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William Furnesse (c.1526–1602)

Mayor of Oxford 1583/4, 1589/90, and 1597/8


William Furnesse (or Furnes/Furness) was born in Yorkshire in c.1526, the son of William Furnesse of Hownsmore, a husbandman. He was apprenticed for seven years to the Oxford baker John Joiner on 1 November 1542 "to learn bakers and cooks craft" receiving 16d. a year, and was then bound for an extra year receiving 13s. 4d.

Furnesse appears to have married his first wife when he was still quite young, as in 1548 Margaret, daughter of William Furnesse, was baptised as St Aldate’s Church. On 27 August 1558 a Joan Furnesse, possibly his daughter, was buried at that church. If these were his children, he must have been older than 14 when he began his apprenticeship in 1542.

William Furnesse became an Oxford whitebaker in St Aldate’s parish and was admitted as a Hanaster during the mayoral year 1554/5. Over the years he took on eleven apprentices of his own: Thomas Smythe of Lancashire (29 September 1561); Thomas Stacey of Cowley (25 December 1568); Roger Legge of Witney (29 September 1570); Thomas Collins of Woodeaton (taken over from John Lewes on 7 December 1580); Thomas Boorman of Hanborough (20 April 1577); Hugh Stowte of Melton Mowbray (1 March 1576); John Jones of Woburn (2 February 1582); Thomas Dearlove of Cholsey (19 May 1583); John Cope of Merton (29 September 1591); John Barnes of Hanley Castle (29 September 1592); and Edward Timms of Sutton-under-Brailes (29 September 1598).

Furnesse came on the the Common Council in September 1564, becoming a Chamberlain the next year. In September 1569 he was made a Bailiff.

On 1 April 1568 Furnesse paid five shillings towards the collection for the Lottery in the South-West Ward.

On 14 August 1571 Furnesse was given a warning that he must grind his corn at the Castle Mills:

Also it ys agreed at this Counsell that Mr William Furnes having warnyng shall not grynd any of his wheate from the Castle mylles of this Towne, and if any meale be tak wch hathe been grownd from the same mylles, that the Bayliffs of the said Cytie for the tyme being shall attach the same to the Quenes maties use and the body of this Cytie.

On 30 November 1572 at St Aldate's Church, a man called William Furnesse married a woman called Joan: he would then have been about 40, and this could be his second wife. Two children called John, each described as the son of William Furnesse, were buried at St Aldate’s on January 1576 and March 1577/8.

The Registrum Annalium Collegii Mertonensis records that on 15 January 1579 a thirty-year lease of a tenement in Pennyfarthing Street was granted by Merton College to William Furnesse, a baker (“Concediumus Willelmo Furnes pistori tenementa nostra in Penny Farthinge Street ad terminum trigina annorum”). This lease was renewed in 1602.

In November 1579 Furnesse was appointed one of the two City Coroners, and on 11 April 1581 one of the Mayor’s Associates. His probable wife Joan was buried at St Aldate’s Church on 21 August 1582.

In September 1583 he was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1583/4), and at the end of his year of office, in September 1584, his apprentice Thomas Collins was admitted free.

There certainly was another marriage: Anthony Wood states that “There was one Mris. Anne Hewet that was married to Will. Furness mayor of Oxon in St. Michael’s Church on 7 June 1584, but whether that Anne was daughter to Roger or widdow to Richard, I know not.”

On 7 April 1587 Furnesse was elected an Alderman

On 14 December 1587 Furnesse was one of the twelve bakers bound in a bond of £20 each to sell “thirteen of bread to the dozen within the University.” He was also one of the bakers found faulty for not observing the size appointed by the Vice-Chancellor and the Clerks of the Market, and was fined a dozen loaves of bread, to be distributed among the poor.

In September 1589 William Furnesse was chosen as Mayor a second time (for 1589/90). In March 1590 it was agreed that he should ride to London with Thomas Rowe to get Lord Norris’s aid in reducing to fifty the number of soldiers provided by the city.

On 4 May 1590 Furnesse’s apprentice Hugh Stowt was admitted free; on 13 October 1592 Thomas Dearlove; and on 20 November 1601 John Barnes.

An Agnes Furnesse, wife of William, was buried at St Aldate’s on 23 February 1596; this could have been Furnesse’s fourth wife; in which case the Alice Bosworth (who married William Furnesse on 17 July 1596 and is described unmistakably as the wife of Alderman Furnesse when she was buried) would have been his fifth wife.

In September 1597 Furnesse was elected Mayor of Oxford for a third time (for 1597/8). After his term of office he was appointed Supervisor of Mills.

His last marriage only lasted six years: Mrs Alice Furnesse was buried at St Aldate’s Church in October 1602, and he died just two months later.

† Alderman William Furnesse died in late 1602 and was buried with his wife at St Aldate's Church on 12 December 1602.

He left legacies to his son John Furnesse and to four sons-in-law, including his former apprentice John Barnes.


On 16  July 1603 Furnesse’s son, also called William, was admitted by the Vice-Chancellor in his court to the right of making and selling bread. Three days later he was admitted free by the city “by his father’s copy”. He became Senior Sergeant of the Bailiffs on the council, but died young in 1617.

John Furness, who married Margaret, the daughter of Thomas Smith, at St Aldate’s on 22 April 1589 was probably the mayor’s son. He was a cordwainer who started taking on apprentices in 1592. John had a son called William, who died as a child and was buried at St Aldate’s on 15 October 1600. John “Furnace” was himself buried there on 8 May 1618, followed by Elizabeth “Furnace” on 9 December the same year.


See also:

  • PCC Will PROB 11/101/87 (Will of William Furnis, Alderman of Oxford, proved 3 February 1603)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 25 September, 2018

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