Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man

After Tubby, there are any number of candidates for the most influential person in Toc H – the post-war organisation, not Talbot House. Personal favourites are Pat Leonard and Barclay Baron but others will cite different committee members, office holders and confidantes of Tubby. However, one man must take a lot of credit for putting order to Tubby’s pipe-dreams. Peter Monie was the first Honorary Administrator of Toc H and he put the Movement in good-shape for years to come. This simple biographical sketch of Peter’s life should just be seen as an accompaniment to Peter’s own writings which are largely gathered together in Toc H Under Weigh and are recommended to the reader.

Peter William Monie was born in Rothesay, Bute on 30th March 1877 to Peter and Elizabeth. Peter Senior was an English teacher and Assistant Master at Duns whilst Elizabeth’s father was an elder in the Auld Kirk at Duns. It soon became clear that their son was destined to be a scholar.
Peter was educated at Irvine Royal Academy (his father would later be Rector there) then Glasgow University before heading to Balliol College, Oxford. As well as being the alma mater of three British Prime Ministers and a host of Nobel Laureates, Balliol had several Toc H connections; most notably, Neville Talbot who was chaplain there 1909-1914.
In 1899 Peter passed his entrance exams into the Indian Civil Service and was posted to Bombay Province as an Assistant Collector, arriving 16th November 1900. As subordinate to the Collector-Magistrate (Previously the District Officer), he would have dealt with the collection of taxes; the distribution of agricultural loans; and the assessment of land. However, he would also have been involved in the maintenance of law and order in his district.
Exactly a year after his arrival in India, on 16th November 1901 he married Ursula Winifred Bellairs in Bombay, daughter of Rev. Henry Spencer Kenrick Bellairs. Their first son, Cyril, was born in India in 1903. Further children were Kenneth (1904), Peter (1909), and Beatrice (1915)
In 1905, Peter was promoted to Under-Secretary to the Government of Bombay and then in 1907 to the Home Department of the Government of India. Tragically, that same year, his father-in-law took his own life whilst concerned with health problems.
In 1913, Peter became Acting Collector of Nawabshah District, Sind, and in 1915 was appointed Secretary to the Government of Bombay. He became Municipal Commissioner for the City of Bombay in 1916, and Deputy Director of Development for Bombay in 1920. In January of that year he was awarded Companion to the Star of India. It was also in 1920 that Peter met Hugh Clayton, Tubby’s brother, who arrived in Bombay a year after Peter. Besides inventing Contract Bridge – that’s for another day – and later becoming Commissioner of Bombay, Clayton spent much time telling others of the work his brother was doing in establishing Toc H in the UK.
Peter Monie first visited Toc H whilst on leave in 1920 and though there wasn’t that much to see it clearly affected him. In 1922, on leave again, Peter went on retreat with Tubby and applied for an extended period of leave from the Indian Civil Service. That great fisher of men had landed another catch. It was reported in the November 1922 Journal that . That December, he appeared on the stage at the Birthday Festival in the Guildhall. This was the very same night that the Prince of Wales lit the Lamps of Maintenance for the first time so it is fitting that the man who would so organise the practical arrangements of the Movement would share the stage with the birth of the most symbolic ceremony in Toc H. However, it was also the day after the granting of the Royal Charter that turned Toc H from an association of like-minded men into a corporeal organisation able to act in its own right. For an administrator like Peter Monie, this was an incredibly significant moment. The final act of that birthday weekend took place in Grosvenor House on Sunday 16th when all present solemnly passed the Main Resolution of Toc H. The  purpose, was to address the failure of the Royal Charter to unequivocally promote the Christian nature of Toc H. The words, in their first draft, were primarily Peter’s although Alec Paterson revised them before offering the Resolution up to the members.
It was the Charter that gave Peter his first challenge. Prior to the Charter Toc H had been managed by a somewhat informal Central Executive. Now the Charter dictated the appointment of a Central Council by election. Every move that the Council would make must be meticulously and democratically planned. The Executive also remained but had to be tamed from the wild beast it had become into a stately horse fit to pull the Movement forward. For a Civil Servant the calibre of Peter Monie, it was a challenge easily risen to.
Peter’s philosophy was simple; to allow Toc H to grow at the speed it was growing, strong foundations were needed. To achieve this Peter focussed on decentralisation. Even London, whence Toc H was reborn, had a wide and scattered membership loosely gathered around the first Marks. Peter established the London Federation in January 1924 with Harry Ellison at the helm. The same month, the first Northern Conference was held in Sheffield. Later that year, Western members assembled in Bristol, the Midlands Movement convened in Leicester, Southerners in Oxford, and the South Eastern contingent at Crowborough. Given the speed of expansion between 1922 and 1926, this infrastructure was critical in preventing Toc H collapsing on itself.
Peter was more than just a bureaucrat though. He was a thinker and he used The Journal to publish a series of articles about the philosophy of Toc H. These were later compiled into the book Toc H Under Weigh. Whilst Toc H was growing exponentially and it was – on a branch by branch basis – carrying out great works, there was a constant uneasiness about what Toc H was actually supposed to be. Peter Monie presented many writings to stimulate debate on this matter and whilst his works are highly regarded, it is probably fair to say that this debate continues more than 90 years later.
Peter officially retired from the Indian Civil Service in 1925 after a quarter century of service. It is possible that had he not been snagged by one Clayton brother, he may well have gone on to be a Commissioner like another Clayton brother. India’s loss truly was a great gain for Toc H.
On 1928, the existing areas were further broken down into Districts. And of course this was not just in the UK. Tubby and Pat’s monumental 1925 World Tour had helped establish groups across the Dominion. In 1926 Harry Ellison was sent to South Africa to turn the single unit there into many (Rex Calkin took over London Area) and in 1928 Tubby toured South America. This growth could not have been sustained without a bold and courageous strategy. The conservative administrator may well have advocated a slower, controlled growth but that would have stifled the enthusiasm being whipped up by Tubby, Pat and others.
It wasn’t all plain sailing of course. Peter was at the heart of the row with George MacLeod about ecumenical services within Toc H (See Everyman’s Club?). Peter was probably George’s most outspoken opponent. He said himself, “George MacLeod and I have quite different ideas about Toc H……………Toc H [should] stand clear of ecclesiastical disputes, [and] is scrupulously careful to leave such matters to the Churches”. Peter, of course, was on the winning side of this dispute and MacLeod resigned his official posts in Toc H.
Beyond Toc H, not all was well. Peter’s beloved Ursula’s health was imperfect and on February 9th 1935 she died somewhat unexpectedly. A few days later Peter handed his resignation into Hubert Secretan. His job at Toc H was done. His work however was not. On 7th March 1936 Peter was ordained in the Scottish Episcopal Church as Deacon at St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow (Where Pat Leonard would serve as Rector from 1944-1953) and as Priest there just three months later. In September 1937 he was appointed Rector of Old St Paul’s in Edinburgh. He remained in this post until his death on 10th December 1946. He is buried in Teddington Cemetery along with Ursula.

Trying to capture Peter’s contribution to Toc H on paper in a few words is almost impossible. It is clear though, that Tubby’s belief in “cometh the hour, cometh the man” was well-founded in this case. Peter was the absolute right man for the Movement as it exploded with growth. A lesser man at the helm would have seen it floundering on the rocks almost before it had left harbour. Toc H owes Peter Monie plenty.

Steve Smith © 2017

Sources:
The Journal

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