Rev. Jonathan Boucher
Vicar of Epsom, 1784/5 - 1804


Rev. Jonathan Boucher
Rev. Jonathan Boucher

The life of Jonathan Boucher has been outlined already in an article for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible via Surrey Libraries website) and at Wikipedia - Wikipedia. The intention of this piece is to explain how he came to be Vicar of Epsom.

On 22 September 1775, after delivering his farewell sermon at St. Barnabas' Church, Upper Marlboro, Maryland, Boucher fled from America with his wife Eleanor ("Nelly") and her uncle the Rev. Henry Addison on the "Choptank Frigate". Once back in England, there was much competition between refugee loyalists in need of new positions but friends of Boucher procured a small pension for him of £100 p.a. from the British government.

One of Jonathan's acquaintances in America had been Rev. Dr. Myles Cooper, President of Kings College, New York, [now Columbia University] who became obnoxious to the people there as one of the Tory plotters warned, in April 1775, to "fly for their lives or anticipate their doom by becoming their own executioners". On the night of 10 May 1775, Cooper was seized in college by a mob led by "The Sons Of Liberty" but escaped to be taken on board a British ship of war, the Kingfisher, captained by James Montague, which brought him back to England. After arrival at Bristol, Rev. Cooper had become a curate in Paddington but, during February 1776, he resigned in favour of his friend Jonathan Boucher. The stipend for this position was only £60 p.a. although later raised to £100 p.a.

Boucher's friend the Rev. John Parkhurst
Boucher's friend the Rev. John Parkhurst
Image courtesy of Jeremy Harte, Curator, Bourne Hall Museum.

At Paddington, Boucher became involved in a circle of High Church Anglicans [followers of John Hutchinson, deceased 1737] that included a number of members who would have a considerable influence over his future, including in particular William Stevens, Rev. John Parkhurst and Rev. Samuel Glasse. William Stevens, an influential layman with extensive business interests, established positions for himself and close associates in the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel over the period 1778 to 1786. He was instrumental in having Boucher nominated an under-secretary of SPG, with a starting salary of £100 later reduced to £80p.a., following the latter's application for the position on 24 November 1778. During 1782, Archbishop Cornwallis appointed Stevens as Treasurer of Queen Anne's Bounty.

During 1779, to quote Boucher's own words, "...also I had the great good fortune to become acquainted with Miss [Mary] Barton". When she became unwell he arranged to accompany her to "the Wells" and, before they set out for Bristol, "she made her will, written entirely in her own hand from a form with which she was furnished by Messrs W. and I. Lyon of Gray's Inn, and made it entirely in my favour." On Easter Sunday [1780] following their return to London, the lady died leaving Jonathan to expound on his appreciation: - "I was now legally possessed of property worth not less than five hundred pounds a year; and I hope I neither received, nor have since enjoyed this great acquisition without feeling, if not expressing, due returns of gratitude to the donor; and still more especially without thanking Him my supreme benefactor, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift." Unsurprisingly, it took a year of proceedings and £7-800 in legal fees before Boucher could fend off claims from an aggrieved distant relative of the deceased lady.

To augment his income, Boucher set up a small private school at his home, The Hermitage, taking as one of his earliest pupils the younger son of Sir Robert Eden (erstwhile Governor of Maryland). By 11 September 1779 there were only 9 pupils but John James, junior, son of Boucher's mentors in St Bees, Cumberland, was taken on later as assistant when the adjoining property was rented for this purpose and numbers increased. On 28 February 1784 Jonathan wrote from Paddington to offer encouragement to Miss Elizabeth Hodgson on her forthcoming wedding to the younger John James - she would find herself among friends in his house. Having married on 15 April 1784 and taken Holy Orders, James succeeded his father as Rector of Arthuret & Kirk Andrew in Cumberland and fathered a daughter before he succumbed to illness, following a riding accident, on 23 October 1786. His remains were subsequently placed in the Boucher family vault at Paddington and a memorial erected in the New Church.

The Rector of Paddington had died, 27 April 1780, but Boucher failed in an attempt to succeed to the living. His wife, "Nelly", who miscarried following their wedding in 1772 and remained "sickly", and childless, thereafter became emaciated before expiring on 1 March 1784. Interred at Paddington, her obituary records that she was a "Native of Maryland of genteel connections being of the family of the celebrated Secretary Addison. Like him at nearly the same time of life she died of the same disease viz. a shortness of breath aggravated by dropsy" She had "followed her husband's fortunes to this kingdom and bore, without a murmur, the loss of country, friends, fortune and preferment when they could no longer be retained with honour to her husband."

According to Reminiscences of An American Loyalist, 1738-1789, the Autobiography of Rev. Jonathan Boucher, Rector of Annapolis in Maryland and afterwards Vicar of Epsom, Surrey, he was offered "unexpectedly" the vicarage of Epsom by Dr Glasse who had been given the living by Parkhurst, the patron, three years earlier, with a view to succession by Glasse's son. Glasse who was said to have arranged for a new church to be built at Hanwell, and to have expended a large sum to repair the parsonage, subsequently persuaded the Bishop of London to allow that parish to pass to his son. On the assumption that Parkhurst had given him the liberty to nominate a successor to Epsom, and believing that Boucher had influence with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Glasse bargained for Jonathan Boucher to use his influence to obtain some rank and dignity in the church for Glasse in return for a nomination to Epsom. Unfortunately for all concerned, when Parkhurst was informed what was proposed he denied ever having given away the appointment to his own living. William Stevens may have been behind all these machinations: he had lent money to Glasse and certainly involved himself in the negotiations, travelling to Epsom in November 1784 for discussions with "Boucher's patron and his patron's patron" [presumably references to Glasse and Parkhurst]. Rev. John Parkhurst, a biblical lexicographer, had acted as a curate for a friend but never sought preferment: he is credited with having presented the family living to Jonathan Boucher simply because the latter had preached a loyal doctrine to "a set of rebellious schismatics". There is some uncertainty about the date of Boucher's induction to St Martin of Tours because the parish had been in the charge of a curate who could not be expected to leave until June of 1785 and Jonathan Boucher insisted that provision needed to be made for a library which had cost him £2,000; the 10.000 volumes could only be moved during the summer. A room for all these books was not, however, announced to be available until 6 September 1785.

The elderly Jonathan Boucher, c1790, from a contemporary engraved portrait.
The elderly Jonathan Boucher, c1790, from a contemporary engraved portrait.

In 1786 Boucher wrote to make a proposal of marriage to Miss Mary Elizabeth Foreman a lady of about his own age (48) who had devoted herself to looking after two sick and elderly maiden aunts recently deceased. She accepted the offer and, in anticipation of their union, Jonathan rented from Northey a large house on Woodcote Green [Woodcote House] for £100 p.a., purchased a coach and four horse, hired seven servants etc to set up an establishment in a "dear but genteel neighbourhood". The bride brought with her a fortune of almost £14,000 that Boucher made up with his own money to provide a settlement of £20,000 for the benefit of which of them survived longer. They were then married at St. Michael's in St. Albans on 15 February 1787. As his second wife approached the age of 50, Elizabeth was "declared with child", increasing in size and suffering from nausea, but as her condition became worse, "with anasarcous swellings", it was diagnosed as "visceral disease" resulting in "an enlarged ovarium". Despite taking lodgings in Great Marlborough Street, where she could be attended by London doctors, the disease took its course until on Sunday, 17 September 1788, Elizabeth was "released from all her sufferings". In his autobiography, Boucher comments on his late wife's character uncharitably but continues to remark that "having made no will; by which means I now come in for the whole of her fortune. Vale, mea Maria, conjux dilectissima, vale". The remains of Mary Elizabeth Boucher nee Foreman were "buried with her own relatives".

Woodcote House, the home Jonathan rented from Mr Northey
Woodcote House, the home Jonathan rented from Mr Northey
Image courtesy of Jeremy Harte, Curator, Bourne Hall Museum.

At the conclusion of hostilities in America, Sir Robert Eden, former colonial governor of Maryland, had returned to Annapolis with Henry Harford (illegitimate son and heir of Frederick, 6th Lord Baltimore) seeking compensation for confiscated property but Eden died there on 2 September 1784. Boucher had stood surety for £1,500 borrowed by Sir Robert from Harford and the latter called in the debt: the matter was settled by Jonathan borrowing £1.000 for payment by way of compromise. Funds for the arrangement were eventually obtained on commercial terms from Mrs James who on the death of Boucher's friend [John, junior,] had become "an amiable and dear widow". Jonathan complained the he had suffered the loss "if not unpitied, yet certainly unassisted by all the Eden family, great and powerful as they all are".

After his second wife's demise, Boucher had spent months away in Cumberland adding to his real estate at Blencogo. He seems to have returned in December 1788 to a "melancholy and uncomfortable home...at the Vicarage - extremely inconvenient and quite too small especially for the books, whilst impossible to be enlarged and improved at any reasonable expense". He decided to purchase "a good house with about 5 acres of land on Clay-Hill" although distant from the church and with an unsatisfactory water supply: alterations to provide rooms for a library were not completed until July 1789.*

On 29 October 1789, Jonathan Boucher contracted a third marriage, this time to Elizabeth James nee Hodgson [b. circa 1762], "amiable" relict of Rev. Dr. John James, junior, former Rector of Arthuret in Cumberland, at St Mary's, Carlisle. This union brought Jonathan a four-year-old stepdaughter, Mary Ann James, and, on 5 August 1790, a first-born son, James, who was christened at Epsom, 7 September 1790. Over the years 1791 to 1800 another 7 children were added to the family.

An advert in the Caledonian Mercury dated 01 May 1802
An advert in the Caledonian Mercury dated 01 May 1802

In 1793/4, Rev. Jonathan Boucher became involved in negotiations directed at a achieving a merger between the Scottish Episcopal Church with other Anglican communities in Scotland and a bishopric for himself that came to nothing.

On 22 March 1799 The Times carried an advertisement: -
Sale by Auction: - Desirable freehold estate, pleasantly situated at Clay Hill, Epsom, a delightful sporting part of the county of Surrey, consisting of a remarkably convenient House with proper domestic offices, coach house and stabling for 6 horses, pleasure ground and well-cultivated garden, orchard and small paddock, in the whole about 5 acres; the property and residence of Mr. Jonathan Boucher removing to the North of England. The House contains a handsome and well-proportioned drawing room, an excellent library, dining and breakfast parlours, 5 best bedchambers and suitable apartments for servants. More land to be had adjoining the house if required; and half the purchase money to remain on mortgage.
Boucher appears to have retired subsequently to Carlisle where he resided** until his death on 27 April 1804. His body was brought back for burial at Epsom, 4 May 1804. The words on his memorial stone carry the ring of truth: - "The Lord gave him twice as much as he had before: and blessed his latter end more than his beginning"***

He was survived by his widow for more than 42 years as shown by notice of her demise: - "1846, 12 October, Elizabeth, relict of the Rev. Jonathan Boucher, Vicar of Epsom, died at house of her son in law Rev. Robert Gutch, Rector of Segrave, Leicestershire. Aged 84."

The coat of arms of Jonathan Boucher
The coat of arms of Jonathan Boucher
The family motto is 'Non Vi Sed Voluntate' or Not by force, but by good will.

The coat of arms of Jonathan Boucher
An alternative coat of arms for Jonathan Boucher
Inspired with reference to Boucher's unsubstantiated claim to his
family's right to bear arms and, secondly, a literary allusion to
a comic dialect masterpiece published by "Tim Bobbin" (John Collier)
in 1750 - A View of the Lancashire Dialect; containing the Adventures
and Misfortunes of a Lancashire Clown.

The memorial tablet was erected by fellow members of "Nobody's Club", founded by the William Stevens mentioned earlier. Obituaries to Jonathan Boucher appear in the Memoirs of William Stevens, Esq. and Gentleman's Magazine June 1804 (based upon information provided by Sir Frederick Morton Eden).

Stevens wrote a letter to Bishop Skinner on 5 June 1804: -
"I believe I mentioned in my last letter the precarious state of our good friend Mr Boucher's health, so that you were the less surprised to hear what you no doubt have heard, of his death. I saw him about a fortnight before the event when I concluded that he was not long for this world, though I did not consider it as the last time I should see him. His loss will be severely felt by his family, his numerous friends, and the public; notwithstanding the truth of Dr Young's observation that the mind turns fool before the cheek is dry. The widow has a large family to take care of, there being eight children [Jonathan, junior, b. 1800 had died in 1801], including one she had by her former husband, and all young. An anxious situation! Her grief is not rendered more poignant by being left in want, as her circumstances must be good; and so they need to be. His great work [A Glossary of Provincial and Archaeological Words intended as a Supplement to Dr Johnson's Dictionary], which might contribute to the shortening of his days, was far from being finished; and whether any one can be found to carry it on, and complete it, so as to make what was done beneficial to the family or the public, is very uncertain. Man proposes and God disposes. Either we must mourn for our friends, or our friends must mourn for us. Such is the tenure by which we hold; and happy for us when we can say ex animo, 'Not our will but thine O God, be done!' There was a meeting of Nobody's friends at the Crown and Anchor, on 29th of May, when they had to lament, as they did most sincerely, the loss of an excellent member since the last meeting, our invaluable friend"

Frederick Morton Eden (Sir Robert's eldest son) became close to Jonathan Boucher following the death of Sir Robert in 1784: they collaborated on each other's research, corresponding on a regular basis. Sir Frederick Morton Eden wrote a long poem, full of classical allusions, in which he satirised Boucher's devotion to etymological studies. Entitled Epsom, A Vision, the following extract contains some local references related to a ballad The Tunning of Elinour Rumming by John Skelton, 1529. [His subject was a real historical character celebrated as one of Leatherhead's ale-wives]: -

I Mayster Skelton,
By Heavenes injunction,
Am com from blacke Pluton,
Ab inferis, to Epsom toun :
I crossed botumles Acheron,
With Helles ferryman Charon;
And with me I bring
Dame Elynour Rumming;
Alive, she did leade
A merrie life indede,
In a stede,
Bysyde Lederhede;
And now, by my crede,
She ghaistes doth feed
In Elysees grene mede;
She is the Ganymede,

Satirical Drawing of Skelton, Elynour and Boucher
Satirical Drawing of Skelton, Elynour and Boucher

The financial loss that Jonathan Boucher sustained in standing security for a loan taken by Sir Robert Eden clearly rankled and this may have been in his mind when he wrote to F M E Eden, 8 January 1794, suggesting that "Sir Frederick and Lady Eden now have it in their power to render him an essential piece of justice". On the following 9 March, he sought a meeting with Captain [William Thomas] Eden at Sir Frederick's house "to settle everything" before writing again, 20 March 1794, to thank the Edens for their "late kindness which will make me a free man for at least a year to come." It looks very much as if Jonathan was, eventually, successful in recovering his money!

Brian Bouchard © 2009
Member of Leatherhead and District Local History Society


* There is a published anecdote concerning the destruction by fire of Wimbledon House on Easter Monday 1785. The flames were visible in Epsom and Jonathan Boucher hurried to the scene on his horse, arriving in time to direct the preservation of salvaged pictures and books. Subsequently, an intimate personal relationship developed between 1st Earl Spencer and Boucher who, on his death bequeathed a particularly fine copy of a 1535 Coverdale Bible to Lord Spencer. (Bibliotheca Spenceriana) The bulk of Boucher's Library was sold by Leigh & Sotheby over several days in 1806. (Bibliomania)

** A letter written on 29 July 1803 by an American visitor to Epsom provides an interesting description of Boucher's 'domestic arrangements, character, and habits' at that time: -
"The Doctor and his wife were from home. She had accompanied him in a visit to Cumberland, which he had been induced to undertake by the advice of his physician. He had been recently alarmed by a paralytic stroke, which had injured his speech. It did not otherwise affect his health, which has been uncommonly good for a man of his advanced age. His stepdaughter, the child, of his present and third wife, who is about eighteen, received me very politely; and she and her young companions induced me to spend the greater part of two days at Epsom. A young Scotch linguist, and a clergyman of the same age, appeared to be inmates of the family. There was a young lady from Cumberland, the niece of the Doctor, who had been making a long visit to Epsom, and two other ladies, one of whom was the governess of the little girls who are placed under his instruction. I dined in the school-room, and became quite domiciliated in this hospitable and respectable mansion before I left Epsom. I believed, for a moment, that I saw the old patriarchal simplicity revived; and I felt deeply interested in the journey which the venerable head of this amiable family was performing. His garden, his grounds, his house, his library, and the affection with which he seemed to be regarded by all around him, gave me a very pleasing view of his character. They told me that he used to say, that his three temporal blessings were his family first, his books next, and his garden. He preserves an affectionate remembrance of our country. His daughter pointed out to me many American plants and trees which he had nurtured with great care. I was particularly pleased with his library, which is the largest I ever saw in a private house - it must contain five thousand volumes. The most interesting object in it was a pile of quarto manuscripts, two feet high, which comprised, I was told, the first part of his Archaeological Dictionary. The unfinished remainder, I understood, would occupy as many more, and require his unremitting attention for several years. All the books, amounting to six or seven hundred volumes, which he had consulted in the course of his labours, were neatly arranged in the middle of his library, on a separate stand of shelves. The linguist, who went with me to the library, and who represented the Doctor in his school during his absence, told me that be had occasionally assisted him in his work; and his niece, who came in while we were conversing, to see what had become of me, said that she had written some part of those manuscripts. This amiable and ingenious young lady, who is a native of Ireland, had also assisted him in selecting the words peculiar to her country and the west of England, which she now calls her permanent residence. From the windows of his library the Doctor has a prospect of some of his American trees, and of a beautiful green surrounding a sheet of clear water: this is itself encompassed by a walk, consisting of a double row of evergreens and tall trees, which obstructing the view of every outward object, must peculiarly dispose the mind to abstract study."
*** Oxford DNB gives Wealth at Death £2,200 citing Zimmer, Jonathan Boucher, 345, but that figure represents only about one tenth of the assets known to have been accumulated during his lifetime.

Rev. Parkhurst
Rev. Parkhurst
Sir Fredrick Eden
Sir Fredrick Eden