Canon ARCHER HUNTER MA (1850-1939),
Vicar of Christ Church Epsom Common, 1881-1911

Canon Archer Hunter
Canon Archer Hunter

Canon Hunter's 30 years in post - 1881 to 1911 - make him far and away Christ Church's longest-serving Vicar. Next in line, with 15 years each, are the Revd Derek Bedford (1966-81) and the Ven Mark Wilson (1981-96).

Archer George Hunter was born on 12 November 1850, the fourth child of Richard and Caroline Hunter. The 1851 Census records the family living at 29 Brunswick Square, London and that Richard was a solicitor in Lincoln's Inn (where the firm of Hunters continues today). By the 1861 Census, four more children had arrived and the more than comfortably-off family had moved to Cottenham Park, Wimbledon.

Archer was educated at Marlborough College, and then at Trinity College, Cambridge where he gained an MA degree. He received his theological training at Cuddesdon College, just outside Oxford. His training Curacy was served at St Mary's, Beddington (1874-77) - in which post he received, but did not accept, an invitation to Christ Church's consecration in 1876. He then moved to be assistant priest in Camden Town where he helped set up the new congregation of St. Michael's.

1881 was a significant year for Archer. First, he married Marianne (daughter of the late Frederick Bray of Regent's Park, London). More importantly for Epsom, he was appointed as Christ Church's second Vicar - succeeding the Revd George Willes (1876-81). It is not known how quickly Archer decided that Christ Church would be his only parish as Vicar but (despite Lord Rosebery's attempts to get him to Mentmore in Buckinghamshire, another of the Rosebery estates) his obvious strong bond kept him in post for the next 30 years - with, indeed, some continuing involvement after that.

A postcard view of Christ Church, Epsom c.1900
A postcard view of Christ Church, Epsom c.1900

Archer and Marianne had four children: Dorothy (b 1882); Richard (b 1884); Phyllis (b 1885); and Leonard (b 1897). Sadly - although far from unusually in those days - Leonard died on 20 February 1891, just short of his fourth birthday, and was buried in Epsom Cemetery. In the child's memory, as recorded on the brass plaque pictured below, the organ console and the corona (under the organ pipes) were decorated together with the addition of complementary side panels (each measuring about 1.65 by 1.05 m). The artist was Henry (also known as "Harry" or "Hal") Collier Jones, a member of the Christ Church congregation.

The 1891 Leonard John Hunter memorial plaque and organ decoration.
The 1891 Leonard John Hunter memorial plaque and organ decoration.
Montage of photographs from various sources by Roger Morgan © 2017

The decoration on the console was lost when it replaced during the rebuild of the organ in 1937. The side panels were removed in the 1970s at the request of the then organist because they muffled the instrument's sound. Only the decorated corona remains in situ. While the side panels were later disposed of, they were photographed in the 1990s and the montage above recreates the original effect.

Just above that brass plaque in memory of Leonard is a stone tablet, pictured below, "To keep in memory the faithful service in this parish of Archer George Hunter and Marianne his wife 1882-1912." (Oddly, both those dates are a year later than every other record - including the authoritative Crockford's Directory - of his term.) Inset into the stone is a bronze plaque noting that it was put there to mark the 50th anniversary of his priesthood in 1925.

The 1925 stone tablet.
The 1925 stone tablet.
Photograph © Nishi Sharma of Light & Shade Photography, 2015

The bronze plaque's profile portrait of Archer shows him significantly older than the picture at the head of this article. The latter comes from a privately published directory of the "great and good" in Epsom published in about 1908. Archer's entry in that directory, like the plaque, recorded his appointment in 1897 as an honorary Canon of Winchester Cathedral and (in 1906) as Rural Dean of Leatherhead. It also recorded as his recreations as "cycling and foreign travel." (Foreign travel was certainly not for the masses at the time - and this pursuit reflected his relative affluence.) Not recorded in either place is his significant involvement, as Parish Priest, in Epsom's pre Welfare State provision for the "poor"; his part in establishing St Barnabas to serve the expanding north of Epsom (from 1899 as a Chapel of Ease on Hook Road, moving to the new church in Temple Road in 1909 which became a parish in its own right in 1917); and, in 1908, taking under Christ Church's wing - as St Michael's - the 1880s Mission Church on Woodlands Road which closed in 1956.

Archer retired as a parish priest in 1911, aged 61. He and Marianne moved to The Larch Wood in Ashtead - from where he continued in the unpaid post of Rural Dean for another 14 years, until 1925 - when he was aged 75. As such, he continued to be involved in the life of Christ Church. He was a guest at the 1922 wedding of his second successor as Vicar of Christ Church, the Revd Neville Stiff, and was particularly active in keeping things going after Neville's tragic death in 1923.

Archer's son Richard married Daphne (née Thompson) in 1909. Their first child, Paul, was born in 1911 but sadly died after two months. Although the family lived in London, Paul was buried in Epsom Cemetery - in the same plot (A70A) as Archer's other son, Leonard who had died 20 years previously. In due course, the same plot also received Archer's wife Marianne, who died in March 1931, aged 85 - and Archer himself, who died in April 1939, aged 88.

Roger Morgan © 2014

Towards the end of his full and interesting life, Canon Hunter wrote a short book entitled Incidents in my life and Ministry. Published in 1935, this has long been out of print but a recent transcription can be downloaded here.

In addition to the background material in his book, there are also some interesting recollections in the Epsom Common Association's 1993 booklet Epsom Common -
"In 1881, Canon Archer G. Hunter began his long period as Vicar of Christ Church, and he and his wife worked with unflagging energy to care for the people in the parish. They both visited regularly, especially when people were ill, they organised various forms of poor relief, they arranged outings for the children, they entertained in their enormous Victorian vicarage [as shown below – but replaced by the present more modest building in 1938] and, above all, they gave the greatest care to the maintenance of the year's services. The organist, George Good, appointed in 1876, was another of the same quality, and the partnership of these three made Christ Church a powerful influence. The children were rounded up for Sunday School too, and most of them grew up to attach great significance to regular church-going. … Canon Hunter's long service as Vicar (1881 to 1911) made a lasting impact. He and his wife are still vividly remembered, with affection and admiration."

Christ Church Vicarage c.1880s
Christ Church Vicarage c.1880s
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

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