I said recently that it is my intention to tell you the story of Barclay Baron both here in blog form and later as a full biography. That puts me in kind of a predicament. How do I relate such an important life story respectfully here whilst keeping my powder dry for the book? Can I do justice in this blog without undermining the greater venture? I guess we are about to find out. Please consider the story of Barclay Baron as a movie and this blog is the trailer. Not the first, 30 second teaser trailer that comes out six months before the film but the fully developed three minute preview that gives you enough of the plot to guarantee you will be queuing up at the box-office to find out all the details. I hope the next few thousand words will whet your appetite enough for you to eagerly await the book next year. I know I’m looking forward to it immensely, but then I’ve seen the script!
The Story of Barclay Baron
Our first scene opens on a book. Published in January 1922, Half the Battle is the first significant piece of literature Baron has produced for Toc H since he arrived there the previous summer. On the inside front cover is a quote written by Baron.
“To conquer hate would be to end the strife of all the ages,
but for men to know one another is not difficult, and it is half the battle”
If these words were Barclay Baron’s only legacy to the world it would be right to extol him for them alone. However, Baron achieved so much more in his life for such a variety of good causes, not least Toc H. No-one captured the history of Toc H with quite the detailed artist’s eye of Baron. Though its founder, Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton’s flowery writings were a great promotional tool they – despite their passion and inspiration – frequently lacked accuracy. It was Baron’s essays that helped me understand the history of Toc H when I first became interested in that side of things but it was several years later before I started to look into Baron’s own story, and what a story I found.
The Baron family’s roots are in Cornwall though a phrenologist once claimed that Baron’s father had a fine Phoenician head – inherited by Baron himself – quite possible since those ancient explorers and traders venerated the tin-mines of Cornwall and were regular visitors. The Barons also had Quaker roots which might well have had a bearing on Baron’s later compassion and humanity. He was about 13 when the family were all baptised into the Church of England.
Our leading actor was born in Clifton, Bristol on the 28th February 1884, just avoiding that devilish Leap Year trap that condemns you to only one true birthday every four years. He would be followed by three younger sisters in 1886 (Freda), 1889 (Muriel), and 1892 (Vera). Their father Barclay Josiah Baron, was a noted Ear, Nose and Throat Consultant and their mother, Jane Robinson, a grocer’s daughter from Liskeard in Cornwall.
His childhood was blessed by the comfortable circumstances afforded by his father’s success and by the beautiful environment of the West Country. Baron was interested in all things flora and fauna and later described a typical exploration with his sister Freda,
“Fortified with wedges of home-made cake in a little basket and with threepence between us for two bottles of lemonade at a village shop, we roamed fields and woods, named the wild flowers one by one, discovered a blackcap’s nest and fished in muddy ponds for water-boatmen to take home in a jam-jar.”
Home was a large house in Whiteladies Road, Clifton. Here Barclay Baron senior ran his private practice and the family went about their lives. For Baron it was school, and it was at Clifton College where he developed his interest in the natural world. He even said that he joined the school Scientific Society just so he would be let out with a butterfly net and a geological hammer.
In the autumn of 1902 he went up to University College, Oxford where his vocation would develop. Baron met Alec Paterson on the night he arrived and they would be friends for the next 45 years until Paterson died in 1947; Baron visiting him just a few hours before his death. They had many mutual interests in particular social justice. Baron had spent much time thinking deeply about religious, liberal and social issues. Despite their different characters – Paterson was serious and intense, Baron charming and apparently light-hearted – they gelled together well.
They also shared a love of the outdoors and spent holidays together – with others – in the Lake District. Baron’s love of nature was transferring into a general love of the outdoors, in particular walking. Sandals would later become his footwear of choice – except those times when he could go barefoot – and he is frequently pictured wearing them, even sitting at his desk working.
Paterson already had a well-developed social conscience and wanted to share it with his new university pals. He took some of them into the slums of Oxford twice a week where they worked with the regulars in the local doss house.
Then during that first term, an incident occurred during that changed all of their lives.
“One day in 1902 a group of freshmen loitered in the College quadrangle after ‘Hall’, when a third-year man invited them to take coffee with him and a visitor from Town.”
The freshmen included Baron and Paterson and the visitor was Dr John Stansfeld. Some of them were won over by Stansfeld’s enthusiastic evangelising about a Boys Club and Medical Mission in Bermondsey and vowed to spend a fortnight there at their next vacation. This was the Oxford Medical Mission founded by Stansfeld in 1897 (later the Oxford and Bermondsey Boys’ Club.)
Paterson said afterwards,
“He insisted we come and ‘live the crucified life in Bermondsey’. We shrank from the words rather: they seemed to push the thing too far. Yet the words stuck………The meeting seemed rather a failure, only seven men there and none of us at all heroic. Yet all seven came to Bermondsey sooner or later and five became residents.”
For Paterson it was the beginning of a 20 year stay in Bermondsey but for Baron it was the inspiration of a lifetime. Although his path would lead him out of Bermondsey, he stayed close spiritually returning when he could and the lessons he learned there stayed with him all his life.
Now we like to think that Toc H began in Talbot House in December 1915. However there is a school of thought that it truly started in Bermondsey which Tubby often called the cradle of Toc H. Indeed in Bermondsey Baron first met Tubby. Here too Baron worked with many of his Oxford contemporaries like William Temple, Neville Talbot, Cecil Rushton, Donald Hankey, Henry Scott-Holland, and Clement Attlee. These men, at least those who survived the Great War, would be the building blocks of post-war Britain.
He would also meet his future wife in Bermondsey. But that is later; first Baron had some ‘wanderlust’ to attend to.
In 1905 he left university and in the late summer arrived in Germany for a year in the pursuit of art. He lived with a German family in Charlottenburg, Berlin (but later moved to Munich) studying at the universities of both cities. His first impressions of the country were of orderliness and thoroughness “admirable but often irksome to a casual Englishman”. He developed a great love for Germany and for its contribution to Christian life.
In 1906 he returned to London – his father wrote indicating it was time he got serious about a career. So Baron set out to do an Art Master’s Certificate at polytechnic but also struck out for independence. No longer wishing to be financially reliant on his parents he took cheap lodgings in Bloomsbury close to the British Museum and within walking distance of the polytechnic. He spent much time in the Print Room of the British Museum where Laurence Binyon was one of the staff, and he painted in Hyde Park in the mornings. He exploited his talent as a wordsmith with freelance articles and reviews for several journals and also offered his services as a private tutor. His weekends were spent volunteering at the OMM and he went away on camps to their rural retreat at Horndon in Essex.
Clearly though, his ‘wanderlust’ was not yet sated. Expanding on his experience as a private tutor, in 1907 Baron went to Italy for eighteen months to be a private tutor to a boy in Verona. He learnt Italian and painted. He had much free time and explored the city’s 40 churches and travelled across Italy. When it was time to go home he sent his copious drawings, photographs and notes along with his luggage ahead to England then cycled across the Alps to Germany, working his passage along the way. He was certainly attracted to life on the road.
Back in London he lectured at the National Gallery for the WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) and provided articles and cartoons for the Daily News. However, the pull of Bermondsey (or probably the persuasive talents of Alec Paterson) led Baron to relocate to Bermondsey. Here, according to his family later, he probably had the happiest days of his life.
Bermondsey was one the archetypal slum districts of London. Sprawling along the south bank of the Thames with its many wharves and quays and right next to the docks of Rotherhithe, most of its inhabitants worked in the port. Those that didn’t may well have worked in the tanneries that gave Bermondsey both its nickname, the Land of Leather, and the hideous smell that pervaded the air. Families were crowded into tenements that were packed into closely laid streets. One particularly jam-packed area by St Saviour’s Dock was known as Jacob’s Island and was where Dickins set Bill Sykes’ demise.
Baron was there to work with the boys of these inhabitants at the various clubs run by the OMM. He took paid work as Private Secretary to Herbert Samuel, a Liberal Cabinet Minister under Asquith (The first nominally-practising Jew to become a Cabinet Minister, and later leader of the Liberal Party). Baron worked at Samuel’s home in Bayswater and in the summer recess travelled with him to his Yorkshire constituency. This allowed him to know Samuel professionally and personally. As Baron later said, “we picnicked, played and swam together, as well as worked together.”
Alec Paterson, a relatively minor Civil Servant at the time, also became known to Herbert Samuel who was drafting what became the Children’s Act 1908. As a result Paterson wrote more than twenty amendments to the draft – all of which appeared in the final Act. Amongst other things, it brought in juvenile courts and helped develop the growth of borstals – which, after the war, would become Paterson’s true field of expertise.
Baron was becoming quite an expert in the subject ‘working boys’ and in October 1910 gave a lantern lecture at Streatley (Berkshire) Reading Room on ‘The Conditions of life among working boys in Bermondsey’. He was also writing a text on the subject. The Growing Generation: A Study of Working Boys and Girls in our Cities for the Student Christian Movement was published in 1911 and has been described as a manual for youth work. It has been quoted in many an academic treatise since. Paterson was, by 1910, working on his book Across the Bridges (Published March 1911), which he used Baron as a sounding board for.
The following year Baron took over as Warden of the Oxford and Bermondsey Boys Club. John Stansfeld had trained as both doctor and priest and had left the mission taking with him the OMM’s medical qualification, hence the name-change. At this time, Baron was sharing rooms nearby the Abbey Street HQ of the OBC, with Donald Hankey. Together they wrote a version of Julius Caesar for their club members to perform. Playwright was another skill Baron would later reemploy frequently.
Baron – who seemed to live in several addresses in Bermondsey during his time there – also lived with Cecil Rushton around 1912, who was introduced to them by Tubby. Rushton and Baron shared an attic room in a tenement overlooking the Thames. The room had a big wooden balcony on which Baron and Rushton slept when they could. Though often the pair went off for late night (early morning) walks that began at the ‘crack’ – the place in Tower Bridge where the two leaves met. The pair then wandered around Billingsgate or Chinatown until the early hours. Sadly, neither Hankey nor Rushton returned from the war.
It was in 1912 that Baron also met Rachel Caroline Abel Smith, a woman five years his senior, who was working for Time and Talents, an evangelical mission for women and girls which her mother co-founded. Both Baron and Rachel obviously shared a common outlook on life – they were both committed Christians and staunch Liberals. And both it seems, were trying to leave behind their privileged upbringing: Rachel was daughter of Abel Smith MP of Woodhall Park, Hertford, and Frances Julia Hart Dyke of Lullingstone Castle.
Early in 1914 Baron was asked by his friend William Temple, to get involved in a new Christian periodical he was starting called The Challenge. His first few months were spent raising funds for it but he was also made editor for the first issue published in April. Then Temple took over the editor’s chair as Baron’s personal life took precedence for a change and in May he and Rachel were engaged.
Then on the 25th July 1914 they were married at Southwark Cathedral by the Reverends Canon Woodward and John Stansfeld himself. Alec Paterson was best man and Rachel was given away by her brother, Abel Henry Smith.
The Saturday afternoon wedding and reception in the Chapter House was notable for the mix of the couple’s well-to-do relatives and their friends and colleagues from Bermondsey. Baron recalls an abiding memory of an uncle, Sir Charles Fremantle, sitting on the floor in his best wedding suit whilst Fred Brent’s Bermondsey baby played with his gold watch chain.
The newlyweds left for Scotland but world events were to spoil their plans. Three days after the wedding Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and the conflict that would engulf the world and change the lives of so many of our protagonists would begin. Honeymooning in Balmacara, they returned to London, though not easily. Everything went into lockdown and they were stranded in their Scottish paradise until a local boatman rowed into the path of one of the Fort William ferries virtually forcing it to slow and take the Barons and their luggage on board.
Baron tried to join the military but was rejected on medical grounds so settled down to married life in a new apartment in Trinity Square, Southwark and prepared for the arrival of their first-born. David Whinfield Barclay Baron arrived on the 11th April 1915. His Godfather was Alec Paterson.
Meanwhile, Baron was still working for The Challenge and, voluntarily, at the OBC but wanted to do his bit for the war effort. After all, back home in Bristol his father, now a councillor (and soon to be mayor), and mother were both doing plenty. Baron – and Paterson – were members of the Cavendish Club, a London club favoured by those involved with social work. It attracted the workers in the school and college settlements and missions and unlike most London Clubs it had its own chapel and resident chaplain (The later well-known Dick Sheppard of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and a great friend of Toc H.) The Club had a brief to get young people, particularly those of the public schools, interested in such work. A spin-off committee, the Cavendish Association, had been formed as a bureau of work placing people into appropriate roles. This led to the YMCA asking them to find a suitable man to set up and run an officer’s club in Le Havre. Baron was approached, accepted, and arrived in France on the 18th August 1915.
Baron established the club in Le Havre and, after a week’s leave to spend time with Rachel and six month old David, returned to replace Pilkington as the General Secretary in the district. He remained in this position for two years.
In April 1917, after a short spell in hospital, Baron was transferred to the Somme, then in June 1917 the Fourth Army began a move to the coast and Baron and some of his YMCA colleagues headed north with them. He mentions a detour across the Belgian border to have tea at Talbot House with his old friend Tubby Clayton, during the journey en route to Malo. This was almost certainly Baron’s first visit to Talbot House.
In the autumn of 1917 Baron found himself attached to Plumer’s Second Army as they moved east to Italy but Baron and the YMCA got no further than Poperinge. They set up base in the Catholic Club in Rue de Boescepe, just round the corner from Talbot House which Baron visited most days.
In March 1918 Baron and the YMCA relocated to Mont des Cats when Poperinge evacuated. They took over the deserted village school. On the 21st of April Baron got word that Dr Charles John Magrath (otherwise Mac) was evacuating the YMCA in Ypres and drove out in a car to find him. He met him and his orderlies pushing a handcart towards Poperinge loaded with various bits and pieces. Transferring them to the car he took them to Talbot House where Mac and padre Harold ‘Goodie’ Goodwin (From Little Talbot House) joined forces with Tubby (who had resisted an order to close Talbot House).
A week later, whilst touring what YMCA huts remained on the Salient, Baron visited the deserted Poperinge to find Tubby stubbornly remaining in situ. Discussing the advancing German army, Tubby stated that “they’ll be in Poperinghe by the morning.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Baron.
“O me? I’m stopping here to give the Kaiser his breakfast.”
Baron also asked what he could do for Tubby and soon found his car loaded with the smaller furniture and fittings all covered by the black and gold carpet from the chapel and topped off with a peal of tubular bells in a six foot wooden frame. As they shook hands and bid each other farewell, Tubby scribbled a few words into a copy of Weymouth’s New Testament in Modern Speech and thrust it into Baron’s hand. The words were “Barkis from Tubby. T.H. 28 April 1918.”
The German’s didn’t take Poperinge although on Whit Tuesday when the town was closed to troops, Tubby and Mac shuttered up Talbot House and retired to ‘Dingley Dell’ by the airfield in De Lovie. They scrounged two huts for their accommodation which Baron later admitted belonged to the YMCA.
The YMCA then moved their local HQ down into Godewaersvelde then later to Roubaix where they were on Armistice Day. After which Baron took off on a recce in the car with his driver Dickie which took them to Cologne in time to see the Allied troops arrive and cross the Rhine.
Soon after Armistice, the Baron’s family was completed by the arrival of Lancelot Donald Abel Baron (Usually known as Donald) on the 15th December 1918. An auspicious date in that for several years the 15th December was celebrated as the opening date of Talbot House until it was shifted to the 11th after some letters from Tubby were found at his mother’s house.
And then, just a fortnight later in the New Year Honours List of 1919, Baron was awarded an OBE for his service in charge of Fourth Army Area Centres, YMCA. This was exactly a year after his father was knighted.
Sadly it was just a few months later that Baron lost his father in tragic circumstances. On Sunday the 25th of May Sir Barclay was in his garden tugging a branch off a tree when it suddenly broke and he fell heavily on some stones. He was confined to bed with suspected fractured ribs but a ruptured spleen went undiagnosed and Sir Barclay died on Saturday the 7th of June. Barclay had been in Germany with the YMCA when his father died and returned home after three days travelling. The funeral was held at Bristol Cathedral on the 13th of June. Baron’s mother, now Lady Baron, moved just round the corner into 60 Pembroke Road which would remain the family home for many decades.
In late 1919, with his war duties discharged, Baron became Travelling Secretary with the Cavendish Society visiting public schools to promote social service amongst boys. When not away, Baron was based in their offices in New Cavendish Street where he worked with Rob Shelston.
As well as travelling for his employer and giving talks about their work, in the first few months of the year he also spoke on the work of the YMCA and for an appeal by the OBC. He continued to provide freelance articles – notably to William Temple’s new project, The Pilgrim: A Review of Christian Politics and Religion, a quarterly launched in autumn 1920. He also made a trip to Nuremburg to see an old friend.
However 1921 would see further developments. The Cavendish Association was struggling, the war had damaged its momentum. And now there was a new Movement building a head of steam. Some of Baron’s friends like Alec Paterson had a foot in both camps and Baron knew many of its leading lights, including the tubby little padre who led and inspired it. Toc H was on its way up and it shared many of the aims of the Cavendish Association thus it was no real surprise that the two organisations should join. Whilst technically a merger, the Cavendish was effectively subsumed by Toc H and in the late spring of 1921 a wagon-load of furniture left New Cavendish Street along with Baron and Bob Shelston, to Mark II in Pimlico where Toc H had its HQ.
Shelston took charge of the Social Service Shop, an early centralised bureau for Toc H work mostly with Boys Clubs. Baron kept his job title of Travelling Secretary and was sent around the growing bands of Toc H men to give speeches of encouragement, or to others like Rotary Clubs to encourage them to start a Toc H branch. However, when not on the road, he shared an office with Lionel Bradgate, editor of the Toc H Newssheet (later The Journal) where he watched him put the magazine together each month. He eventually became his assistant. In late 1921 he also put his literary talents to use by writing the aforementioned Half the Battle which was published in January 1922. Telling the story of Toc H in the first two years of its rebirth, it is the perfect companion volume to Tubby’s Tales of Talbot House.
One of the key expressions of Toc H’s work in those first two years was the establishment of new Talbot House hostels – Marks – in London and provincial cities. In May 1922 Bristol was in Toc H’s sights and it was only natural that Baron would be involved given it was the city of his birth and he had many connections there. An appeal was launched by the Rotary Club to raise funds and Baron was established as Appeal Director. It was almost certainly in relation to this appeal that he and Tubby came to be sat waiting in a Bristol stockbroker’s office for an appointment. Whilst waiting they discussed the idea of a symbol for Toc H. Baron suggested an oil lamp similar to those used by Christians in the catacombs under Rome. He sketched his idea on a scrap of envelope.
The idea was well received and a model was made by Wippell, the church furniture and fixtures specialists and by December the first forty-four were given out to branches and a further eighteen to schools. The Toc H lamp would be the most iconic representation of Toc H and used constantly in its logo (It was replaced briefly in the early twenty-first century with the rugby posts/TV aerial logo but the membership revolted and the previous logo was quickly restored).
1922 was an annus mirabilis for Toc H and Tubby (They received their Royal Charter, Tubby was appointed vicar of All Hallows etc.) but it was a special year for Baron too. In the summer he was given the opportunity take a party of over 100 Toc H members to Oberammergau for the Passion Play. Postponed from 1920 due to the aftermath of the war, this was the first performance here since 1910. Although spiritually led by Tubby, Baron’s knowledge of the country and command of the language made him a natural choice for organising everyone.
The party assembled at Mark I for supper on Saturday the 12th of August then divided into four groups which departed after Holy Communion in the Mark I chapel of the following day. Crossing by boat to Ostend they caught a train to Brussels, thence to Cologne and breakfast at the YMCA there.
A final leg to by train to Munich and then “a most leisurely cross between train and tram” to Oberammergau. After some exploring – they were out for a holiday not just the play – and meeting locals they witnessed the performance on Sunday the 20th of August.
There would be a further trip to continental Europe in 1923 that would require Baron’s skills too. The first trips to the battlefields of Europe (and beyond) had started even before Armistice Day. These however were small privately arranged trips, most usually for widows and family members to see where their loved ones fell. These trips could be expensive so around 1920, the charity St Barnabas established hostels in the old war zone so people making their own arrangements had somewhere to stay. This naturally led on to the organisation of trips but not small trips, rather huge pilgrimages catering for hundreds of people. For the first of these in 1923 they enlisted the assistance of Toc H and though they were advertised as St Barnabas’ Pilgrimages, Toc H were much involved, as was Baron. Most markedly for Toc H, Baron was one of the three-man party who presented a Silver Lamp to the Burgomaster of Ypres on the 25th of March.
The following month Baron was appointed to Central Executive by Central Council (Previously he had attended Council meetings by invitation and was not entitled to vote). In fact he would only remain on the CE for one three year term, after which he went back to attending meetings by invitation only. Although he remained on Central Council for a few more years, he would not hold a major governance office in Toc H again until he was made a Vice President after his retirement. This was typical Baron, unambitious in the eyes of his father but happy to operate quietly in the background.
However, in June 1923 he did take another committee role when he became one of three members (With John Hollis and Tubby) of the first Guards of the Lamp. These were the officials who decided whether a Branch’s application for a Lamp was accepted or not and also had the power to divest a Branch of its lamp and thus its Branch status. The same group also became the primary arrangers of the Birthday Festival given that the lighting of new lamps formed the centrepiece of the celebrations.
And later that month, on the 22nd, Baron’s fundraising work in his native Bristol paid dividends when Toc H Mark IX opened on St Paul’s Road, Clifton, just 200 yards from the former Baron family home in Whiteladies Road.
It was back to the Continent again in August as Tubby and Baron led a hiking party over the Pyrenees in Andorra, a trip Baron had done himself back in 1913. Then at the end of September, he was playing a leading role in the second St Barnabas’ Pilgrimage.
He had just returned from that trip when the next Toc H Mark was opened. Although not directly involved, he would have had a great interest in Mark XXII (Named not in numerical order but in tribute to the 22nd (Queen’s) London regiment whose HQ was opposite) for this was the Bermondsey Mark. It was established in conjunction with the OBC, and Charlie Thomson – a worker in both organisations – was installed as Warden. Also known as Alexander Paterson House, it stood on Jamaica Road and remained there until 1927 when it was condemned and they relocated to Denmark Hill. The local Toc H unit used it as their HQ and in 1924 when they were awarded their lamp it was dedicated to the memory of Cecil George Rushton, Baron’s old OBC colleague and sometime room-mate.
1923 also saw the publication of a second, much revised, edition of Half the Battle. This time it was generously illustrated with Baron’s own pencil sketches. Many of these can be seen in a previous blog History in Sketches. The establishment of Baron as Toc H’s resident literary guru was a portent of things to come as from the April 1924 edition Baron became editor of The Journal; a post he would hold for the next thirty years.
Baron, the playwright, came to the fore at the December 1925 Birthday Festival. His play in seven parts, first published in the 1923 Annual Report was radically revised (by Baron himself) as a masque performed at the Albert Hall. It was no small thing; a large cast, elaborate scenery, musicians and 400 members of the Royal Choral Society. The original play included a hymn with words written by Baron. The Hymn of Light would later have an arrangement of The Londonderry Air put to it and become a firm Toc H favourite.
In 1926, now working out of Toc H’s new HQ at Number 1, Queen Anne’s Gate, Baron annotated some letters from Tubby to his mother. Originally published in The Journal they are later turned into the book, Letters from Flanders.
On Saturday the 28th August another Toc H pilgrimage set off for Flanders with Baron amongst them. The highlight of this tour was undoubtedly at 10.00 on the Sunday, when thanks to the efforts of the Belgian Embassy, the entire party was admitted by M. Maurice Coevoet Camerlynck – the owner – into Talbot House and twenty at a time, up to the Upper Room. Although bare of its furnishings – which were back in London in Mark I – the Upper Room was much as the men had known it.
In a 1927 Journal, whilst discussing the idea from a member of a Camera Circle to collect photos of Toc H activities, Baron noted that he has, somewhat belatedly, starting putting aside copies of literature, pictures and notes as an archive of Toc H. This forethought gave us the beginnings of what is now the archive at Birmingham University.
Baron was on the 1927 Pilgrimage (9th – 11th July), by now Toc H without St Barnabas. After lunching at Skindles, he headed over from Ypres to Poperinge on the Saturday afternoon. His mission was to ask M. Coevoet to once again allow some 120 pilgrims to enter his private home. This time, the request was refused but he did allow Baron to ascend the steps to the deserted Upper Room which he sketched.
In March 1928 – along with fellow German speaker Paul Slessor – Baron responded to a request from the Quakers to help billet a group of German schoolboys visiting London. In a rash moment Toc H agreed to take over the entire programme for the boys and they were met by Toc H when they arrived in Southampton on May the 12th. The boys were from the Kaiser Friedrich Real-Gymnasium, an incredibly progressive co-ed school drawing its students from the working class Neukoelln district of Berlin. Baron knew that area – as Rixdorf – from his time in Germany and compared it to Billingsgate or Limehouse. In return Baron and Harro Jensen, his friend and the first German member of Toc H, arranged to take a party to Germany in August.
An article appears in the May Journal, written by someone called Bish, extolling the virtues of walking holidays in Germany staying at Jugendherbergen (Youth Shelters). The writer suggests that England should have its own similar system and suggests that Toc H should run it. This was a subject very close to Baron’s heart as he knew Germany well and was a great walker and fan of the outdoor life. He was himself a proponent of the Jugendherbergen movement, which had been started by teacher Richard Schirrmann in 1912. The movement would soon become a major part of Baron’s life.
Meanwhile, in the August/September 1928 Journal Baron publishes a lengthy article of his own (The Next Step) about the relationship between Toc H and Germany. The following month he publishes (and translates) a reply by his friend Harro Jensen. Baron goes on to highlight a few successes of the ‘exchange’ trip to Germany and how they used the Jugendherbergen whilst they were out there. He refers to Bish’s article in the May Journal and also to a piece published in the Spectator on September 15th. You can almost hear the wheels turning in his mind. His final note at the very end of the article reads,
“There is emphatically need and room for a similar development in England, and I am already in touch with a few people about it.”
Baron’s new masque, The Four Points of the Compass, is performed at the Birthday Festival at the Albert Hall. Original music is again by Christopher Ogle, who composed the music to Baron’s previous masque. Christopher Ogle was a member of Reigate branch. He died 11 January 1951. An accountant by profession but a talented musician. He was invited by his brother-in-law, Ronnie Grant (General Secretary of Toc H at the time (Grantibus) to compose the music for In the Light of the Lamp
The poster designed for the Masque was done by Baron in the studio of Cecil Thomas who gave his help and advice (Thomas had already designed the Forster Memorial for All Hallows and would go on to do much more). The picture, which owed much to Blake, was lithographed in three bold colours. It was available as a poster to branches
1929 was a year of expeditions. This included five Summer Tramps through Germany staying in Jugendherbergen (These were actually organised by E.W. ‘Sago’ Saywell but you imagine Baron had a hand in things) and, at the Schools Conference in January, Baron spoke about a forthcoming tour of Germany by English schoolboys in response to the tour of England by German schoolboys in 1928.
In April Baron travelled to Germany on behalf of the School’s Section with the boys. There were a dozen boys from each of four schools led by Baron. The schools were Christ’s Hospital, Greshams, Cheltenham, and Wellington. They sailed on a steamer on the 8th of April for a momentous tour ably described in Baron’s article in the June edition of The Journal (Crossing the Frontiers). The boys met their German counterparts and learned about their way of life, they explored Berlin and narrowly missed rioting in Neukoelln. They travelled to Saxon Switzerland where they rambled and discovered the Jugendherbergen culture.
On Friday the 30th August Toc H were once again off to Flanders for the pilgrimage – first two days around Ypres then down to the Somme. On the Saturday afternoon tour Baron gave a talk around Gilbert Talbot’s grave (as he had done on previous pilgrimages). At the last Post Ceremony that evening, Baron laid a wreath of bay leaves and Haig poppies given to him by a German member of Toc H (Presumably Harro Jensen) in remembrance of the British dead.
On the Monday morning they stopped at Talbot House and, this year were allowed inside and upstairs in groups of twenty. Baron said the words of Light (They had no Lamp but the Silver Chalice was returned to the Upper Room for the first time in 10 years) and the Toc H Prayer. Then it was on to Albert for two days on the Somme. A small party led by Ormond Wilson continued on to the Rhine.
Immediately after the Salient tours, Baron and a small Toc H party visited the group at Brussels, then travelled to Cologne on the 5th September then Berlin (via Harro Jensen in Marburg) to meet the Grope and were greeted by Hans Arheim, the earliest Berlin member. A meeting was convened where about thirty people who represented both the left and the right of politically divided Germany came together. Baron spoke to them in German about Toc H.
Toward the end of the year, Baron became involved with Wayfarers’ Hostels Association, which was looking at setting up roadside hostels (essentially for men of the road, or tramps). In Liverpool another group were looking at hostels for young people, in fact across the country that winter, various groups were having initial discussions about some equivalent of the Jugendherbergen movement. No one group was making particular progress until the National Council of Social Service stepped in. They “offered,” Baron later said, “not to organise our effort in any way, but to sponsor it.”
Thus in early 1930 a coalition of six organisations was formed. Leading the attempt was Captain Lionel Ellis, the secretary of the NCSS and a member of Toc H. The Co-operative Holidays Association, the YMCA, the Holiday Fellowship, the National Adult School Union, the Workers’ Travel Association, and the British Youth Council were invited by Captain Ellis to a meeting on Thursday the13th of March. Twenty-eight people met at the council’s offices in Bedford Square. Ronald Norman, vice chairman of the NCSS and chairman of the London County Council, started the meeting. He then invited Baron to speak.
The complete story will be told in the full biography but suffice to say, this was the beginning of the founding of the Youth Hostels Association and at a later meeting, Baron was appointed Chairman. He afterwards said how “asking a simple question at the meeting caused seven years of hard labour.” For much of those seven years Baron, and Jack Catchpole, the man appointed secretary of the YHA, travelled the length and breadth of the country establishing regional associations and generally extending the movement. And Baron still had a day job with Toc H!
Speaking of Toc H, it was decided that a book chronicling the history of the Movement to date was required and a Standing Book Committee comprising Baron, the Revd. Leonard George Appleton, Geoff Martin, Arthur Lodge, Monty Callis, Alec Churcher and Rodney George Collin Smith was established.
In August Baron returned to Oberammergau for the Passion Play. Of the 98 who went, he was one of only three Toc H members that had been on the previous trip in 1922. They left Victoria on the 23rd of August in four parties. Baron leading the Yellow party (waving the flag of Scotland because it was yellow not because it was ‘Scotch’). The first night was spent in Brussels with a huge guest night with the Branch there before catching the train to Cologne after a day spent wandering Brussels. From Cologne they headed to Munich and finally a third train into the valley of Oberammergau for the play.
But the most special trip of all was saved until the end of the year. Thanks to the generosity of Lord Wakefield, Talbot House now belonged to Toc H (Well actually a special Anglo-Belgian Association) and was to be used by the Movement as a centre for pilgrimages. But for now, as the World Chain of Light and Birthday Festivals approached, on Thursday the 4th of December Baron was among 55 assorted Toc Hers assembled at St Pancras. Unfortunately dense fog prevented their boat-train from docking at Tilbury and they were forced to find overnight accommodation at 42 Trinity Square, Pierhead House, and the Brothers’ House. The next day they crossed instead from Folkestone to Boulogne and drove to Poperinge in buses and cars. Joined by members of the Ypres group some of the party assembled on the Upper Landing around where the altar first stood then they relocated to the Upper Room, joined by René and Mademoiselle Berat, the house stewards, for the World Chain of Light vigil to begin.
The party then dashed for England for that evening they had to be at the various Regional Birthday Festivals that were taking place across the country. Baron was in Nottingham. To cap it all, the following Friday he was in Birmingham for a YHA meeting followed by the Birmingham Area Festival on the Saturday!
Determined to extend their work in getting young British school groups the opportunity to know other cultures, at the Schools conference in January 1931 Baron and Slessor introduced School trips to Talbot House. The first training visits for trip leaders were arranged for the 12th–15th April (the week after Easter) with the school trips themselves beginning soon afterwards. School parties remain one of the most important visitors to Talbot House to this day.
Easter 1931 saw the formal opening of Talbot House and Baron was of course there. This was a huge moment in Toc H’s history and happened just ahead of what was to be their biggest Birthday Festival yet. Shifted to the summer so that outdoor venues and activities could be utilised, the main party was moved to Crystal Palace because the previous venues for the Birthday Festivals were now too small for the massively grown Movement. The Crystal Palace event took place on the 6th and 7th June and central to both days were performances of The Thorn of Avalon, Baron’s latest and most extravagant pageant yet. Billed as an opera, it featured a score by Martin Shaw, the well-known composer and conductor.
If the following 18 months were something of anti-climax after the excitement of the spring and summer of 1931, then 1933 began with some events which must have caused Baron personal consternation. In January 1933 Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Then the Reichstag was set on fire leading to the introduction of the Enabling Act and the consolidating of Hitler’s power. The Third Reich had begun.
But back at home in June, the outcome of the Standing Book Committee came to fruition. The Years Between was issued as a supplement to The Journal and was a detailed look at the factual history of Toc H. It was so detailed that Baron says that he was later summoned by Peter Monie’s office (Toc H’s administrator) demanding to know why – without telling anyone – instead of the normal 48 page Journal he had produced a twelve page Journal with a 104 page supplement at great cost to the impoverished Movement.
In fact that issue of The Journal sold out, became a much sought after rarity and was later published (abridged) as the booklet, The Birth of a Movement. Baron was told never to do such a thing again – though of course, he would.
A slightly different destination for Baron in December 1933 when he left for Gibraltar on the 15th with Tubby and Geoffrey Batchelar. They were to spend some time on the Rock with Tim Harrington then travel on to Malta to spend the New Year with the Royal Navy. They sailed from London on a full-size ship and Baron admitted it was the first time he had been on anything larger than a Channel steamer. On board, by chance they met fellow Toc Hers Lord Cavan and Lady Warwick and arranged Toc H meetings on board with information stalls of course, during the four day crossing
After several days in Gibraltar, Christmas Day was spent in Spain at Jerez de la Frontera as guests of the Sherry importers Williams and Humbert. It was Baron’s first Christmas away from his family since the war. Baron and Batchelar (Tubby was feeling the cold and retired early) enjoyed a Catholic Midnight Mass and the next day Tubby led an Anglican Communion for the ex-pats in Jerez.
On Boxing Day they sailed for Malta. They were booked on to a P&O Liner but at the last moment Tubby discovered HMS Acasta was also leaving the Rock for Malta and he and Batchelar hitched a ride with the navy leaving Baron to accompany all baggage and vast amounts of literature on the Rawalpindi. Five days at sea – including a layover in Marseilles – and Baron was in Valetta. The party were guests of Admiral Sir William Wordsworth Fisher, a delightful man with a great sense of humour who rapidly applied nicknames to his guests – Baron was the Marquis.
Baron returned home leaving his colleagues in Malta for a few more days. On Tuesday the 16th January he sat on a train in Paris on the last leg of his return. He reflected on an overnight stop in Rome about the effect Mussolini has had on the country and seems astonished how revered he is by the Italian people. His closing paragraphs talk about the clouds rolling over Europe, forebodings and fears succeeding each other. He notes an Italian newspaper article relishing the prospect of Oswald Mosely possibly winning England “to the true cause” in the next general election. For the first time, Baron seems to be airing his fears over what is happening to his beloved Germany and Italy. However he also reflects on some of the wonderful individuals he encountered on his month away and closes his article with the following line:
“If world politics looks despairingly shabby, most of the world’s people are just awfully decent”
1934 was a watershed year for Germany. First on 30th June (The Night of the Long Knives) Hitler rid himself of his detractors in a blood-stained clean-up. Then on the 2nd of August Hindenburg died and Hitler became Head of State as well as Head of Government
A fortnight after that Baron and others got to see the new Germany first hand when they travelled to Oberammergau once again. Normally they have to wait ten years between Passion Plays but 1934 is the tercentenary celebration and a special performance was being put on. So on Wednesday the 15th of August, ninety-seven Toc H members assembled at Victoria station. They crossed to Ostend and travelled by train and Rhine steamer to Wiesbaden where Baron noted it was “gay with thousands of swastika flags [and] portraits of Hitler” for it was around the time of the plebiscite (the referendum that rubber-stamped Hitler’s appointment as combined Chancellor and President) After a morning in Munich they caught the train into the valley and found their lodgings.
On more pleasant ground Baron goes on to describe their lodgings – as always at The Rose pub – and later the play itself. Interestingly, he also describes his favourite stick a five foot hazel cut ‘years ago on a walking tour in Dorset’. The tip is shod with iron, the top ending in a long curving knob.
Back in the UK and between the 3rd and the 8th September Toc H hold their annual staff conference. Baron is one of only four members of staff still present from the original conference in 1925. As usual at staff conferences, Baron is chairman. He is usually in his trademark sandals and occasionally in lederhosen too.
Given all that is going on in the world and Baron’s own personal interest in it, it is interesting to see him tackle it in the lead article of the November 1935 Journal in a ten page article entitled The Mind of Toc H. Of course, we know Baron’s fairmindedness means he will not use the article to espouse his own views. Instead he makes reference to Peter Monie’s 1925 essays to establish Toc H as an open-minded Movement not trying to take any side and being home to people of very differing views. He urges members to think fairly. He questions, “Have we perhaps merely repeated the views of the Daily Mail or Daily Herald…..as our own convictions?” Instead he refers readers to a number of useful publications and books that explore the subject including A.A. Milne’s Peace with Honour. It is clear that Baron has himself consumed all this literature. Such wisdom truly stands the test of time. He later summed up his thoughts succinctly:
“It is not the job of Toc H to found one more Peace Society., whether “socialist or pacifist”, or otherwise. It is its job to train men to understand each other better, to think such problems out for themselves, and to work for them as they believe right in a spirit which is, as each man understands the term, “truly Christian.”
1936 saw Toc H celebrate its Coming of Age with the biggest festival yet running from the 15th of June to the 5th of July, centred around a Festival Evening at Crystal Palace (Saturday 27th June) but including trips to Poperinge and events in London and across the world. Friday 26 June saw the first performance of the new masque (Master Valiant) by Baron and Shaw.
This particular Festival included an art exhibition organised by Paul Slessor with help from Cecil Thomas and others. The winner of the Class 1 (Oil Paintings) category was none other than Baron with a landscape of Blakeney, Norfolk. Describing his own winning entry Baron was his most self-deprecatory describing many of the entries in the class as “in the seaside lodging house category.”
In the autumn of 1936, Baron handed over the editorship of The Journal to a colleague and he and Rachel departed Southampton on the 19th of September for South America accompanied by Howard Dunnett. Baron, whose foreign travel has thus far been limited to Europe, writes amusingly of his trip. He is clearly not enamoured with life on the ship and their stop at St. Vincent (Cape Verde) left him underwhelmed.
“Everybody keeps telling us they have a golf course on the island now – clearly because it is the only resource deserving mention………..When, if ever, I ‘retire’, it will not be to St. Vincent”
Baron and Dunnett had hoped for a peaceful cruise with some time away from Toc H matters until they arrived. It was not to be as they soon discovered several of the ship’s ‘boys’ belonged to the Toc H Seafarer’s Club at Southampton and the pair were asked to give a talk to them.
The party stayed over in Brazil for several days and in his account, Baron is complimentary of the scenery but less so of Brazilian politics. He even claims that he has torn up five pages he had written for The Journal as it would have been undiplomatic to print them. Needless to say his comments didn’t go down well with the Rio de Janeiro branch (mostly if not wholly in those days, ex-pats living and working in Brazil) who wrote a strong letter of complaint to The Journal. Baron responded that he greatly regretted hurting any feelings but stood by what he wrote. His closing sentence revealed much of what he must have been feeling:
“Trying to tell the truth as one sees it is often a risky business.”
On the 16th October they left for Buenos Aires where they stay for two months including a spell in the German-Swiss influenced part of Argentina and a stay in Peru. Howard Dunnett would remain in the Argentine as Secretary of Toc H for a year whilst the Barons went on to Antofagasta (Chile) via a boat, the Condor, through the Chilean lakes. Once in Chile proper Baron climbed the Campana.
Rachel returned to England for Christmas but for the second time in four years Baron celebrated away from home. This time in the house of his host in Chile, Pat Johnston, Vice Consul at Viña del Mar. He finally arrived back in England on the 21st February 1937 via the Panama Canal and Jamaica.
In April Baron resigned as Chairman of YHA but became a Vice-President. He was clearly still in love with the concept and in an article in The Journal in June (A Great Idea) he examined the whole movement’s progress from its first great growth in Germany from 1910 to 1934. However he admits that it is no longer the same as it is very much the playground of the Hitler Youth and the hostels are bedecked in swastikas. Baron then went on to summarise the growth of Youth Hostels in Britain and encouraged Toc H members to get involved.
In November 1938, in an article entitled the Armistice of 1938, Baron writes more about events in Europe. This was of course in a period where it was felt that war had been narrowly avoided. Baron reiterated that Toc H held no official view on the matters but this time admitted that if bias showed in the article it is likely to be his own personal opinion showing through. The way the article developed though is most interesting, especially given recent years. Baron talks a lot about how we have become not just British but European as the threat of war loomed over the Continent. He lamented the fact that most Brits who travelled across the Channel took England with them and demanded tea and bacon and eggs but pointed out there is a growing stream who don’t. That stream – Toc H members amongst them – “travel on the Continent in order to learn about the people who live there, to make friends with them, to study and appreciate their ways and ideas and institutions.”
Then the tone of Baron’s writing becomes more sombre. He reflects on the lessons learned in the last war, finally asking “Did our friends then die in vain?” His answer is inconclusive but he says “They have taught us that war has no splendours whatever, except their own willingness to die, forgetful of themselves, for something they esteemed worth dying for.”
At the Birthday Festival in December the Lamp lighting was preceded by three short and simple dramatic episodes written by Baron. Rather than lavish productions featuring scores of choristers and musicians, they comprised a few dozen people in modern dress. The reason for this of course was that until a few weeks earlier the Birthday Party didn’t look as if it would be going ahead due to the threat of war.
Germany was still uppermost in Baron’s mind in the spring of 1939 when he wrote two articles that looked at Germany’s plans to expand their borders. For perhaps the first time in print, Baron is unequivocal about the danger of Mein Kampf and the great difference between ‘ordinary’ Germans and the leaders of the National Socialist Movement. And he offers some direction to Toc H members:
“Think fairly, as best you may, about the totalitarian view of life and the methods it allows, and you must still, I believe, see it as a step back into the dark, condemn it as a ruthless opponent of the Christian good news, and do everything in your power – by whatever method you believe in – to save the world from its domination.”
He is also anxious for his friend, the man who started the Youth Hostel movement, Richard Schirrmann. He was of course Jewish and had been forced to resign in 1936. In 1939 he was believed to be in a concentration camp though in fact he had settled in the village of Grävenwiesbach and for the duration of the war, was allowed to resume work as a teacher in the village school.
In July Baron made what would be his last pre-war visit to the Continent when he holidayed in France (Veules-les-Roses)
Once war broke out Toc H soon found its most suitable war work. They started to open Services Clubs around the world to give Service men and women that home from home experience the original Talbot House offered. In April 1940 Baron was put in charge of St Stephen’s in the old Conservative members’ club opposite Parliament. Principally to provide hot food and accommodation to troops leaving for or returning from France, the old cocktail bar became a chapel and the lounge was made into a recreation room with billiards tables on the immense landings. The club was connected by an underground passage to the House of Commons but this was made into a kit and rifle-room. Baron remained working in some form or other at the club for five years.
He didn’t see his own home – near Earls Court – too much as he often worked nights at the club and days at Toc H HQ. In the third week of the Blitz (Presumably around or soon after 21st September 1940) he slipped home for a short visit. He found the house slightly damaged and spent an hour patching holes in the roof before grabbing some books. The next day a neighbour phoned him at breakfast time with the news that at 1am that morning an incendiary bomb had hit his house. He hurried there, as quickly as one could hurry through blitzed London, and found his door slashed by a fireman’s axe but still able to open. Let’s let Baron describe what he came across in his own words:
“The air was heavy with the sickening smell of fire. There was no sound save the dripping of water in a dozen places. The stair carpet was slimy black, with a glitter of glass here and there. In the first room the fire had made no mark, but water dropped slowly through the ceiling on the warped bedsteads, and the carpet showed at the bottom of a pond of brownish water where the floor had begun to sag in the middle. In the next room there was ruin, the ruin of charred timber and burnt paper and plaster and roofing slates, tumbled together from the upper storey through the black and broken joists, and the almost equal ruin of the bookcases and other furniture, still intact around me, on which the hoses had played.”
Books, prints, papers all destroyed. How very heart-breaking that must have been for an artist, wordsmith, and collector like Baron!
Destruction was everywhere of course and for the greater part of World War II Toc H believed that even Talbot House had been destroyed in the fighting. In an article in the March 1941, Baron chose to express his view that he would not like to see it rebuilt after the war rather he wanted a modern home for a Belgian family built on the site.
“Talbot House to me does not now stand in Flanders. It must stand, in spirit and in truth, henceforward all over the world, wherever Toc H is true to its vision.”
Without going into the ins and outs of his argument in this short blog, I just wanted to use this as an illustration of how Baron and Tubby didn’t always agree. In a letter to Baron in The Journal written on the 26th of March 1941, Tubby opens with the line “I may be most unwise to disagree with you” then of course, he does. His lengthy discourse gets an immediate response from Baron (Equally lengthy, he even drops the size of the typeface to squeeze it all in). The two opposing views are both forthright but there is no malice. This is a good example how Baron and Clayton didn’t always see eye to eye and yet always worked well together. Of course, in the end, the happy discovery was that Talbot House had not been destroyed at all.
As the war started to draw to its conclusion the St Stephen’s Service Club closed on the 12th April and was taken over by United States Army authorities thus freeing Baron of this responsibility. Eyes were already turning toward that most important Service Club of all and at the end of 1944 as soon as they were allowed, Baron and Slessor flew to Belgium to help restore Talbot House. They spent ten days there working with Charles Young (who had already spent the previous fortnight clearing up) and were there for the World Chain of Light on the 11th and 12th of December. Tubby joined them for this and then the group flew home on the 16th.
Inevitably, Baron was seen as Toc H’s German expert and in this post-war climate, he would be looked to for advice and opinion. Thus in October and November 1945, Baron spent two weeks touring Germany and looking at the Clubs and Circles of Toc H with BAOR (British Army On the Rhine). Baron admits to being anxious about how he would find his beloved Germany but once over the border he seemed relieved to see “bright dahlias leaning over a well-painted fence, men (usually in the remnants of grey-green uniform) ploughing the fields with a lean horse and an ox harnessed together, women picking potatoes, children, not badly dressed, playing here and there..”
And then they reached the industrial Ruhr. And the war struck home; “mile after mile of desolation, in extent utterly beyond anything the bombed cities at home can show.”
Baron visited a number of Toc H centres including Fallingbostel where Vic Martin and his wife ‘Bill’ late of Warden Manor were in charge (Warden Manor having been requisitioned as an Anti-Aircraft Battery). Vic and Bill started a playground for German children, the first such post war project and a strong pointer of the direction Toc H would take in BAOR. The legendary Jock Brown set one up in Hildesheim in 1948!
Here too was Stalag XI B where a number of former Allied Prisoners of War first joined Toc H. And Baron spent an hour at the Belsen trial in Luneberg where Josef Kramer and Irma Grese were amongst those being tried.
On to Berlin, a city already carved up and divided. Only on Sundays between noon and 2pm was it possible to pass through to the Russian sector to see Hitler’s ruined Chancellery. This Baron did and swapped five Woodbines for a 1939 Polish Invasion medal from a German policeman.
A year later he would do the tour again, three weeks this time or 2006 miles in a Volkswagen as he later recalled. Baron examined the living conditions for Germans whilst travelling to places like Harburg where he met his old friend Brother Douglas, Prior of the Anglican Society of St Francis and now working for the YMCA at the Schwerkriegsbeschadigtenheim (The home for badly war disabled men).
In May 1948 Baron made his third trip to Germany since VE Day. This time though, it was for a five day conference in Hanover of British and German educationalists. Baron served on the German Educational Reconstruction Committee. One of about twenty British representatives on the trip he found himself chairing several meetings. He also took the opportunity to visit Toc H Clubs near Hanover and returned home in June.
Whilst the Birthday Festivals had been suspended for the duration of the war, they returned in 1948 and Baron again provided a masque. This one was called Credo – I Believe and was performed on the 11th December at the Royal Albert Hall. Rather than have new music written, Baron utilised popular tunes and stuff borrowed from previous masques.
It was back to Germany in May/June 1949 for another German Education Reconstruction Conference. The first week spent mostly at Odenwald School (in the American zone) but afterwards Baron travelled to the British zone to spend Whitsun weekend (4th – 5th of June) at the Toc H Services Club in Göttingen. He visited the Friedland camp (with John, warden of Services club) where German Prisoners of War are returned from Russia. Then travelled north to Celle where he spent the night with Horst Wetterling and his family (“our Toc H Guest in England last year”) and a night with Ken Oliver, deputy Chaplain General (Chaplain to the 7th Armoured Division) and former Toc H London padre
Meanwhile in Nairobi, where his son David and wife Julia (née Morley) lived and worked Baron was gifted his first grandchild. This, one imagines, was the catalyst for Baron and Rachel to plan a trip to Africa. In November he hung up his editor’s hat for six months with Frederick Gladstone Chesworth (aka Ches), his assistant of two years taking up the reins, and the couple left for Mombasa. They planned to visit David, Julia and their grandchild, and also their other son Donald who was also in Kenya. At the Central Executive’s request, Baron extended his trip to Rhodesia and South Africa to visit the Toc H units. During March and April 1950 he visited fifteen of the 74 Toc H groups and Branches in those countries. Baron returned home in May 1950 after an epic six month or so tour which he wrote about in the book An African Transit. It is a fascinating picture of a continent undergoing change.
Talbot House now took precedence in Baron’s life for a while. On the 26th of March 1951 (Easter Monday) Baron and seven others travelled to Poperinge for a working party to clean and decorate the Upper Room. Around this time Baron became President of the Talbot House Association, a post he would hold for the next six years.
August was marred by the death of his mother, Lady Baron, though at a respectable 91 years of age. She was described in The Journal as a friend of Toc H from the early days and certainly she helped with fundraising and contacts.
Much of the year was spent working on his new book and in 1952 The Doctor was published. It was Baron’s telling of the story of John Stansfeld and the Oxford Medical Mission/Oxford and Bermondsey Boys Club. It is an important and well-crafted biography frequently cited today.
Toc H had been lucky to have a string of highly experienced and competent Honorary Administrators at its helm. Peter Monie, Hubert Secretan, William Lake Lake, and Harold Howe had all guided the Movement well since 1922. Ranald MacDonald however, who was appointed Administrator in April 1952, had not worked out quite so well. One day I hope to explore his short reign in my blog but for now, suffice to say, he simply didn’t fit! He was asked to stand down after one year and in April 1953 Baron, as senior member of staff was appointed Acting Administrator from the 20th of April until the next Central Executive meeting in April 1954, or until a successor was found – whichever came first. On his appointment at Council Baron spoke:
“I have enjoyed thirty two years on the staff and have seen a good deal of the ups and downs of Toc H but never thought I would get so low as I am now! After the first shock I am beginning to recover……..I have never been afraid of change; I hope that none of us at Headquarters ever will be. I am now in my seventieth year, the beginning of middle age, when one is apt to get a little static, but I still remember my nurse calling me ‘a little Radical’. That word then had the exact connotation of the later word ‘Bolshie’: each meant that the person who used it was in a state of frustrated anger, fear and contempt. I have never since that day voted conservative, and so if there are new things to be done in Toc H I am with you in them. We shall not be doing new things for the sake of it but because our history is just beginning. We are still pioneers and ‘the first fine careless rapture’ may come back…….It will be the job of the Central Executive and all the members to find an Administrator who can measure up to this new work – until then we will hold the fort and do our bit, God willing.”
The 1953 Toc H Festival took place at the still almost new Royal Festival Hall on June the 13th and 14th. Baron provided yet another new masque called The Bridge in which he performed St John the Divine who opened and closed the drama. It consisted of four episodes with acted interludes between each episode where Baron reused songs from previous masques.
In late December John Callf accepted the position of Acting Administration pending appointment by Central Council in April and Baron stepped down the 31st of December 1953 with the thanks of the Central Executive. His health was described as ‘indifferent’ at this time, nevertheless it was with much sadness when in March he stepped down as editor of The Journal after thirty years. Ches took over. Baron remained as Editorial Secretary and devoted his time to publications and special writings as well as contributions to The Journal.
In January 1955 Baron was ill and off work. He had to undergo an operation for stomach cancer, however in the April Journal it was reported that he was making good progress towards what promised to be a complete recovery. He was certainly fit enough to travel by September as he went out to Talbot House for the unveiling of a plaque in memory of his friend the late Paul Slessor. Slessor’s son Philip, a well-known BBC Light Programme announcer was also present.
And then, in the spring of 1956 Baron lost his closest companion when Rachel, his wife of over 40 years died suddenly on March 24th in her sleep. She had a fatal coronary thrombosis due to a ‘peculiar condition of the heart’ that they were previously unaware of. Her ashes were placed in the Columbarium at All Hallows.
In November 1957 Baron’s most personal Journal article, One Man’s Pattern, was published. Autobiographical in nature, reflective in tone, entertaining in reading, it was later reissued in booklet form. It was Baron’s way of marking his retirement which he now announced. His long service for Toc H was celebrated with a dinner on the 6th of November held in London in his honour. The Central Executive and many of his friends were present to make presentations and provide spoken tributes.
Shortly afterwards, he set sail for Hong Kong where his son David and his family were now based. But he was not yet done with Toc H, not even the Birthday Festival that took place whilst he was away – his voice featured in the masque courtesy of a pre-recorded message.
Furthermore, he sent articles to The Journal sharing his adventures. He was in Hong Kong for the Chinese New Year on the 18th of February; helped out at a Kowloon Toc H party for Street Sleepers; and came home via Singapore where he was guest speaker at a Toc H Guest Night there. On the 1st of April he visited the naval base, went to Johor Bahru to see Padre Jack Thistle at the barracks, then back to Kranji War Memorial to visit Padre Gerry Chambers’ grave then more meetings including one at St Andrew’s Mission Hospital for Children before getting back on his ship. All that in one day!
In May 1959 Baron became engaged to a Toc H secretary, Dorothy King, and they wed on her 51st birthday on the 3rd July 1959. One of the events that Baron and Dorothy would be remembered for at the time was playing Romans in the annual pageant organised on Tower Hill by Tubby. As a tribute to Julius Classicianus, the Roman Procurator who stopped the Romans from ravaging Norfolk after Boudicca’s rebellion, Tubby created a pageant where the Iceni were represented by Norfolk’s Scouts and Guides and the Romans by the London Marks.
In 1960, Baron made what would prove to be his last trip to the Passion Play in Oberammergau though not as a leader.
By then, he and Dorothy were living in Hampstead and he was a Vice President of Toc H. Time was catching up with the pioneering Foundation members like Baron. At the very end of 1962, Tubby announced his retirement from the living of All Hallows with immediate effect.
In July 1963 Baron and Tubby’s old friend, Pat Leonard, lately Bishop of Thetford, died and two months later, Alison Macfie, founder of the Women’s Movement also passed away.
In February 1964 Baron celebrated his 80th birthday and the April edition of The Journal includes a greeting to him. It notes that he has taken to wearing a beard which makes him look more Phoenician than ever and – if such a thing were possible – more distinguished.
However, before the issue had even been opened by many of its subscribers, on the 11th of April 1964, Barclay Baron died at his home, now on Kingston Hill opposite the hospital.
Baron’s funeral was held on the 17th of April at St Mary the Virgin in Primrose Hill followed by private cremation. Unfortunately Tubby was away on a tour of Australia and New Zealand at the time but had returned in time for the memorial service at All Hallows on Wednesday the 27th of May. Hubert Secretan and Henry Willink spoke. Secretan also wrote his obituary for The Journal. Baron’s ashes are with Rachel’s in the Columbarium under the church.
He received many tributes but one letter from his friend and sometime travelling companion, the Revd. Geoffrey Batchelar summed things up simply:
“No Guest Night was more rewarding than when Barkis was the speaker”
And that is end of the beginning. Just writing this précis has made me want to get on post-haste with a full-blown biography where I can fill in the detail and explore several themes at length. I shall start straight away, I only hope I don’t neglect this blog whilst I am doing it!
I couldn’t have written this piece without the help of Barclay Baron’s family. I look forward to working further with them for the full biography.
Otherwise my sources are broad but of particular use were Baron’s own many articles in The Journal; and the books he wrote for Toc H in particular
One Man’s Pattern.
Half the Battle
The following books were also most useful and will continue to be so;
The Back Parts of War – Edited by Michael Snape
Richard Schirrmann. A biographical sketch – Graham Heath
Open to All: How Youth Hostels Changed the World – Duncan M Simpson
The Doctor – Barclay Baron
Works by Barclay Baron
The Growing Generation (1911) Christian Student Movement
Half the Battle – Toc H (1922) Toc H (Available online here)
The Years Between (1933)* Toc H (Originally a Journal Supplement)
Asleep or Awake (1944) Toc H (Originally in July-Oct 1944 Journals)
The Birth of a Movement (1946) Toc H (Revised The Years Between)
Simple Things (1947) Toc H (Originally a Journal Supplement)
Four Men (pre 1949) Toc H (Originally published in The Journal)
An African Transit (1950) Toc H
The Doctor (1952) Edward Arnold & co.
In Flanders Fields (1954) Toc H
Green Rushes (1956) Toc H (Originally a Journal Supplement)
One Man’s Pattern (1964) Toc H (Originally published in The Journal)
*Although the subsequent book carries Baron’s name as author, he credits Rodney Collin-Smith with much of the preparatory work on the original supplement.
Pageants, Plays and Masques
In The Light of the Lamp (1923)*
The Four Points of the Compass (1928)
At The Sign of the Star (1929)
The Thorn of Avalon (1931)
Seeing’s Believing (1934)
Master Valiant (1936)
From Darkness into Light (1938)
Credo – I Believe (1948)
World without End (1950)
The Bridge (1953)
Hymns (Words only)
The Hymn of Light* To the tune of Londonderry Air
Father, who hast made us brothers
Go forth with God, the Day is Now** Music by Martin Shaw
The O.B.C. Hymn***
*Originally written for the In the Light of the Lamp play, it was replaced for the Masque but subsequently set to an arrangement of Londonderry Air by George Moore and used as a standalone hymn.
** From Master Valiant
***Dedicated to the Oxford and Bermondsey Club
Over There Commentary by Baron
The Lamp Burns Commentary by Baron