In 1906 Archer opened a photographic studio at 214 Battersea Park Road, later moving to 208 Battersea Park Road. In November of the same year he was elected to Battersea Borough Council as a councillor for Latchmere ward. At his first Council meeting he was appointed to the Baths, Health and Works Committees. Later on he joined the Board of Guardians, which supervised public health and welfare, then became Chair of the Baths Committee, and he subsequently maintained a lifelong interest in the Nine Elms Swimming Club.
In its August 1907 issue the Socialist Council's house journal Battersea Vanguard commented sarcastically about Archer's interest in India, suggesting that "our brilliant townsman" should take "another trip round the world to improve his political judgement". This was merely part of the knockabout local politics in which Archer was engaged, and Battersea's Great Vivisection debate was a typical example.
In Battersea there was strong support for the anti-vivisection movement, led by the Trades and Labour Council, and local activists had erected a statue of a brown dog in protest. Pro-vivisectionists, buttressed by a crowd of vociferous medical students, campaigned to have it removed. A public meeting was held in Battersea Town Hall on 13 January 1908. John Archer moved a resolution refusing to remove either the statue or its anti-vivisectionist inscription. Rev. Dr. Wauschauer denounced the medical students. "If the drunkard is demoralised by drink, the medical student is demoralised by the practice of vivisection." Two pro-vivisectionists moved an amendment that the inscription on the statue was false and should be removed. This provoked the stormiest scene of a lively evening, and several medical students were in the words of The Daily Graphic "unceremoniously bundled out by the stewards, who numbered over three hundred [!]".
Guest-curated for the British Library by Mike Phillips
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