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John Bowell (1632–1693)

Mayor of Oxford 1680/1


John Bowell was born at Wendlebury near Bicester in 1632 and baptised at St Giles' Church there on 28 April. His parents were John Bowell senior and Ann Maund, who were married at Chesterton on 12 June 1631. His three younger sisters were also baptised at Wendlebury: Elizabeth (15 August 1635), Mary (12 January 1636/7), and Jane (3 December 1638).

On 24 August 1646, when he was aged 14, John was apprenticed to the mercer John Nixon at 96 High Street, Oxford, in the parish of St Mary the Virgin. He was admitted free just over seven years later on 20 November 1653.

John Bowell was first elected to the Common Council in September 1654, paying £4 and 2s 4d to avoid serving as Constable. Martin Wright, the Mayor nominated him as his Child on 1 October 1655, and he was immediately given a Bailiff’s place.

By 1656, Bowell had his own shop on the site of the present 113/114 High Street in All Saints parish.

On 3 June 1656 at St Michael's Church, John Bowell of All Saints parish married Cicely (or Cecilia) Adkins (or Adkyns), the daughter of William Adkyns (a butcher of St Aldate’s parish and a Bailiff on the Council). They had the following children:

  • Ann Bowell (born on 8 February 1657/8, recorded in the All Saints’ Church baptismal register)
  • Elizabeth Bowell (born on 12 September 1659, recorded in the All Saints baptismal register)
  • Mary Bowell (baptised on 27 January 1661/2 at All Saints’ Church)
  • John Bowell junior (baptised on 13 May 1666 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Margaret Bowell (baptised on 13 August 1671 at All Saints’ Church;
    buried there on 11 July 1675).

In September 1656 John Bowell was appointed a Cloth Searcher.

John Bowell’s token

Right: A “farthing token” produced for John Bowell in 1657.

On the front, the text in the centre reads “IB 1657” in the middle, with “IOHN BOWELL MERCER” around the edge.
On the reverse there is a sugar loaf (John Bowell’s emblem) in the middle, with “SVGAR LOFE IN OXFORD” around the outside.

This photograph was kindly supplied by Peter Bowell.

It appears that while running his mercer’s shop in the High, Bowell also ran a tavern in St Ebbe’s, as on 24 September 1659 a licence was granted to “John Bowell Mercer to hang out the signe of the Naggs head in the parish of St. Ebbs”. This pub was at 11 Bridport Street

Anthony Wood describes how Bowell’s shop at 113/114 High Street was used as a chemistry laboratory around 1663:

About the beginning of 1663 Mr Sthael (the noted chemist) removed his school or elaboratory to a draper’s house called John Bowell, afterwards mayor of the citie of Oxon, situat and being in the parish of Allsaints, commonly called Allhallowes. He built his elaboratory in an old hall or refectory in the backside (for the house itself had been an ancient hostle).

In 1665 John Bowell paid Hearth Tax for six hearths at 113/114 High Street. Described as a gentleman, he was assessed as follows for poll tax at this address in March 1667:

  • For himself: £1 1s. 0d. (£1 for his title and poll tax of one shilling)
  • For his wife and four children: poll tax of one shilling each
  • For his apprentice Thomas Brookes: poll tax of one shilling
  • For his servant Margaret Bland: two shillings (i.e. one shilling in the pound on her yearly wages of £1, plus poll tax of a shilling)

On 23 April 1661 John Bowell attended the Coronation of Charles II at Westminster Abbey.

On 10 March 1663 His Majesty’s Commissioners for regulating Corporations removed six councillors, including Bowell, from their places “for the public safety”. This was as a result of the Corporation Act of December 1661, a test act designed for the express purpose of restricting public offices to members of the Church of England. Its main aim was to dispossess Presbyterians, who were influentially represented in the government of cities and boroughs throughout the country, and it provided that no person could be legally elected to any office relating to the government of a city or corporation unless he had within the previous twelve months received the sacrament of “the Lord’s Supper” according to the rites of the Church of England. He was also commanded to take the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy, to swear belief in the Doctrine of Passive Obedience, and to renounce the Covenant. In default of these requisites the election was to be void.

John Bowell converted to the Church of England, and was readmitted to the Council in September 1679 with his position as a Bailiff restored. Despite never having been on the Mayor’s Council, in September 1680 he was elected precipitately to Mayor (for 1680/1), taking three oaths and paying £5 according to old custom; and, most important of all, it is noted that he had “taken the sacrament within the year”. He nominated the baker Richard Franklyn as his Child and proposed Adrian Roberts as his Chamberlain. The latter was refused by the common council, and so Bowell chose Robert Street instead.

Despite the efforts of William Wright to put a stop to the St Scholastica’s Day humiliation during Bowell’s mayoral year, Bowell did turn up at St Mary-the-Virgin Church with twenty others, but was rejected by the Vice-Chancellor because most of the council refused to come. Anthony Wood (Bliss 1848: 223) wrote:

1681. St Scholastica (10 February]; the mayor (J. Barell [sic]) and about 20 citizens or more came to St Mary’s according to custom; heard prayers, and wuld have offered 65 pence, but the vice-chancellor refused, unless all were there. The rest out of contempt would not come as in 1641, meerly encouraged for what they do, by the late high demeanour of the parliament.

Bowell’s deference to the University is shown again with regard to the custom whereby the town policed Oxford by day, and the University by night. Wood wrote, “The city would also have a night watch of their owne, but this and the former the mayor (Bowell) pretends that he will have nothing to do with it.”

The short-lived third Parliament of Charles II (known as the Oxford Parliament) met at Oxford, and the City mounted a splendid reception for the King when he entered the City on 14 March 1681 with the Queen. Wood gives a very full description:

Between two and three of the clock proceeded by twoes on foot from the Guild hall downe the High Street about eighteen constables of the citie and suburbs of Oxon with their painted and gilt staves. Next to them were the four sergeants at mace, two on foot and two on horseback, with their silver staves erected. Then the macebearer, and townclerke (John Paynton) with a chaine of silver gilt about his neck (a Royallyst this day and when the times serve a Cromwellian). After these rode the loyall mayor, John Bowell esq., in his scarlet gowne, and a livery on one side walking by his horse, and on the other the recorder on horsback in his black gowne. After them the aldermen, thirteen, baylives, and such that had been baylives, to the number of about twenty-four, all in scarlet gownes, fac’d with furr, and each person with a livery servant by his side, to lead their horses in case they should strike out and disturb the formality. After these rode, by twoes also, the rest of the house and common councill (about sixty in number) in their black gownes, fac’d with furr. All which being come to the East gate made a stop.—Soon after the king approaching within the gate, the mayor, recorder, and some of the scarleteers alighted, while the rest put them selves out to march before the king. The coach being by the king commanded to stand, the mayor and recorder knelt downe on a mat by the coach side, who latter of which (being the city mouth) verie smoothly spake an English speech. Which being concluded the mayor surrendered up the gestamen of his authority. Which being gratiously returned (and therupon a rich pair of gloves was delivered to his majestie and another to the queen) they mounted and marched bare-headed the same way they went, not in like order as they went downe, but the black first, then the scarleters next, and just before the king’s coach the mayor with the mace on his shoulder, respectively put theron by the mace-bearer.

John Bowell unusually took his place on the Mayor’s Council for the first time after serving as Mayor.

On 6 April 1682 his son John Bowell junior was matriculated at the University of Oxford from Christ Church, aged 15. He obtained his B.A. in 1685 when he was 18. Sadly on 2 November 1687, when he was only 21 and a student of the Inner Temple, he died in his father’s house. Wood states that at his son’s funeral (at All Saints’ Church on 9 November 1687), John Bowell pretended a right to the arms of one Nicholas Bowell who was buried in Ducklington Church.

On 23 April 1685 John Bowell was selected as one of the six persons to attend the Mayor at the Coronation of James II.

In June 1692 John Bowell was fined 10s. for going away from the council without leave from the Mayor. He may have been ill, as he died about nine months later.

† John Bowell died in spring 1693 and was buried at All Saints’ Church on 11 Aprill that year. Letters of administration were granted to his widow, Cecilia Bowell, on 26 April.


See also:

  • H. E. Salter, Surveys and Tokens, p. 389–91, and tokens numbered 29 and 30
  • P.C.C. Administration Act Book, 1698, f. 61

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 20 November, 2020

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