Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Charles Underhill (1820–1903)

Mayor of Oxford 1887/8

Charles Underhill was born in St Martin's parish, Oxford on 28 March 1820 into a Baptist family that had traded in the city since the early sixteenth century. His more recent ancestors had been candle-makers in Friar’s Entry.

He was the second son of the grocer Michael Underhill of St Aldate's and Eleanor Scrivener who were married at Oddington on 10 November 1812. The date of birth of Charles and his seven siblings were all recorded in the register of New Road Baptist Chapel. His siblings were as follows: Edward Bean Underhill (4 October 18130, Ann Underhill (25 October 1816), Mary Elizabeth Underhill (9 March 1818), Charles Underhill (28 March 1820), Charlotte Underhill (14 March 1822), Henry S. Underhill (9 March 1824), Eleanor Underhill (21 February 1826, buried at the chapel on 28 December 1827) and Michael William Underhill (29 November 1830).

Charles father Michael Underhill was recorded in the register as living in St Aldate’s parish from 1813 to 1818, and variously in St Martin’s/All Saints parish from the time of Charles’s birth in 1820. In fact his shop was in All Saints parish at 7 High Street.

At the time of the 1841 census Charles was a young grocer aged 21, living over his father’s shop at 7 High Street with his parents Michael and Eleanor, his sisters Ann, Mary, Charlotte, and Matilda, and his younger brother Henry. An apprentice grocer also lived with the family, and they had one servant.

In the fourth quarter of 1841 in the Witney district, Charles Underhill married his first wife Mary Tozer (born in Taunton in 1816). They had the following children:

  • Charles Maitland Underhill (born in Oxford in 1842, reg. third quarter)
  • Harriet Roffey Underhill (born in Oxford in 1842/3, reg. first quarter of.1843)
  • Frederick Robert Underhill (born in Oxford in 1844, reg. fourth quarter)
  • Ernest Augustus Underhill (born in Oxford in 1846, reg. third quarter)
  • Mary Ellen Underhill (born in Oxford in 1847, reg. third quarter)
  • Edward Tozer Underhill (born in Oxford in 1849, reg. third quarter, died days after birth)
  • William Stephen Underhill (born in Oxford in 1850, reg. fourth quarter;
    died at the age of 7 in 1834, reg. third quarter)
  • George James (born in Oxford in 1852, reg. first quarter), died weeks after his birth, death reg. same quarter)
  • Marion Eleanor Underhill (born in 1855, reg. second quarter;
    died at 23 Beaumont Street days after birth on 12 July 1855, with death announced in
    Jackson's Oxford Journal)
  • Emily Rosa Underhill (born in 1856, reg. third quarter)

By the time of the 1851 census Charles Underhill (31) wass described as a “Master Grocer/Tea Dealer” and had set up business on his own at 11 Beaumont Street in St Mary Magdalen parish, where he lived with his wife Mary and their six surviving children, plus a grocer’s assistant and three servants.

(Meanwhile Charles’s father Michael Underhill, described as the employer of 23 men, was still at 7 High Street, with his wife Eleanor, his son Henry (who at 27 was now his partner), his daughter Matilda, and his youngest son William, now aged 20 and a grocer’s assistant.)

37 Cornmarket in 2005


In Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 1 April 1854 Thomas Tubb, the grocer at 37 Cornmarket Street (on the north corner of the junction with St Michael Street, right), inserted a notice to say he had relinquished his business to Charles Underhill; and Underhill added a notice saying that once alterations to the Cornmarket premises were complete, his house of business in Beaumont Street would be closed.


Charles Underhill’s grocer’s business was to remain at these premises in St Michael’s parish from 1854 to the mid-1920s. From 1862 he is listed as having a licence to sell wine from this shop (and from 1866 also from premises in St Clement’s).


When Charles Underhill took over this new shop in 1854, he and his family did not move in upstairs, but went to live in a private house, Diamond Villa in South Parade, Summertown.


Charles Underhill’s first wife, Mary, died at Summertown at the age of 40 in early 1858 and was buried with her infant children in St Sepulchre’s Cemetery: see their grave. Their son William Stephen Underhill died at the age of seven later that year, and appears to have been buried with her.

A year later, in the second quarter of 1859 in Islington, Charles Underhill married his second wife Ellen Francis. She was born at Woodbridge, Suffolk in 1823/4, and at the time of the 1851 census, when she was 27, she was still living with her parents, the chemist & druggist George Francis and his wife Mary, at Market Hill, Woodbridge. Charles had two more children with Ellen:

  • Sydney Francis Underhill (born in Oxford in 1860, reg. second quarter)
  • George Francis Underhill (born in Oxford in 1863/4, but not baptised at the age of 20 on 14 February 1883
    at St Peter-le-Bailey Church, two years before his death).

At the time of the 1861 census Charles Underhill (41) was living at Diamond Villa with his second wife Ellen (37) and their first son Sydney (1). Also living with them were four children from his first marriage – Frederick (16), Ernest (14), Ellen (13), and Emily (5) – as well as his first wife's sister Miss Selena Tozer. They had three servants.

In 1861 Charles's son Charles Maitland Underhill (18), described as a grocer’s assistant, was living over his father's shop in Cornmarket with his sister Harriett Roffey Underhill (17) and a housekeeper. He remained here after his marriage, and his wife gave birth to twins over this shop on 22 September 1871, and another child on 23 July 1873.

On 6 May 1865 at the George Street Chapel in Oxford, Charles Underhill's daughter Harriett Roffey Underhill married Robert Anderson, Esq. of Hawk's Law House, levon, Fife. They had one daughter, Mary Maitland Anderson, but Harriett died in Dundee at the age of 23 just two years after her wedding on 5 June 1867.

Charles Underhill was first elected to the City Council as a Conservative for the Central ward in November 1866.

On 9 March 1868 his father Michael Underhill died at the age of 81 at his residence, 21 St John Street.

Woodbridge Lodge, 57 Banbury Road


In 1870 Underhill took a lease on Woodbridge Lodge (left: formerly numbered 28, it is now 57 Banbury Road and a Hertford College house). He was to live here for the rest of his life. (The name was probably chosen because Charles’s second wife, Ellen, had been born at Woodbridge in Suffolk.)

The 1871 census shows Underhill (described as a grocer & wine merchant employing four men) living there with his wife and his three youngest children: Emily R. (14), Sydney F. (11), and George F. Underhill (7), with two servants.

In 1872 Underhill also took out a lease on 16 Bradmore Road. He did not live there, but appears to have let it out to the former mayor James Stanley Lowe.

Underhill put the first of a series of advertisements for his business in Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 16 July 1870:

Underhill advert, 1870

By 1871, three Underhills were holding wine licences: Charles William Underhill for this shop in St Michael’s parish; Henry Scrivener Underhill (the father of Henry Michael John Underhill) & Michael W. Underhill for a shop in St Martin’s; and Ernest August Underhill for a shop in St Clement’s. (Michael W. Underhill, who was a candle-maker, died on 8 October 1873.)

On 20 April 1871 Underhill's son Frederick Robert Underhill married Mary Hills at Cambridge.

Underhill was a prominent member of New Road Chapel (although he latterly attended St Peter-le-Bailey Church). He preached for the Baptists, and also published a number of religious pamphlets, including:

  • “The questions of future punishment and contingent immortality, determined by the literal rendering of the terms ‘eternal life’ and ‘eternal death’” (1873)
  • “Eternal torment versus the atonement” (1875)
  • “The Scripture doctrine of regeneration” (1878).

He also gave lectures at the Town Hall on Sunday afternoons on “The Immortality of the Soul” (11 October 1874) and “The Nature of the Future Punishment of the Wicked” (18 October 1874).

After nine years on the council, Charles Underhill was defeated in an election in 1875 and stayed off the council for six years. The Times of 26 October 1880 gives some incidental details of his council career in a report about an inquiry into election procedures at Oxford:

Mr C. Underhill, grocer, after giving some information about the St Giles’s district, said he had been nine years in the Town Council, but was not placed on any committees of importance, he being a Conservative, and the majority of the Town Council Liberals. It cost about £20 to contest the Central ward, and £60 or £70 to contest the North ward, in which there were more voters….

The 1881 census shows Charles Underhill ( 61), described as a grocer and Justice of the Peace, living at 57 Banbury Road with his wife Ellen, his daughters Mary (33) and Emily (24), and his sons Sydney Francis Underhill (20), who was also a grocer and George Francis (17), who was an architect.

Charles Underhill was re-elected as a councillor for the Central Ward in November 1881, and led the Conservative Party on the council from 1882.

His son George Francis Underhill died at 57 Banbury Road on 24 November 1885 at the age of 21, and was buried in St Sepulchre's Cemetery.

Underhill’s arms in glass

Underhill’s head in stone

In July 1887 Charles Underhill was made an Alderman and elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1887/8). His arms (left) were added to the wall of the Lord Mayor’s Parlour. They also appear (below) in a window of the Council Chamber

Underhill’s arms in wood

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

In 1889 Oxford was made a County Borough and the Central Ward was abolished. Underhill was then elected a Councillor for the West Ward, and was re-elected twice to this position before being made an Alderman again in March 1896, a vacancy having occurred following the death of his brother, Alderman H.S. Underhill.

At the time of the 1891 census his two spinster daughters, Mary Ellen (44) and Emily Rosa (35) lived with Underhill and his wife. Emily was still with them in 1901.

Charles Underhill (81) was still a magistrate in 1901, but in November 1902 he retired from all council committees because of his ill-health. At that time he was on the Assessment, Parliamentary, Property & Estates, Waterworks, and Visitors to Littlemore Asylum Committees.

† Charles Underhill died at 57 Banbury Road at the age of 82 on 11 February 1903. He was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery, with the Rector of St Peter-le-Bailey conducting his funeral at the chapel there.

His effects came to £9,658, and his four surviving sons (Charles, Frederick, Ernest, and Sydney), who were all grocers, were his executors.

His second wife Ellen Underhill died there aged 80 eighteen months later on 18 August 1904 and was buried with him.

See their grave

See also:

  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 14 February 1903, p. 10a (death)
  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 21 February 1903, p. 3d (funeral)
  • Michael L. Turner & David Vaisey, Oxford Shops and Shopping: A Pictorial History from Victorian & Edwardian Times (Oxford Illustrated Press, 1972), pp. 24–5 (photographs of interior and exterior of Underhill’s Cornmarket shop, and some of its advertising material)
  • 1861 Census: Oxford (St Giles), 891/93)
  • 1871 Census: Oxford (St Paul), 1436/113
  • 1881 Census: Oxford (St Giles), 1500/5
  • 1891 Census: Oxford (St Giles): 1166/68
  • 1901 Census: Oxford (St Giles): 1381/40
  • Underhill’s three religious pamphlets in the Bodleian Library
  • Sydney Underhill, Mayor 1910 (his son)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 16 October, 2018

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