Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


William Henry Butler (1790–1865)

Mayor of Oxford, January–October 1836

William Henry Butler was born in Oxford on 24 February 1790 and baptised at All Saints’ Church on 26 March.

He was the thirteenth child of James Butler (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 10 October 1750) and Jane Slatter (baptised at St Peter-in-the-East Church on on 2 February 1756). His parents were married at St Martin in the Fields Church in Westminster on 1 October 1776 and had fourteen children:

  • Catherine Tyrell Butler (born in Oxford and baptised at St Peter-in-the-East Church on 1 March 1777)
  • Jane Ann Butler (born in Oxford and baptised at St Aldate’s Church on 3 July 1778)
  • James Butler (born in Oxford on 17 January 1780 and baptised at St Mary-the-Virgin Church the next day)
  • Martha Butler (born in Oxford on 22 August 1781 and baptised at St Mary the Virgin Church on 24 August 1781)
  • Mary Anne Butler (born in Oxford on 30 June 1783 and baptised at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on 24 July 1783)
  • Sarah Butler (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 29 December 1784)
  • John Butler (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 28 July 1786)
  • Elizabeth Butler (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 5 November 1787)
  • Lucy Butler (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 27 November 1791)
  • Lydia Butler (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 25 October 1793)
  • Charles Butler (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 17 April 1796)
  • Robert Butler (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 18 April 1798; buried there 15 February 1818)
  • William Henry Butler (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 26 March 1790)
  • Thomas Butler (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 31 August 1800).

William Butler’s parents appear to have lived in St Peter-in-the East and in St Aldate’s parishes for a short period around 1778/8. They then lived in the parish of St Mary the Virgin from 1780 to 1783, when William’s father James Butler was the Common Room man of All Souls College.

William’s grandfather, James Butler senior, died early in 1781 and was buried at All Saints’ Church on 4 May that year, and it seems likely that William’s father took over his premises in All Saints parish in 1783/4. It is likely that his grandmother Martha Butler continued to live with her son and his family until her death almost sixteen years after her husband: she was buried at All Saints’ Church on 14 December 1796

William Butler became a wine merchant in Oxford. He first came on to the Common Council on 30 September 1815, and was elected Senior Chamberlain in 1819 and Senior Bailiff in 1824.

On 13 February 1817 at St Giles’ Church, Northampton, William Henry Butler married Elizabeth Briggs (the youngest daughter of the late Alderman Briggs of Northampton). Their first four children were born in All Saints parish in Oxford:

  • Edwin Butler (born in Oxford on 7 December 1817 and baptised at All Saints’ Church on 24 February 1818)
  • Jane Elizabeth Butler (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 1 March 1819)
  • Robert Jackson Butler (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 19 July 1820)
  • Lucy Ann Butler (baptised at All Saints’ Church on 22 December 1821).

In the baptismal register in 1818 and 1819, Butler was described as a wine merchant in the High Street , but in 1820 and 1821 as a wine merchant of St Martin’s parish . This indicates that around the beginning of 1820 he moved from All Saints' parish into his new premises at Carfax, on the corner of St Aldate’s Street and Queen Street. (This site had since 1710 been occupied by the butter bench, but after 1774 traders sold their butter in the new covered market instead.) His older brother Charles Butler, who died at the age of 45 in 1842, may have lived and worked with William, as he was described as being of Carfax in the burial register of St Martin’s Church.

Glimpse of William Butler's shop opposite the old Town Hall

In 1772 a survey of every house in the city was taken in consequence of the Mileways Act of 1771. According to H. E. Salter, Mr Butler occupied premises just to the north of 4 St Aldate’s Street with a frontage of 4 yards, 2 ft. and 10 in.

The side pillars and railings of William Butler’s shop can be seen opposite the old Town Hall in this engraving (left) of 1822. Robson’s Commercial Directory of 1839 lists its address as 2 St Aldate’s Street.

In 1843 Oxford Police Station was built on the site of William Butler’s shop. When the police moved to Kemp Hall in 1870, Boffin’s Bakery took over the premises. The Santander (Abbey National) building now stands on the site


William's mother Jane Butler died at the age of 65 in 1820, with her address given as the High Street

William Butler's next five children by his first wife were presumably born over his shop at Carfax:

  • George Morant Butler (baptised at St Martin’s Church on 5 May 1823)
  • Mary Ann Butler (baptised at St Martin’s Church on 26 July 1825)
  • Caroline Butler (baptised at St Martin’s Church on 25 July 1827, died aged seven months)
  • Octavia Frances Butler (baptised at St Martin’s Church on 31 October 1828, and appropriately named as his eighth child)
  • Catherine Adelaide Butler (baptised at St Martin’s Church on 7 November 1830, died age six months).

His father James Butler died in St Michael’s parish at the age of 75 on 23 April 1825.

William Butler was the election agent of W. Hughes Hughes, who unsuccessfully contested the City of Oxford at the general election of June 1826.

After the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, Butler was elected Councillor for the West Ward on 26 January 1835, and just five days later was made an Alderman for six years. He was elected the first Mayor under the new system on 1 January 1836, and therefore only served for ten months (January–October 1835).

A good picture of Butler’s shop (on a bill-head of 1837) can be seen on p. 60 of the book Oxford Shops and Shopping. The bill-head reads:

Next Town Hall
O x f o r d
Importer of Foreign Wines & Spirits
and Dealer in
British Compounds & London Bottled Porter
Casks, Bottles & Hampers if not returned will be charged 1s. per gallon
Empty casks & Bottles to be kept tight corked

Soon after serving as Mayor, Butler retired to a large house in Iffley, held by lease under Lincoln College. He only lived there for about four years, and on 14 December 1839 Jackson's Oxford Journal reported the forthcoming auction of this house, describing it as follows:

A valuable LEASEHOLD ESTATE, pleasantly situated on an eminence facing the meadows, at Iffley, commanding interesting views of the River Thames, the picturesque surrounding scenery, and nearly the whole of the magnificent buildings and spires of the University and City of Oxford, the genteel Family Residence now in the possession of Mr. Alderman Butler; comprising a handsome bow-windowed drawing room, size 18 ft. by 16 ft.; dining room, 16 ft. by 15 ft.; study, 16 ft. by 3 ft.; housekeeper's room, 13 ft. by 9 ft.; china closets, six good bed chambers, with convenient closets, kitchen larder, wash and brew-house, cellars, &c. The House is placed on a lawn, with iron palisading in front, surrounded with gardens neatly laid out, enclosed with lofty brick and stone walls, clothed with choice fruit trees; stabling for six horses, with lofts over, coach-house, a barn, yard, three pumps, and other necessary conveniences.

Opposite to the same are Two Paddocks and One Meadow, containing 3A. 2R. 30P.

Butler moved to Headington, to a large house in Old High Street that was then known as Linden House and later as the Priory. He is listed there in the 1841 census with his first wife and three of their nine children (Edwin, Lucy, and Mary) and two servants. His older brother Thomas, who had been a carver and gilder and printseller in a shop in Oxford’s High Street, had already retired to Headington and lived in the Manor House with his wife Selina (the daughter of Rudolph Ackerman, who introduced lithography into Britain: he had married her on 29 January 1827). Mrs Selina Butler opened a ladies’ seminary at the Manor House in about 1836, and Butler’s daughter Octavia was boarding there as a pupil in 1841.

The first of William Butler's two wives named Elizabeth died in Headington on 14 February 1844 at the age of 55, and was buried at St Martin’s Church in Oxford.

Butler’s business in Oxford continued to operate after he retired to Headington, and in September 1847 he was granted a council lease of nine wine vaults (formerly five), together with a counting house.

On 7 October 1847, Butler was described as being “of Headington” in the marriage notice in The Times of his daughter Lucy Ann and the architect William Wilkinson Wardell at St Mary’s Catholic Church, Moorfields.

At the time of the 1851 census Butler, described as a magistrate and alderman, was still a widower and living in Headington. Two of his unmarried children were living with him: Edwin (33), who was described as a wine merchant and Octavia (22).

On 20 January 1852 at St Andrew's Church, Headington, his daughter Octavia Butler married the Revd Robert Hake, Chaplain of New College and of the Warneford Asylum.

The last mention of William Butler in Headington is in a directory of 1854, and he seems to have moved to London around that time.

In the third quarter of 1855 at Shoreditch in London, William Henry Butler (65) married his second wife Elizabeth Gibbs (31), who was born in St Clement's, Oxford. She was the daughter of the stonemason John Gibbs and his wife Alice of George Street (now Cave Street) in St Clement’s, Oxford, and had been baptised at St Clement’s Church on 7 May 1824, followed by her brothers John Gibbs (1826) and Henry Wilkins Gibbs(1831).

Her daughter Bessie Alice Gibbs had been born on 25 August 1854 and was baptised at St Luke's Church in Chelsea on 8 September. She named the father as William Gibbs, the Captain of a vessel, but there is a suspicion that she was William Butler's child, and she was always known as Bessie Alice Butler.

After their marriage William moved to Hanborough in Oxfordshire with his wife and young Bessie, and their son was born there:

  • William Henry Gibbs Butler (baptised at Hanborough on 28 June 1857).

In the 1861 census Butler (71), described as a J.P. and an Alderman of Oxford, was living at Park Cottage in Hanborough with his second wife Elizabeth (34), their children Bessie (6) and William (4), and two servants.

Butler remained on Oxford city council (where he was the senior member) until his death.

† William Henry Butler died at Park Cottage, Hanborough on 11 October 1865 at the age of 75. He was buried in the churchyard of St Martin’s Church at Carfax with his first wife Elizabeth and their two daughters who died in infancy. Their tombstone is one of the few that remains at Carfax following the demolition in 1896 of the church (apart from its tower), and it lies in what is now the outdoor eating area of the Carfax café.

Butler grave at Carfax

The inscription reads:

Blessed are they that are in the Lord
Here lies the body of Elizabeth
Wife of William Henry Butler
Born 6 March 1786
Died February 14th 1844

Also of
Caroline and Catherine Adelaide
Infant children of the above

William Henry Butler
Alderman of this City
Born February 24th 1790
Died October 11th 1865

Butler’s obituary in Jackson’s Oxford Journal read as follows:

DIED, Oct. 11, at Handborough, near Oxford, William Henry Butler, Esq., Alderman of this city, in his 76th year. He had been a member of the City Council more than half a century, having been elected one of the Common Council on the 30th of September 1815; Chamberlain in 1819; Bailiff in 1824; and the first Mayor under the Municipal Reform Act in 1836, and at the time of his death he was the senior member of the Council.

His effects came to under £2,000, and his executors were his son Edwin, who was described as a wine merchant, his second wife Elizabeth, and the architect John Gibbs, probably his second wife's brother.

Butler’s widow and their son

Less than three years after his death, on 25 April 1868 at St Paul's Church in Oxford, William Butler's second wife Mrs Elizabeth Butler nee Gibbs married her second husband Duncan Greening Anderson, a printer thirteen years her senior,

In 1871 the Andersons and William Henry Butler junior (14) were living at 22 Walton Crescent in St Thomas’s parish, and Elizabeth no longer had any servants.

Ten years later in 1881 they were living at 118 Bullingdon Road in Oxford. William Henry Butler junior (24), a commission agent, was still living with them, but by the end of the year he was a librarian in Birmingham, where he married Sarah Elizabeth Gardner of 24 Charles Street, Oxford on 27 December 1881.

By 1891 Duncan Anderson had retired, and he and Elizabeth (now respectively 79 and 66) were living at North View in New Marston.

See also:

  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 15 February 1817: Announcement of Butler’s first marriage
  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 14 October 1865, p. 5a: Short obituary of Butler
  • Account book of W. H. Butler when he was election agent of W. Hughes Hughes in 1826 (Bodleian Library MS.Top.Oxon.c.327)
  • 1841 Census: Oxford (Headington), 877/01/36
  • 1851 Census: Oxford (Headington), 1727/217
  • 1861 Census: Oxford (Hanborough), 904/78
  • 1871 Census: Oxford (St Thomas’s), 1441/033
  • 1881 Census: Oxford (St Clement’s), 1498/11
  • 1891 Census: Oxford (Marston & Headington): 1163/038

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 29 May, 2021

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