Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Jason Saunders (1824–1911)

Mayor of Oxford 1875/6

Jason Saunders

Jason Saunders was born at Freeland near Eynsham in Oxfordshire in 1824 and baptised at Hanborough Church on 24 October.

His parents were Edward Saunders (born in Eynsham in 1790) and Alice Mercer (born in Hanborough in 1789), who were married at Hanborough Church on 27 October 1811. Jason’s five siblings were also baptised at Hanborough: Daniel Saunders (8 August 1819), Harriet Saunders (2 June 1822), Edward Saunders (5 August 1827), Josiah Saunders (14 February 1830), and Emma Saunders (10 June 1832).

At the time of the 1841 census Jason (16) had already left home and was living at Corn Street in Witney as the servant of the weaver Charles Brown. His parents Edward and Alice Saunders were living in Hanborough with his youngest siblings Josiah (10) and Emma (9).

By 1851 Saunders (26) was the valet of the brewer James Morrell senior (who was then 77 and died in 1855) and living at Headington Hill Hall (the old hall, which is now just a wing of the magnificent new hall built later by his son). Meanwhile his parents were living on their own in Hanborough: Edward (60) was still working as an agricultural labourer and Alice (61) as a glover.

Soon after the 1851 census Saunders moved to London, where he was employed as a railway clerk.

On 20 April 1854 at St Pancras Church, Jason Saunders, who was living at 52 Warren Street in London, married Anna Marshall, who was born in Reading in 1827 and is sometimes recorded as Hannah. They moved to Aston in Warwickshire, where Saunders continued to work as a railway clerk, and their only child was born there soon after their wedding:

  • Alice Jeanette Saunders (born in Birmingham in 1854 and baptised at Aston Church on 30 July)

By the time of the 1861 census the family was back in Oxford. Jason (36) was now a cartage agent for the Great Western Railway, living at 47 St Aldate’s Street with his wife Hannah (33) and their 16-year-old servant girl. Their daughter Alice (6) was paying a visit on census night to Mark Saunders (44), a farmer of 32 acres living at the Red Lion, Hanborough, and his wife and three children.

Saunders came on to the old council in 1864 as a representative of the South Ward and remained a councillor until his death over forty years later.

The 1871 census shows Jason (46), described as a railway carter, still living at Folly Bridge Street, St Aldate’s with his wife Hannah (42) and daughter Alice (16), plus one servant.

Jason Saunders was elected Sheriff of Oxford for 1871/2.

By September 1874 Saunders, who was very interested in stock-breeding, had moved to Medley Manor House in order to farm. His chief interest on the council was the Corporation farm at Sandford.

Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 19 September 1874 reports how Saunders got into trouble for not paying a toll at St Clement’s ten days earlier:

Mr Jason Saunders of Medley Farm was summoned by Alf Hanger, lessee of St Clement’s Toll Gate, for unlawfully passing through without paying 2d, the toll legally due on the 9th inst. for a carriage with two wheels, drawn by one horse. The Mayor said that the said Mr Saunders had discovered his error and wished to apologise and as Mr Hanger did not press charges, the summons was withdrawn.

Just a year later, in 1875, Saunders was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1875/6).

On 8 May 1878 at St Aldate's Church in Oxford, his only child Alice Jeannette Saunders (24), described as being of St Thomas's parish (which included Medley), married the Revd Charles de Havilland (24), the Curate of Wooburn, Buckinghamshire, and an announcement was placed in Jackson's Oxford Journal.

In 1880 Jason Saunders was elevated to the Aldermanship.

The 1881 census shows Jason Saunders (56), described as a farmer etc., living at Medley Manor Farm with his wife Hannah (52) and four servants (a cook, housemaid, groom, and a laundress).

Saunders was also Chairman of the Oxford Tramways Company (incorporated in 1879) for many years.

In 1891 Jason Saunders (66), described as a railway agent and farmer, was still at Medley Manor Farm with his wife Anna (63). Their daughter Mrs Alice de Havilland (36) was staying with her parents at the farm on census night with her two young daughters, who were born in Nuneaton. They had three servants.

Stone head of Saunders

Arms of Saunders



Because Saunders was on the Municipal Buildings Committee when the new Town Hall was opened (1897), his head is carved in stone in the Council Chamber corridor (left).

His arms are set in a window of the Council Chamber (right)

Until 1889, Saunders ran a business as a carrier together with another Mayor of Oxford, James Stanley Lowe. A  notice in Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 3 August 1889 announced:

Notice is hereby given that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned JASON SAUNDERS and JAMES STANLEY LOWE carrying on business as Railway Contractors, Carriers, and Furniture Van Proprietors at the Mitre Office, and in St. Thomas’s, in the City of Oxford, under the style or firm of Saunders and Co., has been Dissolved by mutual consent as and from the 31st day of July, 1889.

At the time of the 1901 census Jason Saunders (76), described as a railway contractor and an employer, was still living at Medley Manor with his wife Hannah (73) plus a cook and a housemaid.

In 1905, when Saunders was 80, he moved into Oxford to live at the Cedars (now No. 2) Park Town. In 1908 he gave his grandson Geoffrey de Havilland (26) – who was born at Magdala House, Terriers Wycombe, Buckinghamshire on 27 July 1882 and whom he probably saw while he was a boarder at St Edward's School in Oxford – £1,000 to build his first aeroplane, which eventually led to the foundation of the de Havilland aircraft company in 1920.

At the time of the 1911 census Jason Saunders (86), described as a railway delivery agent employing many hands, was living at 2 Park Town (a thirteen-roomed house then numbered 10) with his wife Hannah (83) and two general servants.

On 10 May 1911 Saunders’ only child, Alice Jeanette de Havilland, who had suffered from a depressive decline, died at her father's house, The Cedars (now 2 Park Town) at the age of 57. Her home address was then at Crux Easton, Hampshire. Her effects came to £186 10s., and her husband, the Revd Charles de Havilland, was her executor.

Saunders himself died at this house later that year: he was still a cartage agent for the railway, and had about 40 men in his employ as clerks and carters.

† Jason Saunders died at 2 (then 10) Park Town on 24  November 1911. His funeral service was held at All Saints’ Church (at that time the City Church), and a great many people attended and also lined the pavements. Saunders’s grandsons Geoffrey and Hereward de Havilland were present. The Mayor and Corporation processed to the funeral from the Town Hall, headed by the Chief Constable and a Sergeant carrying the mace draped in black. Saunders was buried in Holywell Cemetery (Plot E.297).

His effects came to £9,732 13s. 10d., and his executors were his widow Anna (Hannah) Saunders, George Claridge Druce, and Francis Twining.

His widow Anna (Hannah) Saunders died at The Cedars, the present 2 Park Town at the age of 86 in 1914. Her effects came to £4,459 17s. 5d., and her executors were George Claridge Druce and the Public Trustee.

The famous de Havillands
  • Jason Saunders' grandson Sir Geoffrey de Havilland died in 1965. His eldest son, also Geoffrey, and his youngest son John had predeceased him, having been killed in flying accidents
  • Walter de Havilland, who was the father of Olivia de Havilland and her sister Joan Fontaine, was the half-brother of Alice’s husband Charles de Havilland, so they are not related by blood to Saunders.

See also:

  • Oxford Journal Illustrated, 29 November 1911, p. 1 (picture of Saunders in court dress); p. 9 (obituary with pictures of Saunders in his Aldermanic robes, his coffin being borne into the city church, and Manor House, Medley); and p. 13a (obituary and description of funeral)
  • Photograph of Saunders and his wife outside Medley Manor Farm in Malcolm Graham, The Changing Faces of West Oxford (p. 71)
  • 1841 Census: Oxford (Witney), 872/30/34; his parents (Hanborough), 890/01/5
  • 1851 Census: Oxford (St Clement’s), 1727/314; his parents (Church Hanborough), 1731/11
  • 1861 Census: Oxford (St Aldate’s), 893/38
  • 1871 Census: Oxford (Botley), 1264/43
  • 1881 Census: Oxford (St Thomas), 1504/70
  • 1891 Census: Oxford (St Thomas 3), 1169/30
  • 1901 Census: Oxford (St Thomas), 1386/59
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for Saunders’ grandson, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 28 April, 2021

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