John Major was born in Southampton in about 1575, the son of a brewer, also named John Major, who had become mayor of Southampton in 1600. John junior became a burgess in 1603, town steward in 1611, sheriff in 1613 and mayor in 1615. In 1610 he was described as a cloth merchant, trading with French ports. He became increasingly wealthy and acquired land and property in Southampton and other parts of Hampshire.

In his will (he died in 1629) he left a sum of £200 to build an almshouse for the poor. After a legal dispute his son Richard, the executor of the will, entered into an agreement with the corporation whereby they were to provide a workhouse and Richard would endow it with an estate purchased with the £200. In 1631 the Vernicle, a medieval house on the west side of French Street, was purchased and converted into a workhouse, which was intended to house twenty poor children and teach another forty. It is unlikely that these numbers were ever realized. The building was much larger than was required and a house of correction was later housed here too. In 1673, when the corporation finally received John Major’s legacy in full, this building was transformed into St John’s Hospital. The hospital was to house six poor boys.

John’s son Richard, born in c.1603, was also prominent in the political and religious affairs of Southampton and Hampshire. Although he lived at Hursley Park, he represented Southampton in a number of parliaments in the mid century. His religious leanings were puritanical. In 1649 his eldest daughter and heir Dorothy married at Hursley Richard Cromwell, son of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. The couple returned to Hursley after Richard Cromwell was deposed. Richard Major died in 1660 and was buried at Hursley.

Further reading:

‘John Maijor c.1575-1629’, by Elizabeth Rothery, in Southampton Local History Forum Journal No. 5, Spring 1996, p22-27. (HS/h)
History of Southampton, by Rev. J. S. Davies, p298-299. (HS/h)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, Volume 36


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