By Steve Smith
Finally got a holiday planned? Need something to read on Bognor beach when the wind dies down, or will your staycation take you no further than the back garden? Today’s brief blog features my selection of ten tomes of Toc H that everyone interested in the Movement really should read. I’ll admit these are books that focus more on its history than its philosophy but then I am a historian. If you want to ponder more the meaning of Toc H then there are plenty of options from Tubby’s own Earthquake Love to Ken Prideaux-Brune’s Ticket for a Journey, or Toc H Under Weigh by Peter Monie. The following ten though, give a good grounding of how Toc H began and some of what it has achieved.
Tales of Talbot House – P. B. Clayton
Devised really as a fundraiser and a way of promoting Tubby’s dream for a rebirth of Talbot House, this masterful book shares the magic of wartime Talbot House both with those who knew it personally and those who didn’t. Tales is perfect scene setter for Toc H and inside we learn the stories of how the Old House came to be and of some of the people who walked through its great front door. First published in 1919 it soon sold out and ran to several more editions. It is available online and printed copies are not that difficult to obtain though the prices have crept up over the past decade.
A Touch of Paradise in Hell – Jan Louagie
The most definitive single volume about Talbot House is undoubtedly Jan Louagie’s master work. Jan and his late wife Katrien originally wrote a definitive text in Dutch and those of us who cannot read anything more complicated than a spijskaart had to wait until 2015 and this similar, English language volume. Although it is very much a conglomeration of information from a variety of sources – including some of those listed here – this is done in an intelligent and informative way and is a detailed counterpoint to Tubby’s more emotional telling of the tales of Talbot House.
The Birth of a Movement – Barclay Baron
I make no secret of my admiration for Barclay Baron and I have covered his own life in some detail in an earlier blog. One of the things I most credit him with is for being the first person to attempt to chronicle the history of Toc H accurately and in some depth. He started this with Half the Battle, virtually his first contribution the Movement when he joined the staff in 1921 but The Birth of The Movement really moves the history along. Published originally in June 1933 as a Journal supplement called The Years Between, it was released in a small softback format immediately after the war in 1946. Detailed as I would expect any writing by Barkis to be, it is illustrated with reproductions of original documents. In some ways, the Journal supplement is nicer (Bigger format for instance) but Birth has the advantage of being published 13 years later and had useful revisions. I’ll tell you what, read both!
The Curious History of the Toc H Women’s Association – A. B. S. Macfie
Subtitled The First Phase 1917-1928 this book does just what it says on the spine and reveals the curious history of the origins and first years of the League of Women Helpers. And that story is told by the woman who was at the heart of it. Well illustrated with some fabulous photos.
The Further History of the Toc H Women’s Association – A. B. S. Macfie
What point is half a story? Having consumed Macfie’s first volume about the Women’s Movement, you must go on and read the second. This time Miss Macfie focusses on the period from 1929 forward. This of course includes the war years where the LWH really earned its wings as the men went off to war and the ladies earned the right to become a fully-fledged Movement and not just ‘helpers’.
Any Problem Is No Problem – Kenneth Prideaux Brune
Ken Prideaux-Brune is deeply integrated with Toc H both in his own right and through his parents. Prideaux House, one of the many incarnations of Mark III in Hackney, was named for his father and Ken was a Patron of the Community of Reconciliation and Friendship and a friend of its founder, Gualter de Mello for several decades. This book really looks at the story of Mark III after Gualter became Warden and after it left Toc H’s hands to become an integral part of the Hackney community, something it remains to this day (though the book only goes up to the mid-nineties when it was published).
Tubby Clayton. A Personal Saga written – Melville Harcourt
There are three major biographies of Tubby, all very good in their own way but for me the most interesting is probably the first, written by Melville Harcourt in 1953. Harcourt, an American, writes this with a casualness a British writer might not have managed at the time. For me this makes Tubby more human, more fragile, more real! The other two biographies by the way are A Fool For Thy Feast by Linda Parker and Clayton of Toc H by Tresham Lever, both worth adding to your reading list.
A Kind of Love Affair – Kenneth Prideaux Brune
Another tome from Ken that looks at a particular strand of work that began in Toc H and eventually got legs of its own, and indeed, like Prideaux House, is still going to day. This book tells the story of Peter East, his work with the Bangladeshi community in the East End, the hostel at No. 7, which laid the foundations for the Khasdobir Youth Action Group.
A Birthday Book – Various Contributors
There are various compendiums of previously published articles about Toc H as well as collections of new articles by various contributors. A Birthday Book, published in 1936 for Toc H’s coming of age, falls into the latter category and includes essays from Tubby, Barkis, Macfie, Monie, Pat Leonard, Hubert Secretan and many more Toc H worthies. A beautiful snapshot of a time when Toc H was probably at its most radiant.
Letters From Flanders – P. B. Clayton
The rediscovery of letters Tubby wrote from France and Belgium to his mother unearthed long lost memories of life during wartime, and corrected a few Tubbyisms that had lodged in the Toc H timeline, not least the original opening date of the House. Had the letters just have been published as they were writ, this would have only been a very interesting book. Barclay Baron’s annotations lift it into the category of brilliant. A great way to understand the development of Talbot House through a chronology of Tubby’s missives home.