26 September 2012

James Hunter, engraver of Chester

James Hunter was the father-in-law of my 4x great uncle Willoughby Gaspard Weiss, who was married to James' daughter Ann.

James was born about 1752, possibly in Chester, Cheshire, England. He was presumably married to Jane, the mother of his children, though I haven't yet found a marriage record. I have found records for the births of seven children, two boys and five girls. Ann, my 4x great aunt, was the sixth child and fourth daughter. There are large gaps in years between some of the children so I expect there may well have been more that I can't find records for.

James Hunter was an engraver who lived and worked in Chester, mostly around the Chester Cathedral - in Eastgate St, Northgate St, Werburghs Church-yard. Historical directories also list him as a carver, gilder and copperplate printer. In about 1815 Hunter had rooms with the miniature painter Albin R Burt, who made a coloured engraving of him (which apparently is dated 1830 - that this is after Hunter's death is interesting - perhaps the date is wrong, or perhaps it took Burt a while to get around to finishing it).

A couple of James Hunter's engravings are held in the Cheshire Archives, interestingly, both of them maps. One is a "1789 Survey of the Ancient & Loyal City of Chester", surveyed by Samuel Weston and engraved and published by Hunter. The archives record notes that Hunter "was a prominent local citizen and verger of the Cathedral. His premises, "Hunter Engravers", are marked on the plan at the top of Werburgh's Lane." The other engraving is a "Map of the estates of the Dean and Chapter in and around Chester" from 1812, which includes the previous item and an additional piece apparently drawn by Hunter.

As mentioned above, James Hunter was the verger of the Chester Cathedral for many years from at least as early as 1812 until his death on 18 December 1826. His death notice in the Liverpool Mercury (29 Dec 1826) records: "On Monday, the 18th instant, at Chester, Mr. Hunter, engraver; a man respected and beloved by an extensive circle of friends and relations."

It would appear that James Hunter did not have a son who worked in the family engraving business. Instead, his two spinster daughters Elizabeth (1778-1864) and Catherine (1803-1860) took over the business on his death. Later on they seem to have given up the engraving business and instead became librarians, Elizabeth being the City Librarian in Chester, and Catherine her assistant.

James Hunter gave his name to Hunter's Passage, which was later widened and has been known as Hunter Street since the 1890s. Quite something to be immortalised in a street name!


  1. I'm amazed by your interesting ancestors and how much you've found out about them. And women librarians in the mid 1800s! Wow!

  2. Not only librarians but engravers before that! I wonder if they wore blue stockings?!

  3. I agree with Pauleen, what a fascinating story. I've long admired the work of engravers... most were very talented people. That is quite a change of career to switch from engravers to librarians, neither quite the type of positions women would have been known for. I would have loved to have met those women, I would think they were very bold for their time.

  4. I guess being engravers might have meant they were around printed matter, and therefore librarianship might have seemed a natural option for them. I wonder if they were encouraged into the engraving business by their father, or just decided to take it up upon his death, having watched him at work for years. Who knows? But yes, quite bold Crissouli!