Richard Thompson Gunton was born in 1846. When five years old he was sent to a boarding school in the north of England. Following this he attended the University College School which had been founded in London in 1830.
It was one of the first schools to teach modern languages and sciences. Boys learnt Latin and French, and many learnt German (a highly unusual subject to teach at that time). Mathematics, Chemistry, Classical Greek and English were also taught.
At about 16 he went into Mr. Frederick Pitman’s phonographic business where he learnt the use of symbols to represent verbal sounds. (Eventually to become the well known Pitman’s Shorthand.)
In 1866 he became secretary to Lord Cranborne and two years later moved to Hatfield when Lord Cranborne succeeded to the title of 3rd Marquess of Salisbury.
Gunton’s father had rented Bell Bar Farm so he walked into Hatfield each day. Lord Salisbury had taken over the library at Hatfield House and the historian, Dr. Brewer, was researching the manuscripts and medieval documents. It was decided to index and date the valuable state papers and this became part of Gunton’s job. As well as the curiously spelled documents there were others of more complexity which he was able to interpret.
After Lord Salisbury’s resignation from office his secretary was able to give more time to the manuscripts and from the great store of papers at Hatfield House he collected and transcribed papers relating to the history of the Cecil family. These extend to several volumes under the headings of Estate and Private MSS., Family Papers, Manor Papers, Accounts and Diaries and form the catalogue of Lord Salisbury’s private archives. There are 67 folio volumes in MS or type averaging from 200 to 250 pages each and 40 volumes of indexes.
On the death of the 3rd Marquess he gave up the secretarial side of his work and was retained by the 4th Marquess for work solely on the library and manuscripts.
To the historian who wishes to investigate the records of everyday life much valuable material may be found in the Manuscript Room at Hatfield House which he made so readily available.
He was a great writer and had articles accepted by magazines and papers from the age of 15. He wrote the libretto of a light opera which was produced in Manchester. In 1888 he produced in Hatfield a play, the music of which was composed by Mr. Williams the organist of the parish church.
Richard Thompson Gunton died on January 20th 1921 aged 74.