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The Mayott family

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The Mayott family

(see long history)

The Mayotts were a leading family in Abingdon for more than two hundred years. Roger Mayott arrived from Horton in Staffordshire at some time before 1509. Over a hundred of his descendants can be identified in Abingdon before the last of them was buried at St Helen’s in 1715. Six Mayotts were mayors a total of fifteen times, and the same six were masters of Christ’s Hospital a total of sixteen times. By the 1660s, the family had split into several cousinages, of which two were wealthy enough to have their own coats of arms. Roger Mayott himself had been a farmer as well as a merchant, but later generations seem to have concentrated on trade and industry, notably brewing. They had marriage alliances with other prominent families in Abingdon, Oxford, and Reading.

In spite of their divisions, the Mayotts seem always to have acted as a unit in civic affairs. In the factional conflicts that rent Abingdon’s élite society from about 1580, the Mayotts through several generations led the conservative opposition to the Tesdales, whom they saw as social upstarts and reviled for their radicalism in religion. They frequently appealed to the Privy Council, which criticised their factionalism but, in 1629, removed a puritan vicar of St Helen’s of whom they disapproved. Before and during the Civil War which raged in the 1640s, the Mayotts and their friends dominated St Nicolas and Christ’s Hospital, while in the Corporation and in St Helen’s the parties were more evenly matched. During the interregnum that followed the war, the Mayotts came to terms with the more conservative elements of the regime. They helped to defend St Nicolas against puritan attempts to have it demolished, and gained the trust of the republicans who ruled briefly after Oliver Cromwell’s death.  But when the monarchy was restored in 1660, the Mayott mayor of the time could not reconcile himself to the change. In 1663, when invited to swear allegiance to the new regime, he refused to do so, and was dismissed from his civic offices. From then on, Mayotts seem to have tended to leave Abingdon and live as gentlemen in Oxford or on country estates, and there would be no further Mayotts among the mayors of Abingdon.

The contribution of the Mayotts to Abingdon history is commemorated in the names of Mayott’s Road and of Mayott House.

See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.

© AAAHS and contributors 2013

(see short history)

The Mayotts were a leading family in Abingdon for more than two hundred years – from before 1500 to well after 1700. For a good part of that time they were the leading family. Between the granting of the borough charter in 1556 and the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, six men surnamed Mayott held the mayoralty a total of fifteen times, that is, one year in seven on average. The same six were among the governors of the Hospital, and were masters sixteen times.[1] These numbers could be significantly increased if we were to include Mayott relatives by marriage and grandsons in the total. Thus, by any standards, Mayotts must be counted among the most noteworthy members of Abingdon society. 

The family was, at its peak, so complex that it defies genealogical analysis. In 1641-2, the tax assessments list some forty of the wealthier citizens of Abingdon, and they include five Mayotts. Three of them are confusingly named John[2].  By the 1660s, there were two distinct Mayott clans, each with its own coat of arms, but they still seem to have maintained close family relationships.[3]

large_Mayott family tree - tinted_0.jpg

The earliest Mayott that we meet in Abingdon is Roger Mayott, who died in 1509. He seems to have come from Horton in Staffordshire, where Mayotts are known to have existed in the fifteenth century and probably earlier.[4] They must have outgrown their roots and started to emigrate, because Roger and his descendants maintained business and personal relationships with cousins in London until at least the 1550s. Most of what we know of Roger Mayott is from the will he made at the end of his life.[5]  He was plainly a well-to-do individual, with a farm at Culham where presumably the riverside pastures were used for cattle breeding or fattening, and with business interests in the town.  His main personal concern seemed to be the state of his soul. This took the form of an intimate relationship with the local churches, especially the smaller one, that of St Nicolas. The current vicar, Thomas Randolph, was planning to give up the cure of souls for the sinecure position of rector. Mayott interestingly refers to Randolph’s designated successor, Henry Leshman, as ‘my curate’, implying that he has been maintaining him. Apart from these two clergymen, and a named chantry priest at the other local church of St Helen’s, there were legacies to various churches and chapels in the villages around Abingdon with explicit or implied duties to include him in their prayers.

Significant by its absence is any legacy to Abingdon Abbey, of which the dissolution was still almost thirty years in the future. Prayer for the souls of the departed was one of the basic functions of the monasteries, but this function was by now in decline. Other organisations were performing it to greater public satisfaction. Mayott was to be buried in the abbey church beside his first wife, for which payment would be made, but monies that the Abbey might have hoped to receive for prayers would go instead to the four friaries in Oxford. If it should happen that Mayott’s children were to die before receiving their inheritance, then that would go to the Fraternity of the Holy Cross. While the Fraternity was not primarily a religious body, it did maintain a couple of priests who catered to the souls of deceased members. Also, it was Mayott’s landlord from which he leased his lands at Culham.

Roger Mayott’s will gives an insight into private preoccupations in a time which only with hindsight we can see as leading in to the Reformation. He shows no signs whatever of novel religious thinking. He expects his family members to be as concerned for the health of his soul as he is. His estate is to be divided into three parts. One is for his wife, one for his children and farm workers (who, very practically, get livestock), and the third for the various religious institutions already mentioned.  Anything not specifically bequeathed is to go towards additional prayers. The signing of the will must have been a great social occasion. The list of witnesses is a long one, and is headed by the two St Nicolas clergymen, Randolph and Leshman.

It is not clear whether Roger Mayott was accepted into the town élite, but his son Thomas certainly was. By 1520, he was one of the twelve masters of the Holy Cross Fraternity. They are listed as having secured a royal licence to hold a new three-day fair in Abingdon each year at the end of November.[6]  Abingdon historians have tended to assume that the Fraternity was the effective town government while formal lordship remained with the Abbey, but this is probably the only concrete example of such a function.

When Thomas Mayott came to make his will, the executors were instructed to expend £40 for the good of his soul, which seems to have been roughly equivalent to the one-third of his estate devoted by his father to the same purpose. But how the executors were to do this was sensibly left to their own discretion. The year was 1538, and obits and dirges were no longer officially approved. Like his father, Thomas wished his body to lie in the Abbey church, and maybe he did die just in time to be buried there, but by the time probate was granted, the Abbey had been dissolved.[7]

It fell to Thomas’s son and successor, Richard Mayott, to experience the full impact of the reformation. A draper as well as a farmer, he leased two shops in the Bury, which passed from the ownership of the Abbey into that of the Crown. In 1545, they were sold over his head to a local gentleman, Thomas Read of Barton, just outside the town.[8]  Like his father, he was a master of the Fraternity, but this was dissolved after the Chantries Act of 1547.[9] It was the Fraternity from which he had leased the family farm in Culham. This also was sold in 1549, although his lease continued. The administration of the town now fell to the Court of Augmentations in the person of its agent for Berkshire, Roger Amyce.  Amyce was based at Windsor, but developed cordial relationships in Abingdon. He refers to Richard Mayott, among others, as his ‘loving and very good friends’.[10]

Richard Mayott must have been involved in the first abortive attempt in 1551 to apply for incorporation as a borough, although we have no detail of this. Two years later, Amyce and Sir John Mason obtained a charter for the newly founded Christ’s Hospital which would take on the secular responsibilities of the dissolved Fraternity. Mason would be its master for life, but Richard Mayott was one of the first governors appointed.[11] Preparing a charter for a town corporation was a much more complex business because of the sheer volume of ex-Abbey property that would change hands, but when the grant finally came through in November 1556 it was Richard Mayott who was named in it as the first mayor of Abingdon.[12] He would serve a second term in 1568-9. He also became the first townsman to be master of the Hospital after Mason had died and Amyce retired, holding the position for two successive terms from 1569 to 1571.[13]

Richard Mayott’s will of 1579 shows the effects of the religious changes in his lifetime, and hints at his attitude to them. He is to be buried at St Helen’s. With caution and simplicity, he bequeaths his soul to almighty God; there is mention neither of the holy company of heaven, which would proclaim continuing allegiance to the old faith, nor of the redeeming merit of Jesus Christ, which would emphasize his Protestantism. He leaves an annual 6s 8d for a sermon to be preached at St Helen’s on the morning of the day in September when the new mayor is elected.[14]  Richard must have been involved in the negotiations with John Roysse that resulted in the re-establishment of the local school in 1563 – his friend Thomas Orpwood was mayor at the time – and will have acquiesced in the stipulation that the scholars would, three times daily, offer the traditional prayers for the donor’s soul. Roysse, in the event, was cheated; after the re-imposition of Protestantism under Elizabeth his condition would have been impossible to carry out, and it never was.[15]

It was with Richard that the Mayotts took on the position of one of Abingdon’s leading families. His father and grandfather had each had four sons, but in each case it was only one son who is known to have remained in Abingdon. The others seem to have sought their fortunes elsewhere, some, probably, in London. But both Richard’s sons remained. The elder, Richard II, founded a line of grocers and mercers which remains traceable at least to the 1630s when a couple of grandsons or great-grandsons were awarded scholarships to Roysse’s school.[16] They were not, however, strongly active in local political affairs. The father’s position on the Corporation and in the Hospital was inherited by the younger son, Thomas II. A daughter, Agnes, married Paule Orpwood, son of the Thomas Orpwood  already mentioned. He and their son Thomas would hold the mayoralty four and the Hospital mastership five times between them.

The second Thomas Mayott would find himself in the midst of the serious controversies that divided the Abingdon élite from his time on. A row broke out in the Hospital council in 1585. The basic cause seems to have been a newly rising family, the Tesdales, who wanted to force their entry into the ranks of the élite; they seem to have had the support of the Earl of Leicester, then high steward of the town. Mayott was prominent in the opposition to them. By the late 1590s, two factions had consolidated. One was led by Francis Little with Mayott as a principal supporter, and united most of the older-established families, while the Tesdales, with their several in-laws, worked to extend and consolidate their position on the Corporation and in the Hospital. What was at stake was the considerable financial benefits of membership of these bodies, as well as the social prestige that membership carried. Each party accused the other of financial wrongdoing and of policies contrary to the well-being of the town. The Little side could complain of the Tesdales seeking to control entrance to the ruling bodies, and taunted them with their allegedly low social origins. Little had been Abingdon’s MP, and made the most of his connections. Two appeals to the court of Chancery were upheld. One outcome was that Thomas Mayott’s eldest son, Thomas III, could join him in 1598 on the Hospital’s board of governors. This third Thomas would be mayor twice and master four times before his death in 1627. The Tesdales and their supporters would find themselves excluded from the Hospital, although they maintained their position on the town Corporation and conflicts continued.[17]

It had been Thomas II who was the dynast of the family. He had six sons and five daughters. The daughters made socially advantageous marriages. One married Walter Dayrell, who would in 1610 become Abingdon’s first recorder. Another made an alliance with the Kendricks, wealthy Reading industrialists. Thomas III married a Lydall, also from a prominent Reading family. Thomas III and his brother John would be simultaneously active in local affairs and establish the separate family lines that would exasperate the heralds after 1660.[18] John Mayott would be mayor four times and master five times before his death in 1643.

The time of these two Mayotts would be one of incessant conflict in the local councils. In 1610, with John Mayott mayor, Francis Little was able to negotiate a charter revision which may not have been to universal satisfaction. The status of some properties left over from the dissolution of the Abbey long before was regularised, which would mean additional payments to the Crown. At the same time Abingdon would acquire a court of record, presided over by Mayott’s brother-in-law Walter Dayrell. It was accepted local practice that the town’s legal counsel and the Hospital’s auditor should be the same man, with a single salary. After Dayrell’s death in 1628, this rule was breached. Dayrell’s son-in-law, Charles Holloway, became Hospital auditor. But there were three Tesdales on the Corporation, and they insisted on a Tesdale as recorder. An appeal to the Privy Council failed, but evoked the memorable rebuke that Abingdon was a town ‘troubled with faction’.[19]

It was not only over jobs that the factions wrangled. It was a time of developing religious tensions. The Tesdales were associated with radical puritanism, the Mayotts and their friends with a traditional broad-church approach.  The traditionalists tended to congregate at the church of St Nicolas, leaving the larger St Helen’s as a hunting ground for the more godly. Thomas Mayott III, making his will during the plague year of 1625, left 13s 4d for an annual sermon at St Helen’s on the afternoon of Palm Sunday, but insisted that the preacher should be chosen by his friends at Christ’s Hospital. To sweeten the pill for the puritan vicar at St Helen’s, Edward Roode, he allowed him a similar sum to preach in the morning.[20] Roode himself was summoned to the Privy Council in 1629 on a complaint from Robert Mayott, John’s son, who had by this time joined him on the Corporation.[21] He was deprived and replaced with a minister more to the Mayott taste.  Between then and the Civil War, there would be several more appeals to the Privy Council on both religious and political matters, reflecting a growing defensiveness of the traditionalists as they faced increasingly aggressive tactics from the radical wing.

Matters came to a head in 1640, with the first parliamentary election to be held for eleven years. It was also the first election where the candidate’s ideology, rather than his personal status and qualities, was a deciding factor. The current recorder, Bulstrode Whitelocke, had been acceptable to both factions.  The Tesdales now put him up for election to Parliament, but it was the Mayotts’ candidate, John Stonehouse, lord of the manor of Radley, representing safely traditional views, who won.[22]

But the 1640s and 50s would see a decline in Mayott political influence. Both John and Robert would be dead by 1644 and their replacement on the Corporation and in the Hospital was John’s nephew, another John. Traditionalism was now impossible. John II did his duty under the governments of the interregnum, and was even a militia commissioner in 1659.[23] But by then that unfortunate constitutional experiment was faltering. He blotted his copybook with the successor regime when, at the fateful parliamentary election of 1660, he returned John Lenthall, who had been grooming the constituency for years and had sat for it in the previous parliament. Lenthall’s father, William, had been speaker of the Parliament that had fought the Civil War and executed the king. Such paternity would obviously not endear him to the newly royalist House of Commons, and he was expelled in favour of Stonehouse. John Mayott himself suffered a brief imprisonment. After the Restoration, he refused to take the new oaths of allegiance, and his career both in the Corporation and in the Hospital was at an end.[24]

Mayotts were now only occasionally involved in Abingdon’s government.  In 1686, under James II, a new charter was forced on the town, intended to keep it subservient to the ruling Tory party in government. The charter named as mayor John Saunders, who was John II’s nephew, a Mayott through his mother. John II’s son, another John, was also named to the Corporation. But John III would die in the same year and John Saunders the year after.[25] The charter would prove short-lived, but no Mayotts returned to the Corporation after the revolution of 1688.

Some, at least, of the Mayotts had become very rich indeed.  John Mayott I, the one who had died in 1643, was a brewer and industrialist with a share in a ‘pottage works’ the nature of which remains uncertain. He was able to leave almost £2000 in cash.[26] One of his grandsons, Robert, died unmarried in 1682 and left enough money to endow a new free-school in Abingdon, for which he thoughtfully wrote the syllabuses for both boys and girls, and also to relieve the poverty of dissenting clergymen who had lost their cures at the Restoration. In the charged atmosphere of religious politics of the time, the latter bequest was impossible to fulfil. The executors refused to act, or dared not, and the case dragged through the courts until after the revolution of 1688. The school was established nonetheless, but in the name of a cousin, Richard Mayott.[27]

But the most prominent Mayott of the later seventeenth century was another grandson of John I, Robert II. He became a Hospital governor in 1654, and was an active parishioner at St Nicolas. When mainstream puritans sought to get the traditionalist church demolished and its congregation transferred willy-nilly to St Helen’s, he lobbied hard against the proposal, travelling to London to enlist the great and powerful in support. Both John and William Lenthall came on board, and the church was saved.[28] Although not a member of the Corporation, Robert II joined his cousin John II in 1659 as a militia commissioner for Berkshire.  But in 1660 he resigned as a Hospital governor; he had bought an estate at Fawler near Woodstock and intended to live as a country gentleman.[29]

It so happened that the first Earl of Clarendon, lord chancellor after the Restoration, took over the Cornbury estate, neighbouring Fawler, as his country residence. Clarendon was made high steward of Abingdon. Robert Mayott II became friendly with his son and heir, Henry, who in 1674 succeeded both to the title and to the Abingdon stewardship. Mayott became Clarendon’s political agent and confidential adviser. In 1682, he was high sheriff of Oxfordshire. At the accession of James II, the earl, who was the king’s brother-in-law, became a major figure as lord privy seal and then as lord lieutenant of Ireland.  Mayott’s status improved further and the records show him frequently dining with the great and powerful of the realm.[30]  While the earl was in Ireland, he handled all his local affairs. The new charter of 1686 provided for no fewer than nine outsiders, rural gentry of unimpeachably pro-government principles, to sit in Abingdon’s courts as JPs.  Clarendon saw to it that one of the nominated magistrates was Robert Mayott.

Robert Mayott II never quite broke his links with Abingdon. The St Helen’s registers record the death of his wife in 1698, although she was buried at Charlbury. In old age, he returned to his birthplace, and was accepted back at the Hospital notwithstanding his earlier resignation. In 1704, exactly fifty years after he had joined the governors, he was master. In 1711 Robert Mayott esquire ‘of St Helen’s’ was buried at St Nicolas.[31] There were still a few Mayotts in Abingdon, and indeed a Richard Mayott would succeed him briefly in the Hospital, but they were no longer of the town’s ruling class. The last Mayott appears in the St Helen’s burial register in 1715, and at that point the Mayotts of Abingdon become extinct.[32]

The history of the Abingdon Mayotts may be seen as a familiar demographic trajectory, expansion followed by extinction as male offspring failed to be produced, or failed to marry, or moved elsewhere. But the fact is that Mayotts disappeared from the ruling élite of Abingdon well before their numbers had begun to decline. They, or the leaders among them, must have taken a conscious decision to concentrate on their private affairs. In fact, the mid-century years were a watershed in municipal administration. Corporation membership was no longer a source of status and respect. This will have been borne in upon John Mayott II in 1660 when he was summoned to the bar of the House of Commons and then imprisoned for not arriving on time. Three years later, he chose to refuse the oaths presented to him and was disabled from all civic functions. He may well have concluded that the game was no longer worth the candle.


See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.

© AAAHS and contributors 2013





[1] List of mayors in Bromley Challenor, Selections from the Records of the Borough of Abingdon (Abingdon, 1898), Appendix xlvi-xlix; Masters and governors of Christ’s Hospital in C D Cobham (ed), A monument of Christian munificence … by Francis Little, 1627 (Oxford, 1873), pp. 103-113.

[2] The National Archives (TNA), Berkshire tax lists Dec 1641, E 179/75/353.

[3] Harry Rylands: The Four visitations of Berkshire, 1532, 1566, 1623, 1665-6, Vol 2 (London, 1908), p. 176

[4] A L Reade, The Reades of Blackwood Hill in the parish of Horton, Staffordshire (London, 1906) p. i and passim.

[5] TNA, Roger Mayott will, 1510, PROB 11/16

[6] Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 3: 1519-1523 (1867), pp. 200-206.

[7] TNA, Thomas Mayott will, PROB 11/27. Note: name written as Maat or Maate throughout and so indexed.

[8] TNA, Amyce Survey, LR 2/187/196-215.

[9] James Townsend, A History of Abingdon, (London, 1910), p. 57.

[10] Berks Record Office, Preston Papers, D/EP7 94.

[11] Calendar of Patent Rolls, Edward VI, 5 ii, pp. 142-3 (18 May 1553).

[12] Challenor, Selections, p.8

[13] Berks Record Office, Preston Papers, D/EP 7/49.

[14] TNA, Richard Mayott’s will, PROB 11/61.

[15] Thomas Hynde and Michael St John Parker, The Martlet and the Griffen: an illustrated history of Abingdon School (London, 1997) pp. 32-5.

[16] Nigel Hammond, A record of Tesdale Ushers and Bennett Scholars 1609-1870 (Wantage, 2004), p.31.

[17] Manfred Brod, Abingdon in Context (Peterborough, 2010) pp. 29-33.

[18] Letter of complaint from Elias Ashmole, Windsor herald at the College of Arms, to John Mayott, 6 May 1665, in Rylands: The Four visitations of Berkshire, Vol 2 p. 176.

[19] Brod, Abingdon in Context, pp. 67-70.

[20] TNA, Thomas Mayott’s will, PROB 11/152.

[21] Calendar of State Papers Domestic, 1634-5, no 48, under 27 Sept 1634 (but misdated).

[22] John K. Gruenfelder, ‘The Spring 1640 Parliamentary Election at Abingdon’ Berks Archaeological Journal 65 (1970) pp. 41-7.

[23] C H Firth and R S Rait, Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum (1911), Vol 2 p. 1427.

[24] Brod, Abingdon in Context, pp. 115-9, 125.

[25] Challenor, Selections, Appx LVI-LIX; Brod, Abingdon in Context, pp 141-4.

[26] Berks Record Office, John Mayott will, D/ER T154/2; TNA, John Mayott will, PROB 11/201.

[27] TNA, Robert Mayott will, PROB 11/374; Bodleian, MS Gough Berks 5, f.218; Mark Goldie (ed), Roger Morrice's Ent'ring Book (CD Version, 2008), Section P435.

[28] Brod, Abingdon in Context, p. 103.

[29] Christ’s Hospital, Governors and Masters Book, ff. 32, 40.

[30] Samuel Weller Singer (Ed), The Correspondence of Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon and …. Rochester, 2 vols (London, 1828) Vol II pp. 286-91, 398.

[31] Cobham, A Monument, p. 111; Oxfordshire Family History Society, Abingdon St Nicolas registers (CD); TNA, Robert Mayott will, PROB 11/531.

[32] Oxfordshire Family History Society, Abingdon St Helen’s registers (CD).

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