The Revd Richard Eric Falkner (1926-86)

Vicar of Christ Church Epsom Common, 1960-66

The Revd Richard Falkner in 1960
The Revd Richard Falkner in 1960
Photograph courtesy of Christ Church © 2019

Richard was born on 25 March 1926, the first child of Herbert Falkner and Margaret (née Blackmore). Both parents were children of the Raj, and were married in Allahabad in 1922. Herbert, like his father, had gone into uniform - rising to Sergeant Major in the Indian Ordnance Department and then (while still serving in India) transferring to the RAF as a Flying Officer.

Margaret returned to the UK for Richard's birth which was registered in Pontypool, Monmouthshire. However, she and baby Richard returned to India in October 1926. The couple's second child, Jean, was born in Quetta, Bengal on 6 December 1930.

Some time during the 1930s, the family returned to the UK, and the September 1939 Register records them living at 49 St John's Road, Exeter. 48 year old Herbert is listed as a "County Court Bailiff" (with the original record annotated to add that he was also a "Special Constable Exeter City Police") and 49 year old Margaret with the conventional "Unpaid Domestic Duties"). 13 year old Richard and 8 year old Jean were both "at school" - where Richard clearly did well, going on to secure a place at Exeter College, Oxford. Having gained his BA in 1947 (becoming MA in 1951), he went straight to Wells Theological College.

He was ordained Deacon in 1949 and took up his first Curacy at Church of the Holy Trinity in Ilfracombe, Devon. He was ordained Priest in 1950 and, in Q2 1951 when he was aged 25, married the 24 year old Joyce Knevett, registered in the Exeter District. While Richard was still at Ilfracombe, the couple's first child, Peter, was born in Q1 1952.

Later that year, Richard moved to take up a Curacy at what Crockford's Clerical Directory notes simply as "Woodham": this could relate to either All Saints at 564 Woodham Lane, Woking or All Saints at 98 Woodham Lane, New Haw. In either event, during that appointment the couple's second child, Peter, was born in Q4 1954.

In a slight change of direction, the somewhat academic Richard moved in 1957 to become Chaplain of Reed's School, Cobham (with permission to officiate in Diocese of Guildford). However, in 1960, he was appointed as Vicar of Christ Church to succeed Canon Edward Robins. (The couple's third and last child, Catherine, was born in Epsom in Q2 1962.)

Richard took over a parish that was generally healthy except in respect of finance. In the late 1950s, Canon Robins had sought to address that with a formal Stewardship Campaign, but this was narrowly rejected by the Church Council which felt that that finance was given an almost aggressive profile in what was then a new-fangled approach. However, financial pressures continued - and, indeed, grew with need to retile the church roof where wear and tear of the 1897 re-tiling had been exacerbated by damaging blasts from a number of WW2 bombs that had fallen nearby.

Accordingly, a full Stewardship Campaign was held in early 1962. This yielded not only the hoped for financial result but also increased the engagement of the church community with the whole range of church life. An early material consequence was that the church roof was retiled in October and November 1962

Richard inspecting the retiling work in late 1962
Richard inspecting the retiling work in late 1962
Photograph courtesy of Christ Church © 2019

The photograph above shows a tiler working on the north slope (the side facing Christ Church Road) of the church's main roof. In the background is the roof of the North Transept with its somewhat battered 1897 tiles and the distinctive Victorian ridge tiling that was replaced in the work.

Perhaps inevitably, the impetus of the 1962 Stewardship Campaign waned over time, but was reinvigorated by Richard's initiative of a service of renewal at Guildford Cathedral on the afternoon of Sunday 14 March 1965. In cars and coaches, over 400 people (of all ages) from Christ Church went to the Cathedral "to return thanks to God and dedicate themselves anew to his service". (Cathedral staff had assumed the congregation was drawn from parishes across the Borough of Epsom & Ewell, and were astonished to find it came from one church.)

Christ Church at Guildford Cathedral, 14 March 1965
Christ Church at Guildford Cathedral, 14 March 1965
Photograph courtesy of Christ Church © 2019

Alongside his concerns for the spiritual wellbeing of the parish, Richard had a practical mind. He began thinking about ways of replacing the Christ Church Hall at the foot of West Hill (nowadays, the home of the Epsom Christian Fellowship) with accommodation adjacent to the church to facilitate more coherent activities. He also began to explore options for "re-ordering" Christ Church's effectively unchanged Victorian interior to allow for new forms of liturgy.

While the Hall project was not realised until the mid 1980s, Richard did secure Diocesan and (with some difficulty) parish agreement for at least a trial of "re-ordered" arrangements, and a new dais was built in front of the Rood Screen to provide a base for an altar at which the Eucharist could be celebrated among the congregation in the Nave rather than at the traditional high altar at the far east end of the Chancel. The dais was almost completed when Richard accepted the Bishop's proposal to become Vicar of St Jude's, Englefield Green - a move he made in 1966. (The dais was then completed, but "re-ordering" remained a contentious matter for Christ Church which was not resolved until the 1990s - when the mid-1960s dais was replaced with a larger one.)

He served as Vicar of St Jude's, Englefield Green for the next 20 years. The church had been built in 1859 to the design of the somewhat idiosyncratic architect Edward Buckton Lamb and, during Richard's time there, he wrote a well-regarded book "Church and School in Englefield Green".

Richard visited Christ Church on 5 October 1986 to help mark the dedication of the new Hall that, as he had first mooted in the 1960s, had been built alongside the church. On 25 October, just three weeks later, he died in post at St Jude's, aged only 60. He was warmly remembered by both congregations - and more widely. He had worked tirelessly for unity between the Churches and, in a touching tribute, the Roman Catholics of Englefield Green asked that his coffin might rest in their church on the morning of the funeral.

Richard at the dedication of the new Christ Church Hall on 5 October 1986, three weeks before his death.
Richard at the dedication of the new Christ Church Hall on 5 October 1986, three weeks before his death.
Photograph courtesy of Martin Shipton © 2019

Roger Morgan © 2019