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William Cornish (c.1614–1679)

Mayor of Oxford 1672/3


William Cornish was born in c.1614, the son of Thomas Cornish, a mercer of Witney. His father was already dead when on 5 September 1627/8 he was apprenticed for eight years to Leonard Bowman,an Oxford mercer who also came from Witney. The apprenticeship commenced on Lady Day (25 March) 1628/9.

William Cornish and his wife (apparently Elizabeth) had the following children:

  • Elizabeth Cornish (baptised on 3 October 1639 at St Martin’s Church)
  • Henry Cornish (baptised on 10 March 1641/2 at St Martin’s Church)
  • Ann Cornish (baptised on 18 September 1645 at St Martin’s Church, buried there on 19 April 1649), aged three.
     Hutton notes that on a piece of marble in St Martin’s Church was an inscription reading: “Here lyeth the body of Anne Cornish, daughter of William Cornish, who deceased Aprill 18th 1649.”
  • Katharine Cornish (baptised on 4 March 1646/7 at St Martin’s Church)
  • William Cornish (baptised on 14 November 1651 at St Martin’s Church).

Cornish was chosen a member of the common council by scrutiny on 2 October 1641, and paid the usual fine of 3s. 4d. for not serving as Constable. On 30 September 1645 the new Mayor, the mercer, Henry Silvester, nominated him as his Chamberlain.

On 19 October 1649 Cornish was nominated as one of the two fair-masters, a job he was to hold again in 1661 and 1662.

On 28 September 1650 Cornish took on an apprentice, Thomas Rice. A note dated 19 September 1651 in the margin of the Hanasters’ lists reads:

Ye said Apprentice complained that (hee having beene in ye states service & absent from his Master about a weeke) his master doth now refuse to entertayne him; where, upon a full heareing of ye matter on both sides, it is ordered that the said Mr. to receave his said Apprentice in his service according to his Indentures.

Notwithstanding this note, the indenture is deleted. Another of Cornish's apprentices, Nicholas Darton, was admitted free on 15 September 1651.

On 17 September 1655 Cornish was elected Junior Bailiff.

On 14 December 1660, when he was 16, his elder son Henry Cornish was matriculated at the University of Oxford from St Alban Hall.

On 23 May 1664 Cornish was elected by scrutiny as one of the Mayor’s eight Assistants. He stated that he had received the sacrament, took the usual oaths, and subscribed to the engagement, paying £5 and £10 for entertainment.

In 1665 Cornish paid tax on eight hearths in St Martin’s parish jointly with a man called Cooke: this property must have been the Sun Inn at 62–64 Cornmarket. He was assessed as follows for poll tax at this address in March 1667:

  • For himself: £3 1s. 0d., comprising £1 for his title, poll tax of one shilling, and £2 tax on his money. (This indicates that his personal wealth was £200, as the tax on personal estate was £1 per £100.)
  • For his wife Mrs Elizabeth Cornish: poll tax of one shilling
  • For his children Elizabeth, Katharine, and William: poll tax of one shilling each

On 20 February 1666 Cornish leased in trust for the city “lately erected shopps, commonly called or known as the Butcherow”: these twenty shops were in Queen Street, and when the lease was renewed on 1 January 1668/9, William Cornish was the sole lessee.

On 18 December 1668 Cornish was granted a lease (in trust for the City) of Old Butcher Row [Queen Street] for three years.

In September 1670 Cornish came second in the poll for Mayor he received 261 votes, while Francis Greneway had 471.

Two years later, on 16 September 1672, William Cornish was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1672/3), and on 30 September he took the three oaths, subscribed the declaration, and paid £15 and £5 according to custom. He proposed Richard Carter (a currier, not the future Mayor) as his Child and Thomas Hunsdon as his Chamberlain.

On 10 October 1673, after his year of office had ended, Cornish was given the task of seeing that the trees already planted in Broken Hayes [Gloucester Green] were preserved, and to plant as many more as he thought necessary at the City’s expense.

† William Cornish died on 16 September 1679 and was buried in St Martin’s Church at Carfax the next day, and a monument to him used to stand on the south wall of the old church. In 1896 St Martin's Church was demolished (apart from its tower), and all bones uncovered were transferred to an unknown communal grave in Holywell Cemetery.

In his will dated 2 September 1679 he made the following bequests:

  • To his daughter Elizabeth “the house or Tenement wherein Richard Dubbe a goldsmith doth dwell” (probably 62 Cornmarket), as well as £10 a year out of the profits of the Sun Inn in Cornmarket
  • To his daughter Katherine £20 a year out of the profits of the Three Gilded Cups Inn (44 Queen Street, leased from All Souls College)
  • To his wife Elizabeth “my house and shopp wherein I now inhabit and dwell” [probably 64 Cornmarket] and the Sun Inn and four houses in Witney
  • To his son William “all the wares in my shop”, as well as his mother’s inheritance after her death.

His daughter Katherine Cornish was buried at St Martin's Church less than two years after her father on 7 July 1681.

The Elizabeth Cornish buried there on 31 August 1686 may be his daughter rather than his wife.

His son William Cornish was buried there on 7 September 1689.

Another Elizabeth Cornish was buried there on 22 February 1703/4, and is described as “once Mrs Marris”. If this means “once Mrs Mayor”, then this is William Cornish's wife

His son Henry Cornish was not mentioned in his father's will and may have predeceased his father. He awarded his BA from Christ Church in 1664, and his MA in 1667. Wood (III:299) states that someone of this name was an outdoor Presbyterian preacher in November 1689.


See also:

  • H. E. Salter, Surveys and Tokens, pp. 397–9, and token numbered 40 with “WILLIAM CORNISH AT” around an image of the Mercers’ Arms on the obverse, and “IN OXON MERCER 1658” around the initials W.E.C. on the reverse
  • PCC Will PROB 11/360/648 (Will of William Cornish, Mercer of Oxford, proved 25 September 1679)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 3 September, 2019

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