Headington history: People

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John Mather (1676–1748) and his daughter Catherine (1732–1807)

John S. Mather was born in Manchester on 1 October 1676. Alumni Oxonienses describes him as the son of William Mather, pleb. Thomas Hearne wrote about his possible origins in his diary in 1724:

I was told the other day, by one John Puffett, of St Clement’s Parish, near Oxford, that the present Vice-chancellor of Oxford, Dr Mather, President of Corpus Xti Coll., was born in Manchester, that his Father is a Taylour, still living in Manchester, that the said Dr Mather was first a Servitour of Corpus Xti College, of wch he became first Fellow, and afterwards head. This Puffett is 47 Years of Age. Dr Mather is about 50.

Mather was matriculated at the University of Oxford from Christ Church on 21 March 1692/3, aged 16, and was elected a Scholar of Corpus Christi College on 22 December 1693. He became a Probationary Fellow of Corpus on 18 December 1704, and eight years later, on 12 January 1714/15, was elected President at the age of 38. Hearne said of his election:

He is a very honest good natured ingenious Man, & hath published two or three Sermons. He was one of the 7 Senior Fellows.

Mather did not waste any time in making use of the privilege that allowed heads of houses to marry, and three months later, on 19 April 1715, he married Miss Rebecca Pococke by licence at St Andrew’s Church in Chinnor. She is very likely to have been the daughter of John Pococke, Rector of Chinnor from 1699 until his death on 9 February 1727/8; he in turn was the grandson of the Orientalist Edward Pococke (1604–1691) who himself had been elected a probationary fellow of Corpus in 1628.

John and Rebecca Mather had the following children. They are listed in the baptismal register of the church in Chinnor, but were in fact baptised at Corpus (“in Sacello ejusdem Collegij”):

  • John (baptised 12 February 1715/16)
  • Maria (baptised 13 February 1717/18)
  • William (baptised 27 July 1721)
  • Henrietta (baptised 25 March 1724)
  • Martha (baptised 30 May 1726, buried on 20 June 1726 in Corpus Christi chapel)
  • Henry (baptised 31 August 1727, buried 9 September 1727 in Corpus Christi chapel)
  • Elizabeth (baptised 6 October 1729)
  • Catherine (baptised 4 October 1732)

On 8 October 1723 Mather was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University, an office he held for five years. That same year he was appointed Rector of Helmdon in Northants.

The Mathers appear to have moved up to Headington in about 1732. Dr Mather took out a lease of a Magdalen College property that was described in 1721 as “The Chief Farm in Headington” in that year, renewing it in 1739 and 1746; this must be the present Mather’s Farm, whose lands stretched as far as Old Road (before the London Road was built).

John Mather died on 15 April 1748, and his will was proved at Oxford on 24 June that year. His widow Rebecca continued to live in Headington with her three unmarried daughters Henrietta, Elizabeth, and Catherine. She renewed the lease on the Magdalen farm in 1753 and 1760), and died in Headington on 3 May 1767.

The following memorial to John and Rebecca Mather is on the wall of the cloisters of Corpus:

Memorial to President Mather and his wife

William Mather and his three sisters continued to live in Headington, and the “Mrs Mather” named on the Magdalen College leases of 1767, 1774, 1781, 1788, and 1795 is probably Henrietta Mather. William died at Headington after a short illness on 19 December 1798, according to Jackson’s Oxford Journal.

Henrietta Mather died at Headington on 4 June 1800 and Elizabeth on 24 June 1801. Catherine Mather, the last of the unmarried sisters, remained in Headington (although probably not at the farm), and died there on 12 March 1807. She left money to St Andrew’s Church to start a Free School for poor children, as described on a wooden plaque fixed to the south wall of the Baptistry of St Andrew’s Church in Old Headington:

BENEFACTIONS. Mrs Catherine Mather who died the 12th of March 1807, by her last Will and Testament bequeathed to the Vicar and Church-Wardens of this Parish the Sum of Four Hundred Pounds, the interest of which is to be applied for ever to provide Instruction in reading and writing, and to purchase Books, for Six poor Boys and Six poor Girls, residing in this Parish; and also the sum of Twenty Pounds to be distributed among the Poor immediately after her decease.

Catherine Mather in her will asked that her body should be buried as near to her relations as possible at Chieveley Church in Buckinghamshire, whence her mother’s family, the Pocockes, originated.

Family wills

John Mather’s will was proved at the Chancellor’s Court at the University of Oxford on 24 June 1748. Three other family wills were proved at the Prerogative Court at Canterbury:

  • PCC Will of Rebecca Mather, Widow of Headington, Oxfordshire, 22 June 1767, PROB 11/929
  • PCC Will of Henrietta Mather, Spinster of Headington, Oxfordshire, 07 January 1801, PROB 11/1352
  • PCC Will of Catherine Mather, Spinster of Headington, Oxfordshire, 11 April 1807, PROB 11/1459

© Stephanie Jenkins

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