NOSTALGIA: The country vicar who saved his church

St Pancras Church at Arlington, which dates back to Saxon times

St Pancras Church at Arlington, which dates back to Saxon times

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If you regularly visit or attend services at St Pancras Church, Arlington, or even if you live in the parish you will almost certainly be aware of the Reverend Thomas Bunston even though he has been dead for nearly 100 years.

You are likely to know of Thomas because inside the church there is a wall tablet that proclaims that he – aided by the architect Charles Powell – was largely responsible for renewing the fabric of St Pancras Church after it had fallen into a state of gross disrepair. This was a great achievement and so was the building of a much needed school nearby.

However, there was much more to Thomas Bunston than church restoration work and school building and this article just touches upon him, his family and his many achievements. Thomas was born in 1839 at Axminster in Devon. His father John was the licensee of the Red Lion public house which still exists.

By 1863 Thomas was headmaster at Charmouth School in Dorset. This was the year that he married Anna Bond a farmer’s daughter. However, in 1866 Thomas became headmaster at Alderbury National School in Wiltshire. His wife Anna was engaged as a sewing mistress.

From 1868 Anna did not enjoy good health. She died in September 1870 from respiratory problems at the age of 29. This must have been a terrible blow for Thomas who left his position at the school at the end of December.

Thomas had three children by Anna and they were Herbert, Matilda and Anna.

Herbert became a well-known actor and a minor film star appearing with Bela Lugosi in the first Dracula film. He also appeared in films alongside Norma Shearer, Basil Rathbone and Ivor Novello.

Matilda married Thomas Watson, a London publican, and on his death emigrated to Australia.

Anna, like her father, was a teacher but also a poet of some renown as well as being an author and a librettist. Her poems have a strong religious theme and but she is also known as a First World War poet.

In 1871 Thomas was a school master at Sherfield English in Hampshire and in 1872 he married Isabella Murray Millard. Isabella’s father was also a school master. The 1861 Census shows that Isabella was a ‘Free School Mistress’ at a school in Watford, Hertfordshire.

Around the period 1872 to 1876, Thomas seems to have decided upon an ecclesiastical career and in 1889 he was appointed Vicar of St Pancras Church where he carried out his good works – a position he held until 1910 when he was appointed Rural Dean, which he was filling at the time of his death in 1918.

Thomas and Isabella had three children Margaret, Ethel and Isabella. The 1911 census shows Margaret was a nurse at St Marks Hospital, London, and Ethel a ‘Professes Sister’ and mistress of kindergarten at a school situated in Cromwell Road, Kensington.

In 1918 Isabella married Edward Alfred Somerset Allan a Clerk in Holy Orders. In 1939 Isabella was known to be a ‘Teaching Sister’. It can be seen that Thomas’s children by both his marriage were suffused with talent and ideals of public service as was Thomas of course but he was more than just a churchman.

The Reverend A A Evans noted in the Sussex County Magazine April 1931 that Thomas Bunston “was a man of many intellectual interests. Many will know his little brochure on Place-Names Sussex...and his booklet on the Long Man of Wilmington, and on bells: Bell-brook, Six Bells, Eight Bells and other bells which meet one in the names of old hostelries, hidden pools, and brooks of Sussex, ...”

Fittingly, Thomas Bunston and Charles Powell are buried near to each other in St Pancras Church graveyard in the shadows of the building they sort to lovingly protect.

Written by Bryan S Boon, Thomas Bunston’s great great nephew.

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