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William Potter c.1570–1645)

Mayor of Oxford 1610/11, 1618/19, and 1623/4


William Potter was born in c.1570. He was the son of William Potter senior of Warrington, Cheshire.

On 29 June 1584 William was apprenticed for seven years to the woollen draper James Almont (who had been Mayor himself in 1588), with the promise of double apparel and 20s. at the end of his term. His master died just after the end of his apprenticeship, and a month after his master’s death, in August 1592, Potter was admitted free, paying 4s. 6d.

Potter became a woollen draper in the parish of St Mary-the-Virgin, Oxford, and in August 1594 he was named as one of the two collectors of a levy from that parish.

On 1 November 1595 he took on John Walker of Lancashire as apprentice woollen draper, and on 21 September 1597 Nicholas Boate of Warwickshire.

On 18 February 1598/9 at St Peter-in-the-East Church, William Potter married Judith Pennington, and they had the following eleven children, of whom five died in infancy:

  • William Potter junior (baptised on 10 January 1599 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church)
  • Judith Potter (baptised on 4 April 1602 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church)
  • Elizabeth Potter (baptised on 19 February 1603 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church)
  • Alice Potter (baptised on 28 April 1606 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church,
    buried there on 26 December 1623)
  • John Potter I (baptised on 15 March 1607 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church,
    buried there on 3 October 1612)
  • Adrian Potter (baptised on 8 May 1610 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church)
  • Rebecca Potter (baptised on 11 May 1612 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church)
  • John Potter II (baptised on 21 August 1614 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church,
    buried there on 14 April 1635)
  • Thomas Potter (baptised on 10 November 1616 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church,
    buried there on 23 September 1621)
  • Andrew Potter (baptised on 21 June 1618 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church)
  • Jane Potter (baptised on 2 September 1620 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church,
    buried there on 9 March 1621/2).

In October 1599 William Potter was appointed a Scrutator of Cloth, and was first admitted on to the Common Council on 29 September 1600.

On 1 November 1600 he took on another apprentice, Samuel Cockram of Devon.

In September 1603 Thomas Harris, the new Mayor, requested that Potter should have a bailiff’s place “in respect of the freeman he might have placed”.

Potter’s apprentices Nicholas Boate and Samuel Cockram were admitted free in August 1604 and January 1609 respectively.

In September 1604 Potter was elected Junior Bailiff, and in October 1607 he came on to the Mayor’s Council.

On 22 November 1608 the city granted a lease to Potter of a parcel of ground “lying in or under his porch on the west part of his tenement, on the west part of St Mary Hall Lane [Oriel Street], together with the bulk belonging to the shop of the said tenement, containing in length from the High Street southward 4¼ ft and in breadth from the said bulk westward 4 ft; for 99 years, paying 12d a year”. This was probably on the site of the present 103 High Street.

In September 1610 Willilam Potter was elected Mayor of Oxford for the first time (for 1610/11). Instead of admitting a freeman, he requested that William Goode should have a Bailiff’s place.

The site of Wadham College was city property until 1610, when according to the wishes of King James I they sold it for £600 to provide a site for the college. In return the college promised that in the foundation of the college the city could nominate a fellow and two scholars. At a council meeting on 4 December 1610 it is recorded that;

William Potter, son of William Potter, now mayor of this cyttie, is elected to have a scholler’s place
in the Colledge to bee newlye founded by Mris. Wadham and others.

Alumni Oxonienses states that William junior was awarded his BA in February 1616/17 and his MA in July 1620.

A different William Potter, perhaps a nephew, was apprenticed to Potter in the council year 1614/15, and at a meeting of the Thirteen on 5 December 1615 it was reported:

it was agreed that for the contempt of Mr Potter, conceaved to have bene by him committed against Mr Wright, the Mayor of this Citty the last yere, at the tyme of the examynation of Willyam Potter, the apprentice of the said Mr Potter, for lewd wordes spoken against the then Mayor, that is to say for calling of the said Mayor “Asse”; and at the time of the said examination, Mr Potter being present, very contemptuously and against the goodwill and likeing of the then Mayor commaunded the said Willyam Potter the younger, whoe was then in presence in the Office before the said Mayor, to be gone about his busines, affirmeing if he had offended and that it were proved he would punish him sharply himself, albeit he sawe and heard the same the proved to his face, by which meanes and upon which wordes of Mr Potter, the commaundment of the said Mr Mayor, who had otherwise ordered for the said Willyam Potter the younger, was contempned, and the said Willyam Potter the younger thereby escaped; upon consideracion of which dealeing and crosse behaveour of the said Mr Potter, it being conceaved to be a great contempt, it is therefore ordered that the said Mr Potter shall for the said contempte be fyned and pay the some of forty shillings within the space of 40 daies to the Chamberlains of the Citty; and if he shall refuse to pay, that then he shalbe comitted to prison untill he will pay the same; provided alwaies that if within the said 40 daies to the Chamberlains of the Citty; and if he shall refuse to pay, that then he shalbe comitted to prison untill he will pay the same; provided alwaies that if within the said 40 daies he produce the said William Potter the younger to answeare his abuse before Mr Mayor and the Thirteene, that then 30s of his fyne shalbe abated; or if Mr Potter will acknowledg his own offence to have proceeded of collor and rashnes and be sorry for the same, the whole fyne to be abated.

On 28 September 1617 Potter and Ralph Flexney competed for a vacancy as Alderman:

Mr William Potter and Mr Flexney were sent downe to the Commons, Mr Potter havinge the voyces of almost the whole howse to bee chosen alderman; and afterwards with the full consent of the whole Commons the said Mr Potter was freely elected alderman in the Guild hall and was there sworne upon the Checker and payd his tenne pounds to thuse of the Cittie and gave a xxiis peece to the Maior’s cheefe seriant, Mr Andrew Carpenter.

On 16 September 1618 Alderman William Potter was elected Mayor a second time (for 1618/19), nominating Richard Wardell as his Chamberlain. On 30 October 1618 he was also appointed one of his Majesty’s Coroners. At the end of his term of office, on 6 September 1619, it is recorded that Mr Mayor was granted the wine licence formerly of Mr Powdrell.

On 22 October 1619 Alderman Potter was in dispute with Aldermen Harrison and Wright “touching precedence claymed by Mr Potter”. The Commissioners of the Office of Earl Marshall decided that the fact that William Potter had served a term as Mayor did not give him precedence over the other two, and that aldermen had seniority simply according to the date on which they were elected.

On 8 March 1620 it is recorded:

Mr Potter shall have a certificate drawen toucheinge such things as are knowen by this howse to be true on his parte as toucheing the things for which he is questioned in the Starrchamber and the same shalbe read in this howse and beinge approved of shalbe sealed

On 9 October 1620 Potter was “restrained” by the Vice-Chancellor of the University for selling wine under his city licence of 1619:

Whereas by act of Common Counsell heere a lycence to sell wynes within this Cittye and suburbs was graunted to Mr Willyam Potter, according to the forme and effect of the Statute in that behalfe made in the tyme of kinge Edward the Sixt, the Vicechancellor nowe for the tyme beinge who is Dr Prideaux, takeinge unto him some other doctors of the Universtiye did a meetinge of Mr Mayor and some of his brethren at Exiter Colledge, where amongst other things theye claymed sole power to graunte lyceences and that the Cittye as theye affirmed should have none, whereupon theye required a resignacion of the sayd licence and gave a tyme of limitacion for the same or ells seemed to threaten some further matter. And for that there was noe desyer to have any contention with the Universitye, although there was noe such right of grauntinge lycences agreed uppon or acknowledged by Mr Mayor or anye of the Cittye to be in the Universitye, yet for quietnes and keepinge of peace with the said Universitye the said Mr Alderman Potter was contented to yeild upp his sayd licence and thereupon brought it into the Office to Mr Mayor to be cancelled; which was accordinglye donne, and the reason of quiettnes aforesayd the same is to be shewed to Mr Vice-chancellor to doe his pleasure with.

On 12 January 1622/3 at St Mary-the-Virgin Church, his daughter Elizabeth Potter married Leonard Bowman, who himself was to serve as Mayor of Oxford in 1641/2.

On 23 May, just four months after her daughter's wedding and before the second birthday of her eleventh child, Potter’s wife Judith Potter was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church.

In September 1622 it was agreed that Potter should have a lease of the Castle Mills for 21 years for a rent of £80, being discharged from the £20 a year payable to the Bailiffs.

In September 1623 Willilam Potter was elected Mayor a third time (for 1623/4), making John Nurse his Chamberlain.

In 1624 he gave his wine licence to his daughter Judith Potter.

In September 1629 Potter was appointed a barge commissioner.

In 1630 his son William Potter junior was City Lecturer at Carfax Church.

From September 1633 William Potter is listed as Alderman for the North-East ward. On 26 August 1636 he rode out with the Mayor and his council, dressed in scarlet with a tippet, to meet King Charles I.

In 1636 Potter’s daughter Mrs Elizabeth Bowman was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church, after producing eight children; and on 30 March 1639 “William Potter A.M., son of William Potter, alderman” was also buried there.

In September 1644 the council agreed that Alderman Potter should take five shillings for every boat load of faggots, slates, hay, straw, timber, or hardwood and use it to repair the bank of the Castle Mills that was demised to him. Five months later he died.

† Alderman William Potter was buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church on 26 February 1644/5.

Of his eleven children, only Judith, Rebecca, and Andrew Potter were still alive at the time of his death. On 1 January 1649 Judith Potter (aged 47) became the second wife of the former Mayor, Humphrey Boddicott, who was able to use her wine licence at his tavern, the Three Tuns.


The other William Potters

The mercer William Potter

From April 1657, Anthony Wood made many purchases from the mercer’s shop of William Potter, the former apprentice and probable relation of the Mayor of the same name, who possibly took over his shop. This William Potter junior paid tax on two hearths at 102 High Street in St Mary’s parish in 1665.

Wood bought a new suit costing £1 16s 9d, a shag coat costing £1 5s, a shirt costing 9s, and “taffety to make a whood being an ell” costing 15s 6d. On 3 March 1663/4 Wood paid his last bill from Potter, writing,

“Paid Mr William Potter 7s; 6s 10d of which I owed him for commodities, being the full of all dues and demands from the beginning of the world to this present. He died the 9 day, W, of the mounth following.”

This William Potter was also buried at St Mary-the-Virgin Church (on 11 March 1663/4).

The apothecary William Potter

William Potter of 57 Cornmarket in St Martin’s parish (son of William Potter) was matriculated as an apothecary on 28 November 1665 at the age of 35 and died in 1677 (see Surveys and Tokens, pp. 429–30).


See also:

  • PCC Will PROB 11/197/619 (Will of William Potter, Gentleman and Alderman of Oxford, proved 29 October 1646)
  • (Potter’s apprentice and possible relation) PCC Will PROB 11/313/376 (Will of William Potter, Mercer of Oxford, proved 30 March 1664)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 30 September, 2018

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