John Meade Falkner died on 22 July 1932 at the age of seventy-four. Outside his former house on Palace Green, Durham, next to the cathedral, is a small plaque that describes him simply as ‘Bibliophile and Author’. Ninety years after his death, the range of his achievements – novelist and antiquarian, poet and palaeographer, armaments manufacturer and manuscript collector – deserves a fuller memorial.
From modest beginnings (his father was an Anglican curate), Falkner went to Marlborough and then to Hertford College, Oxford. The trajectory of his public life was set when, shortly after he graduated in 1882, he became tutor to the children of Andrew Noble, a director of the engineering firm Armstrong Mitchell (later Armstrong Whitworth). He soon joined the firm and in 1915 rose to become its chairman. At the height of the First World War, Falkner thus found himself in a crucial role as head of a firm that was an important provider of armaments and munitions for the war effort.
The growing demands of his industrial career did not prevent the flowering of Falkner’s literary interests. He was an author of some range. He wrote guidebooks to Berkshire and Oxfordshire, a history of the latter county and a history of Bath. He was an occasional poet and writer