An excerpt from my book 'The Folks Of My Making 1535 - 2008' Dealing with the life of William Henry Butler of Oxford.

Saturday, 18 April 2009


Dealing with the life and burial of WHB

Of all the children of James Butler and Jane (Slatter) it is William Henry Butler who directly affects the outcome of this history.

William Henry Butler is my Great X 2 Grandfather and he rose to a position of some prominence in the town of Oxford. He was born on 24th February 1790 and was baptised a month later at All Saints Church in Oxford on 26th March. William was a wine merchant in the middle part of Oxford's High Street that lies in the parish of All Saints. He first became a member of the Common Council on 30th September 1815 and was elected Senior Chamberlain in 1819 and Senior Bailiff in 1824. In the baptismal register, Butler is described as a wine merchant in the High Street in 1818 and 1819, and again as a wine merchant of St Martin's parish in 1820 and 1821. This indicates that around the beginning of 1820 he moved into his new premises at Carfax, on the corner of St Aldate's Street and Queen Street. This site had previously been occupied by the butter bench, built around 1710, but after 1774 the traders started to sell their butter in the newly built covered market.

On 13th February 1817 William married Elizabeth Briggs, youngest daughter of the late Alderman Briggs of Northampton at St Giles' Church, Northampton. Their first four children were baptised at All Saints Church in Oxford. Edwin born 24th February 1818, Jane Elizabeth born 1st March 1819, Robert Jackson born 19th July 1820, Lucy Ann born 22nd December 1821. From 1823 William and Elizabeth had their children baptised at St Martin's Church. George Morant born 5th May 1823, Mary Ann born 26th July 1825, Caroline born 25th July 1827 who died aged 7 months, Octavia born 31st October 1828, Catherine Adelaide born 7th November 1830 and died age 6 months.

Turning to William Henry’s daughter Lucy Ann for a moment an interesting story has been uncovered that cannot be ignored.

On 7 October 1847 Lucy Butler married William Wilkinson Wardell. They were married in St Mary's Catholic Church, Moorfields, Oxford, and are known to have had at least two sons and one daughter. By the time of his marriage aged 23, William Wilkinson Wardell was already a successful architect. Between 1846 and 1858 he designed over 30 churches in England at the rate of over two a year, a phenomenal output. This was an era of massive church restoration and it is sometimes stated that many churches were "over-restored" during this time. It is possible that this high figure may include churches Wardell only redesigned or restored, but whatever the true number designed in England this was a period not only of church restoration but also of building. Many new Roman Catholic Churches were also built over these years. Wardell was by no means the only convert to Catholicism, a large number of notable intellectuals too changed their faith. This coupled with the greater freedom Catholics obtained when the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1831 was put on the statute books removed some of the prohibitions on Catholics that had prevailed since the time of the reformation. This led to the Catholic Church having a revival in Britain, thus the newly converted Wardell was well placed to receive the numerous commissions that came flooding in. His conversion to the Catholic faith was a very shrewd move because with the increase in Catholic churches came a huge increase in the William Wilkinson Wardell coffers. By 1858, William Wardell aged 35 was in poor health and felt the warmer climate of Australia would be more beneficial to him, so obtaining the position of Government Architect to the city of Melbourne in Victoria, Wardell and his family emigrated. Of Wardell's prolific work in London, there are several notable churches and these include: St Birinus, Bridge End, Dorchester-on-Thames that was begun in 1846, and completed by 1849. Another church from this period was Our Lady Star of the Sea, Greenwich, a Gothic church begun in 1856 and completed circa 1851. The church has remarkable architectural similarities to Wardell's later and largest work St Patrick's cathedral in Melbourne. Our Lady of Victories, Clapham completed between 1849-1851, Our Immaculate Lady of Victories (also known as St Mary's) situated in Clapham Park Road, Clapham, London SW4 was built between 1848 and 1851, the same year that Wardell completed Holy Trinity, Hammersmith.

William Henry Butler was the election agent of W. Hughes who unsuccessfully contested the Town of Oxford at the general election of June

1826. After the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, Butler was elected Councillor for the West Ward on 26 January 1835, and just five days later was made an Alderman for six years. He was elected the first Mayor under the new system on 1 January 1836 and therefore only served for ten months. Soon after serving as Mayor, Butler retired to a large house then known as Linden House in Old High Street, Headington. Linden House is now known as the Priory. He is listed there in the 1841 census with his wife and three of his nine children, Edwin, Lucy, Mary and two servants. His younger brother Thomas, who had been a carver and gilder and print seller in a shop in Oxford's High Street, had already retired to Headington and lived in the Manor House with his wife Selina, the daughter of Rudolph Ackerman whom I have already mentioned. Selina Butler opened a Ladies Seminary at the Manor House in about 1836.

On 14 February 1844 at the age of 55 Elizabeth (Briggs), William Henry’s first wife died in Headington and was buried at St Martin's Church in Oxford. William Henry’s business in Oxford continued to operate after he retired to Headington and in September 1847 he was granted a council lease of nine wine vaults (formerly five), together with a counting house. In the marriage notice of his daughter Lucy Ann and the architect William Wilkinson Wardell at St Mary's Catholic Church, Moorfields, and published in the Times on 7th October 1847 William Henry Butler is described as being ‘of Headington’.

At the time of the 1851 census William Henry, described as a magistrate and alderman, was still a widower and living in Headington with two of his unmarried children, Edwin, aged 33 described as a wine merchant, and Octavia, aged 22. The last mention of him in Headington is in a directory of 1854.

But that was not the end of William Henry Butler because around 1854 he became an expectant father and the young woman who found herself ‘with child’ was either sent, or ran to Shoreditch. Records show that William Henry at the age of 65 followed the young woman and in the third quarter of that year they were married in Shoreditch. Records also show that after the wedding the couple moved to Chelsea were Bessie Butler was born the same year. Then in 1856 the couple returned to Oxfordshire and moved into Hanborough where in late 1856 their son was born. The young woman’s name was Elizabeth Gibbs, a dressmaker who was born in Banbury and whose father was the stone mason and statuary, mentioned earlier, whose ancestors hailed from Shutford. (John Gibbs and Alice (Wilkins) were now living at George Street now Cave Street in St Clement's, Oxford).

Just how William first met Elizabeth is unknown but it is quite possible he had business connections with her father or at least knew him as a fellow businessman within the town of Oxford.

Elizabeth was just 31 years old when she married the 65 year old William Henry Butler and 32 years old when their son was born. Elizabeth Gibbs was my Great X 2 Grandmother. William Henry Gibbs Butler was baptised 28th June 1857 in the Parish of St Clements Oxford.

In the 1861 census William Henry Butler now 71 years old is described as a J.P. and an Alderman of Oxford. He is seen living at Park Cottage in Hanborough with Elizabeth now aged 34, their children Bessie aged 6 and William Henry Gibbs Butler aged 4 plus two servants. William Henry remained on Oxford city council where he was the senior member until his death in Hanborough on 11th October 1865 at the age of 75. The following monumental inscription in St Martin's Church (demolished except for its tower in 1896) was dedicated to his first wife Elizabeth Briggs and their two daughters who died in infancy and to William Henry Butler himself.

Blessed are they that are in the Lord. Here lies the body of Elizabeth Wife of William Henry Butler Born 6 March 1786 Died February 14th 1844. Also of Caroline and Catherine Adelaide Infant children of the above. William Henry Butler Alderman of this City Born February 24th 1790 Died October 11th 1865

Butler's obituary in Jackson's Oxford Journal read as follows:

DIED, Oct. 11, at Hanborough, near Oxford, William Henry Butler, Esq., Alderman of this city, in his 76th year. He had been a member of the City Council more than half a century, having been elected one of the Common Council on the 30th of September 1815; Chamberlain in 1819; Bailiff in 1824; and the first Mayor under the Municipal Reform Act in 1836, and at the time of his death he was the senior member of the Council.

With William Henry holding so many offices on the Oxford Council including Mayor plus William of the Slatter line being Mayor on three occasions plus his other offices and Thomas Mallam being Mayor on two occasions it has to be acknowledged that the three families being related through marriage must have held quite a sway within the town and this would have placed them in a position of some advantage.

Within five years of William Henry Butler's death, his second wife Elizabeth (Gibbs) had married again and the 1871 census shows she had married Duncan Greening Anderson a printer. Of Bessie nothing more is known. She would only have been 16 in 1871 but she was not living with her mother. Elizabeth’s new husband was thirteen years her senior and in 1871 they were living at 22 Walton Crescent in St Thomas's parish with William Henry Gibbs Butler then aged 14 but no servants. Ten years later the Andersons were living at 118 Bullingdon Road in Oxford and William Henry Gibbs Butler at the age of 24 was a commission agent still living with them, but by the end of the year he was a librarian in Birmingham.

Nothing has been found that gives any clue to why William Henry Gibbs Butler would have moved from the affluence of Oxford into a slum in Birmingham. Perhaps it was because he was the son of William Henry’s second wife. Certainly he would have been many years the junior to his half siblings. His Butler family certainly did not look to his finances suggesting he was somewhat of an embarrassment to them perhaps, and his mother would most certainly have been regarded as flighty after becoming pregnant with Bessie whilst unmarried. Maybe William the elder was escorted up the isle in Shoreditch by the Gibbs and Wilkins shotguns, but who knows the complete details? On 27th December 1881 in Birmingham Registry Office William Henry Gibbs Butler married Sarah Elizabeth Gardner. They were my Great Grandparents and in 1883 in Yew Tree Road Aston Birmingham my Grandfather Hubert was born. Three years later William Henry Gibbs Butler (aged 29 years) was dead and of Sarah the only known fact is that she gave her address, prior to her wedding, as 24 Charles Street Oxford. Nothing more is known.

©2009 D C Wilkes

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William Henry Butler Tombstone

To read about Alderman Butler's Tombstone at the Carfax site and the campaing to protect it click the link below