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Headington history: People

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


John Mather was born in Manchester on 1 October 1676. Alumni Oxonienses describes him as the son of William Mather of Manchester, pleb., and Thomas Hearne wrote thus 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.

John 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. In 1708 he became a Bachelor of Divinity.

Eight years later, on 12 January 1714/15, Mather was elected President of Corpus 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 became a Doctor of Divinity on 9 March 2014/15.

Mather did not waste any time in making use of the privilege that allowed heads of houses to marry, as just three months after his appointment, on 19 April 1715 at St Andrew's Church in Chinnor, he married Miss Rebecca Pococke by licence. (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 had himself been elected a probationary fellow of Corpus in 1628.)

John and Rebecca Mather had the following children. Their baptisms are listed in the register of Chinnor church, but in fact took place at Corpus Christi College chapel (“in Sacello ejusdem Collegij”):

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

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

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

John Mather was still President of Corpus Christi College when he died on 15 April 1748. His will was proved at the Chancellor’s Court at the University of Oxford on 24 June 1748.

His widow Rebecca Mather continued to live in Headington with her three unmarried daughters Henrietta, Elizabeth, and Catherine. She renewed the lease on the Magdalen College farmhouse in 1753 and 1760), and died in Headington on 3 May 1767. The will of Rebecca Mather, Widow of Headington, Oxfordshire was proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 22 June 1767 (PROB 11/929/303).

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

Corpus memorial

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


Their three unmarried daughters

Miss Henrietta Mather

Henrietta died at Headington on 4 June 1800 and a death notice appeared in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 7 June. The Will of Henrietta Mather, Spinster of Headington, Oxfordshire was proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 7 January 1801, (PROB 11/1352/60).

Miss Elizabeth Mather

Her younger sister Elizabeth Mather died at Headington on 24 June 1801, and a death notice in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 27 June read simply “On Wednesday last died at Headington, Mrs Elizabeth Mather.”.

Miss Catherine Mather

Catherine, the youngest daughter, remained in Headington and died there on 12 March 1807. Her death notice in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 14 March read, “On Thursday last died, at her house at Headington, after a short illness, Mrs. Catherine Mather, daughter of the Rev. Dr. Mather, formerly President of Corpus Christi College, in this University.”.

After bequests to her niece Elizabeth Mather of Drayton, Oxfordshire, Corpus Christi College, and her executor and banker John Parsons, Catherine left most of the rest of her money to charity, and included a bequest of £400 to provide necessaries for the prisoners in the county and city gaols. In Headington she left money to St Andrew’s Church to fund a Free School for the education of twelve children in the parish “for ever”, and this duly opened in Headington Quarry beside the Chequers pub. The Church paid for another 18 children: in a letter dated 29 April 1808 the Vicar of Headington wrote to the Bishop of Oxford saying that the Free School “consists of 30 Scholars, 12 of whom are supported by a legacy of the late Mrs Mather amounting to £20 per annum, the remainder I pay for myself.”

Her bequest is described on this wooden plaque fixed to the south wall of the Baptistry of St Andrew’s Church in Old Headington.

Mather board in St Andrew's Church

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.

The Will of Catherine Mather, Spinster of Headington, Oxfordshire, was proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 11 April 1807 (PROB 11/1459/121).

© Stephanie Jenkins

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