Arthur Charles Hyde Parker was a prominent and well-respected Abingdon resident. He worked for the Morland Brewery as a chemical analyst, but little is known about his time there. He is chiefly remembered for taking a very active part in the life of the town and a keen interest in the education and entertainment of the town’s young people. He was also a collector of scientific and technical objects, some of which have been donated to the Abingdon County Hall Museum, where they can be viewed, and to the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford.
A C Hyde Parker was born in 1880, the son of Arthur Popham H Parker, a banker’s clerk, and Dora May Parker née Wilmot in Penmaenmawr, Caernarvonshire. He was a descendant of Admiral Hyde Parker, the commander whose signals were famously ignored by Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen. By 1881 the census for England reveals him to be living with his parents in Long Eaton, Derbyshire. Ten years later, in the 1891 census, Hyde Parker is recorded as a scholar of 10 years, still living in Derbyshire with his parents, having now been joined by two younger sisters – Dorothy and Dulcibella. By 1901 an Arthur C E H Parker, aged 20, brewer and analytical chemist, is recorded as lodging with several others at 20 Radley Road, Abingdon. Somewhat mysteriously, Hyde Parker seems to have gained the initial E.
The Abingdon Roll of Honour of men who served in the First World War records that ‘Parker, Arthur C Hyde, 2nd Lieutenant, of “Ock Lea”, Ock-street (which was part of the Morland Brewery complex, where he worked), served with the 14th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment from December 1915 to January 1919 in France and Belgium’. The 14th were known as the Severn Valley Pioneers. Pioneer battalions were set up for skilled construction work to dig trenches, build defences and for the movement of supplies and munitions. In addition to labour work, these battalions were also equipped for combat. The history of the 14th, as described on the website of the Worcestershire Regiment, shows that the battalion was often involved in the fighting, or working to do their job in the midst of battle. Unfortunately little is known about Hyde Parker’s role during his three years of service in WWI.
Hyde Parker’s experience during WWI probably explains why he collected items of military interest, several of which are now in the museum in Abingdon. There is also a respirator dating from 1917, inscribed with his name, deposited with The National Army Museum in Chelsea, London.
After the war, Hyde Parker, as he was familiarly known, returned to Abingdon where he spent the remaining fifty years of his long life. He became a very active member of many clubs and committees, and a keen amateur sportsman who enjoyed hockey, bowls, tennis, and cricket. He was stage director for the Abbey Players, and a member of the Berks Archaeological Society and of the Friends of Abingdon Civic Society. In November 1956, when the Queen visited Abingdon, Parker was chosen to present Her Majesty with a bound copy of The Abbey Guide.
A polymath, Hyde Parker’s interests extended to spiritualism and esoteric phenomena. He lectured on Atlantis from where future civilizations are expected to emerge, and appears to have used the facilities of Morland’s analytical laboratory to work on the visual aura said to surround humans. He claimed to have developed a simplified way of seeing these using coloured glasses rather than elaborate chemical solutions, and published his results. He was secretary of the Abingdon branch of the Theosophical Society.
Clare Spurgin, who was the daughter of Thomas Skurray, Parker’s employer as managing director of the Morland Brewery, recounts her early memories of him in her autobiography My Journey. She recalls him taking groups of children up the Ock and the Wilts & Berks Canal, where they found wild flowers. They also caught crayfish with him by tying pieces of offal at intervals along the Ock. She describes how Hyde Parker made beautiful jewellery, including a silver, pearl and amethyst brooch designed by her mother for Clare’s wedding present.
Through his enthusiasm for the natural world he encouraged many youngsters to join work parties to clear out ditches and brooks, before being entertained afterwards to tea and cakes. Harold Wiggins, an Ock Street resident of a younger generation, recalled how he and other local lads were taught by Hyde Parker to fry moorhens’ eggs by the Ock river. The eggs were cooked using methane gas extracted by sinking a long tube soldered to an old cocoa tin into the mud.
Hyde Parker lived for many years in an apartment in Tesdale House on Marcham Road. Apparently he spent a lot of time in the field opposite his house near the bridge over the Ock. To many residents the field was known as Hyde Parker’s field. Martin Loach remembers visiting Hyde Parker’s home during the 1960s: “I recall going into the left hand front room and being asked to sit down, but there was nowhere to sit, everything was piled high, and dust flew up whenever anything was touched.” Martin also has some of Hyde Parker’s 9.5mm films acquired in the 1960s, along with an old projector bought from the owner. These films are thought to date from around 1935 and include several Abingdon scenes, particularly on the river. Some of them can be viewed on Martin’s website, http://www.aeolian-hall.myzen.co.uk/.
Arthur Charles Hyde Parker died on 8 September 1966.
© AAAHS and contributors 2014