Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Thomas Randall (1805–1887)

Mayor of Oxford 1859/60

Thomas Randall was born in Oxford on 5 November 1805, and this date is confirmed by the meticulous date book of Richard Spiers; but the All Saints’ Church baptismal register gives the wrong date for his baptism (7 September 1805).

Thomas's grandfather was the builder John Randall of the High Street, who won the contract to rebuild Magdalen Bridge in 1772: in the Survey of Oxford that year a Mr Randal was listed in a passage off the High Street in All Saints parish (on the site of the present Nos. 120–122). Thomas's father Thomas Randall (who later called himself Thomas Wyatt Randall) was baptised at All Saints’ Church on 19 August 1774 and was apprenticed to the mercer John Hibbits on 16 September 1787. He was admitted free on 1 September 1794.

At St Dunstan-in-the-West Church, London on 3 March 1799, Thomas's father Thomas Wyatt Randall married Ann Spearing, who was born on 9 December 1779, the daughter of Thomas Spearing and Ann Ashdown. They both stated that they were living in that London parish at that time.

Immediately after the wedding Thomas's parents moved to Oxford. Thomas Wyatt Randall announced in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 16, 23, and 30 March 1799 that he had opened a shop in the High Street selling linen, haberdashery, hosiery, and millinery, and that his wife, who had managed a business in St James's, London, had an elegant supply of millinery there. This shop must have been very near Carfax, as their first three children were baptised at St Martin's Church: Ann Spearing Randall (6 January 1800), Elizabeth Randall (26 June 1802), and Thomas himself in 1805.

On 1 January 1800 Thomas's father Thomas Wyatt Randall took on as an apprentice mercer Frederick Edmons, the son of a gentleman of Tetsworth.

In October 1807 Thomas's father was elected on to the city council.

The Randalls must then have moved to All Saints' parish, as Thomas's two younger sisters were baptised at All Saints’ Church: Lucy Randall (7 October 1807, buried there in 1808) and Mary Randall (18 March 1810).

In 1811 Thomas's father went bankrupt, and he moved back to London with his wife and their four surviving children and opened a new shop at Oxford House, 432 The Strand. Meanwhile Thomas's grandfather John Randall died at Iffley at the age of 73 in 1813 and was buried at All Saints’ Church on 16 February.

Thomas's next sister Jane Randall was born in 1813, followed by Rosa Randall who died at the Strand in London at the age of eight months and was buried at All Saints’ Church on 11 December 1815. His only brother Charles Randall was baptised at St Martin in the Fields, Westminster on 19 November 1816.

The family then came back to Oxford, and when Thomas's youngest sister Agnes Randall was baptised at St Martin's Church on 15 July 1817, their father was described as a shoemaker. He was then running a boot & shoe warehouse in Catherine (now Catte) Street. He went bankrupt again, and was sent to the debtor's prison for three months in 1822.

Thomas Randall had been elected a chorister at New College School, and remained there for eight years, receiving a classical education from the Master, George Valentine Cox. He then became a (very young) classical master in a private school near Stroud, Gloucestershire. In 1822 when he was only 17 he took over his father's boot & shoe manufactory, which was now in the High Street. Pigot's Directory for 1823/4 lists Thomas Randall as a Boot & shoe maker in the High Street.

Thomas's uncle Josiah Randall, who was listed as a hatter in Cornmarket Street in Pigot’s Directory for 1823, died there at the end of 1824, and soon afterwards Thomas opened his own “London Hat Warehouse” in the High Street. When he was admitted free on 5 October 1827, he was described as the eldest son of Thomas Randall, cordwainer.

On 27 September 1827 at St Mary Magdalen Church, Thomas Randall of All Saints parish married his first wife Elizabeth Figgins Randall, with an announcement in Jackson's Oxford Journal, which described him as a hatter of the High Street. Elizabeth, who was baptised at St Martin's Church, Oxford on 11 September 1803, was the eldest daughter of the late Josiah Randall of Cornmarket and therefore Thomas's first cousin.

Elizabeth Figgins Randall died at the age of 25 just eighteen months after her wedding and was buried in All Saints’ Churchyard on 27 March 1829.

22 High Street

Pigot’s Directory for 1830 and Vincent's Directory for 1835 list Thomas Randall as a hatter in the High Street, and Robson’s Commercial Directory of 1839 shows that the shop was at 22 High Street (right)., which was in All Saints parish.

Thomas Randall may have been Charles Dodgson's inspiration for the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland: see Mark Davies, “The real Mad Hatter”, Times Literary Supplement, 15 May 2013.

On 31 July 1830, again at St Mary Magdalen Church, Thomas Randall married his second wife, Elizabeth Frances Cecil, who was born on 26 February 1809 and was the daughter of George Cecil and Alice Beckwith Oldroyd: her father was a solicitor of Beaumont Street at the time of their marriage. They had two children:

  • Eliza Cecil Randall (born in Oxford on 19 November 1836 and baptised at All Saints’ Church on 2 January 1837)
  • Thomas Randall junior (born in Oxford on 21 July 1840 and baptised at All Saints’ Church on 6 October).

Thomas Randall came on to the old Corporation in 1833, and on to the new Corporation in 1838, representing the Central ward.

Meanwhile his parents moved to Reading in early 1838 with their youngest daughter Agnes.

The 1841 censuses show Thomas, described as a hatter, living in the High Street with his wife Elizabeth and their children Eliza (4) and Thomas (ten months).

Thomas's mother Ann Randall died in St Mary's parish, Reading at the age of 70 and was buried at All Saints’ Church on 24 December 1844.

His father Thomas Wyatt Randall died at St Mary's parish, Reading on 3 February 1847 aged 72 and was buried at All Saints’ Church on 10 February.

In 1848, an undergraduate called Edward Napleton Jennings was arrested as a bankrupt, with debts of well over £2,000. When asked why he had allowed Jennings to run up a debt of £70 without knowing his address or contacting his father, Randall replied that any Oxford trader who did this would be boycotted and thus forced to shut up shop. In 1848 Randall published a pamphlet, Oxford tradesmen versus the insolvent Jennings: a verbatim copy of the schedule of Edward Napleton Jennings: Discharged under the Insolvent Act, December 31st, 1847.

At the time of the 1851 census Thomas Randall (45), hatter & hosier, was listed at 22 High Street with his wife Elizabeth (42) and their son Thomas (10), and they now had one servant. Their daughter Eliza (13) was away from home.

Randall was a freemason, and became Master of the Alfred Lodge in 1854.

Two of Thomas Randall's sisters died in the 1850s:

  • On 4 June 1855 Jane Randall (42) died at St Leonard's-on-Sea, Sussex and was buried at All Saints’ Church on 8 June. The notice in Jackson's Oxford Journal stated that her death came after many years of suffering.
  • On 5 June 1858 Ann Spearing Morgan, wife of Thomas Morgan of the Hotel des Bains, died in Dieppe in Normandy, and an announcement was placed in Jackson's Oxford Journal.

In Gardner's Directory for 1852 his shop at 22 High Street is listed as “Randall & Nicholls”, and is listed under the two headings of Hatters and of Mercers (Gentlemen's), Hosiers &c.

In 1859 Thomas Randall was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1859/60), and when writing about the speech of the Vice-Chancellor at the Mayor’s banquet, G. V. Cox added:

I may be allowed to append to this the (to me) interesting fact that the Mayor of Oxford on this occasion was my old friend (and pupil at New College School for eight years) Thomas Randall. How well he was fitted for the important position I was well aware; how admirably he discharged its duties the University as well as the City loudly expressed at a subsequent dinner, given in commemoration of the Mayoralty. Discipuli palmae sunt praemia vera magistri.

On 24 September 1860 near the end of his term of office, Randall perambulated the city boundaries (details here).

By the time of the 1861 census, the year in which he was elected an Alderman, Thomas Randall (55), described as a Magistrate and Hatter, had moved to Grandpont House in St Aldate’s with his wife Elizabeth (51) and their son Thomas junior (20), who was described as having no occupation and may already have been ill. They now had three servants, and Thomas Randall's nephew George C. Jones (13), born in Cirencester, was paying a visit. Their daughter Eliza Cecil Randall (26), described as a gentlewoman, was paying a visit to the bandanna painter and warehouseman John Stewart Margetson and his family at Broadlands, Streatham.

In 1861 Thomas Randall's youngest sister Agnes Randall, aged 40 and described as a householder at Hastings and born in St Martin's parish, Carfax, was paying a visit to her second cousin Catherine Tilbury (26), born in St Mary Magdalen parish, Oxford, the daughter of the comedian William H. Tilbury (54), born Aldermanbury, London, and his wife Ann (53), who was born in St Martin's parish, Carfax and was the daughter of Josiah Randall. A couple of months later on 15 June 1861 Agnes was married, and Jackson's Oxford Journal announced: “READING. MARRIED.—June 15, at St. George's, Bloomsbury, London, Josiah Hillman, Esq., of Algiers, to Agnes Randall, youngest daughter of the late Thomas Wyatt Randall, Esq., of Reading. In the marriage notice Agnes was stated as being of St Leonard's-on-Sea in Sussex. The witnesses to the wedding were Thomas Randall's daughter Eliza Cecil Randall, and Thomas Randall.

On 28 July 1861 Thomas Randall's only son Thomas Randall junior died at the age of 21. His funeral was at All Saints’ Church on 2 August and he was buried in Holywell Cemetery. His death announcement in Jackson's Oxford Journal stated that he had died of brain fever (probably encephalitis or meningitis).

On 4 October 1861 when Thomas Randall was unanimously elected an Alderman by the city councillors, he referred to the death of his son, saying that “he had suffered a very heavy affliction in the loss of one whose love and worth had constituted so much of his happiness, but, bowing with due submission to the Divine will, he had resolved to devote his life to public usefulness, for it was a debt he owed to his native city”.

On 21 May 1864 it was reported in Jackson's Oxford Journal that Mr. Thomas Randall of Grandpont House, Alderman and formerly Mayor of Oxford, was summoned to the County Magistrates' Chamber with two others relating to an alleged assault at the University Boat Races. A witness said the Randall was in his shrubbery, within 15 yards of the fracas, and was urging the others on. Randall defended himself, and witnesses said he was inside his house. His case was dismissed.

On 22 October 1864 Thomas Randall took out an advertisement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal announcing his retirement, and introducing his customers to his successor at his shop, Mr Prior. Thomas Mallam Prior duly ran Prior & Co, hatters & tailors, at 22 High Street from 1864 to 1875.

On 27 December 1865 at St Aldate’s Church, his only surviving child Eliza Randall married John Stainer (who had then just taken his BA and D.Mus. degree at St Edmund Hall and was organist to the University of Oxford). She described her newly retired father as a gentleman. Their marriage was announced in Jackson's Oxford Journal, which stated that the Professor of Music at Oxford, Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley, assisted the Rector at the ceremony.

Thomas & Elizabeth Randall


Left Thomas Randall and his second wife, Elizabeth Frances Cecil

Below: Their daughter Eliza, Lady Stainer (1836–1916)

Eliza Randall (Lady Stainer)

Thomas Randall junior


Right: Randall’s son Thomas (1840–1861), who died at the age of 20



William Tuckwell recalls the tale of how back in 1843 a gallant Oxford crew of seven had beaten a Cambridge eight at Henley, and their winning boat was moored as a trophy in Christ Church Meadow “until in 1867, rotten and decayed, it was bought by jolly Tom Randall, mercer, alderman, scholar, its sound parts fashioned into a chair, and presented as the President’s throne to the University barge”.

In the 1871 census Thomas Randall (65), described as a magistrate and alderman, was living at Grandpont House with his wife Elizabeth (61) and three servants.

On 6 November 1880 Jackson's Oxford Journal reported on evidence given to the Oxford Election Commission eight days earlier. The Revd W. West, Bursar of Lincoln College, stated that Randall was once a Conservative and had changed his views, and was guilty of electoral malpractice. He alleged that Randall had voted Radical simply in order to keep his gown, saying that “there were other ways of bribing besides the giving of money”. The case was also reported in The Times of 29 October 1880. Randall said that he had changed his political opinions between 30 and 40 years earlier, and managed to hold on to his Aldermanic gown.

In 1881 Thomas Randall (75), now described as a retired hatter, was still living at Grandpont House in St Aldate’s with his wife Elizabeth (71), and three servants (a cook, parlourmaid, and housemaid).

He retired as an alderman in November 1886, when he was 81 years old, the last surviving member of the old pre-1836 Corporation.

Randall's grave




† Thomas Randall died at Grandpont House at the age of 82 on 16 September 1887 and his funeral was held at All Saints’ Church four days later. Nearly all the shops in St Aldate's and other parts of the city partly closed as the funeral procession to the church and then the cemetery took place.

He was buried in the vault in Holywell Cemetery where his only son had been buried 26 years earlier (see his headstone, right).

His personal estate came to £115,098 2s. 11d. and he left bequests of £50 for St Aldate’s Boys’ School, £50 for the Girls’ School, and £25 for the Infants’ School. His widow and daughter were his executors

In his sermon at St Aldate’s Church on 25 September 1887, Canon Christopher mentioned “the very great loss which our school children and the poor and afflicted” of that parish had suffered by the death of Randall, “who gave time as well as money in seeking to do them good”, recalling how he regularly sent cases of biscuits over to the school so that the infants could have a mid-morning snack.

His short obituary in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 17 September 1887 read:

DEATH OF MR THOMAS RANDALL.—We regret to have to announce the death, at nine o'clock on Friday morning of the 16th inst., of Mr. Thomas Randall, at the ripe age of 83, at his residence at Grandpont House. For some considerable time Mr. Randall has been in failing health consequent on his great age, but his death was rather unexpected. He was a member of the old Corporation of the City of Oxford, which he joined in 1833; a new Charter was obtained in 1835, and in 1838 Mr. Randall became a member of the Corporation, representing the Central Ward, and this office he held, with the exception of a short interval, until he was elected an Alderman in 1861. That office he filled until last November. He was appointed a Magistrate in the year 1870, and he held, among many other important offices, that of a Charity Trustee.


In 1891 his second wife Elizabeth Frances Randall was living at Grandpont House with three servants and her niece Emily S. Jones (27), who was working as a governess. She died on 20 February 1895 at the age of 85 and was buried with her husband on 23 February.

His son-in-law John Stainer was to become famous for his oratorio The Crucifixion and was given a knighthood in 1888. He died in 1901 and was buried near the Randalls in Holywell Cemetery. Eliza, Lady Stainer, died in 1916 and was buried with him. They had seven children.

See also:

  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 7 August 1830: Announcement of Randall’s second marriage
  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 17 September 1887, p. 8a: Randall’s obituary
  • Jackson's Oxford Journal, 24 September 1887, p. 8c: Full report on Randall's funeral
  • Oxford Magazine 1887–8, p. 9: Randall’s obituary
  • 1841 Census: Oxford (All Saints), 891/02/10
  • 1851 Census: Oxford (All Saints), 1728/79
  • 1861 Census: Oxford (St Aldate), 893/39
  • 1871 Census: Oxford (St Aldate), 1437/9
  • 1881 Census: Oxford (St Aldate), 1501/48
  • David Pennant: Family history of the Stainer and Randall family and The Randall family
  • Mark J. Davies, Alice in Waterland (Signal Books, Oxford, 2010), Appendix 3: “Two hatters?”

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 20 January, 2022

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