Anthony Denis Couchman, who died on 10 August 2022, was born on 23 May 1937, the third child and second son of Robert and Frances Couchman of Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire. After leaving school in 1953 he served an apprenticeship as a precision engineer with Bryant Simons, Tottenham (interrupted by National Service between 1955-58 with RAF Far Eastern Command at Saleta, Singapore), moving on as a journeyman to the firm of Buck & Hickman in Whitechapel, London E1, during which time he lived at the University Mission in Plaistow.
Between 1965 and 1966 he attended Bernard Gilpin College, Durham before going on to Sarum Theological College in Salisbury. He was ordained deacon in 1969 and priest in 1970. He served his title under the redoubtable Fr Raymond Smith at St Francis, Barkingside, Essex between 1969 and 1971, in which year he was appointed curate at Sts Peter and Paul, Chingford, Essex, under Canon Charles Ian Pettitt, with specific responsibility for the mission church of St Francis, Chingford. In 1976 he was appointed vicar of St Barnabas with St James the Greater, Walthamstow, Essex. When asking his training priest how long he should stay at St Barnabas, he received the reply ‘until such time as you can identify one parishioner whom you have baptised, prepared for confirmation and officiated at their marriage and funeral’; consequently, he remained there until his retirement in November 2007. A rare occurrence these days.
Fr Anthony’s task at St Barnabas was to build up a failing congregation. His first Sunday Mass attendance was 7, which grew to 123 by his last Sunday Mass in November 2007. During his thirty-two years at St Barnabas he was challenged with the task of restoring the Grade II* 1902 Arts & Crafts church by William Douglas Caröe, including the replacement of the chancel roof, a project which cost some £530,000. Over the years he was able to personally embellish St Barnabas with one of the most comprehensive collections of Arts & Crafts and modern ecclesiastical items of any church in Greater London. The original entry for St Barnabas in Pevsner’s Essex (1954) was of four lines’ duration, but such was Fr Anthony’s zeal and generosity that, come the 2nd edition in 2005, published as London 5: East, this had expanded to 54 lines, the longest entry for any other church in the London Borough of Waltham Forest. During his time at St Barnabas, Fr Anthony had built up a large Igorot community, allowing him to leave a thriving parish in the capable hands of his curate, Fr Alfonso Camiwet. Furthermore, his generosity extended beyond St Barnabas, Walthamstow and there are many churches in East Anglia, Roman Catholic as well as Anglican, which have benefitted from his munificence.
His love of old buildings led to the restoration of the Grade II 17C Vicarage Barn at Thaxted (Fr Anthony was a devotee of its former socialist parish priest, Conrad Noel, and of Morris Dancing), which became his holiday home between 1983 and 1996, subsequently waving his magic wand on 11 Hampton Court, Nelson Street, King’s Lynn (Grade I) in 1997 and, finally, that of Grade II* Friarscot, a modest merchant’s house of c.1510, also in King’s Lynn, in 2007, which remained his home until his death.
Fr Anthony was a quiet and unassuming parish priest, much loved within the parishes he served, possessing a dignified approach to worship and liturgy, believing that nothing but the best was good enough for God. As Fr Raymond Smith once said, ‘Strict training and rigorous discipline made Fr Anthony the priest he is today.’ Fr Anthony had a special devotion to Our Lady and the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, of which he was a Priest Associate, often saying mass in the Chapel of the Resurrection, which had been endowed in 1936 by Helena Loddiges, a former parishioner of St Barnabas, in memory of Fr Anthony’s predecessor, Fr William Norris, and in which Chapel a Requiem Mass was said for Fr Anthony on 30 August.
Fr Anthony’s one ambition in life was to ‘serve God with all my heart, all my soul and all my strength’. That he has done. His High Mass of Requiem at Thaxted, Essex on 10 October was attended by a large congregation, all of whom wended their way to the grave side to the sound of the church bells ringing a quarter peal in his honour, with the Thaxted Morris Men standing guard as his coffin was lowered into the ground. And now he is home, in the town he so loved, fully vested and holding his favourite chalice and paten, waiting for the Great Mass on the Day of Resurrection when, doubtless, God will say to him, ‘ Well done, good and faithful servant.’ May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
Dr Julian Litten FSA