in 1883, and since that time he has lived in retirement.

The funeral, which was of a strictly private character, took place on Thursday afternoon, in Saint Sepulchre’s Cemetery, Walton-street.

John Galpin's effects came to just £100 9s. 9d., and his executor was his second wife Eliza Ann.

See also:

  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 21 March 1891, p. 5g (obituary)
  • Tanis Hinchcliffe, North Oxford (Yale University Press), pp. 43, 45, 52, 57, 59–63, 76, 109, 112, 150
  • Sydney Galpin, “The Oxford Branch of Galpins” (Bodleian Library, MS Top. Oxon. d.473).
  • 1841 Census: Oxford (St Ebbe’s), 891/03/58 (rest of his family only)
  • 1851 Census: Oxford (St Clements), 1727/362
  • 1861 Census: Oxford (Cowley), 891/20
  • 1871 Census: Oxford (Summertown), 1436/19
  • 1881 Census: Oxford (St Mary Magdalen), 1502/15

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 24 September, 2018

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