Richard Watson Williams

The Reverend Richard Watson Williams, 24/2/1931-9/5/2020

Richard died on Saturday 9th May, aged 89.

His funeral was held on Tuesday May 26th at 9 a.m. His three children will be there, and we hope that most of his seven grandchildren will manage, despite lockdown, to join us.

Richard was the youngest of four children, Pamela, John and Jane. His parents were Cresten Boase (related to the Longfox family) who was born and grew up in Penzance, and Eric Watson Williams, member of a long-standing Bristol family. Cresten was devoted to her children and far more involved in their early years than most mothers of her class were at the time. Her social conscience meant that she was involved in various charitable activities; Richard remembers driving with her around the villages near Bristol as she distributed blankets to the poor in Autumn (in Spring they were collected, laundered and stored for the next winter). Eric was an ear, nose and throat surgeon at Bristol Infirmary. During the First World War he joined the RAMC and was sent to perform emergency surgery at one of the emergency field stations just behind the front lines. He was awarded the Military Cross in recognition of his bravery. The horrors of the war marked him and he was a difficult and distant parent for a sensitive boy. Richard and his family lived first in 12 Victoria Square and then at 65 Pembroke Road, both in Bristol.

The children were cared for by a series of Nannies and nursery maids, in the nursery on the top floor of the house. Richard remembered several nannies leaving as they did not like Cresten interfering with the nursery regime. The most memorable, Nanny Flanagan, was much beloved by the children for the exciting adventures on which she took them. Finally she decided to take the children to visit her ‘brother’ on his dredger in the Bristol Channel. The dredger collected them and took them out for a ride, the children were told to stay in the cabin while the adults remained out in the open. When the children eventually got fed up and came out the tide had changed whilst the adults were distracted and the dredger could not return to the docks until the following morning. Nanny Flanagan had to pack her bags and leave. There were no more nannies.

Richard was a day boy at Clifton College Prep School and remembered the night the monkeys escaped from the zoo and got into the art department. The following morning there was little evidence of the monkeys but much chaos. All the boys were questioned about it as the teachers tried to discover who was responsible. The teachers delivered various threats in an attempt to get the boys to own up before the role of the monkeys was discovered.

Richard was very unhappy at school, unlike John he was not an extrovert, and Richard felt that he was a disappointment to his father.

When war broke out in 1939 Richard went as a boarder with the prep school to Buttcombe and from there joined the senior school in Bude. The boys lived in bed and breakfast accommodation in Bude, with a school master or two to supervise in each house. Once the war was over and the school returned to Bristol, Richard enjoyed singing in the school choir. When there were school sports fixtures the choir all had to sit together as they were not allowed to spoil their voices by shouting support for the team.

During the war Eric continued to work as a surgeon; one of the nights Richard remembered was when a sugar factory was bombed. The firefighters got terribly burnt when the sugar became molten and melted their rubber boots. Cresten was an ambulance driver in Bristol during the war, I do not know if she was involved in transporting these firefighters.

Because both his parents were working and the bombing of Bristol was heavy, school holidays involved Richard catching a train home from Bude to Bristol, where his mother would meet him at the station with a suitcase of holiday clothes and put him on another train to spend the holiday with relatives. One of these was spent with his uncle and aunt, and cousin Sally (Jarman) and her older sister, in a cottage near Tewkesbury. When it was time to return to school Cresten would meet him once again at Bristol station to hand over his clean school uniform. Richard was very fond of his mother, and felt that she was the only person who really understood him, so he found these years without her extremely painful.

Towards the end of the war Richard was allowed to stay in Bristol for holidays, he would sometimes accompany his father on the ferry across the Bristol Channel to carry out surgery on injured miners in the South Wales coalfields. Ether was used as anaesthetic and because Eric was often performing ENT surgery he would inevitably end up inhaling a good deal of it. Richard remembers having to help steer the car and try to keep his father awake on the return trip to Bristol.

One Christmas Eric decided his children deserved a trip to London; the whole family spent a couple of nights at Browns hotel, and enjoyed a lunch at the Savoy.

One exeat when Richard and John were at school in Bude, Cresten and Eric arranged accommodation in a guest house in a nearby village and came down by train to visit the boys. On Sunday the boys were allowed to go to meet them there for lunch. When it was time for them to catch the local train back to Bude the two boys made their way to the station, where they were told the train was cancelled and to come back in an hour. They returned an hour later and were given the same instruction. By now the boys had missed the school return deadline, and eventually their parents managed to arrange alternative transport to get them back to school. The next morning the boys were told it was D-day, the reason that all the trains had been cancelled became clear; they were all being used to move the American troops who had spent the previous months, from Richard’s perspective, dashing along the high-sided Devon lanes in their jeeps. The school master put his radio in the doorway of his room so that the boys could listen to the news. In the period between lessons and prep the boys were allowed out into the countryside for exercise. While Richard and a few friends were out they found several places where the hedges on the sides of the lanes had been torn down, and in one of these gaps there was a damaged box of ammunition. In the urgency of transferring ammunition onto lorries to be taken down to the D-day launch site a box had been dropped and had broken. The boys helped themselves to a little of the TNT that they found, and when they got back to Bude they locked themselves in the lavatory and set it off from the window ledge. No harm was done, and they weren’t caught either!

Richard wanted to be an architect or a farmer when he left school, Eric could not afford to establish Richard as a farmer in this country (as Eric would not countenance Richard renting a farm) so he arranged for him to travel to New Zealand after leaving school, where he worked on a sheep station for two years. Whilst abroad he realised that he wanted to seek ordination, so he returned to England. Richard completed his national service in Northern Ireland where he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Signal Corps. He led members of the English army into the Republic of Ireland when he got disorientated in the many small country lanes that cross the border, but fortunately they found their way back before any weapons were used! Richard also used to travel by ferry and train once a month from Belfast to London to collect the wages for the soldiers. He relished this opportunity because it gave him 36 hours or so of highly prized solitude. On one occasion he had to accompany a court martialled soldier to his trial in England, the soldier told him that the route would go very near to his mother’s home and Richard (probably against orders) allowed the soldier to spend a little while with his mother before they continued their journey.

Richard went to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he met several lifelong friends. He was also courting Jean (Bowsher) by this point, and his punt on the river Cam allowed for several romantic excursions. Richard and Jean met because their brothers John and David had become friends at medical school and John had met Jean when he visited David at the family home in Bishops Cleeve. Jean later had a teaching job in Bath where she was very unhappy, through John she made contact with Cresten Watson Williams who invited her to the Pembroke Road house in Bristol for a weekend. Richard was there, preparing for university entrance and was described by Jean as “wearing a grey suit, white shirt and tie. He was very thin and seemed very quiet and shy.” Richard and Jean announced their engagement at breakfast time after the 1957 May Ball in a friend’s rooms at Cambridge. Richard continued his training at theological college in Chichester.

Richard and Jean were married at St Michael’s College, Tenbury Wells, where Jean had been teaching, on 15th July 1959. They had a honeymoon at the Croft Hotel, Croft Spa, Darlington. Richard then began work in Dorking, where he was assistant curate at St Martin’s. Jean travelled to London each day to her teaching job. Their early holidays were spent in a Bedford van that Richard converted into a very basic camper van, they enjoyed trips to Scotland and to the Passion Plays in Oberammergau, Austria, and took their dog, Danny Boy with them whenever it was possible.

Their first child, Felicity, was born in Dorking on 18th May, 1963. The family moved to St Mary’s, Fratton Road, Portsmouth in 1963 and Edward was born there on 15th October, 1964. The next parish was Culgaith, in Cumbria between 1966 and 1972, their third child, Clare, was born here on 6th January, 1967. Richard was also busy with Diocesan Youth work at this point and took part in regular residential trips to St John’s in the Vale, in the Lake District. Family holidays were initially vicarage exchanges in Norfolk, and then visiting a different part of the UK each year in a caravan, with tents for the children.

Next, Richard became vicar of Wigton, in Cumbria, where he was involved in the establishment of a national network of bereavement counselling. Home was a beautiful Georgian Queen Anne vicarage, which during the 3-day weeks, power cuts and rocketing oil prices of the 1970’s was impossible to heat on a clergy stipend. Richard maintained a large vegetable garden in his limited time off, the produce went into a chest freezer big enough to last the family all winter. The next move was to St John’s Crawshawbooth, where he also managed the Diocesan Conference centre. Richard’s last parish as a stipendiary minister was St Mary’s Temple Balsall, near Solihull, where he was also Master of the Hospital of Lady Katherine Leveson. During his time at Temple Balsall, Richard oversaw the transition of the almshouses which catered for able-bodied retired people to extra care facilities and respite care for frail elderly people. This included he and Jean giving up the ground floor of their home so that it could be converted into bathing, dining and residential facilities for the more needy inhabitants of the almshouses. It was during his time in Temple Balsall that he developed his interest in the Ministry of Healing.

Richard and his wife Jean shared a love of choral music, and this was one of the main factors which led them to settle in Tewkesbury in retirement. Richard was welcomed at the Abbey as a non-stipendiary priest and Jean and Richard both became vital members of the Abbey community. They were very happy there. Unfortunately, Jean died in 2005 but Richard bravely continued to support the Abbey in every way he could. He was skilled in designing and making tapestries and having recruited a team of volunteers produced a new kneeler for the main altar before continuing with many other pieces of needlework within the Abbey.

Richard truly believed in lifelong learning, and embraced computer technology much earlier than most, in the 1980’s. During his retirement he would choose different skills and subjects that he wanted to study; examples being the restoration of antique chairs, the religion of Islam, and the origins of the welfare state.

Richard had a lovely tenor voice and regularly sang Evensong as well as participating in other services until relatively recently. He continued, nearly until his death, daily to walk the half mile to the Abbey. Throughout his life he remained reserved and thoughtful; anyone seeking advice had to ask for it explicitly as he never provided it unsolicited! However, the advice he gave was always valuable, unbiased, honest and kind. He was a steady and supportive father, grandfather and friend. He will be missed. He has borne illness with exceptional courage although it has caused him pain for many years; he no longer suffers.

Felicity, Edward and Clare

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