Charles FOSTER senior (1779–1853)
His wife Mrs Sarah FOSTER, née Bartlett (1788/9–1863)
Their daughters Miss Eleanor Rebecca FOSTER (1820–1884) and
Miss Ann FOSTER (1823–1905)
St Mary Magdalen section: Row 5a, Grave C59½
Front of vault, above: SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF / CHARLES FOSTER / WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE MARCH 2, 1853 / AGED 73 YEARS
Back of vault, below: ALSO OF SARAH HIS WIFE /
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE FEB. 17, 1863 / AGED 74 YEARS
ALSO ELEANOR REBECCA DAUGHTER OF THE ABOVE / WHO DIED MARCH 8, 1884, AGED 62 [actually 63] YEARS
Triangular corner on left, just visible above: ALSO ANN DAUGHTER OF C. & S. FOSTER / DIED JULY 7, 1908 / AGED 84 YEARS
Charles Foster was born in Bucknell, Oxfordshire on 11 April 1779 and baptised there on 12 September. He was the son of William Foster, a yeoman of Bucknell, and Sarah Eagles of Bicester, who were married at Bicester Church on 28 April 1767. Nine of his siblings were also baptised at that church: John (1768), Sarah Eagles (1769), Thomas (1771), William (1772), Michael (1775), Elizabeth (1777), Eleanor (1781), Mary (1784), and Rebecca (1786).
His father William Foster died in 1792, leaving Charles £250 in his will, plus £50 to pay for his apprenticeship. On 1 December 1793 he was duly apprenticed for seven years to Richard Cox, a mercer at 134 High Street in All Saints’ parish.
Charles Foster’s mother Sarah Foster died in 1803, so that Charles was orphaned at the age of 14.
On 27 August 1816 at St Peter-le-Bailey Church in Oxford, Charles Foster (with the consent of friends, as both his parents were dead) married Sarah Bartlett (born in Brackley, Northamptonshire in 1788/9). It was announced thus in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 31 August 1816: “On Tuesday last was married, at St. Peter-le-Bailey Church, by the Rev. Mr. Penson, Mr. Charles Foster, linen draper, of this city, to Miss Bartlett, of Brackley, Northamptonshire.” They had three daughters:
- Sarah Elizabeth Foster (born in Oxford in 1818 and baptised at St Peter-le-Bailey Church on 31 May)
- (Eleanor) Rebecca Foster (born at High Street, Oxford in 1820 and baptised at All Saints’ Church on 6 August)
- Ann Foster (born at High Street, Oxford in 1823 and baptised at All Saints’ Church on 21 September).
Charles Foster was a linen draper, originally in partnership with his former master Richard Cox at 134 High Street in All Saints’ parish, and Pigot’s Directory of 1823 lists the firm as Cox & Foster. Foster had set up in business on his own by 1831, probably at Waterloo House, 105 High Street in St Mary-the-Virgin parish, where his business can be identified by 1836. The following advertisement appeared in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 28 January 1832 shows how he was expanding into millinery and dresses:
MILLINERY AND DRESS ROOMS, HIGH STREET, OXFORD.
CHARLES FOSTER begs respectfully to announce to the Ladies of Oxford and its vicinity, that he has engaged Miss BAILEY and Miss FOXTON, from Mrs. Harman’s of Regent-street London, to superintend the MILLINERY AND DRESS MAKING BUSINESS, which he intends to commence on the 1st of February next.
C.F. returns his grateful acknowledgements to his friends and the public, for the extensive patronage he has received in the Linen Drapery, Silk Mercery, and Hosiery business, and trusts that by every exertion being made in introducing the newest Fashions, to merit a continuance of those favours, so long and so liberally bestowed.
By this arrangement Ladies will have an opportunity of selecting from a large and well assorted Stock of Goods, suited to the different Seasons; also every description of ready-made Baby Linen, &c. which, upon inspection, C.F. flatters himself will meet their approbation.
Numerous advertisements were to follow. On 27 October 1832 he emphasized his “extensive and splendid” collection of furs (sables, ermine, chinchilla, squirrel and lynx), as well as shawls, table linen, blankets, quilts, and counterpanes.
By 12 April 1834 he was evidently in partnership with Edward Bartlett, a silk mercer and linen draper of 14 High Street (and almost certainly a relation of his wife, whose maiden name was also Bartlett), and they traded as Messrs Foster & Bartlett, woollen and linen drapers, silk mercers, hosiers, haberdashers, &c. advertised that they were selling off their stock. It was probably at this point that Charles Foster retired, and, as he had no sons, the business passed into the hands of his nephew Charles Foster junior. From April 1835 Charles Foster junior began to advertise his wares at Waterloo House in the High Street, and the business duly is listed as Foster junior & Co. in Robson’s Directory for 1839.
At the time of the 1841 census Charles Foster senior (63) was living in retirement at St John Street with his wife Sarah and their three daughters. Two ladies called Maria and Sarah Hayes were also living with them, and they had one servant, Elizabeth East, who had been with the family since she was a girl and was to work for them for over 60 years.
When he offered himself as a candidate for the situation of Actuary to the Oxford Savings Bank in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 5 February 1842, Foster gave his address as 15 St John Street.
At some point between 1841 and 1851, Charles Foster was appointed City Mace-Bearer. The city mace-bearer in 2006, left, is holding the same mace that Foster would have carried on his shoulder: dating from 1651, it is the largest civic mace in Britain, and is almost a replica of the House of Commons mace.
The address of the Fosters was given as 16 rather than 15 St John Street in the 1851 census. Charles (72), who now gave his occupation as Mace-Bearer, was living there with his wife Sarah (60) and their daughters Sarah (30), Eleanor (28), and Ann (26). Sarah Hayes (45), described as an annuitant, was still living with them, and their servant.
On 23 December 1851 at St Mary Magdalen Church their daughter Sarah Elizabeth Foster, with her father described as “mace-bearer in the City of Oxford”, married William Harris, a shoe manufacturer of Northampton and son of the farmer John Harris.
Fifteen months later, Charles Foster died:
† Charles Foster died at St John Street at the age of 73 or 74 on 2 March 1853 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 8 March (burial recorded in the parish register of St Mary Magdalen Church).
His death notice in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 5 March 1853 was brief and to the point: “March 2, in St. John-street, Mr. Charles Foster, aged 74.” Probate was granted by the Prerogative Court at Canterbury (PCC Will PROB 11/2170/343).
At the time of the 1861 census Mrs Sarah Foster (73), described as living off interest of money, was living at 15 St John Street with her daughter Eleanor (39) and one servant.
Mrs Foster died two years later:
† Mrs Sarah Foster, née Bartlett died at St John Street at the age of about 74 on 17 February 1863 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 23 February (burial recorded in the parish register of St Mary Magdalen Church).
At the time of the 1871 census Miss (Eleanor) Rebecca Foster (50, but claiming to be 48) was keeping a lodging house at St John Street with the help of the old family servant, who was now aged 73. There were two lodgers: a surveyor and a quartermaster. Miss Ann Foster is hard to find. Their married sister Sarah Elizabeth (Mrs Harris) was living at 9 Willoughby Lane, Manchester in 1871 with her husband William (47), who was a warehouseman, and their children Charles Harris (15), who was working in an agent’s office, and Ellen (12) and John (10) who were at school. They had a boarder and a servant. She died in Manchester the following year at the age of 53.
By the time of the 1881 census Eleanor (60) and Ann (57) were themselves lodgers at 9 St John Street, the house of the widow Mrs Mary Gregory. Eleanor died there three years later:
† Miss Eleanor Rebecca Foster died at 9 St John Street at the age of 63 on 8 March 1884 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 13 March (burial recorded in the parish register of St Mary Magdalen Church).
At the time of the 1891 census Miss Ann Foster (67) was lodging at 61 St John Street; and in 1901 at 16 St John Street. She died at the latter address in 1908:
† Miss Ann Foster died at 16 St John Street at the age of 84 on 7 July 1908 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 10 July (burial recorded in the parish register of St Mary Magdalen Church).
Charles Foster junior, the son of Charles Foster’s brother William Foster and his wife Elizabeth Collcutt, was born in Bucknell on 26 January 1808 and baptised there on 26 January 1809.
He married his first wife Mary (born in Marlborough in c.1809) in the early 1830s, and appears to have taken over his uncle’s linen drapery business at 105 High Street (Waterloo House) by April 1835, when advertisements under the name of Charles Foster junior start to appear in Jackson’s Oxford Journal. His first two children were born there: Mary Margaret Foster on 8 June 1835 and Charles William Foster on 28 July 1836: both were baptised at St Mary-the-Virgin Church. Mrs Foster took a big hand in the business, and it was Mrs C. Foster junior who advertised her business at this shop in October 1836.
On 29 April 1837 Mrs Foster announced that she had removed the general drapery and millinery business to 124 High Street. The Fosters had eight more children who were all born over this shop and baptised at All Saints Church: Elizabeth Catharine (b.1837), John Thomas (b.1838), Francis Edmund (b.1840), Ann Rebecca (b.1841), Ellen (b.1842), Catharine (1843), Henry (1844/5), and Alfred (1846).
On the morning of Sunday 13 March 1842 a serious fire started on the premises of his shop and home at 124 High Street (reported in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 19 March 1842), “completely destroying … Mr. C. Foster’s house and elegant shop (fitted up recently at an immense expense)”. On 9 April 1842 it published a notice of an appeal to reimburse all the shopmen and women and servants who lost all their personal possessions.
Despite this setback, he greatly expanded the business, merging with Parsons next door at No. 123. At the time of the 1851 census Charles Foster (42) was living over his pair of shops at 123 & 124 High Street with his wife Mary (41) and their children Charles (14), John (12), Francis (11), Ann (9), Catherine (7), Henry (6), and Alfred (5), plus a tailor’s clerk, errand boy, governess, and two servants. There were also several householders occupying another part of the area upstairs.
In 1861 he described himself as an employer of 50 men and 20 women. He was still living over the shop with four of his children and three servants, while his wife Mary lived with a servant on Headington Hill: both still described themselves as married, so Mary may have moved up the hill for the sake of her health. She does not appear to have returned home, as she died at Headington Hill at the age of 60 in 1869, with her burial on 30 December recorded in the register of All Saints’ Church.
Charles Foster junior's son John was married in 1864:
- On 7 March 1864 at St Aldate’s Church, John Thomas Foster married Elizabeth Anne Prickett, the daughter of James Prickett, the butler at Trinity College.
On 22 March 1871 at St Aldate's Church Charles Foster junior married his second wife Mary Prickett, the governess of the Liddell children at Christ Church: she was the sister of Elizabeth Prickett (the wife of his son John) and 24 years his junior. They moved immediately into 86 High Street (in St Peter-in-the-East parish) to run a wine business: Charles (63), now described as a wine merchant, and Mary (39) can be seen there at the time of the 1871 census, which was taken just over a week after their wedding. His son John Thomas Foster had taken over the family business and was living over the shop at 123 High Street with his wife Elizabeth when his son Frederic Lionel Foster was baptised at All Saints’ Church on 24 August 1872. On Saturday 1 August 1873, John and his wife were on their way to Scotland by rail, and John was thrown out of the window during an accident at Wigan. His father brought him back to Oxford the next day, but he died on the Monday, leaving a widow and five young children.
Charles Foster junior's daughter Anne was married in 1873:
- On 16 April 1873 at St Aldate’s Church, Anne Rebecca Foster married the librarian Frederick Prickett: he was the brother of her stepmother Mary.
By 1881 Charles Foster junior and his second wife Mary had taken over the Mitre Hotel in the High Street. Charles died there on 25 December 1888, leaving a personal estate of £7,075 5s. 6d. His widow Mary continued to run the Mitre until her own death in 1920,
The business of Foster & Co., tailors & robe makers, survived at 123 High Street until 1939.
See also the Prickett grave for more on the members of the Foster family who married Pricketts
For more on Charles Foster junior’s second wife Mary Prickett, governess to the real “Alice in Wonderland”,
see Mark J. Davies, Alice in Waterland: Lewis Carroll and the River Thames in Oxford (Signal Books, 2010)