Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thomas Hooper Deacon

The Vale of the White Horse Hunt was formed out of the ancient Old Berkshire Hunt in 1832. By 1837 the Master of Fox Hounds, the Hon. Henry Moreton, had moved the hounds to new kennels at Cirencester Park. In 1886 the hunt split yet again, becoming the VWH (Cirencester) and the VWH (Cricklade). Two years later Mr T. Butt Miller took over as Master of Fox Hounds, a role he was to fill for 22 seasons, eleven of which he was assisted by Thomas Hooper Deacon as secretary. The two VWH Hunts were eventually amalgamated in 1964.

Today the subject of fox hunting is a contentious one, but there is no denying that for many generations it was an important part of country life. Fox hunting created many occupations for the rural community, including a flourishing trade in horses, which was good news for one Old Swindon businessman.

Thomas Hooper Deacon was born in Faringdon in about 1838, the son of Cornelious Floyd Deacon and his wife Ann. By 1861 he was working as a saddler, employing two men and two boys at his business in the High Street, Highworth where he lived with his wife Jane and their young son Floyd.

Widowed in 1866, Hooper Deacon married Elizabeth Kempster Sainsbury in 1868, moving to Swindon around the same time and establishing in 1871 the VWH Horse and Carriage Repository with his business partner Thomas Edmund Liddiard.

The first large sale took place on February 26, 1872 and was attended by farmers and dealer from all parts of the country.

In 1874 the two men signed a lease on the mansion house, garden, yards and stables in High Street, formerly occupied by John Harding Sheppard. Under the same agreement they also acquired various other properties in the area behind High Street and Newport Street, further extending the Repository premises. The business flourished and in 1879 1,872 horses were entered for sale across the year.

A man of phenomenal energies, Hooper Deacon's activities were not limited merely to his auction business and fox hunting. A Managing Director at Swindon Town FC, President of the Swindon Amateur Bicycle Club and Captain in the Wilts Yeomanry, Hooper Deacon was also one of the founder members of the Victoria Hospital.

In a political career spanning nearly forty years he served as a member of Old Swindon Local Board and represented the South Ward following the town's incorporation in 1900. He was one of Swindon's first Aldermen and was elected Mayor in 1908.

The Advertiser described Thomas Hooper Deacon as 'one of the best known and highly respected men who have lived in Swindon' in a lengthy memorial published on his death in April 1915.

"His energy and abilities have helped in an incalculable degree to the prosperity of the community, and his purse has been always open to every demand made upon it,' the obituary continued.

Hooper Deacon lived for several years at Kingshill House, then owned by the Bowly family of brewers, but for much of his life he lived close to the VWH Repository at 58 Newport Street where he died in 1915. He is buried in the churchyard at Christ Church alongside his second wife Elizabeth and their daughter Mabel Ivy.

Today he is commemorated in the naming of Hooper Place, a lane close to the site of the Newport Street entrance to the former Vale of White Horse Repository.

The Hunting Act of 2004 has altered the nature of the traditional hunt where horses and hounds now follow an artificially laid trail, however the Boxing Day Hunt remains one of the best attended meets of the season.

Images - A William Hooper view of VWH Hunt outside Kingshill House, home of Thomas Hooper Deacon, courtesy of Paul Williams, see this and more on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/

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