Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


City Government 1835–1888

The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 swept away all Oxford’s dubious electoral practices. But the most notable effect was the removal of the hold that the local tradesmen and guild members had had on the city for the previous seven centuries. The 1835 Act stated:

Notwithstanding any such customs or bye-law, every person in any borough may keep any shop for the sale of all lawful wares and merchandises by wholesale or retail, and use any lawful trade, occupation, mystery, and handicraft, for hire, gain, sale, or otherwise within any borough.

City councillors now had to live within the city, with the result that 25 were barred from standing at the new council elected on 26 December 1835. Similarly non-residents of the city no longer had a vote, so that the electorate was reduced from 2200 to 1754. This effect soon disappeared, however, as in 1837 the extension of the city boundary to include St Clements increased the population considerably.

The new council was divided into five wards, each electing six councillors. A new post of Sheriff was created by the Act, to replace the two Bailiffs. The 30 new councillors met for the first time on 31 December 1835, where they selected ten of their number to be Aldermen: this meant that ten further councillors to replace the Aldermen were elected at the next meeting on 31 January 1836.


Gardner’s Oxfordshire Directory for 1852 neatly sums up the situation in that year. The borough was still divided into five wards (each with six councillors who held office for three years but were eligible to be re-elected). One-third of the Council retired each year, so that there were annual elections. The Mayor, ten Alderman, and thirty Councillors elected the Sheriff, the Town Clerk, and other officers (except for the Recorder, who was appointed by the Crown). While Aldermen had formerly been chosen from the wealthier class of citizens and were ex officio JPs, they were now appointed by the councillors for six years and were ordinary council members with no extra powers. JPs were appointed separately, acting under commission for the Crown.

A citizen of Oxford could only be elected as a councillor or alderman if he had clear possession of property to the value of £500, or was related to the relief of the poor upon the value of £15.

The Mayor was still obliged to observe and maintain the privileges of the University, and magistrates had no jurisdiction with the University or over its members.

Freedom of the City could still be acquired by inheritance, apprenticeship, gift, or purchase.


The Local Government Act of 1888 allowed for the creation of new County Boroughs, and within a year Oxford city was established as a County Borough.

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 11 September, 2012

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