Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


William Matthew Gray (1859–1931)

Mayor of Oxford 1927/8+

William Matthew Gray was born at Cherwell Street, Oxford on 8 March 1859 and baptised at St Clement's Church on 8 May.

His father Matthew Gray was born in Little Haseley in 1834 and baptised there on 18 May, the son of the wheelwright Thomas Gray. He and two of his brothers were carpenters and builders who moved from Great Milton to east Oxford and helped to build some of Oxford’s “base and brickish skirt” in the rapidly developing Cowley St  John area. He was living in St Clement's in 1857.

His mother Harriet Quartermain was born in Little Milton in 1833 and baptised there on 23 June, the daughter of the wheelwright William Quarterman. She was a servant and living in Waterstock by 1857.

William's parents were married at Waterstock on 28 November 1857, when they were both aged 23, and they settled in east Oxford, where they had ten children.

At the time of the 1861 census William (2) was living in Rectory Road (then called Pembroke Street) in east Oxford with his father Matthew (26), described as a carpenter, his mother Harriet (27), and his baby sister Harriet (nine months)

In 1871 the family’s address was recorded more precisely as the present 27 Rectory Road, and William (12), who was still at school, was living there with his parents: his father Matthew (36) had prospered and was now described as a builder employing 26 men and 8 boys. William now had seven younger siblings: Harriet (11), Walter (10), Joseph (8), Charles (6), George (4), Albert (2), and John (1).

William Gray attended the original Cowley St John School in the Iffley Road and was a chorister at the Iron Church in Stockmore Street. He left school at the age of 14 and worked with his father as a carpenter.

William mother Harriet Gray died at the age of 46 near the end of 1879.

In 1881 census William (22), described as a carpenter, was living at 200c Cowley Road with his father Matthew (46), who was now described as a builder, and seven of his siblings. Harriet (20) acted as her father's housekeeper, and Joseph (18) and Charles (16) were also carpenters. The other four children were still at school: Albert (11), John (9), Agnes (8), and Alice (4).

In the fourth quarter of 1881 in the Headington registration district, William Matthew Gray married Elizabeth Ann Steventon of St Ebbe’s, and they had twelve children:

  • William Henry Gray (born in Oxford on 3 March 1882 and baptised at Holy Trinity Church, St Ebbe's on 17 May)
  • Alice Harriett Gray (born in Oxford in 1883 and baptised at St Mary & St John Church on 30 August)
  • Matthew Frederick Gray (born in Oxford in 1885 and baptised at St Mary & St John Church on 27 June)
  • Harry Joseph Gray (born in Oxford on 31 March 1887 and baptised at St Mary & St John Church on 16 February 1893)
  • Frank Arthur Gray (born in Oxford on 25 November 1888 and baptised at St Mary & St John Church on 16 February 1893)
  • Dorothy Kate Gray (born in Oxford on 13 November 1890 and baptised at St Mary & St John Church on 16 February 1893)
  • Hugh Richard Gray (born in Oxford on 15 November 1892 and baptised at St Mary & St John Church on 16 February 1893)
  • Victor Charles Gray (born in Oxford on 6 December 1895 and baptised at St Mary & St John Church on 11 November 1904)
  • Arthur John Gray (born in Oxford on 11 June 1897 and baptised at St Mary & St John Church on 11 November 1904)
  • Elizabeth Agnes Gray (born in Oxford on 16 July 1899 and baptised at St Mary & St John Church on 11 November 1904)
  • Evelyn May Gray (born in Oxford on 22 May 1901 and baptised at St Mary & St John Church on 11 November 1904)
  • Thomas Walker Gray (born in Oxford on 10 August 1904 and baptised at St Mary & St John Church on 11 November).

At the time of the 1891 census Gray and his family (including his father Matthew) were living at 114 Bullingdon Road.

Gray built up his own builder’s and funeral director’s business in east Oxford at 6 Rectory Road (then called Pembroke Street), which later became the firm of W. M. Gray & Son Ltd. At the time of the 1901 census, when he was 42, he was living with his family at 125 Bullingdon Road and described as a Clerk of Works. His sons William (19) and Matthew (15) were now both carpenters and joiners.

In 1903 Gray stood as a progressive candidate for the East Ward of the City Council and was elected with a record number of votes.

His first wife Elizabeth Ann Gray died in at the age of 45 on 11 October 1906, and was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery. .

On 17 December 1907 at St Mary & St John Church, William Matthew Gray (48) married his second wife, Fanny Katherine Axtell (23) of Regent Street, the daughter of the mason William Henry Axtell. He had another four children with Fanny, making 16 in all:

  • Harold William Gray (born at 6 Rectory Road, Oxford in 1908 and baptised at St Clement's Church on 23 August)
  • Robert Matthew Gray (born at 6 Rectory Road, Oxford in 1910 and baptised at St Clement's Church on 26 June)
  • John Axtell Gray (born at 6 Rectory Road, Oxford in 1912 and baptised at St Clement's Church on 24 March)
  • Katherine J. Gray (born at 6 Rectory Road, Oxford in 1917).

Gray was chosen as Sheriff of Oxford for 1910/11.

The 1911 census shows Gray and his second wife Fanny living at 6 Rectory Road (then still called Pembroke Street) with nine children from his first marriage, and two children from his second: Harold William (2) and Robert Matthew (eleven months). They had one servant.

In 1927 William Matthew Gray was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1927/8), and at the end of his year of office continued for an extra five months to 31 March 1929, as the date for election of Mayors was moved to the spring.

† William Matthew Gray died at 6 Rectory Road, Oxford on 3 January 1931, and large crowds lined the funeral route from St Clement’s Church to Rose Hill cemetery. Tributes paid to him included the following:

  • “He was one of the straightest men who ever walked the streets of Oxford and was a man with one of the greatest hearts” (Dr W. Stobie)
  • “There is no man who has done more for the benefit of Oxford than Alderman Gray” (Councillor Pipkin)
  • “There was no man better loved than Alderman Gray in that ‘Little Borough’ of East Oxford, as he himself called it. He endeared himself to everyone. He had no party and had friends in every street” (Mr Butler).

His effects came to £28,814 14s. 10d.

His second wife Fanny Katherine Gray was buried with him and his first wife in 1954.

William Matthew Gray's grave

See also:

  • Susanne Shatford and Trevor Williams, The Changing Faces of St Clements and East Oxford, Book One (Robert Boyd Publications, 1997), pp. 47–49. This has photographs of William Gray and his family, and some of the above information was obtained from that book.
  • Great Milton: Gray family (Sharon Strange) for William Gray’s father’s family
  • Oxford Monthly, February 1931, p. 25 (obituary)
  • Oxford Times, 9 January 1931, p. 11ef (obituary)
  • 1861 Census: Oxford (Cowley), 891/13
  • 1871 Census: Oxford (Cowley), 1435/7
  • 1881 Census: Oxford (Cowley), 1497/110
  • 1891 Census: Oxford (Cowley), 1164/98
  • 1901 Census: Oxford (Cowley St John), 1379/127

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 1 August, 2020

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