Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Richard Cox (1756–1834)

Mayor of Oxford 1799/80, 1812/13, and 1823/4

Richard Cox was born in about 1756, and may be the Richard Cox, son of William and Mary Cox, who was baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 1 May 1757.

In 1781 he went into partnership with Thomas Hardy as an Oxford mercer and linen-draper. As a result of this Cox was compelled to take up his freedom of the city.

The partnership did not last long: Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 4 October 1783 announced that it had been dissolved by mutual consent, and that the business would be continued by Hardy at the old shop. On 22 November 1783, however, Thomas Hardy inserted an advertisement which included an attack on his nominal partner, Mr Cox, for making false representations to disparage his character.

On 1 November 1783, Cox announced that he had opened his shop near Mr Lock’s, goldsmith — Lock was at 135 High Street, and Cox’s home and shop were next door at No. 134 — and that he offered a “new and elegant assortment of Mercery, Linen, Drapery, etc.”

A month later, on 9 December 1783, Richard Cox (described as being of All Saints parish) married Miss Mary Adams (the second daughter of Mrs Payton of the Golden Cross in Cornmarket) at St Martin’s Church. They had seven children:

  • Harriet Cox (baptised on 15 September 1784 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Louisa Sarah Cox (baptised on 22 August 1785 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Richard Ferdinand Cox (baptised on 1 October 1786 at All Saints’ Church)
  • James Henry Cox (baptised on 22 November 1791 at All Saints’ Church, died aged five months)
  • Julia Lavinia Cox (baptised on 19 August 1793 at All Saints’ Church, died aged three months)
  • Mary Cox (baptised on 11 October 1795 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Charles Henry Cox (born on 16 November 1797 and baptised on 14 January 1798 at All Saints’ Church).

134 High Street


Another advertisement the following April announced that Cox had just purchased widely for the spring trade, especially calicos, chintz, patches, and sheeting, and that he could furnish funerals.

It was not long before Cox’s mercer’s shop (left) evolved to include a bank, and the British Directory of 1790 lists Cox & Co as bankers. The mercery business ran alongside it, however, and around this time Cox (described as a “linendraper haberdasher & hosier”) took on four apprentice mercers: John Badcock in 1788, Charles William Baseley in 1792, and Thomas Wright and Charles Foster in 1793.

On 17 August 1790 Cox announced that the banking business of Richard Cox, Thomas Adams, & Co. had been dissolved by mutual consent, and that it would be conducted henceforth by himself (with John Smith and Jonathan Patten) at newly-built premises (left) at his house in the High Street (No. 134), under the firm of Richard Cox & Co. Cox was to continue to live and work at this building for over forty years.

Cox was first admitted as one of the 24 Common Councillors in October 1787, and was immediately appointed one of the two Cloth Searchers. In 1792 he was appointed a Chamberlain. On 30 July 1794 he resigned his freedom, but was readmitted to his freedom on 4 August and reinstated as a Chamberlain. In September 1794 he became a Keykeeper, in 1796 a Bailiff, and in 1798 one of the Mayor’s Assistants.

On 2 February 1799 Cox described himself as a mercer, linen draper, haberdasher, and hosier when he advertised in Jackson's Oxford Journal for an apprentice.

In September 1799 Richard Cox was elected Mayor (for 1799/1800), choosing Nicholas Gunn as his Chamberlain. He is famous for his refusal to go through the usual ceremony required by the University on 10 February 1800 (St Scholastica’s Day):

Mr Cox, some years since, in company with some young friends, said if ever he served the office of mayor he would not submit to such a humiliation. His acquaintance reminded him of his promise.

The University demanded its fine of 100 marks (£66) for this non-attendance, and Cox paid it out of his own pocket. The money was given to the Radcliffe Infirmary.

In 1807 Cox invited the brewer James Morrell and his cousin Robert Morrell (a solicitor in partnership with their cousin James Morrell) to join him in a new partnership, probably with an eye to win the brewery account away from Fletcher & Parsons and make it one of the chief assets of the bank that was to become Cox, Morrell & Co.: and indeed this duly happened in 1811.

Cox’s eldest son, Richard Ferdinand Cox, became a partner of his father in the banking business, while his youngest son, Charles Henry, matriculated at Christ Church, despite his father’s attitude to the University.

In 1812 Cox was elected Mayor a second time (for 1812/13), and made an Alderman in 1813.

It was reported in Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 8 August 1818 that Mary, the youngest daughter of Richard Cox, Esq, banker, of Oakley House, Berkshire married William Cockayne Frith, ex-Chaplain to H.M. Forces in the Ionian Islands and Fellow of St John’s College, at Marcham in Berkshire.

On 19 July 1821 Cox was one of the party from Oxford in attendance at the Coronation of George IV.

Cox appears to have gone into partnership with his last apprentice, as Pigot's Directory for 1823 lists the firm as Cox & Foster.

In 1823 Cox was elected Mayor of Oxford a third time (for 1823/4). Just three years later his son Richard Ferdinand Cox also served as Mayor.

To finance their investments and purchases of land, all four partners in the bank borrowed from the joint funds, and by 1830 Cox had an estate at Tubney and Blackthorn, leasehold lands at Cumnor, Botley, Binsey, and Beckley, and numerous other investments. In 1831, however, the Morrells discovered that Cox, the senior partner, had borrowed about £60,000, and his son had borrowed £14,000 and that both had engaged in corrupt practices.

Cox fled as a bankrupt to Calais in 1833.

† Richard Cox died at Calais on 27 November 1834 at the age of 78. In his death notice he was still described as Senior Alderman of the city of Oxford.

His wife Sarah Cox was still living at 134 High Street at the time of the 1841 census with her daughter Louisa Cox, a man called Charles Cox, and two female servants, but on 7 July 1841 Jackson's Oxford Journal announced that all her furniture. linen, china, carpets and rugs, fire irons, kitchen requisites, and a variety of other effects would be auctioned under a bill of sale.

See also:

  • Richard Ferdinand Cox, Mayor in 1826 (Cox’s son)
  • Brigid Allen, Morrells of Oxford. The Family and their Brewery 1743–1993 (Oxfordshire Books, 1994), pp. 38–9
  • Malcolm Graham, Oxford City Apprentices 1697–1800, entries numbered 2865, 2952, 2986, and 3010
  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 6 December 1834, p. 3c: Announcement of Cox’s death
  • PCC PROB 11/1841 (Will of Richard Cox of Calais, France, proved 7 January 1835)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 10 July, 2021

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