The Bard of Tower Hill

By Steve Smith

My last post – and I apologise for the current paucity of blogs; I’ll blame Covid – featured a tribute to Tubby in poetic form by Geoffrey Batchelar. It was taken from Geoffrey’s own collection of his works in a handwritten book that was passed to me by someone who found it in a house clearance. Given its Toc H connections, I promised to revisit the book, some of the poetry within it, and of course, the author. This is that revisitation!

Poetry, like any art form, is a matter of personal taste but what I like about Geoffrey’s work is that it mostly records events in his life in some detail. With the ones concerning Toc H this is particularly useful. You can judge for yourselves as several poems are embedded in this blog. Clicking the title of the poems – they should be obvious – will cause them to pop up in a separate document – just close them after reading to return to the blog.

Now, what about the man himself.

Geoffrey Batchelar

Our poet was born on 23rd July 1906 in Wadhurst, a market town just on the Sussex side of the border with Kent. His father Robert was a farmer and estate manager originally hailing from Buckinghamshire, whilst mother Jean was Lancastrian. The Batchelar family were well-known in Buckinghamshire as brewers and maltsters and Robert owned a farm in Eaton Bray though he sold it in 1903 to retire upon the proceeds aged only 23.

Robert already had a military past having joined the 3rd Volunteer Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment as a Second Lieutenant in March 1898. By 1902 he was a Lieutenant in ‘D’ Company and he would continue his military service into the First World War.

Meanwhile, Robert and his wife Jean began their family with Geoffrey arriving first later be joined by a brother Denis in 1908, and a sister Daphne in 1917. Both will feature in this story later.

By the time of the 1911 census they were living in Newtowngate in Dunstable. Just over four years later, in September 1915, Robert was made a Temporary Lieutenant in the City of London Regiment of the Royal Fusiliers and according to his medal card went to France on 22nd May 1916. He was promoted to Captain during the war and returned home safely to his wife and young children.

Believed to be Geoffrey’s father Robert Batchelar

Geoffrey was educated at Evelyn’s School at Colham Green in Middlesex. Founded in 1872 it had close connections with Eton and it was whilst he was here that, at the age of 10 in 1916, Geoffrey began writing poetry. He started the book that inspired this blog the following year.

One poem – The Raggamuffin – was written for the Evelonian school magazine when the author was 12.

From the age of about 14, Geoffrey continued his education at Haileybury, a school built on the site of the old East India Company College in Hertford Heath. Geoffrey was here until about 1922.

He joined Toc H around 1925 and both he and his brother Denis became Marksmen at Mark II (St George’s Square, Pimlico) in 1926. Denis would remain there for several years and be an active member of various Toc H sports teams including the Rugby First Fifteen and the athletics team where he was a high jumper and a hurdler.

Denis (far left back row) at the Toc H Sports’ Club in Barnet 1928
Denis (With no. 1) in a Toc H Athletics contest

Geoffrey was also in the Rugby team and in 1927 took on the administration of the newly created annual Toc H Rugger Sevens competition which he organised for over a decade.

The first tournament took place at the Toc H Sports ground in Barnet on Saturday 23rd April 1927 and eleven teams took part. They included teams from Marks I, VII, XIII (The Brothers’ House), branches from Barnet, Enfield, Ealing and Hampstead as well as two teams from Mark II.

Mark II took this very seriously as this poem of Geoffrey’s shows. The italic text is Geoffrey’s own note above the poem.

The following was composed by a member of Toc H Mark II, 123 St George’s Square at a time when almost everyone in the House was hauled out of bed to do exercise in the Square Gardens in training for the Toc H Seven-a-Side Rugger Tournament in 1927.

Pinned to a Toc H Notice-board – a glimpse of the team training preceding the Toc H “Seven-a-side” Tournament & Sports

With apologies to the author of the Floral Dance

Floral Dance Poem

Ode to the residents of Mark II when up and doing PT in the Square before Breakfast. Those mentioned above (in order) are Bullen, ‘Chin’ Davies, George Chadd, John Vernon, E.J. Molyneux, Walker, myself and my brother Denis, Stevens, Stainer, Keith Bullock.

It paid off because Mark II were victorious and on 5th May, England international William Wavell Wakefield (later an MP and Baron Wakefield of Kendal) came to St George’s Square to present the trophy.

George as Captain (Holding ball) in the Toc H ‘A’ Fifteen 1928

However Geoffrey was Jobmaster for the branch at Mark II and was quick to remind the Marksmen that whilst sport was important, Service was also crucial for Members.

He did this first in 1927

Toc H Sevens Poem

And again in 1928

After Mark II’s second landslide victory in the Toc H “Sevens” Rugger Tournament in 1928, I felt it wise as Jobmaster to remind us all that sort was not everything!

Jobmasters Poem

Another interesting connection that Geoffrey recorded in poetry was the Mark’s obvious relationship with Little Hatchett. This charming bungalow in the New Forest was the Clayton family’s former home which in the late twenties was run as a guest house for Toc H members. Lacking running water and electricity it was compensated by a beautiful and relaxing setting. However, for the young male cohort of Mark II, the real compensation may have been the hostesses in the form of Tubby’s niece Miss Stuart Clayton and her friend Miss Grace Butler!

In December 1928 the freehold of 42 Trinity Square was bought anonymously for the newly formed All Hallows’ Toc H Trust. It was not opened as a Mark and in the beginning the only residents were clergy but was a centre where various activities were run and some staff based. Around 1930 Geoffrey was appointed as Provost.

Tubby outside no. 42 during a children’s party

One of the activities run from 42 Trinity Square was a lunch club for city workers and amongst the ladies volunteering there was one Hylda Jardine, more of whom later. Geoffrey wrote an Ode to the Ladies of the (Talbot House) Lunch Club at Christmas 1929

In 1930 Geoffrey represented Toc H at a meeting in County Hall bringing together various organisations to discuss to formation of the Youth Hostel Association. He described the meeting as ‘every man for himself’ with much bickering. Later that year another meeting was convened at Digswell with his friend, and Toc H stalwart, Barclay Baron in the chair. The atmosphere, Geoffrey declared, was much changed. Baron of course, went on to become the YHA’s first chairman.

In 1931 brother Denis emigrated to South America to become a Banana Planter. His sporting prowess shone once again as he took up Polo.

Denis (Far Right) San Sebastiao, Brazil

In September 1933 Geoffrey attended Wardens’ Conference in Matlock which gives us one of the rare photos I have been able to find of him outside of the Rugby team. That December he left for Gibraltar with Tubby and Baron to spread the Toc H word. They sailed from London on a full-size ship and it was the first time Baron and Batchelar 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. It was Geoffrey’s job both to man these stalls and to lug the suitcase containing all the literature.

Toc H Warden’s Conference 1933. Geoffrey is third from left in the middle row

The trio spent a few days on the Rock with Tim Harrington – a member and supporter of Toc H newly installed as Governor of Gibraltar – then Christmas Day was spent in Spain at Jerez de la Frontera as guests of the Sherry importers Williams and Humbert. They then headed to Malta to spend New Year with the Royal Navy. 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 Geoffrey hitched a ride with the navy leaving Baron to accompany all baggage and vast amounts of literature on the Rawalpindi.

Back on Tower Hill Geoffrey was also involved with All Hallows’ PCC. He wrote this account of an event held there on Ascension Day 1934. It features many of Toc H’s partisans.

Report on All Saints’ Day All Hallows by the Tower Parish Party held on Ascension Day 1934 – presented to PCC Meeting 2.12.34

All Saint’s Day

In March 1937 Geoffrey became engaged to the aforementioned Hylda Jardine. Perhaps his 1929 Ode had finally won her heart. They married that September (16th), I think at All Hallows.

In early 1939 he resigned as Provost at Talbot House to devote his time to boys’ club work in Northampton and it was here they were living when the civic register was taken in September as the country prepared for war. He was described as Provost and Warden of Boys Club. Also described as a Special Constable.

In the same register, his sister Daphne, who was still living with her parents at 25 South Street in Morden, was described as an Assistant Manageress Residential Club Womens. I don’t know if this had anything to do with the League of Women Helpers.

However, there was soon to be great sadness for the family. Denis had returned home in 1934 and lived with his parents and sister Daphne in Morden but went back to Sao Paulo in 1938 where he married Sylvia Greig. Sadly, he died out in Brazil on 14th November 1939, which must have been a terrific blow to his siblings.

In the December Journal, a short obituary described him as Denis Roger Batchelar aged 31, a hosteller and officer of Mark II from 1926 for some years.

Meanwhile, his and Hylda’s stay in Northampton proved to be short-lived. Whether it was the outbreak of war, or simply other circumstances, Geoffrey notes in his poetry book that “during 1940 Holden and I ran a hostel for difficult and delinquent boys at Woking. Known to the boys as the House of Misery”, it’s not apparent whether this was a Toc H project or not.

This too was short-lived and judging by his notes in 1941 he had signed up for the army and was at Catterick Camp, presumably undergoing training. I have yet to ascertain how he spent the war but I think it may have had an impact on him as the next time we find him he is being ordained by the Bishop of Salisbury having studied at Salisbury Theological College. His ordination is announced in the Church Times of May 1948. St Thomas’, Salisbury is mentioned so I presume this was his first posting.

However in 1952 he got his own living when he was made vicar of St James, Holt (Dorset) and also Rector of nearby Hinton Parva. He remained in these posts until his death. I believe he lived in Hinton Parva originally but moved to Puddletown in October 1964 as he writes a poem about this.

Geoffrey’s sister-in-law – Denis’ widow Sylvia – had clearly remained in close contact with the family and in 1955 she remarried. Her new husband was John Harrison Edinger, son of the WWI Naval Chaplain and Frank Edinger.

It is possible that Geoffrey introduced John to Sylvia since John was a Toc H Padre serving Toc H in the Orkneys during the early part of the war. Ordain as a Deacon then a Priest, John held a Curacy at Hythe in Kent and in January 1948 became Rector of Mersham. He got engaged to Sylvia early in 1955 and they married on the 4th of June in his own church at Mersham. In 1963 whilst vicar of Lensham John had a brief moment of notoriety when he publicly announced that women in stiletto heels would not be allowed into his vicarage as they would damage the wooden floors!

Meanwhile, our bard of the cloth lived out his days peacefully in the West Country punctuating his life with the occasional poem. He kept contact with Toc H and when his good friend Barclay Baron died in 1964 remarked:

“No Guest Night was more rewarding than when Barkis was the speaker”

Geoffrey himself died in Dorchester hospital on the 8th June 1974 after a long illness. His ashes were interred in the Columbarium in All Hallows’ crypt. He was survived by his wife Hylda, his sister Daphne, and a little red book containing a collection of his poetry which sits by my side as I write these closing words.