Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Mary Georgiana Townsend (1889–1986)

Mayor of Oxford 1935/6, 1936, and 1958/9

Mrs Mary Georgiana Lambert, Mrs Townsend (and Lady Townsend from 1941) was born in Ireland on 15 November 1889. She was the daughter of Peter Fitzwalter Lambert of Castle Ellen, County Galway.

In 1911 Mary Lambert came to over to Oxford to marry John Sealey Edward Townsend, who was born on 17 June 1868 and was 21 years her senior. He also hailed from Galway, and in 1901 had been appointed the first Wykeham Professor of Physics in Oxford. They had two sons:

  • Edward Walter Townsend (born at 20 Merton Street, Oxford on 7 August 1912 and baptised at St Peter-in-the-East Church on 23 August)
  • John Henry Townsend (born at 20 Merton Street, Oxford on 7 June 1914 and baptised at St Peter-in-the-East Church on 24 June).

Her husband served as a Major in the Great War.

In the 1930s the Townsends moved to 55 Banbury Road (the house occupied by another Mayor of Oxford, John Henry Salter, until his death at tne end of 1930). Mrs Townsend was considered a “delightful hostess” here.

Mrs Townsend was elected to serve as Conservative city councillor for the North Ward in 1925, retaining her seat for 42 years until 1967. She was leader of the Council from 1945 to 1967, an alderman, and a city magistrate for twenty years.

In 1935 Mrs Townsend was elected Mayor of Oxford for 1935/6): she was only the second woman to hold the office, and the first married woman. Her successor died in an accident just three months into his mayoral year, and in July 1936 she was elected Mayor again to serve for nine months (1936/7).

The 1939 directory shows Mrs Townsend, described as a Justice of the Peace, living at 55 Banbury Road with her husband John, described as a Professor of Physics, and two servants.

Townsend arms


Mrs Mary Townsend’s husband was knighted in 1941, so she was henceforth known as Lady Townsend. Monty Woodhouse (MP for Oxford 1959–66 and 1970–4) nicknamed her “Lady Town-and-Gownsend”.

Lady Townsend’s nephew, Quintin Hogg, was MP for Oxford until 1950.

The arms of Sir John Townsend (left) were added to the wall of the Lord Mayor’s Parlour when Lady Townsend served as Chief Magistrate.

When the another Mayor died in office 1958, all parties on the council voted unanimously that Lady Townsend should take over, so on 3 November 1958 (at the age of 68) she served as Mayor of Oxford for five months (1958/9).

Lady Townsend's husband Sir John Sealy Edward Townsend died at the age of 88 in 1957 and was buried in Wolvercote Cemetery on 20 February (Grave C4/71).

Lady Townsend then went to live at Belsyre Court on the Woodstock Road. She received the freedom of the city on 17 July 1967 (only the second woman to be thus honoured). She eventually retired to a home at Burcot.

† Mary Georgiana, Lady Townsend died in 1986 at the age of 96. She must have chosen to be cremated rather than be buried with her husband, as her funeral was at Oxford Crematorium.

See also:

  • Oxford Mail, 8 May 1967, 12 May 1967, and 18 July 1967 (on receiving freedom of the city)
  • Oxford Times, 30 May 1986, p. 2 (obituary)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 23 September, 2021

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