Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


William Ward (1807–1889)

Mayor of Oxford 1851/2 and 1861/2

William Ward was born in Oxford on 30 March 1807. He was the son of Henry Ward (1780–1852), who in turn was the son of Abraham Ward of Warwickshire. His mother was Sarah Ward (1779–1858), the daughter of Abraham Ward of Stafford and Oxford (1739–1817).

Ward’s parents

William’s father Henry, who had settled in Oxford in 1804 soon after his marriage, was also a coal merchant. He and his wife Sarah lived in George Lane, and they had ten children:

  • Catherine Ward (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 28 November 1804 with her sister Mary)
  • Mary Ward (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 28 November 1804 (died aged 4 years 9 months)
  • William Ward (born 30 March, baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 5 April 1807)
  • Eliza Ward (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 13 August 1809)
  • Sarah Ward (baptised privately on 20 June 1810, and at St Mary Magdalen Church on 30 December 1810)
  • Thomas Ward (born 25 May 1812, baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 23 September 1812)
  • John Lovett Ward (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 19 June 1814)
  • Mary Ann Ward (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 17 January 1816)
  • Jane Ward (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 3 August 1817)
  • Eliza Ward (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 27 December 1820)
  • George Ward (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 10 January 1823).

Ward’s father Henry had a strong sense of civic duty. G. V. Cox wrote that in March 1838:

“the first steps were taken for a Boat-chapel, near the Oxford Canal; the plan originated with, and was carried out by, the excellent father of an excellent family, Mr Ward, coal-merchant, who had found that the bargemen never did and never would present themselves at a church in their rough costume. ‘It won’t do for such as we!’ They were quite ‘at whoam’ in the barge.”

Henry Ward (who was living in Beaumont Street at the time of his death) was buried at St Mary Magdalen Church on 5 March 1852. William’s mother Sarah died at the age of 78 and was buried at the same church on 28 June 1858.

William Ward

William Ward became a coal merchant like his father, and his business was based at Canal Wharf. His family was linked to that of the Gill ironmongers: his mother’s sister Ann Ward (1786–1841) had married the coal merchant James Gill, and their son James Gill (1814–1879) was the eponymous founder of Gill’s Ironmongers.

22 St John Street





On 20 July 1830 Ward married Harriet Timmis, the eldest daughter of Mr Timmis of Alvechurch Lodge, at Alvechurch, Worcestershire.

They went to live in the house (right) at the junction of St John Street and Alfred (now Pusey) Street. This house is now numbered 22 St John Street, but there have been variations of numbering here.

Ward’s first eleven children were born in St John’s Street:

  • Henry Ward (born 8 July, baptised at St Giles’ Church on 27 August 1832)
  • Anne Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church on 20 June 1834)
  • Harriet Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church on 24 February 1836)
  • William Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church 9 June 1837, died aged 9 and buried at St Mary Magdalen Church on 30 September 1846);
  • Joseph Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church 14 December 1838, died at just a few hours old and buried at St Mary Magdalen Church the next day)
  • Sarah Catherine Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church 29 December 1839)
  • Eliza Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church 12 September 1841)
  • Mary Jane Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church 29 March 1843)
  • George Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church 31 March 1845, died at just 16 days old and buried at St Mary Magdalen Church on 2 April 1845)
  • John Woollaston Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church 8 March 1846)
  • Edith Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church 28 December 1847).

Ward was first elected as a councillor for the North Ward in 1839, but lost his seat in 1841. Just a few days later, however, he was returned with a huge majority for the Central Ward, where a vacancy had occurred.

At the time of the 1841 census Ward and his wife were still living in St John Street with their first five surviving children: Henry (8), Ann (7), Harriet (5), William (4), and Sarah (1). The family then had three female servants.

Ward was elected Sheriff of Oxford for 1844/5 and an Alderman in 1850.

41 St Giles



By 1850 Ward’s large family had moved to 41 St Giles (left), now the Theology Faculty, where he was to spend the rest of his life.

His five unmarried daughters were to continue living here, with the last remaining in the house for 70 years until her death in c.1916.

Ward’s twelfth child was born in this house

  •  Alice Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church on 1 February 1850).

At the time of the 1851 census, Ward is described as a coal and slate merchant employing seven men. He has eight children living at his St Giles’ home: Henry (18), Ann (16), Sarah (11), Eliza (9), Mary Jane (8), John (5), Edith (3), and Alice (1). The family was looked after by three servants: a cook, a nursemaid, and a housemaid. His wife Harriet was absent from the house on census night.

In 1851 Ward was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1851/2), and his youngest child was born during his mayoralty:

  • Arthur Ernest Ward (baptised at St Giles Church on 20 August 1852).

In 1856 Ward became a Justice of the Peace. Although he had always been a Conservative, at the Oxford parliamentary election of July 1857 (when all four candidates were Liberals), he supported Edward Cardwell against the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.

At the time of the 1861 census the Wards still had five children living at home. Later in 1861 he was elected Mayor of Oxford a second time (for 1861/2). He was a member of the Managing Committee of the Radcliffe Infirmary, and raised £2300 for a new hall for its outpatients during his mayoral year.

In 1868 Ward was elected the first President of the new Oxford Constitutional Association and became known as the Father of modern Conservatism in Oxford. There had been no Conservative candidate for Oxford’s parliamentary seat for twenty years, and the aim of this association was to win a hearing for Conservative principles. This was not popular with the council, however, and both he and Alderman Thompson lost their Aldermanship, with John Cavell and Edwin Spiers (both future Mayors) being elected to their places. The Local Board, on which Ward had been a member since its foundation, lost its Chairman

Ward’s father’s “chapel” sank in about 1868, and its funds were managed by William Ward and used to support the infant school in Hythe Bridge Street.

Ward was also a leader in the Oxford Movement, and donated the land in Jericho on which St Barnabas’ Church was built in 1869.

At the time of the 1871 census Ward (64) is described as a coal merchant employing twenty men and three boys, as well as a Justice of the Peace of the City of Oxford. Six of his children are still at home at 41 St Giles’ Street: Ann (36), Sarah (31), Eliza (29), Edith (23), and Alice (21), plus Arthur (18), who was an articled clerk to a solicitor. They have a cook, a domestic servant, and a housemaid.

Ward’s wife Harriet died at the age of 67 and was buried at St Mary Magdalen Church on 26 July 1876.

By the time of the 1881 census William Ward was a widower of 74. Described as a J.P. and a coal merchant, he was still living at 41 St Giles Street with his five unmarried daughters: Ann (46), Sarah (41), Eliza (39), Edith (33), and Alice (31), and their three female servants.

In 1885 Ward gave to the City the drinking fountain that stands at the junction of Walton Well and Southmoor Roads (shown below left in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 3 August 1889 and below right in 2004).

Drinking fountain drawing

Drinking fountain in 2004

The inscription (surrounded by the words “Drink and think of Him who is the Fountain of Life”) reads:

With the consent of the Lords of the Manor this drinking fountain is erected by Mr William Ward to mark the site of a celebrated spring known as Walton Well, adjacent to the ancient fordway into Port Meadow called Walton Ford.

Ward was unable to see it himself because he was going blind and had to be led around the city by his younger brother George; but a later operation did give him some degree of sight.

Ward died on 20 July 1889 at the age of 82, and his body was placed in the family vault at St Mary Magdalen Church. He was survived by three of his six sons and all seven of his daughters.

Memorial to the Wards in St Giles' Churchyard 



An impressive monument to the whole Ward dynasty stands in the churchyard of St Mary Magdalen:


Side 1 commemorates the parents of the Mayor, William and Sarah Ward (died 1815 and 1887), and also Thomas Ward (died 1831 at the age of 82: possibly the Mayor’s uncle


Side 2 commemorates the Mayor’s brother William and his family (wife Harriet, sons William, Joseph, and George); and the Mayor’s sisters Catherine, Mary Ann, Jane, and Ann


Side 3 commemorates three of the siblings of the Mayor who died as children: Mary, Elizabeth, and Thomas


Side 4 commemorates Henry Ward, who died aged 71 in 1852, Sarah Ward who died aged 78 in 1858, and Henry Ward who died in 1874 aged 65. These are likely to be the uncle, aunt, and cousin of the Mayor.

Ward’s family
  • The eldest son Henry Ward, who had married Maria Ann Browning, daughter of Jonathan Browning, at St Giles’s Church on 28 October 1858, continued to manage the family coal and corn merchant business.
  • The second surviving son, John Woollaston Ward, went up to Clare College, Cambridge in Michaelmas Term 1864 and was Vicar of Llanfihangel-Llantarnam, Monmouthshire from 1897 to 1917. He died on 20 January 1917
  • The third surviving son, Arthur Ernest Ward, was a solicitor at 7 Broad Street and lived in Woodstock
  • Ward’s daughter Harriet Timmis Ward married Arthur Andrews in Oxford in 1860 and moved to Dublin, where her husband’s family business of Andrews & Co. tea, wine & spirit merchants was based at 19/22 Dame Street. Harriett and Arthur lived in Newton House, Newton Avenue, Blackrock in 1911.
  • Five of Ward’s seven daughters remained unmarried and continued to live at 41 St Giles for another quarter of a century. The obituary of Miss Alice Ward is in the Oxford Times of 17.10. October 1941. p.8.
  • Ward’s cousin’s daughter, Sarah Jane Gill, became Frank Cooper’s wife and was to invent Oxford Marmalade
  • Ward’s younger brother John Lovett Ward became a farmer
  • Ward’s youngest brother George Ward (1823–1887) was taken into partnership by his father’s cousin, James Gill, who was childless, and the firm became known as Gill & Ward

See also:

  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 24 July 1830: Announcement of Ward’s marriage
  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 27 July 1889, p. 8ab: Ward’s obituary
  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 3 August 1889, p. 7ab: Drawing of drinking fountain, and drawing and letter about boatmen’s floating chapel
  • Brigid Allen, Cooper’s Oxford. A History of Frank Cooper Limited, pp. 26ff, especially the Gill family tree on p. 27
  • 1841 Census: Oxford (St Giles), 891/06/16
  • 1851 Census: Oxford (St Giles), 1727/379
  • 1861 Census: Oxford (St Giles), 892/75
  • 1871 Census: Oxford (St Paul), 1436/128
  • 1881 Census: Oxford (St Giles), 1500/47

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 19 October, 2016

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