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Thomas Sainsbury Master 1774-1776, Lord Mayor 1786-1787

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Thomas Sainsbury

The earliest record of a Bowyer being elected to the office of Alderman is that of Thomas Sainsbury who represented the Ward of Billingsgate from 1778 to 1795. Although there are no records before that date, those elected from minor companies were expected to translate to one of the "Great Twelve" and there are examples of this happening in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The official lists at that time recorded the names of the aldermen as liverymen of their new company and, sadly, the name of the mother company was lost. Thus we may never know if any Bowyers were elected as aldermen before 17781.

Thomas Sainsbury came from a family established in Market Lavington, Wiltshire, on the north side of Salisbury Plain. The surname occurs more frequently than any other in the parish registers, there is a large Sainsbury pedigree in the Market Lavington Village Museum and there are numerous entries from visiting Sainsburys in the Visitors Book in the parish church. There is still an active Sainsbury's Bread Charity (not founded by Thomas himself but by one of the extended family) which distributes bread to the poor of the parish.

The pedigree in the Village Museum indicates that Thomas (1730 -1795) was married to Eliza Maria Fry (1752 - 1800). His parents were Samuel Sainsbury (1692 - 1748) and Elizabeth. The pedigree goes as far back as a William Sainsbury born 1587. A Samuel Sainsbury presented a silver flagon to the church in1733 but it is not known if this was the Alderman's father.

Further research2 has revealed that Thomas and Eliza were married in October 1788, that he died in May 1795 at Newcourt House, Devon, and she a few years later on 14th December 1800. His will was proved on 3rd June 17953.

His achievements are recorded in the parish church of St Mary's, Market Lavington, on a plaque on the north wall of the chancel above the choir stalls. Above the text is a life-sized sculpture in white marble of a draped female figure weeping over an urn. The work is attributed to John Flaxman4 (1755-1826) whose best known sculpure is the Nelson memorial in St Paul's Cathedral. The inscription reads:

Thomas Sainsbury Esq son of Samuel and Elizabeth Sainsbury born the 25th December 1730 Died 16th May 1795 chosen Alderman of the Ward of Billingsgate the year 1778 Sheriff of London and Middlesex 1780 and Lord Mayor of London 1786

To this shrine traveller attentive turn
And pause awhile o'er Sainsbury's hallowed urn.
Of him who's now an inmate of the skies
Beneath this tomb all that now mortal lies
In honour firm and faithful to his trust
In ev'ry station moral wise and just
A magistrate, observant of the laws
A Briton, ardent in his country's cause
A tender husband, father, brother, friend
Esteem'd through life, lamented in his end
Such Sainsbury was, now 'midst angelic lays
He wants no tribute of vain mortal praise
Yet from oblivion such rare worth to claim
This honest marble here records his name
Here shall his relatives their visits pay
And with their tears embalm his honour'd clay
And his example shall instruct our youth
To walk the paths of virtue and of truth

The Minutes of the Bowyers Company indicate that Thomas Sainsbury was Master 1774-1776 and he is described as a "grocer of Ludgate Hill"5.

At the Court Meeting on 26th October 1843 it was reported that Miss Sainsbury, a Freewoman of the Company, had died since the last Court meeting6. It is believed that she was the daughter of the Lord Mayor and the last lady to have been a member of the Company.


1 Information on translation to the Great Twelve taken from article by Sinclair Rogers: "Bowyer Lord Mayors" (Bowyers' Newsletter of Summer 2004).
2 The Piozzi Letters, the letters of Hester Piozzi.
3 PRO Prob 11/1262/409
4 St Mary's Church, Market Lavington: An illustrated guide and history (November 2005)
5 Bowyers' Company Minutes. Guildhall Library MS5360 Various Papers 1672-1815.
6 Bowyers' Company Minutes. Guildhall Library MS5349 Vol 6 1848 - 1850

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