Tributes paid to former Arlesey Mayor and council chairman Des Archer who lived life to the full

Tributes have been paid to a former Mayor and Chairman of Arlesey Town Council who lived life to the full.

By Jo Robinson
Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 9:44 am
Updated Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 11:05 am

Des Archer, 93, died on June 4 in Bedford Hospital, leaving behind his wife, Doreen, and children Richard, Ann, and John.

He led life to the full, having a successful career as an engineer, whilst enjoying many hobbies, from photography and music, to cricket and rifle shooting, to stamp collecting and DIY.

Having grown up in the small town, Des was also well-loved and well known in the community, and a lifelong member of Arlesey Methodist Church.

Des Archer

His wife of 62 years, Doreen, told the Chronicle: "There was just so much to Des. He was a quiet man, but there was this character! He had a long life, an interesting life."

Des was born William Desmond Marcus Archer on March 19, 1929, to parents Edward and Elizabeth, known as 'Ted and Lizzie'.

He was actually born in Yaxley, Peterborough, as Lizzie had travelled to Des's aunt and uncle's house to give birth and be with their family.

Growing up back in the Bedfordshire town, Des was an only child, surrounded by "doting women" as well as his close friend, Jim Webb, with whom he was "like a brother".

Des Archer. Right: Des and Doreen.

Recalling the pair's adventures, Doreen said: "Jim lived on a small holding in the High Street and they had found an old rifle with a bent barrel, pretending they were soldiers.

"Jim's cousin had a boyfriend who was stationed nearby and he gave them some bullets. It was a jolly good job the gun didn't work, otherwise it would have blown their heads off!

"After that, Des was always cautious; he wouldn't let our children have skateboards because they were too dangerous."

Des's family lived in Arlesey High Street and he attended the local school.

Meanwhile, as a young man during the outbreak of war, he witnessed an incident which made the newspapers.

Doreen said: "There was a [British] military plane and the pilot was killed, he remembered that. I believe he was walking home from the church when it happened. The plane crashed into the brickyard here in Arlesey. Whether the pilot didn't see the chimneys or whether they weren't lit up I don't know..."

Des was too young to be conscripted into the war, but he did go on to serve in the forces.

After leaving school, he went to work for Colman's engineering company, Stotfold, before joining the RAF in 1946 as part of his national service, training at RAF Cosford: The No.1 Aeronautical Engineering School, where he maintained Rolls Royce aircraft engines.

After training, he moved to RAF Whitton, Cambridgeshire, where his mother, Lizzie, had worked.

"She was one of the first women to enlist in the RAF at its inauguration," said Doreen.

When he came out of the RAF, Des went on to work for an engineering firm in Arlesey until it closed down, and in 1958 he joined T H Dixon, Letchworth, as a centre lathe turner, working there until his retirement.

Des and Doreen met at the Christchurch Wesleyan Methodist Church, Arlesey. They were married on March 26, 1960, in the same church and had two ministers at the wedding.

Des, who was Doreen's "knight in shining armour", had already bought a car - a lavish Wolseley 6/80 - and owned the house next door to his parents.

Doreen later discovered that Des had bought the car in 1951 after saving up since he was just 14, and hadn't even passed his driving test when it was delivered!

Always an ambitious man, Doreen remembered: "In 1966 we purchased the piece of land in Church Lane, which had been the garden of the manse belonging to the two Methodist Churches here, St John’s and Christchurch, and had the house where we still live built. Des did all the plumbing, fitted the bathroom and the kitchen."

The couple had three children: Richard in 1961, Ann in 1965 and Charles in 1967.

In later years, the couple would spend time at daughter Ann's house in the Dordogne, where Des indulged in another passion - history.

Back at home in Bedfordshire, Des was well known in the community. He was a lifelong member of the Methodist Church in Arlesey, having been a senior steward for many years, a Sunday School teacher, and an officer in the Boys Brigade. He also served on the Town Council for over 30 years.

During that time he held the roles of chairman and Mayor, and raised money for charity as part of the 'chain gang', a nickname given to himself and the fellow chairman and mayors in the area.

Doreen said: "When he became chairman, he said to his councillors, if you are intending to stand again, please do not do so under a political banner, you are here to serve the community. I think there was only one man that did; everybody else was Independent.

"He loved the community and that was why he started."

Doreen describes the last 23 years of life as "difficult" for Des, as he underwent a radical operation due to bowel cancer.

The former Mayor then suffered from shingles just before lockdown, and unable to get out and about, his health deteriorated.

Doreen said: "Our first date was to watch Bless the Bride, and before he went into hospital, he asked Ann to play music from The Merry Widow. Perhaps he was trying to tell me something?"

Doreen would like to thank the community for the overwhelming support and love shown to her family.

Des's funeral will be held on Monday, June 27, at 1.30pm in Arlesey Methodist Church.