The Headquarter Buildings of Toc H

By Steve Smith

I’m in the midst of writing a long and complex blog for publication later this month, so to keep you going until then and also to give my mind a change of scenery, here’s a quick blog about the various buildings Toc H used as its administrative headquarters (latterly Central Services) over the years.

Once Tubby had set his heart on relaunching Talbot House in the UK, he had to fit in the mechanics of such a venture amongst everything else on his plate. Therefore some of the first work happened up in Cheshire in the old Knutsford gaol, in wartime a military prison by now an ordination school.

And it was from there that he hurried to the first committee meeting on Saturday 15th November 1919 which was convened at the Central Church Fund Office, 40 Great Smith Street, Westminster (following lunch at the RAC Club in Pall Mall). Its next meeting a few days later was in the offices of Montague Ellis (Solicitors) at 17 Albermarle Street in Mayfair where they continued to be held for more than a year afterwards. The building in Great Smith Street was Georgian – it survives today – and had previously been a Curates’ House but also, most portentously, a lamp manufacturer! That in Mayfair was of similar age and is also still standing today.

But a committee is just where the orders are issued from; where did the foot soldiers carry out their tasks? Well wherever they could of course. And whilst not generally used as a postal address, that famous experimental hostel at Red Lion Square was often home to a hive of activity. Lieutenant Edwin George White, a Correspondence Clerk with the Port of London Authority before the war, ran the show when Tubby returned to Knutsford. Edwin (though his military records show him as Edward) was essentially acting as Secretary whilst Richard Ridge compiled a register of Talbotousians from the surviving Communicant’s Roll. I suspect Ridge was the Rev. Richard Ridge, Vicar of Stepney 1916-1922.

A rare photo of the flat at Red Lion Square

And for Tubby the offices of The Challenger, William Temple’s religious newspaper that he was involved with, was one option. Effingham House in Arundel Street, just off the Strand, often appeared as the official address in those early days. On the top floor (the cheapest offices) White and other volunteers continued building the index file after the day’s Challenge business had ended. Soon Tubby was joined by Mrs Payne, a typist begged, borrowed or stolen from a local hospital. Here too came the typewriter salesman, William J. Musters, recently featured in this blog, as Toc H’s first paid member of staff.

Effingham House

It must therefore have been a relief when the first true Mark at 23 Queen’s Gate was opened in May 1920 and by mid-summer the staff deserted Effingham House for Mark I. They were only there for a few weeks and in September when Mark II opened in Pimlico, Tubby, Mus and assorted hangers on decamped there. In many ways, this was the first true Toc H headquarters. The room that Tubby and Mus occupied was a gloomy one just behind the Chapel. They shared a single table and Tubby’s bed was in one corner (his razor on the mantelpiece).

We must also mention 8a Cavendish Street where Toc H were ensconced for a few weeks. It was actually the offices of the Cavendish Society whom Toc H acquired by merger in June 1921 gaining Barclay Baron and Bob Shelston as the most valuable part of the deal.

Tubby was evicted from the Mark II office and from the chains of administration by the arrival of Peter Monie in November 1922. Toc H’s first Honorary Administrator was about to get the Movement organised. Tubby, though his administrative Toc H tasks were much reduced, continued to work from the Porch Room of All Hallows in his new guise as vicar there.

At Pimlico though, the walls were bulging. Despite spilling all over the ground floor and basement, Marksmen were getting a little fed up with having to tread on headquarters staff to reach their billets, so a dedicated building was sought.

A Baron sketch of Queen Anne’s Gate

The imposing No. 1 Queen Anne’s Gate, in the heart of Westminster and formerly the residence of the Foreign Secretary, was leased by Toc H from the 20th Feb 1926. It shouldn’t be confused with the nearby 1 Queen Anne’s Gate Buildings where the Passport Office resided. And yet, it too, was not big enough for a Movement growing like Topsy. Fortunately Toc H managed to persuade the contractors Holland and Hannen and Cubitts, then building much of civic London, to buy out their lease out on favourable terms. The company moved in and significantly remodelled the building. Incidentally, it was remodelled again recently and split into apartments designed by Viscount Linley. The penthouse went on the market for £22m!

Queen Ann’s Gate after remodelling by Holland and Hannen and Cubitts

Toc H once again sought new premises, and whilst they were looking they moved into the now deserted Mark III in Waterloo in the spring of 1930. It was deserted because London County Council planned to raze the area to the ground and build some additional blocks to County Hall – which they did, eventually. Mark III popped up again across the river in Hackney and, after about six months, Toc H headquarters staff were able to move into their new building at 47 Francis Street in the shadow of Westminster Cathedral (The Catholic Mother Church in England and Wales). Toc H bought this former Guards’ Industrial Home for Girls. It was larger than Queen Anne’s Gate and a convenient five minutes from Victoria station. It would be their home for the next thirty years.

An old sketch of Francis Street

In 1938 Toc H were also lent 38 Coleman Street in the City for a few weeks but this didn’t last long.

Their tenure at Francis Street was not without some disruption. Shortly before the Second World War officially broke out and in a move planned months before, Toc H relocated some of its staff and its most essential records out of London. This was something nearly all government offices, banks and other commercial businesses were doing. Toc H chose to go to their own property, Mark XVI just off the High Street in Swindon. Evacuees included the Honorary Administrator Hubert Secretan and Registrar W. J. Musters whilst those left in London included Rex Calkin (General Secretary) and Herbert Leggate (General Administrative Padre). There would soon be personnel changes though as Hubert Secretan was recalled to the Ministry of Shipping for war work and William J. Lake Lake took over as Administrator. Rex Calkin went to France to work for Toc H with the BEF and ended up spending much of the war as a prisoner of the Germans. After the ‘phoney war’ most staff returned to 47 Francis Street for the duration.

Francis Street 2008

And yet by the mid-fifties, guess what? Yep, the headquarters building was too small and the Movement’s administrators were starting to be dispersed elsewhere. It was time to get everything under one-roof, and Tubby would be happiest if that roof might sit on Tower Hill alongside his beloved All Hallows – now rebuilt – and near the hostel at 42 Trinity Square.

In June, it looked as if the new HQ would be at 10 & 11 The Crescent, at the back of 42 Trinity Square. Despite being publicised in the City Press as a done deal, it never came to fruition as it was deemed too small. Instead in 1955 on the Movement’s 40th birthday (And Tubby’s 70th) a fund was started to facilitate a move somewhere on the Hill. Unlike his early tongue-in-cheek ‘dream’ of a new Talbot House on Trafalgar Square, this time his aspiration was to come to fruition and in The Journal of January 1959 it was announced to the Movement that Toc H had purchased 15 Trinity Square, just across the road from All Hallows. The freehold cost was £210,000 – remember that figure, it will mean something shortly.

The entrance to 15 Trinity Square

Toc H on Tower Hill will be looked at in more detail later this spring but suffice to say here, apart from No. 15, Toc H also had offices at 42 and 41 Trinity Square, at No. 6 The Crescent (Lady Wakefield House) and the other side of the railway at Crutched Friars.

15 Trinity Square had been built in 1908 for the General Steam Navigation Company who had occupied it ever since. Conveniently close to Tower Hill station (Later Mark Lane) it rose over four floors but Toc H only planned to use the top two letting out the basement, ground and first floor. It was opened by the Lord Mayor of London on 6th October 1960.

One interesting tenant during the period didn’t rent out any of the lower floors, rather they rather sofa-surfed at Toc H’s place on the top floor. Alec and Mora Dickson’s Community Service Volunteers were founded in 1962 and bunked in with Toc H until they could afford their own premises. Dickson of course had previously started Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO). CSV are still going today but they were rebranded Volunteering Matters in 2015.

Then in 1971, at a time of great change for the Movement (The merger of Men and Women’s sections and a new charter) it was suggested that 15 Trinity Square might be sold to generate more income for Toc H. In the words of the Honorary Treasurer George Liddle

“The object of the exercise is largely to provide additional funds for development work”

Tubby approved the scheme but added

“Toc H remains committed to Tower Hill. We don’t want to leave it altogether.”

Architect’s sketch of Wendover

In 1972 Donaldsons, the chartered surveyors who acted for Toc H with regard to their many properties managed to sell 15 Trinity Square for £2,127,600 to an investment company called Compass Securities. Remember they paid £210,000 for it. A little over £2m in 1972 terms would be somewhere in the region of £24 million today. Toc H were suddenly somewhat wealthy. Where did it all go? I’m sure that’s a blog in its own right one day.

The cost of course was the need to move again. Just over a decade since they moved on to Tower Hill Toc H HQ staff were off again, this time to the country to the town of Wendover in Buckinghamshire to a building Toc H already possessed. Built originally in 1946 as a Toc H Services Club primarily to serve the nearby RAF Halton, this extensive property in Forest Close had been leased to British Steel since the club closed. The lease was due to expire around 1971 so Toc H decided to move in themselves. In fact it was really only the true administrative function – Central Services – who were shipped here. Some, including the Director Sandy Giles, were scattered to other parts of the Hill. The Director’s office was at 42 Crutched Friars, once the HQ of the Women’s organisation but now an asset of the merged Movement.

And at Wendover they lived a long and happy life. In time, various satellite staff on the Hill were pulled into the fold at the foot of the Chiltern Hills not least the new Director, Ken Prideaux-Brune and his successor John Mitchell. But, as we know, the end of the 20th century saw a decline in fortunes. Damaged further by the hammer-blow sudden death of the then Director Mike Lydiard in 1999, Toc H acquired a new Director in 2000 and faced a desperate need for cost savings. So, off we go again. 

The Stables and the Coach House, WHitchurch

In the late spring of 2003 Toc H moved to the grounds of a large house called The Firs in Whitchurch, Buckinghamshire. The main house was owned by a publishing firm but Toc H worked from the Stable Block and the Coach House.

The complex was built in 1897 for Charles Gray, an officer who fought with the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa. By the 1930s the house was owned by Major Arthur Abrahams from whom it was requisitioned by the War Office in 1939. During the Second World War the house was used for the development and testing of various weapons and was known locally as Winston Churchill’s Toyshop.

A London office briefly opened in 2003 at 29-31 Saffron Hill in Clerkenwell but it would be short-lived.

In 2008, to further save costs and due to a much reduced workforce, the surviving staff moved into serviced offices on the third floor of Wing House, Britannia Street, Aylesbury but in 2009 returned to the unsold Coach House part of the Firs at Whitchurch. There were no longer enough people to fill the Stable Block as well.

Later in 2009 with Toc H now an almost totally voluntary Movement once again, HQ was established in the home of Hilary and Doug Geater-Childs, two of the people involved in running it. It was in the Kings Heath area of Birmingham but, understandably given it was their home, the published address was a PO Box number.

And finally, for now, in the first half of 2019 the Central Office moved into a refurbished flat in Birmingham and the Geater-Childs got their home back. And there, at the time of writing and to the best of my knowledge is where Toc H HQ resides now. It’s come a long way in more ways than one.

Wendover

3 thoughts on “The Headquarter Buildings of Toc H

  1. Dear Steve,
    Another brilliant insight into Toc H’s past. I can’t believe the values of some of the properties now, truly astronomical. I really can’t thank you enough personally for writing these papers. They are such an important record and all beautifully written! Looking forward to the next.
    Yours truly
    Neil

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  2. Steve this was most interesting to read. I was amazed at how often they moved when the empire was growing so fast. Tubby was clearly a very dynamic individual. It must have been very exciting for my Dad to be on staff in those early years of rapid growth. I guess all Empires rise and fall so it must have been sad for you at the end. Your enthusiasm and dedication to writing these very well written essays on the history of TocH are an inspiration. In a young country like Australia and a multi cultural society I see no reason why we can’t grow TocH applying the same enthusiasm that was prevalent in the early group of pioneers under Tubby.

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