Heritage: Romford curate proved little people can make a big impact

The Round Church, Cambridge. Richard Faulkner was its vicar as well as being vicar of Havering-atte-

The Round Church, Cambridge. Richard Faulkner was its vicar as well as being vicar of Havering-atte-Bower. Picture: Google Maps - Credit: Archant

Prof Ged Martin looks at some of Havering’s persons of restricted growth

There are around 6,000 of them in the UK: people who never grow taller than 4 feet 10 inches.

The medical condition is “dwarfism” but they prefer to be called “persons of restricted growth”. In Ireland, with nice humour, they’re the “little people”.

In olden times, they were employed as jesters in great houses. In 1578, Richard Cooke of Gidea Hall arranged a pension for “little Will Cooper”, paid out of rent from the Cookes’ Harold Wood farm, Redden Court.

Will enjoyed his pension for 37 years. In 1616, “Wlm. Cooper, ye dwarf of Giddie-hall” was buried at Romford.

Richard Faulkner was Romford’s curate from 1815 to 1823. He worked hard, preaching enthusiastically, visiting the poor and sick. Faulkner was “the idol of the town, generally and deservedly adored”.

In 1825, he became vicar of the Round Church in Cambridge. They called him “the dwarf Faulkner”.

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In 1835, he was also appointed vicar of Havering-atte-Bower. Faulkner kept his Cambridge job, hiring free-lance clergyman to take his services. Married, with a daughter, he preferred village life.

Faulkner was energetic, repairing the church in 1836 and rebuilding the village school in 1837. Havering’s church had needed renovation for years, but the previous clergyman had not even lived locally.

A local poem celebrated his dynamic impact.

“A pastor to the flock is given / Whose zeal inspires their hearts. / The rich large offerings bring to Heav’n, / The poor his mite imparts.” (Victorians made “heaven” rhyme with “forgiven”.)

I suspect Faulkner wrote that poem!

He was certainly a great fundraiser: even Queen Victoria agreed to give the school £20.

His strangest scheme was for local landowners, from Noak Hill down to South Hornchurch, to pay for repairs to St Edward’s church in Romford Market through a voluntary wealth tax of a farthing in the pound on their capital (about 0.2 percent).

“What difficulty can there be in this?”, he asked in his 1841 appeal, written from Havering Parsonage. It might as well have come from Cloud Cuckoo Land.

In 1847, he provided a celebration dinner for local labourers. It was held at the precise hour the Faulkners had arrived in Havering twelve years before.

Faulkner loved children. Each July he marked his daughter’s birthday by giving a party for all local youngsters.

He was deeply moved by one village tragedy. Victorians didn’t believe in gun control.

In 1846, nine year-old Emma Vale was shot dead by a small boy playing with a loaded pistol. Faulkner later wrote a now-forgotten poem about the tragedy.

Although small, Faulkner was “rather a fighting man”.

In the absence of the previous vicar, church affairs had been run by Samuel Gardner, local farmer, brickmaker, undertaker and churchwarden.

Soon after Faulkner’s arrival, he sacked Gardner.

From 1849, Havering had two churchwardens, one chosen by the vicar, the other elected by the inhabitants.

With fewer than 500 people in the parish, the selection was made by just a handful of prominent residents (all male).

In 1863, Samuel Gardner was the local candidate. Faulkner opposed him.

The vote was a dead heat, nine on each side.

Presiding at the meeting, and having already voted once, Faulkner now gave a casting vote, against the meddlesome undertaker.

Gardner appealed to the bishop, who ruled that the vicar shouldn’t interfere with the congregation’s choice. Returning home, Gardner strolled through Havering-atte-Bower waving his top hat in triumph. It was a rare defeat for the tiny cleric.

By the 1870s, Faulkner wouldn’t accept that the church he’d remodelled back in 1835 had become too small for local needs. He died in December 1873, aged 82. Within months, Havering was planning to build the present St John’s church.

But there’s no doubt that the diminutive vicar was popular and respected. Short but determined, the Reverend Richard Faulkner proved that little people can make a big impact.