The Houses That Love Built – Part 1

Mark III 

 Whilst Toc H grew to be a worldwide movement built on people, actions, faith and fortitude, Tubby’s vision for rekindling Toc H after the war was more simply focussed on a peacetime Talbot House in London. Of course, even then he knew that the strength of his new organisation would be sum of everything that had grown in and out of the Old House between 1915 and 1918. Thus the seed for his new crop would also be a building.

With all the grandeur you might expect of Tubby, he felt that the best place for his new Talbot House would be Trafalgar Square. The square itself acting like some stand-in for the Grand Place, Poperinghe. Other more practical – but ultimately unfulfilled schemes – included taking over the Guards Club in Pall Mall which was on the market.

Tubbys Dream

Tubby unveils his plans

Front Cover of Sept 1922 Journal

The Journal highlights the journey underway

Tubby next wanted Talbot House Mark I – incremented army style – to be in Bloomsbury (Mark VII would open here) and was also talking to the Westminster estate about opening a hostel in two houses in Pimlico (Later Mark II). So the houses that were leased from an Anglo-South American organisation in South Kensington were only ever meant to be temporary. The first, at 8 Queen’s Gate Place, was very temporary, being outgrown inside two months, whereas its successor at 23 Queen’s Gate Gardens served the movement until July 1927 when Mark I moved to Pembridge Gardens in Notting Hill.   

Once Tubby was on a roll there was no stopping him and the Marks started opened up in rapid succession. It was now not simply that Tubby wanted to recreate Talbot House in London. He was aware of the desperate isolation of young men in digs and wanted the Toc H houses to be an alternative to the loneliness of lodgings.

There was a post-war housing crisis for working class people however, the young men Tubby was looking to assist – his hostellers (the term Marksmen arrived later) – were largely quite well to do gentlemen looking to build careers after the hiatus of the Great War.

So within this Centenary blog I will, from time to time, look at the history of various Marks both in London, the provinces and abroad. I have decided against doing them in numerical order. In fact I shall do them in no real order whatsoever although Mark III is a good place to start as, to all intents and purposes, it is the only Mark still in existence – albeit much changed.

Its beginnings were in the shadow of Waterloo station opposite the General Lying-In Hospital in Lambeth. On the corner of Guildford Street stood no 148 York Road, a big grimy house that acted as the vicarage for St John the Evangelist’s church in Waterloo Road. When former army chaplain John Walker Woodhouse was inducted to the living of St John’s in January 1921, he found it too big for his needs and moved into a much smaller property at 9 York Road. Being a member of Toc H he knew of Tubby’s quest for properties to open as hostels and arranged for the fledgling organisation to lease it from the church. Neither party hung around as the hostel opened on the 21st May 1921, just four months after Woodhouse took over. Incidentally Woodhouse would end his career as Bishop of Thetford immediately preceding Toc H stalwart Pat Leonard.

York Road wrong number

A rare image of the first Mark III (Wrongly labelled as 146 instead of 148)

Across York Road on the opposite corner of Addington Street was a former Congregational Chapel. It was taken on by St John’s as a church hall when the parish expanded (due to All Saints being pulled down for Waterloo station).Wrigley’s had used it for gum storage during the war when evicted from their own Lambeth Palace Road warehouse but it was now empty and Mark III were able to use it for Guest Nights and the like.

St Johns Church Hall

The chapel across the street used for Guest Nights

Barons description in Half The battle

An early Barclay Baron description

So who were the first hostellers down in Lambeth? Well, as became the norm, new Marks were usually seeded by hostellers from existing Marks, in this case Mark I in Kensington and Mark II in Pimlico. The most notable of these was Harry Willink who had spent time in both and became the first Honorary Warden of Mark III. Given Willink’s long future association with Toc H and his place in history, a short sketch of his life is justified.

Henry Urmston Willink was born in 1894 of Quaker stock. The family seat was at Dingle Bank near Liverpool. After leaving Cambridge in 1913, Willink did some mission work but joined the army in 1914. By 1917 he was in charge of a Heavy Gun Battery outside Ypres and on Good Friday of that year attended a service in what was left of Ypres prison. The padre delivering the service was one Tubby Clayton. They chatted and Clayton invited Willink to Talbot House for a service on Easter Sunday which he duly attended. Given that Alison Macfie and her cousin Dorothea both visited Talbot House for the first time that Sunday, what a portentous occasion that was for Toc H.

After the war, in 1919, Willink met his future wife and the following year was called to the bar. In October 1920 he moved into Mark I as one of the first hostellers. He spent six months there before moving to Mark II then in May 1921 to Mark III as Warden. Among the Service he would partake in were two Duke of York Boy’s Camps (1920 and 1921) which he attended as Section Leader. He would remain as Warden and hosteller until September 1922 when he moved into the Temple near his chambers but his association with Toc H was far from over.

Willink would become Chairman of the South London Area Committee and the London Executive and, in 1934, become Chairman of the Central Executive of Toc H. The following year he took Silk and in 1940 was elected as a Conservative MP. During the wartime coalition government he was made Minister of Health. At this time, 1944, he regretfully stood down form the Central Executive chair.

Involved with the production of the Beveridge report, Willink prepared a White paper entitled a National Health Service. It made many proposals for the establishment of the NHS but differed in one major aspect to Bevan’s later white paper, in that Willink was opposed to the nationalisation of hospitals. So when Labour swept to power after the war, Willink’s paper was torn up and replaced by Bevan’s.

Willink retired from politics to become the Master of Magdalene College but retained Toc H connections. He was very supportive of the campaign to raise funds to rebuilt Mark III (See below). He died on New Year’s Day 1973 just a fortnight after Tubby.



Boys Club report

Annual Report St John’s Boys’ Club

Each Mark had an Honorary Warden who was an ordinary hosteller with a day job but who had voluntary responsibilities in looking after the house and ensuring any issues were dealt with. The Honorary Warden would be assisted by an Honorary Deputy Warden. Willink’s first Deputy was Guy Sydenham ‘Siddy’ Hoare. Another gunnery officer, he had been a major in charge of a Wessex Territorial Battery near Ypres. After the war he devoted himself to Toc H and as an External Aspirant at the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, where he became resident in 1923 but died in 1926 aged just 47.

The men living in hostels were not normally domesticated and they generally required domestic help. Soon the Marks would have properly paid live-in housekeepers – often a husband and wife – but in the earliest days they were known as stewards. Sam Pickles and his wife were amongst the earliest stewards and he joined Mark III when it opened remaining until November 1922 when he left to be OC Messing at Mark VII (Fitzroy Square).

Amongst the other early hostellers was Bob Collis, an Irish doctor and writer. He joined the British Army in 1918 as a cadet, but resigned a year later to study medicine in London which is when he stayed at Mark III. He would later become the first President of Toc H London. After qualifying he was appointed director of Paediatrics at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin playing Rugby for Ireland whilst there. During the Second World War he worked for the Red Cross in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after its liberation by Allied troops. He was instrumental in bringing five orphaned children from the camp to Ireland in 1947, and adopted two of them. Hence his later reputation as the Irish Schindler. He was also involved in establishing Cerebral Palsy Ireland working closely with Christy Brown of My Left Foot fame.

Collis shared a small upper room at the top of the house with a Cambridge friend. The room was divided into a bedroom and a tiny sitting room for study. In his autobiography The Silver Fleece he describes the Mark:

Its situation alone assured the resident of a commanding position. In our case this was enhanced by the fact that our work at King’s College Hospital entailed a journey of half an hour into south-east London, while our amusements led us in the opposite direction across the river.

Mark III itself was a poor dusty house looking out on a noisy dirty street. It consisted of a basement where food was cooked and where we ate, a common room above and a large number of rooms used as dormitories in which were from two to six beds. Their furniture was scarce, but they were fitted out pleasantly, if roughly. Washing accommodation was sufficient, if crowded. One small back room had been reserved. It was made into a chapel. Whoever decorated it was an artist. It was plain, except for a few benches and a communion table. There was a wooden cross which had been brought back from Flanders, a communion roll, and a round window of stained glass, reconstructed actually of pieces from the shattered windows of the Cathedral of Ypres and arranged so as to represent the double cross of the Flanders town. It faced away from the street. In it there was stillness or as near absolute quiet as can be obtained in London. For even in places where the hooting of the traffic and all crude sounds are shut off there is still always a distant rumble, which is felt rather than heard. Here it was possible to be alone. Indeed in later years, when no longer living in Toe H, I have more than once entered Mark III quietly and climbed up to the little back room seeking peace from London.

In the end though Collins found the ‘hearty atmosphere’ too distracting for his studies and moved out of the Mark.

Another notable hosteller was Geoffrey Leonard Heawood, who was secretary of Christian Students Association whilst living at Mark III and later moved to Mark VII. A tutor at Kings College London he became deputy head of Alleyns in Dulwich then the head at Cheltenham Grammar for many years. He wrote several books on Christianity.

Others included more medical students in Bill Daggett, Arnold Hatch, and A. P. Leavey, the last named being a fine athlete whilst Hatch did a lot of the Marks’ work with Scouts and became a GP in Dulwich; and T. J. Bosley who was secretary for the Toc H Drama League and Concert Party.

Of course there were many others and most of them would have been members of Toc H. Indeed, in 1920 virtually the whole of the London membership lived in the Marks.

Meanwhile, in August 1922 Willink stood down as Warden and was replaced by Robert Jardine. Willink stayed involved with Toc H as we were saw earlier and after they married in Dec 1923, Willink’s wife Cynthia started a girls’ club at St John’s.

That autumn, the Mark started a Gym and Boxing Clubs for members in St George’s Hall, about half a mile from Mark III on Westminster Bridge Road. The building had held boxing matches before the war and in 1921 was bought by the National Sailors and Fireman’s Union as their headquarters. Charlie Thompson, who was heavily involved with Toc H sports activities and was briefly on staff as Sports Secretary and Social Welfare Secretary, ran the club. Although Charlie didn’t live in the Mark, because of its proximity to Mark III the gym became ‘owned’ by the hostellers. They would feed any gym users who required it.

“Evening supper could be arranged at Mark III, provided the members of the classes who desire it will give due notice to the secretary”

There were two sessions every Tuesday (6.30-7.30pm and 8.30 to 9.30pm). In early 1923, because of a lack of interest from Toc H members, it was turned into a single class at 8pm incorporating boys from St John’s Boys Club.

Charlie Thompson went on to run a gents’ outfitters at London Bridge and supplied ties and scarves to Toc H members for many decades.

Is This Mark III or jsut any old Mark

Chowing down in one of the Marks

In May 1923 Marks I, II, III & VII were the focus of four branches formed to organise the scattered London membership. The Mark III branch officially formed on the 4th May 1923. Branch Meetings were on Wednesday at 8pm following on from Supper at 7pm. The first branch committee of Mark III was Henry Willink (Chairman), W.E. Phelp (Vice Chairman & Treasurer; Also Warden), Tubby and John Woodhouse (Joint Padres), Horace Flower (Secretary), Bill Collis (Jobmaster), Charles Oscar Leadbitter (Assistant Treasurer), plus non-executive members R.I. Croucher, Bill Daggett, and Sidney Beresford Ingram.

Beresford Ingram was to become the Inspector of Technology for London County Council and later a Schools Inspector for the Home Office and later still a Postal Inspector. In 1924 he moved to the Brothers House (Mark XIII) Kennington. Charles Leadbitter was a former Coldstream Guard captured towards end of the First World War and held as a POW for several weeks.

What did it actually mean to be a hosteller back then? For starters, as well as paying rent – and this would normally be a variable amount depending on what they could afford – they also agreed to do one night’s service in the locality. This might mean helping out in one of the missions or boys’ clubs.

Work with St John’s Boys’ Club was extended and they also worked with the Scouts. The then Warden Walter Phelps was responsible for this and because of the pressure of work, resigned as warden to be replaced by Malcom Arnott (Later Warden at Mark VII) on the 1st December 1923. T.P. Caroll and Ronnie Myatt now ran the St John’s Scout troop. Later, Toc H hostellers would be part of the fledgling blood transfusion service furiously running or pedalling to the local hospital to lay next to someone requiring a blood transfusion.

Each house also held guest nights weekly which involved an ‘expert’ giving a talk to the hostellers and welcoming visiting members from other Marks and branches. This was a good to chance for hostellers to meet non-resident members of Toc H from the District. Talks included subjects such as Children’s rescue Work, Science and the Criminal, and Nerves.

The little branch “across the bridges” – the only one south of the Thames until Putney opened in 1930 – never seemed as busy as its fellows.  It was smaller than the other early hostels and was something of a Cinderella Mark; Marks I, II, & VII were forever playing each other in various sporting events but Mark III probably didn’t have the numbers to make up a team. However it survived nine years in Lambeth until London County Council stuck their oar in!

Started in 1911 but delayed by the war, County Hall had been the home of the LCC since 1922, shortly after Mark III opened. However, it was running out of space from day one and a plan to build an extension was always in the offing. Compulsory purchases were projected and seeing the writing on the wall, in early 1930 Toc H dispersed it’s Marksmen across the London Mark diaspora or to another charity whose head office was in Tooley Street.

“a few collected together at the Lucas Tooth hostel against the transformation of the late rectory of St John’s, South Hackney”

In March 1930 Toc H headquarters staff moved in from Queen Anne’s Gate for six months until their new HQ at 47 Francis Street was ready. A North Lambeth grope (In those days a Grope preceded a Group which preceded a Branch) was formed in the spring of 1930 by some of the old hostellers to try and plug the gap left by the closure of the Mark and its associated branch.

Final Plan for North and South Blocks though not as built

The County Hall extention that led to the destruction of the first Mark III

There were inevitable delays to the County Hall extension but by 1939 the new North and South Blocks of County Hall were finished. 148 York Road had been torn down and the pedestrianised Forum Magnum Square still stands over the spot today. On the diagram above, the ‘A’ of York Road points to where the Mark stood.The Lying-In Hospital opposite is still in situ!

However, the story of Mark III was far from over, as thanks to the generosity of its friends at Punch, the Mark crossed the river and decamped to South Hackney. Sir Owen Seaman, editor of Punch and a great friend of Toc H, launched the appeal that allowed the former rectory at on Church Crescent, South Hackney to be purchased for the movement. It was known as Punch House though still bore the title Mark III. The Reverend Henry Cecil had arrived at St John of Jerusalem church across the street in July 1930 so it was all change in this area close to Wells Common.

Marksmen moved in to Mark III in the late summer of 1930 whilst there still trenches in the garden being dug for the electrics and paint still drying on the walls. It was officially opened on Wednesday the 18th September by Seaman. It included the Punch Room and possessed the Punch Lamp dedicated to F.H Townsend.

Punch House

The old rectory in South Hackney which Mark III took over as Punch House

The first Honorary Warden was Lew R. Tamplin from Mark VII and he was joined by Deputy Phil C. Toy, also from Mark VII. Marksmen, many from other London Marks, included E B Wilkinson, later Warden at Mark IV in Manchester, R.A. Suckling, Gerry Hayes later Warden at the Brothers’ House, and Bobbie Hirst from Mark I.

Mark III continued to exist relatively quietly in Hackney through the nineteen thirties but by 1939, in common with the rest of the Marks, it suffered as young men were called to war. Occupancy across all the national hostels was at less than 50% by the end of the year. In December 1939 the last residents moved out Mark III and it was moth-balled. John Sarl was warden when it closed

In 1940 it stood empty and was badly bombed. After the war, initially the surviving rooms were used to store Toc H property from closed wartime Services clubs. In time the upper rooms were reconditioned to make temporary homes for otherwise homeless staff and finally it was made fit for revival as a Mark.

It was initially reopened in 1947 with Bernard Shaw from Mark XX as Honorary Warde. He was assisted by Bill Jakeman and a team drawn from the other London Marks with the task of rebuilding Mark III. They included the Revd. Edward Seager, a former vicar for the Scilly Isles who was Padre before moving back down to Cornwall. They clearly succeeded as by April 1949 it was back to full capacity.

It was during this period that Mark III – and the other London Marks as well – started to show signs of massive diversity, something Mark III in particular would become renowned for. One Marksman remarked;

“this is the room you’ll be in for the time being. We call it the nursery. The chap in the bed next to yours is a Pole, the one in this bed a West African studying textiles, over there a tubby chap in the Bank and in the corner Jimmy, a ‘printer’s devil’ ”

Little wonder they called Toc H the human zoo. The same Marksman goes on to explain what Mark living is all about;

“a Mark is not just another name for a boarding-house. It is not out solely to provide comfortable quarters for the men lucky enough to live there, nor to cater for a floating population…………the Family living in a Mark needs to be a carefully chosen mixed team – the young apprentice, the student, the shop assistant, the mechanic or the miner, the bank official and the journalist, in age from 16 upwards……… this is but an overgrown family, it is a small enough community for each to realise his duties and responsibilities to his fellow member which in the larger community of town or nation are too often forgotten.”

Punch House was further restored over the next three years and officially reopened on the 5th April 1950. At the opening – the celebrations beginning at 42 Trinity Square – Punch owner Allan Agnew introduced editor Cyril Kenneth Bird aka Fougasse, assistant editor Humphry Ellis and contributors E.H. Shepherd, A.B. Hollowood, and A.D. Keown. The party later moved to the newly restored house where hostellers had hung an illuminated sign. Bird handed over a small tablet in memory of Sir Owen Seaman who ‘led Toc H to Punch’. Seaman had died in 1936.

Wardens during this rebirth included Michael Meadows, Pat Blakeman and John Bewley. The latter died suddenly in February 1959 and was replaced by his Deputy Ken Harvey until Jack Lucas took over. Whilst the normal life of the Mark continued, an interesting tradition began in 1955 – at Tubby’s instigation – that continued for many years. Mark III played a central role in it.

Romans Mark III Banner prominent

The Mark III Romans march on Tower Hill

Tubby, a keen historian particularly in relation to Tower Hill, wished to commemorate Julius Classicanus, the Roman Procurator who stopped the Romans from ravaging Norfolk after Boudicca’s rebellion. The governor Paulinus was pursuing a scorched earth policy throughout East Anglia but Classicanus, whose role was to take money in taxes, opposed him thus sparing the Iceni from complete annihilation. To commemorate him, Tubby created a pageant where the Iceni were represented by Norfolk’s Scouts and Guides and the Romans from all London Marks but especially Mark III. Gualter de Mello recalls;

The Roman pageant was a fascination. Mark III enjoyed dressing up as Roman soldiers, headed by the Roman Governor Gaius and his wife Julia, followed by Scouts and Guides from Norfolk dressed as Iceni who together marched to Mile End underground on to Aldgate East and a further march to the moat of The Tower of London. A mock battle between Romans and Iceni before going to All Hallows Church for a Thinking Thanksgiving Service and from Tower Hill back home by coach as our Iceni Scouts and Guides had to get back home after tea at Prideaux House


More Mark III Romans. The Mark Banner is nicely displayed.

However there was no getting away from the fact that those seeking life in a hostel were looking for something a little different now. And however you dressed up Mark living as a way of life, the building it was being lived in was still a Victorian Rectory!

Planning to replace Mark III began in the late fifties and outline plans were approved by London County Council by the end of 1958. It was an ambitious plan too – Toc H was looking to have its first ever purpose-built Mark at an estimated cost of £50,000 (Just over £1 million in today’s terms).

Artists Impression PH

Artist’s impression of the first purpose built Mark

An initial plan allowed for 12 three-bed rooms plus quarters for the Warden, Padre, a guest room, sick room and a separate suite for the housekeeper and her assistant. The Chapel and Quiet rooms would adjoin each other on the first floor. Additionally there would be a dining room, games room, TV room, lounges, laundry and a dark room plus the necessary bathrooms and showers on each of the three floors. Quite a rebirth. An appeal was launched with Henry Willink as Patron.

Artists Impression 1962 rebuild

How the inside was planned to look

The last guest night of the old Mark III was held on the 29th November 1960 and the Mark closed on the 10th December 1960 with demolition commencing on the 15th.

Once complete, the new Prideaux House (named for Lancelot Prideaux-Brune, a foundation member, early Warden of Mark I, and holder of many other roles in Toc H) was a much modernised hostel. The fundraising had proved a great success and many of its donors were remembered by having rooms named after them: The Chapel was dedicated to John Bewley, former warden of Mark III and a Welfare Adviser for the RAF Association; the Padre’s room was the Owen Watkins Room – Watkins being a Toc H padre and Deputy Chaplain General for the army and a legendary figure in Toc H. Other rooms were named for sponsors such as The Wolfson Room (The Wolfson Foundation contributed £5000); The Building Industry Room; the St Michael Room (Marks and Spencers), The Henry Hildesley Room (A local printer who covenanted £100 a year to provide a memorial room in the name of their late MD);  the SEDOS Room (Stock Exchange Dramatic and Operatic Society who put on a performance of Kiss Me Kate to raise funds); the Unilever Room (They donated £1000);  the Frederick Bain Room (The Quiet Room was to be named for the former Deputy Chairman of ICI and a Toc H member); the Arnold Power Room (W H Smith); the Borough Room (Hackney Council) and many others. Perhaps the most poignant was the Our Twelve Room. Endowed by Mrs Alexandra Louise Gray, it is memory of twelve members of her family who gave their lives during the First World War.

PH ANother View

And the finished building

Unfortunately, it retained the old Mark practice of multi-occupancy at a time when people were looking for private bedrooms. This limited its life as a hostel but more of that later.

Originally due to open in February, inevitable delays meant that the new Mark was eventually opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother at 4.15pm on Friday 1st June 1962.

The new Honorary Warden was to be Charles Young, of Carlisle branch and Northern Area Secretary, who with wife Kate had been the second Wardens at Dor Knap. Charles got Prideaux House up and running but retired early in 1963 having established a younger team. W. Anthony (Tony) Lee was warden mid-1964 and was also elected as a Central Councillor. John Boddy was Warden in the summer of 1965 at time of third anniversary open house celebrations. However, in 1966, came a man who would leave his mark on the Mark indelibly!

Gualter de Mello joined Toc H in his native Brazil in 1953 when Archdeacon Townsend started a group in Sao Paulo. Gualter was initiated by Alison Macfie who was on her travels in South America. In 1957 Gualter spent a year at Mark I whilst acting as Tubby’s weekend ADC and then some time at the Brothers’ House where he met Neville Minas. After doing his theological training at Ely, partly funded by the Toc H and All Hallows Trust, Gualter was ordained at St Paul’s in 1964 after which he took a curacy at St John of Jerusalem Church in South Hackney and became padre for Mark III where he moved in in September 1964. After his curacy finished he became Warden as well as Padre.


Your author’s wife with Neville Minas and Gualter de Mello at Ely

To understand the work of Prideaux House under Gualter I can do no better than suggest you seek out a copy of Kenneth Prideaux-Brune’s Any Problem Is No Problem published by the Community of Reconciliation and Friendship in 1996. What follows is but a glance.

Under Gualter’s guidance Prideaux House began to turn from a hostel into a community centre. The docks were closing and this part of Hackney needed community spirit. It would become an integral part of the community with local mayors, councillors and religious leaders becoming involved.

In the summer of 1967 the first ever Toc H project based on a Mark took place at Prideaux House. A number of painting and decorating jobs on behalf of the Hackney Borough Council Welfare Department were carried out by a party including one boy from Poperinge, a Czech, and a German.

Drawing of PH by Min Tabor

A drawing of Prideaux House by local Hackney artist Min Tabor

The Mark itself was highly multinational with its residents representing 22 nations in late 1967. One of the Marksmen around this time who later became better known was the musician Peter Skellern. He was seen as an ideal hosteller – somewhat different to guitaris Chris Spedding who got thrown out of Mark II for constantly arriving back in the early hours.

Gualter arranged a community survey and it was established that the local elderly community was most in need of services. In 1968 Gualter began holding lunch clubs at the centre for local elderly folk. This lunch continues 50 years later!

PH Lunch Club 1970 Gualter and Miss Ann Brace

The long running lunch club. Gualter is far left at the back

On the 28th November 1968 a new Toc H Service called Friends Anonymous began. Later it would be havied off as a separate entity and, now known as the Community of Reconciliation and Friendship, this service is still going. Other services included chiropody, a club for people with disabilities on Friday nights, an open night with films on Wednesdays

PH Postcard

Another view showing the Friends Anonymous Service sign

In 1969 the rooms were converted into two people rooms and the following year the first six women moved in. One of these was Marolyn White who met a young Toc H worker (and former Tubby ADC) John Burgess at the house. In December they married. They play a further role in this story as you will shortly see but more importantly, without John Burgess, who hooked me into Toc H, I would not even be writing this blog.

1970 Playgroup Photo JUB

The first playscheme

Another community survey was held in 1970 which highlighted the need for playgrounds and clubs for young people. This led to the establishment of Summer Playschemes that same summer and, in 1971, the Rainbow Playgroup for 5-12 year olds. There were also residential camps at Colsterdale and Rhyl that gave local children the opportunity to enjoy a break on the countryside. These were led my Mark III resident Brian Harding.  Realising that schemes being run only during the summer holidays didn’t solve all the problems, Gualter started a Youth Club over the winter of 71/72.  He soon realised that there were too many young people for Prideaux House and a purpose built Youth Centre was required. Luckily there was a vegetable patch at the rear of Prideaux House that would be a perfect site. However, its birth was not without complications.

In January 1972 Gualter pointed out to Toc H that the young hostellers who were involved in their own student lives were not the best people to engage in Toc H activities and that future long-term residents should be fully committed to Toc H work. He recommended that only the top floor be residential (long-term) and the first floor be turned over to conference facilities and short term accommodation.

Unfortunately, whilst the management committee of Prideaux House supported Gualter fully, Toc H nationally didn’t necessarily agree with his views. There were further clashes regarding the building of the Youth Centre and finally in December 1972 Gualter resigned. One wonders if his great friend Tubby’s death on the 16th December had any bearing on his decision.

Captain Roy Leech of the Church Army (He was also 26 years in the army – Tank Corps and RAOC) took over the reins after Gualter left but on the 16th June 1973 when the aforementioned John Burgess took charge.

John was born in Clacton in 1945 and introduced to Toc H by his father when he was 16. He was District Secretary 1964-66 whilst working as a Marine Diesel Engineer. He then joined the staff and was Deputy Warden of the Toc H Services Club in Paderborn. On returning to the UK he lived at Mark III and became Projects Officer helping the Project scene grow massively. After his stint as Warden at Prideaux House he would continue to work as a Development Officer and, well he deserves a blog to himself some day!

Under John’s wardenship the spirit of Gualter’s Prideaux House was maintained. The community fun continued with Mad Hatter’s Tea parties and Happiness Marches across Wells Common. Stamp Clubs started and the Summer Playschemes went from strength to strength. They carried out a third community survey in 1974 reaching over 1000 local homes.

In the autumn on 1974 the go ahead was finally given for a Youth Centre on waste ground at the rear of Prideaux House. The cost of £22,000 was to be met by grants from the Inner London Education Authority and Toc H but £10,000 still had to be raised locally – Toc H West Essex District took up this challenge. It was opened in on the 3rd November 1975 by Angus Ogilvy. The youth leader was Alison Hutchinson, who had cut her teeth in Darlington. Around the walls of the new centre were a series of handwritten signs bearing messages such as “If you swear, do it quietly”; shades of Talbot House! Bob Haimes was a later Youth Leader.

Bob Haimes Warden Toc H Youth Centre Hackney1979

Bob Haimes, Youth Centre Warden, with some of his young people

Meanwhile in 1973 Gualter had returned to Hackney and opened Friendship House after a sojourn in West Malling working with Ugandan refugees. This would have an important bearing in the not too distant future.

In early February 1977 Jeff Bird arrived as Warden allowing, on the 2nd April, John Burgess to leave Prideaux House for the next phase of his long Toc H career. Jeff came in from his position as Long Term Volunteer Assistant Warden at 42 Trinity Square. He struggled a bit and was replaced by Mike Giddings, a former Mark III resident, and then by Geoff and Liz Taylor for a few months. Geoff, a teacher, and his wife Elizabeth, a Social Worker, were also both former residents of Prideaux House before they married.

Activities at this time included a Sponsored Walk around Wells Common led by Youth Leader Bob Haimes supported by 28 Marksmen and many members of the local community. A fete and barbecue to support he event was put on my Prideaux House. Indeed the annual ‘Feet Fete’ festival on Wells Common was a popular event. The Lunch Club and Summer Playschemes were still going strong and the latter attracted an International selection of volunteers.

Little Wallet Booklet FC

The cover of a Prideaux House pamphlet

But the Marks were out of fashion with Toc H and once again the writing was on the wall for Mark III. In March 1982 Toc H’s Director Ken Prideaux-Brune relayed the CEC’s decision to sell off the Marks. Mark III wasn’t ready to go though and this time though it didn’t have to close as such. With the help of John Burgess, Hackney Council and many others, Friends Anonymous bought it from Toc H and reinstalled Gualter to run things.

In 1982 Toc H Management decided to sell Prideaux House Mark III and we had 5 days to make a decision and purchase it with Hackney Borough Council’s Help. We moved back to Prideaux House and, despite of the changes taking place in society throughout the world, maintained the old Mark III principles of fellowship and service. I retired from Prideaux House in September 2013 after nearly 60 years.

One of the first things Gualter did was to set up a room containing Tubby’s original dining room furnishings. They were rescued by Gualter when 42 Trinity Square was under threat.  The room was recreated at Prideaux House and reopened along with the house on the 11th July 1982 in memory of Tubby.

Strictly speaking Prideaux House was now no longer part of Toc H. Nonetheless, the links were strong and the ethos similar on so many levels that the spirit of Toc H continued and continues still. In terms of hard facts the most significant change came in 2002 when Prideaux House was torn down and a new Prideaux House rose in its place. Then in 2013 Gualter retired to Brazil (Sadly dying just three years later). One era ended but a new one began.

Prideaux House II

Prideaux House rebuilt again in 2002

So we will end the story of Toc H Mark III here but what a journey it has had from its grimy beginnings in Lambeth to its place at the heart of South Hackney’s community. The Cinderella Mark turned out to be the fairest of them all.

Steve Smith (c) 2020

  • Sources
  • The Journal (Various)
  • Point 3 (Various)
  • Any Problem Is No Problem – Kenneth Prideaux-Brune (1996)
  • The Silver Fleece – Bob Collis (1937)
  • Unpublished autobiography – Henry Willink (1968)
  • Various other Toc H books, booklets and pamphlets
  • John Burgess

5 thoughts on “The Houses That Love Built – Part 1

  1. I grew up on the frampton park estate in the 50’s and 60’s and went to St. John of Jerusalem school and church. I remember raising funds for to check and weld common was a great place to play football and race bikes in the enclosed track. Great memories and some sad ones also


  2. I would love to know what became of Bob Haimes. He was a good youth leader – I suspect he has long since passed away. I used to attend the youth club in the late 70s and early 80s.


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