Twice on television over Easter, eagle-eyed folks spotted a Toc H mention on TV and both related to the same project. Firstly, in an archive clip on Countryfile, a Toc H Collection point was clearly spotted and then on a Michael Portillo train journey the same project actually got a mention. This inspired me to seek out the story of what I discovered was called Operation Daffodil.
Newent in Gloucestershire is famed for its array of daffodils. Even today – at least in non-Covid times – coach trips are arranged to go and view the sea of yellow and tourists pick armfuls of them. Back in 1924 however, someone had a bright idea of using the famous flowers for a good cause.
That someone was Mr William Henry Ernest Mockford, a 45 year old Londoner, then living in the West Country. He had memories of the patients of hospitals of his home town being unable to benefit from the reviving beauty of nature around them so contrived a plan to take nature to them.
Formerly a Private in the Rifle Brigade, William was now Vice-President of the Newent Comrades Club and he engaged that organisation to help him achieve his objective of picking a few dozen bunches of daffodils and sending them to the hospitals.
The newly build Comrades Club house was used as the centre and dozens of volunteers collected the blooms on one Sunday in the spring and brought them to the club. From here they were bundled up and transported to London by train to be distributed around the capital’s hospitals. The scheme caught the public’s imagination and it became known as Daffodil Day or Daffodil Sunday. Pathe News filmed it a couple of times and it turned into a real community effort with school children helping pick the blooms.
In 1929 over 20,000 bunches of daffs were distributed to more 40 London institutions, the distribution being carried out by Great Western Railway.
The organisation of the project was taken over by the British Legion in the mid-thirties and then, after a break due to the war, was revived in 1952 by Toc H. Local branches such as Newent and Gloucester got involved as did Mark VII in Fitzroy Square, London which became the centre of distribution for the hospitals.
Notices were plastered all over Newent asking the hordes of visitors to pick an extra bunch of daffodils for the scheme and Toc H men manned the collection stalls led by Arthur Langley, the local Jobbie. Helped by the women’s movement, the daffodils were packed into whatever boxes were to hand and travelled to London in detergent and margarine boxes.
Local school-children, youth club members, scouts and guides also helped gather the flowers. Toc H men on motorcycles patrolled the key tourist picking areas and handed out the notices asking people to pick an extra bunch for the hospitals. They even set up roadblocks asking those in motor cars to surrender a bunch or two for a good cause.
The following morning – Monday – the goods train carriage, half-filled with boxed daffodils, was shunted to Gloucester and attached to the Cheltenham Flyer. Then it sped to Paddington where London Toc H took over. They did send them by lorry in 1952 but returned to the tried and trusted train in 1953. In 1954, Operation Daffodil, as Toc H christened it, distributed over 100 boxes of the flowers weighing about a ton in total, to twenty London hospitals.
So Toc H can’t take claim for Newent’s Daffodil Day as it was started by others but they certainly got heartily involved with Operation Daffodil in the mid-fifties. I can’t tell you when Toc H stopped doing it or when Daffodil Day died out but the fields of daffs still appear each spring and the tourists still flow in.
If anyone wants to take this story further, the Gloucester branch records are in the Gloucestershire county archives and an article about Toc H in Newent compiled by Dood Pearce, Chairman of Newent Local History Society, was deposited with the Toc H archive last year.
The life story of Phillip Thomas Byard Clayton, known widely as Tubby, has been told in some detail in three well written biographies; his time at Talbot House and with Toc H documented in many different books and journals. However, I sometimes feel his four and a half years as a Curate at Portsea is not given as much attention as it deserves. This blog looks in a little more depth at what Tubby got up to whilst he was there. Perhaps it was no more or less than any other Curate might do whilst he is ‘learning his trade’ but this is our Tubby and its worth understanding how this posting helped shape the founder of the most amazing Movement in the world.
Avoiding Theological college (Something he would later claim to be most grateful about) Tubby got a first class BA at Oxford in 1909 (but let us not dwell on his 3rd Class in Classic Mods. along the way). From here he took a teaching post at Colet Court, his old junior school at St Paul’s, and did some work on Fleet Street thanks to his friend G.K. Chesterton, a fellow Pauline. He then took a research post under Dr Armitage Robinson, the Dean of Westminster.
His most significant work here was a paper on The Inlaid Tiles of Westminster Abbey which was read before the Royal Archaeological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland in October 1910. It would later be published in pamphlet form by that organisation.
Tubby Takes Holy Orders
Tubby was admitted into Holy Orders as a Deacon by John Randolph, Bishop of Guildford, in Farnham Parish Chapel on the 18th December 1910. He was posted to St Mary’s, Portsea in Hampshire, not far from the family home at Beaulieu, to serve as a curate under Canon Bernard Wilson. St Mary’s had a large staff and by all accounts an athletic one; they had once beaten the Australian Test team at cricket. Tubby was nervous about this as he didn’t consider that he had much sporting prowess. The story goes that when he went to see Wilson for his interview he was up against another candidate who was an excellent sportsman. Tubby was resigned to being turned down but as he entered the clergy house he heard raised voices as Wilson learned that his favoured candidate had had the audacity to become engaged. Tubby was elevated to favourite and recruited as the most junior member of a staff of eighteen clergy. He was 25 years old.
However, by the time Tubby arrived at St Mary’s to begin his curacy (appearing the same evening as his Ordination) Wilson had died suddenly and been replaced by his Senior Curate, Cyril Garbett.
Incidentally, a certain John Walker Woodhouse was ordained at the same ceremony as Tubby and posted to St James, Milton, a neighbouring parish. Once part of the same Portsea parish, Milton had existed as a Parish in its own right since 1844 with St James as its mother church. From October 1915 Woodhouse would serve as a Temporary Chaplain to the Forces (including a brief spell with the RAF) before teaming up with Tubby in London. Woodhouse became the vicar of St John’s Waterloo in 1920 and as a Toc H man, gave the Movement the use of the vicarage in York Road which became Mark III. He was joint branch padre with Tubby. Later he preceded Pat Leonard as Bishop of Thetford. And another curate at Portsea, but before Tubby’s time, Edwin Percy Luard, the brother of Kate Luard, one of the Foundation Women Members of Toc H
Portsea needs a little explaining. It is actually a smallish area of the city of Portsmouth, which lays on Portsea Island, a promontory off the south coast of England. However, in our case, Portsea refers to the parish of Portsea with the church of St Mary’s as its mother church. The church actually stands in the locality of Kingston. The entire parish once covered the whole of the island but in Tubby’s day it had been broken into smaller parishes. At that time Portsea parish covered the localities of Buckland, Fratton, and Landport as well as Kingston and was subdivided into six districts (each with a mission church and hall).
St Mary’s parish church, opened in 1889 was the third church on that site and in Tubby’s time the Mission churches were St Barnabas, St Faith’s, St Mary’s Mission, St Boniface, and St Wilfrid’s. There was also a Mission Hall of St Nicholas.
Immediately around the church in the remains of what were once vast glebe lands were the clergy house, the Parish Institute and a small club room for the young men and lads of the district.
The church had benefitted with a great run of vicars since Edgar Jacob was appointed in 1878. It was he who modernised the parish and had the church rebuilt. He was succeeded by Cosmo Lang – the only time he had charge of a parish – later Archbishop of Canterbury. Lang was followed by Bernard Wilson in 1901 and then in 1909 by Garbett.
So Tubby set up home in the Clergy House. He was on 7/6 a week plus board and lodgings which got him a study-bedroom and use of the washbasin area downstairs. Later he could access the junior bathroom and had he been around for longer might have been allowed into the senior bathroom. One wing was occupied by kitchens and the rooms of the women who cooked, cleaned and dusted.
There was a rigid schedule. After Matins and breakfast the morning was spent reading and writing followed by a formal lunch. Then from 1.30pm to 2.30pm the curates had time for some R&R. Curates’ rounds were from no later than 2.30pm until at least 5.45pm. Evensong was followed by tea at the vicarage, then more visiting from 7-10. After Compline they could please themselves.
Visiting was a critical part of their role. It had been instilled into Garbett by Lang and he now pressed its importance to his own Curates. It involved travelling not only in their own district but out to wherever in Portsmouth their Communicants resided. Rather than being assigned to one of the Mission churches, Tubby remained attached to the Mother church and his district contained some 700 families, mostly sea-faring. Tubby loved visiting because people fascinated him. This would be evident throughout his life but never more so than when he collared passers-by on Tower Hill and dragged them to the vicarage to join him for a meal. Detailed notes had to be kept of everyone they visited, another habit Tubby never lost.
He was surprisingly well-versed in the ways of mariners. Before going to Oxford, he and his school-friend Cecil Rushton had spent holidays away travelling on tramp steamers and other merchant vessels. This love of the sea would of course be another constant in his life whether on cruise ships as he toured the world, in the Orkneys or as a Chaplain on oil-tankers. Portsea was so connected with both the Royal and mercantile navies that it was very important he understood. In November 1914, during the war, a cruiser was sunk and Tubby visited several of the bereaved families in the Parish.
He was also put in charge of the Vicarage accounts by Garbett. He knew little about finance and they were showing a £2000 deficit when he took on the books. Four years later Tubby’s nightly diligence had turned that deficit into a £500 surplus.
Tubby the Priest & Theologian
Besides preaching, the bread and butter work of the Parish was of course births, marriages and funerals. Tubby had only been at Portsea four days when on the 22nd December 1910 he buried his first parishioner. Robert Reason was a 65 year old who had been admitted to the asylum on the 26th November and died there on the 20th December. Later that same day Tubby also performed funeral rites on Emily Roe, a very respectable 87 year old lady.
A week later, on the 29thDecember, Tubby was let loose on his first babies, baptising six that day but he would have to wait until he had been fully priested before being allowed to marry anyone.
Tubby and his friend Woodhouse were both ordained as priests on St Thomas’ Day (21st December) 1911 by Edward Talbot (Bishop of Winchester) in Holy Trinity Church, Guildford.
Tubby’s first wedding took place on the 8th January 1912 and was between John Tann, a ship’s cook from HMS Hermione, and Olive Chapman, and his next followed five days later when he joined three couples in Holy Matrimony.
Along with these regular responsibilities and frequent preaching, Tubby did much other specifically religious work. This included writing a paper that he called The Church of the Fourth Dimension which was originally read to the Portsmouth and Gosport Clerical Society and – in March 1913 – published in The Commonwealth. In it, Tubby sets out his view of what the church of the future ought to be. After discussing the various options he appears to set his stall up for the High Church which he describes as a movement of the young for the young. He suggests that in the ‘church as it stands is an atrocious crime of being a young man, punishable by disenfranchisement”
In 1914 he was made a Vice-President of the Alliance of Honour (Garbett was President). The alliance started in 1903 and stood for inter-denominational and non-political work in the interests of purity and chivalry amongst men. Amongst other things it pushed for chastity before marriage and total faithfulness afterwards. A drive to begin a local branch began in late 1913 by the time of a town hall meeting in February 1914, some 300 members from all the town’s churches and chapels assembled. The first meeting was held a few days later in the Duchess of Albany’s home. Garbett spoke at length about the how men had been silent too long about the sin of impurity and could no longer let it happen unchallenged. He gave an example about a girl who had been tattooed when drunk and how the tattooist should never have done such a thing to a drunk girl.
In the 23rd October 1914 edition of the Church Times there is a piece by Tubby where he reflects on the impact the war is starting to have on his parishioners, notably those naval families. He asks if religion is helping these people and talks of the pillar box outside St Mary’s that is used for people to post the names of family members on active service. The Mission churches all have their own boxes too and the names on the scraps of paper are collated into a ledger and are then recited during special services. The ledger then rests on the altar during the celebrations. Tubby would of course reuse this method during the war gathering the names of the Communicants at No. 16 General Hospital and most famously at Talbot House, eventually adding them to ledgers that would form the basis for post-war Toc H.
Although the bulk of his work was with the Parish church, when the Rev. Ellis Edge-Partington joined the army in April 1915 and was posted to York, Tubby briefly took over the Mission Church of St Faith’s but it was only briefly as he himself would soon depart.
Tubby the Social Worker
Lads and Boys
Tubby was put in charge of Boys Club on arrival as he was expected to be ‘good at that kind of thing’. On his first night in charge, due to start at 7pm, Tubby went across to the club house but discovered that there were few boys there. He was told that more were expected by 7.30 so he altered the start time and returned to the Clergy House. Garbett was highly aggrieved and tore a strip off Tubby, so much so that he considered resigning. Thankfully he didn’t for his life may have gone a completely different way had he done so. After that shaky start Tubby’s work with the Boys Clubs was exemplary
Tubby contributed Chapter Five (Lads and Young Men) in the 1915 publicationThe Work of a Great Parish – a collection of essays by some of the curates edited by Garbett. The chapter clearly shows Tubby’s belief in the importance of engaging children and young men in positive activities, again a lifelong passion. A great many of his boys were connected with the sea which helps us understand why he was so pleased to get the hostel for Seafaring Boys up and running in Southampton in the early days of Toc H (and briefly, a similar one in New York).
His work with the Portsea Boys happened under the existing structure of Companies. Each company was attached to either the Parish church or one of the Mission churches and known either by that name or by an adopted colour. The system was inaugurated in 1892, at a time when the clergy team was exceptionally strong in sportsmen. Before this there were a couple of simple gyms, one of which was used on Sundays by the members of what was to be St. Boniface Mission. Once the St. Boniface Mission Hall was built in Clive Road a larger gym was established there and under the Rev. R. W. Wilberforce became a club attached to a Bible class. Subsequently, Wilberforce was transferred to St. Mary’s Mission, and many of the members migrated with him to form the nucleus of Red Company. His place at St. Boniface was taken by the Rev. E. J. Nelson. They took (from Conan Doyle’s book) the name of the White Company, the subsequent companies being named in a similar fashion.
The White Company specialised in sporting activities, cricket and football in particular and in the early days was one of the largest. It was soon joined by the Red Company at St. Mary’s Mission, and the Blue Company at St. Barnabas. A magazine for the three companies was published for several years under the title of the Tricolour.
The Companies all had an attached Bible class which led on to compulsory confirmation classes (Though the actual confirmation was at the boys’ choice)
Just over a year before Tubby’s arrival St Mary’s Company or Company Brown opened its Club House and were led by the Rev. C. L. Cooper-Hunt. Tubby took over as manager as he joined the clergy team shortly after his predecessor left in Dec 1910 to become a Chaplain in the Forces.
Tubby will have worked with many hundreds of boys during his time in charge but it is worth mentioning one George Potter, because he retained a close connection with Tubby.
George was born December 1892, he was a member of St Mary’s Company under Tubby. George married in St Mary’s in 1916 by the Rev Oswald Hunt. George joined the Navy October 1917 aged 24 as a carpenter. A career navy man he stayed in touch with Tubby and Toc H often writing in from wherever he was in the world. He became a Warrant Officer Shipwright wand was commissioned as a Lieutenant Shipwright eventually making Lt. Cmdr. Placed on the retired list in 1942 he was reappointed for war service finally retiring in 1947 to Portsmouth where he was a District Chairman of Toc H. George died in November 1989
There were numerous activities in the club but it was important that the social events didn’t surpass the spiritual ones. Tubby organised debates and also camps in the New Forest. Always busy as he was, Tubby even found time to nip across from one Boys’ Camp to perform a service for the nearby Boy Scouts!
On the outbreak of war in the autumn of 1914 numbers dropped because so many of the lads were in the one of the navies and were now called to sea. Nevertheless it was at this time they finally committed to producing a long-discussed club magazine, The Nutshell. Tubby edited it and provided much of the material within.
By April 1915 it was reported that “except for Dockyard members, who strain at the leash but cannot go, the club is honourably depleted”
After Tubby left Portsea to join the war, The Nutshell carried on and Tubby continued to supply material from abroad. He also visited the club whilst home on leave on the evening of the 6th November 1915. Many old boys came down from as far afield as London to see him.
Guardian of the Poor
In 1914 Tubby made perhaps his biggest move so far into the field of Social Work when he decided to stand as an independent candidate in the Kingston Ward at the Board of Guardian elections. He was proposed by Garbett and seconded by William Miles (This would be the Rev. William Miles, pastor at the Buckland Congregational Church and President of the Free Church Council). A preliminary meeting of his supporters was held on the Friday 20th March at the Parish Institute followed by an open air meeting on the 23rd. Garbett chaired the first meeting explaining that he had made an exception to his normal impartial stand on the election of Guardians because he felt Tubby was a good candidate for those who needed a broad and independent man. He noted that the nomination papers were remarkable not only for bearing the signatures of church and chapel leaders but also those of prominent men and women from all three political parties. When Tubby spoke he was warmly received and he opened by saying that he didn’t feel his candidacy was in anyway inconsistent with his calling. There were none in the field of social work with their finger more on the pulse of poverty than the parish clergy. He posited himself firmly as the poor man’s candidate.
A further series of open air meetings began outside the Dockyard Main Gate on the 26th March. The advert promised No Party Politics and No Paid Agents. It stated that fifty volunteer workers had been enrolled in three days and a committee room established at Kingston Vicarage.
On Monday 30th March a further meeting was held at St. Wilfred’s Mission, Buckland. This time Garbett laid out Tubby’s suitability for the role citing both his work in Portsea and also his time in Bermondsey. Tubby spoke about the terrible conditions of the ‘imbecile blocks’ but, perhaps most interestingly, spoke about the need for more women Guardians. He told the audience that 234 of the 638 Boards of Guardians in the Kingdom had no female members.
The elections took place on Wednesday the 8th April and Tubby was successful being one of three new members elected to the Board. In fact Tubby topped the voting with 4036 votes. The next closest Guardian had only 3252. Tubby was welcomed at their annual meeting on the 16th April. He was appointed to the Children’s Home Committee with seven other Guardians (including, and forgive my puerile humour, a Mr Blackadar). Meetings were normally held at the workhouse in Milton. As a show of gratitude for his election Tubby made a small donation to the Radium Fund (There was national campaign to raise money to pay for Radium which converted to Radon gas was used as a cancer treatment).
Before long Tubby had made clear his intention to improve the conditions of the ‘feeble-minded’ under the care of the Guardians. At the May meeting he moved
“that a small committee be appointed to consider and report upon the desirability of re-entering into the negotiations now proceeding among the other Unions in Hampshire, for the purpose of making application to the Local Government Board to issue an order under Section 8 of the Poor Law Act, 1879, establishing a Joint Poor Law Committee for providing proper accommodation for the feeble-minded and sane epileptics.”
Tubby was suggesting that bungalow type accommodation on a farm site was the ideal type. His opponents, including the Portsmouth Evening News itself, felt that were sufficient ‘poor-souls’ in Portsmouth to justify putting them altogether in a workhouse. In fact Tubby had to go into battle with the Portsmouth Evening News about this and at the end of May they published a lengthy letter from him answering some damning remarks they had made in a previous edition.
In June the subject of hours worked by officers in the employ of the Board of Guardians was raised. Tubby proposed the resolution;
“That this Board, accepting the principle of the weekly day of rest, desires the three Committees to consider its application to the staff of the several Institutions.”
Tubby claimed his motivation was not simply to protect the Sabbath but cited the case of one doctor who had worked an 84 hour week. An amendment was made to ask each department to prepare a report of hours their staff worked and the amendment passed and Tubby’s original resolution was overturned.
In March 1915 there was a debate on the board about the recruitment of a female doctor for the workhouse infirmary. During the course of the debate Tubby characterised ‘the opposition of women patients to a woman doctor as ignorant prejudice thoroughly behind the times.’ He thought women doctors were less likely to treat patients as ‘cases’. His views may well as helped as the motion to recruit a woman doctor was passed by 11 votes to 2.
In May Tubby was extremely supportive of the Victoria Nursing Association remarking about the enormous number of patients they had taken off the Board’s hands and prevented from coming to the workhouse. An amendment to increase the Board’s contribution from £50 to £60 was passed.
Tubby’s tenure was to be brought short by the war and in May 1915 he left Portsea for France. As he never returned fully his time on the Board was over. Writing to his mother from No. 16 General Hospital, Tubby did mention that he was hoping that the Guardians were going to send him a harmonium.
At a 1918 meeting of the Board, Tubby’s receipt of the Military Cross was brought up and it was agreed that a letter of congratulation be sent to their former colleague. Then in 1925 his name was applied at the head of a list of those who served Portsmouth Workhouse (Presumably erected at the Workhouse which was still active until 1930).
Personal Service Association
In May 1914 Tubby addressed a meeting of the Portsmouth Personal Service Association in the Banqueting Room of the Town Hall about social service co-operation. The Portsmouth branch of the Association started in 1910 and by 1914 Tubby was very involved. It aimed to work to bring together all those who wished to provide personal service and to connect to the committees that provided relief. The sort of personal service offered included visiting the sick and infirm, taking families and children out into the world and so forth. The Association could help match volunteers to needs. The parallels to the Social Service Bureau Toc H inherited from the Cavendish Society and the early way the Jobmaster was tasked to work cannot be ignored. At the annual meeting Tubby said that
“the work of voluntary workers reached its culmination when it applied to child life. Voluntary work had a lighter touch about it than when the work was not voluntary.”
He also warned that if the Mental Deficiency Act was to be successful
“a great deal of boot leather must be worn out in Portsmouth enquiring how many children were kept away from school because they were incapable of attending”.
He was cheered when he said that though the Acts did not go far enough they should be applied as far as they did go in connection with employment and children.
In April 1915 Tubby addressed a Men’s Conference in the Institute on the theme of The Mental Deficiency Act. This was clearly a passion of Tubby’s and one wonders where he might have gone with it if the war hadn’t intervened.
Tubby the Historian
On Monday 3rd April 1911 Tubby delivered a lecture on Westminster Abbey to the Portsea branch of the Church Defence and Church Instruction Committee in the Parish Institute, Fratton Road. Illustrated with glass lantern slides specially taken for him by the verger of the Abbey and Tubby shared the benefit of the knowledge he gleaned during his time as a research assistant under Dr Robinson. Tubby often gave these historical lectures to various groups in Portsea and his other topics included The Evolution of Christian Architecture, and Cathedrals and Churches in Wales.
In the summer of 1912 his paper about The Inlaid Tiles of Westminster Abbey which he wrote whilst working for Robinson, was published in pamphlet form by the Royal Archaeological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, and that same year he was awarded his MA in Theology.
In the November Tubby learned that during the demolition of the old St Mary’s church in 1843, workmen unearthed a stone coffin close to the altar. It was rumoured to be the resting place of a Crusader. Its fate after the new church was built was unclear but there was a rumour that it was reburied in the garden. On the strength of that rumour Tubby grabbed a spade and sought it out eventually finding it under a rockery. Broken and incomplete, he was nevertheless able to identify it as 13th century with a floriated cross with the shaft in relief. Though lacking any inscription or other identifying engraving, Tubby believed it to be the coffin of Sir Richard de Portesey who died about 1280. It was reinterred in the new church.
In March 1914 Tubby was elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries because of his archaeological work at Westminster Abbey and that same year contributed a chapter on the history of St Mary’s parish in Garbett’s The Work of a Great Parish.
Around the same time he discovered two volumes of Parish registers in the Vestry that dealt with the churchwarden’s accounts and vestry minutes from 1632-1801. From this Tubby managed to piece together some notes about church life around the time of the Civil War. These were published in the Portsmouth Evening News.
Other aspects of Tubby’s Portsea life
Of Tubby’s other life and work whilst at Portsea, perhaps nothing is quite so unusual as this. Though I haven’t seen it personally, I am told the Parish history records that on one occasion the church clock failed so Tubby stood outside and shouted the time through a loud-hailer to the dockyard workers as they cycled past.
Like many of the Curates, Tubby was a regular contributor to the Portsea Parish Church Magazine, often tackling the more historical subjects. For example in September 1914, with war on everyone’s mind, Tubby wrote a short piece about the history of Portsea in wartime. However, he also regularly produced poems for the magazine. We reproduce some of them here.
Reproduction of these poems courtesy 20 Streets Project, The Portsea Parish
Though he claimed little sporting prowess, we know he wielded the occasional cricket bat and tennis racquet. In October 1913 at the second AGM of the Bohemians Lawn Tennis Club held at the Royal Hotel in Southsea, Tubby was elected President.
In July of 1914 he took part in the New Forest Lawn Tennis Association second annual tournament. As well some of his fellow clergy, Tubby’s siblings Isobel and Hugh were also competing – the family home was of course quite nearby. Tubby competed in the Men’s Singles (Club Championship) and comfortably got through the first round in straight sets but was beaten in the second round. He also competed in the Gent’s Doubles Handicap with fellow curate Alfred Llewellyn Jones (More of whom later) but they were knocked out 7-5, 6-2 in the first round.
As mentioned earlier, in the autumn of 1914 Tubby was the editor of the newly launched The Nutshell, for the St Mary’s Company. It was described as
“an Expeditionary Q.F.* Magazine for despatch to members of St Mary’s Company and White Cross League on Active Service”
The magazine contained lots of humour as well as information about the activities of various institutions in St Mary’s parish. It was intended to be published quarterly for the duration of the war. The second edition in December was described by the local newspaper as being “full of brightness and humour.” It contained many letters from those once of the company now serving overseas and there were, said the reviewer, specimens of the editor’s wit on most pages. Tubby’s time as editor would be brief as soon he was one of those people on active service.
Tubby goes to War
In the October 1914 Parish Church Magazine, Garbett wrote:
“I have told both the Chaplain-General and the local military chaplains that we should be most glad to help in any of the camps in the immediate neighbourhood, both in taking services and in visiting; and I have also told the Chaplain-General that if in an emergency he requires anyone to go, as a Chaplain, at an hour’s notice, to the front, we should be glad to send a man”
In the end he sent nine of his current Clergy as chaplains and another to the YMCA!
In April 1915 the Rev. Ellis Edge-Partington, son of the well-known anthropologist James Edge-Partington, was the first to join the army. Enlisting as a Chaplain he was posted initially to York only going to France at the end of July.
Tubby was interviewed at the War Office by the Chaplain General Chaplain General, the Rev. John Taylor-Smith, on the 20th May. He was signed on as a Temporary Chaplain to the Forces 4th Class and sent immediately to France, crossing on the 26th May along with the Rev. Alfred Llewellyn Jones aka Jonah, his fellow Portsea Curate, whose interview had taken place the day before Tubby’s. Therefore Tubby and Jones were the first of Garbett’s curates to be posted to the front.
After a couple of days being together in France, Tubby and Jones were split up. Tubby went to No. 16 General Hospital and Jones went ‘up country’. Tubby was expecting to be posted to the Guards Division but was later diverted for a ‘special project’ with Neville Talbot. Tubby says that Jones got the posting to the 3rd Guards Brigade of the Guards Division in his place.
In the summer of 1916 Jones was posted close enough to Poperinghe to visit Talbot House and writing to the Parish Magazine says that the devotional part of the weekly Chaplains’ meeting is held in the chapel there.
In the July 1915 edition of St Mary’s Parish Magazine, a letter from Tubby was published. He spoke in some uncensored detail about his travel to France and subsequent arrival at No. 16 General Hospital. He spoke of the Services organised and the mix of men he was working with.
Also in July another soldier’s letter to the Buckland Congregational magazine stated “I often think of Buckland. The Rev. P.B. Clayton who used to be Curate at Kingston, is our Chaplain. Am quite well and will write letter shortly.”
In the August, September, and October 1916 magazines Tubby writes a lengthy (and censored) account of a visit to Orkneys with other Army Chaplains at the invitation of the Navy. He met several Portsea boys during his visit to the naval establishment. And on his return journey whilst stopping over at Rosyth, he has a mini reunion with several more Portsea Boys including George Potter.
Whilst Tubby wrote occasionally to the Parish Magazine, though not nearly as prolifically as Edge-Partington or Jones; Tubby preferred to write to his boys aka the Squirrels aka the Nutshellites via The Nutshell.
In a letter dated 30 November 1915 Tubby says that he is now a ‘substantial householder in a Belgian town’ and goes on to describe the house he has been given and the work that is going on to get it ready. The house is not named in the letter.
In the summer of 1917 he wrote:
“Long absence is a dire test of character, and the spirit of warfare is mainly a belittling and degrading slavery of the soul, from which a mere sentiment cannot liberate us. And since (As Mr Paterson says), the war is ultimately one of character, not munitions, everything that strengthens character is vital. And what is more potent for good in our lives than the steadying sanction of deep sweet memories behind? Forget-me-nots that have been prayed over have a power, besides a perfume. I know I am not the only old Portsea boy whose mind is turned on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons to the thought of a little group of quiet figures in the old Club-room.”
Later in 1917 a Dr A. Thomas wrote in The Nutshell that he “had met with Mr Clayton and had tea with him. He still has debates – on Friday the subject was ‘This House is convinced the war will finish this year’ but I’m sorry to say the House was not convinced at all.”
In the September 1917 edition, Tubby’s letter reflects on the Portsea lads in the war. The first loss he says was Harry Adams of HMS Formidable because ‘naturally the Sea came first with us’. He writes of how Fred Burrow and Bertie Hoptrough had spent both Christmas and Easter with him and mentions several other Company boys he has seen; several of them now dead. He closes by saying that ‘this is a sad letter but a proud one.’
Later that year he writes again and talks about Little Talbot House, the sister house opened in Ypres.
Tubby came home on leave in November 1915 and visited the St Mary’s Company Clubhouse on Saturday evening (6th May), spent Sunday in the Parish then left for home Monday afternoon before returning to the front.
Tubby was home again in February 1916 and preached at St Mary’s on the 20th and then led a Men’s Conference talk with the topic of ‘The Salient’. He had carried home with him an old and beautiful carving of the Last Supper which he had found in a hop store in Poperinge and purchased for 75 Francs. Originally in the chapel of Talbot House, Tubby feared for its safety so brought it home stored it in the War Chapel of St Mary’s until after the war when it moved to Mark I and then back to Talbot House when the property was acquired for the Toc H Movement.
The parishioners of Portsea supported Tubby’s work. The children of the Sunday Schools created tiny crucifixes ‘moulded with great simplicity and costing only a few pence each’. These were sent to Tubby and handed out to communicants until the Ministry of Munitions forbid the use of metal in such ornaments.
Tubby was also sent a Pyx at Talbot House by the ‘poorest people of Portsea’.
Meanwhile, back in Portsea as the number of curates dropped the spare space in the clergy house was commandeered as billets for the officers of the Barrage Balloon unit, an arrangement which apparently worked well, especially when the RAF officers offered to share their service rations, which were more generous than the civilian ones.
The Portsea Curates
The nine Curates serving as Chaplains – including Tubby – jointly wrote a letter to Cyril Garbett during the war which moved him deeply. The idea was Bald’s but Tubby drafted the letter.
Ellis Foster Edge-Partington was a member of the 1908 British Olympic Hockey team. During WWI he was a Temporary Chaplain to the Forces and served with the Royal Fusiliers. He was awarded the Military Cross in June 1917 and had a Bar added for Gallantry and Devotion to the wounded during the Battle for Haspres on the 13th October 1918. Surviving the war he died in 1957.
Alfred Llewellyn Jones was awarded the Military Cross during the Battle of the Somme (Gazetted in November 1916) for tending to the wounded under heavy fire….on several occasions doing stretcher bearing work. Jones survived the war and was Vicar of St James, Barrow in Furness then Rector of Lambeth from 1927. He died in 1943.
Tubby received the Military Cross in the New Year 1918 Honours list, the third of the Portsea Curates to be awarded it.
Technically Tubby remained a Curate at Portsea until 1919 but never returned in that role because of his work with the Ordination Schools, his eventual posting to All Hallows, oh, and a little thing called Toc H.
He did continue to stay in touch and in the summer of 1919 wrote about his new work at the Service Candidates School in Knutsford.
“This great school is like no other place I have known. We have here 350 ex-officers and men living the simplest, cheeriest and most brotherly life in Europe; working, playing, planning and praying with a spirit of unity that means new strength to the Church of the future.”
Then again of his plans for Toc H in the spring 1920 edition of The Nutshell.
“to establish right in the heart of London a big central club-house, like a gigantic Company Brown, where the lonely fellow, to whom London is a mere soulless wilderness, can come and find welcome and fellowship among others of his own age and outlook.”
And he did return in September 1919 to attend a reunion of St Mary’s Company and he promised to attend a St Mary’s Company Reunion in New Year’s Day 1924.
On the 8th February 1920 Tubby addressed the Portsmouth Brotherhood with the subject of What Toc H Stands For, and the following evening spoke at the Parish Institute in connection with the Church’s recruiting campaign.
The Vice President of St Mary’s Company during Tubby’s days there was George Duncan Knight. When Knight died in 1938 Tubby returned to Portsea for the unveiling of a memorial plaque in the Club Room. At the ceremony he revealed that Knight anonymously donated his considerable savings to Toc H in its earliest days thus helping get it started.
And so we see that Tubby never lost his connection with Portsea. George Potter, one of his Company Brown boys, was even a guest on Tubby’s appearance on This Is Your Life in 1958. We’ve already reflected on how he carried forward passions fuelled in Portsea to Toc H; the Seafaring Boys Hostel just one example. The man was taken out of Portsea but Portsea was never taken out of the man!
As ever, this blog couldn’t have been written without help from others and access to a large number of sources. In particular I want to thank Keith Roberts of the 20 Street Project (See below). The following titles were also particularly helpful
A Touch of Paradise in Hell – Jan Louagie (Helion)
A Fool for Thy Feast – Linda Parker (Helion)
Clayton of Toc H – Tresham Lever (John Murray)
Tubby Clayton – A Personal Saga – Melville Harcourt (Hodder and Stoughton)
Tales of Talbot House
Letters from Flanders
And Find My Past for access to the British Newspaper Archive
The 20 Streets Project (through which I had access to the wartime Parish News Magazine) is a lovely little project made possible through the same funding stream I used to take a group of adults with learning disabilities to Flanders in 2014. It’s a delightful look at the streets between St Mary’s Road and New Road in Portsea.
A project originally funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund supported by Portsea Parish, Fratton Big Local, Portsmouth University History Dept. and Portsmouth Archives. Now continuing as a personal venture by Keith Roberts
In telling the tale of Toc H’s UK Marks, I promised that I would come back and look in more depth at the story of Mark I in its final days as a Toc H hostel, then as an International Centre and after it passed into the hands of others. It hasn’t been an easy task since at times the information available to be was complex and contradictory. On top of that many of the key players are no longer with us so I was restricted in the number of first-hand accounts available to me. There is also some inconsistency about the naming of the house which seems to vary immensely and I fear this spills over into my blog. Technically the house stopped being a Mark in 1968 when it was relaunched and its official title becomes International Centre (The term Special Purposes is also used). However, it was a Mark for decades and that term continues to be used in official internal reports. The term International Centre also sowed confusion as it was allied to the International Office which primarily dealt with Toc H units and members overseas. That is not really the context in which the house was named an International Centre. By Michael Oxer’s day the term Community Centre was being used but elsewhere in Toc H (Croydon, Birmingham etc) similar projects were known as Community Houses. Except they weren’t that similar; nothing was. The house at Notting Hill was really quite unique in Toc H terms. So, with the help of several people for whom I am extremely grateful I have managed to disentangle what I believe is the central story. This is that story and trust me when I tell you it’s quite a tale.
First though, let’s give this chronicle some foundations. 24 Pembridge Gardens is a three storey, three-window wide detached house built around 1858 by William and Francis Radford. It sits in Notting Hill, quite close to the Gate, its back garden opening out onto Pembridge Road. Originally in the Borough of Kensington but since 1965 it has been the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Being in Notting Hill as opposed to North Kensington, it actually sat outside the poorest areas of the Borough which may have acted to its detriment later.
Oh, and it has a basement. Very important to this story, that basement!
The whole area had been rural until the beginning of the 19th century when the westward expansion of London reached Bayswater. G.K. Chesterton, a great friend of Toc H, grew up in the area and set his most famous novel, The Napoleon of Notting Hill there. Mind you, he also once said, after witnessing the Toc H Ceremony of Light, “That’s the jolliest pagan ceremony I’ve ever taken part in!”
So our stuccoed Italianate villa in Pembridge Gardens was built on a new estate centred on Pembridge Square and was first occupied by the well-known physician Sir Alexander Morison in about 1860. It passed through several families and – in 1921 – achieved some little infamy in a libel case brought by Lord Alfred Douglas (Oscar Wilde’s lover) against the Evening News. In February of that year they published a story claiming that a maid had found Douglas dead in a bed at 24 Pembridge Gardens! Being alive and well he was able to dispute the report in court. At that time, indeed since around 1911, the house was in the hands of Nicolas Eumorfopoulos, a well-known physicist. It would seem that it was from him Toc H purchased the house.
Toc H moved Mark I there from its original home in Queen’s Gate Gardens in the summer of 1927. We know precise dates thanks to a house diary that was kept for several years. The stewards took possession in late June and the Storming Party moved in on Monday July 4th to get it ready for the remaining Marksmen.
At the time, the once well-heeled area was already in decline with the big houses being turned into hotels and hostels. The whole area had always been home to various itinerants and migrants whether Romany, Jewish, Polish or of many other origins. Perhaps because of this it was Black Shirt country too with a small Fascist HQ at Pembridge Villas and the Kensington Park Hotel often used by Oswald Moseley himself.
The Blitz accelerated the deterioration of the area and the exploits of John Christie further harmed its reputation. In the fifties, malicious landlords – later exemplified by Peter Rachman – took on large houses already holding three or four families and harassed the occupants until they left. They then split the houses further and offered cheap accommodation for numerous families crammed into single rooms. This led to a new community of migrants, invited to the mother country to work on our infrastructure only to find the streets not paved with gold, then drawn to the only housing they could afford. By the mid-fifties the fascists, aided by members of the new Teddy Boy cult, had made a sport of baiting and assaulting the growing West Indian population. Things were building to an inevitable conclusion and in August 1958 the Notting Hill Riots began.
One outcome of the riots and of the environment that spawned them was that the area suddenly became the centre of attention for many well-intentioned groups. The most prominent of these – at least as far as this blog is concerned – was the Notting Hill Social Council. In 1959 Donald Soper, President of the Methodist Conference and a well-known pacifist and socialist, set up a Methodist group ministry in Notting Hill comprising the Revds. David Mason, Geoffrey Ainger and Norwyn Denny. In November 1960 Mason founded the Notting Hill Social Council. An umbrella organisation it promoted temporary or longer term alliances and helped spawn a host of projects.
The Rev. David Michael Mason was a Methodist minister and Labour Party politician. During World War II, he was influenced by Donald Soper and became a pacifist and conscientious objector, working in University College Hospital. He entered the Methodist ministry in 1950 and, as we shall see, became involved in much community work in North Kensington.
The membership of the Social Council included Mason as Chairman, Stephen Duckworth, Donald Chesworth, Pansy Jeffrey, Father Ivor Smith-Cameron, Bruce Kenrick, and Bruce Kent. The Council also worked with people and organisations like Mark Bonham-Carter and the Race Relations Board, the Kensington and Chelsea Inter-Racial Council, the Inner London Education Authority, the Citizens Advice Bureau, and the London County Council.
Bonham-Carter in particular was also well-known to Toc H. The first chairman of the Race Relations Board (and Helena’s Uncle) he was also a cousin of Brian Hulbert Bonham-Carter who was taken prisoner in 1940 whilst working for Toc H in France. In 1967 Mark opened the extension of Mark XX in Putney.
Bruce Kent of course, was the Catholic Priest and peace activist famous for his work with CND. I say was, Bruce is still alive and kicking at the grand age of 91. His namesake Bruce Kenrick was a United Reform Church priest who founded Shelter – which will feature again in this story.
It’s also worth noting Pansy Jeffrey. Pansy was originally from Guyana and had initially worked as a nurse and health visitor but began working in race relations in Notting Hill in 1959, a year after the riots. She was employed full-time as a West Indian Social Worker by the Family Welfare Association Department of the Kensington and Chelsea Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
Another organisation that began in 1963 was the Notting Hill Housing Trust. It was started by Bruce Kenrick, a member of the Iona Community, and a number of local residents that included Frank Bailey and Pansy Jeffrey. Frank is about to feature heavily in our story and he was a forthright man. In fact, talking about the formation of the Housing Trust he later said:
“I was a member of Notting Hill Social Council. I was at the meeting when this housing trust was created. They tell you now that a man called Kenrick started it, Kenrick didn’t start it, Kenrick was also one of the people who were there.”
Regardless of this, Frank certainly made an impact in the area. He had arrived in London, via New York, in 1955 to join the fire brigade. He became the first post-war black fireman in London working for the West Ham fire brigade at Silvertown. Already something of a left-wing firebrand he became the Fire Brigades Union’s branch rep. But finding himself constantly overlooked for promotion, in 1965 he left for a career in Social Work in Kensington. Homeless himself because he caught his wife in bed with another man, he was very interested in the work of the Social Council hence his involvement with the formation of the Housing Trust.
Within a few months of the Trust forming, Marksmen from Mark I were helping with the shifting of furniture and sorting of letters coming in in response to an appeal put out by Kenrick. They also allied themselves with the Family Services Unit and helped decorate houses for families with difficulties and ran fundraising clothing and jumble sales. And, as John Mitchell reported in The Journal, at Christmas 1963 a few brave Marksmen even took several children of problem families to the circus and lived to tell the tale.
It wasn’t just the Mark either. The Mobile Action unit that met at Tower Hill – in the corrugated tin shed near Talbot House, the Toc H hostel at 42 Trinity Square. The shed was otherwise used by Major Henry Bowen-Smith, Tubby’s occasional driver. The Mobile Action group also did a number of weekend and evening decorating projects and in September 1964 Toc H School’s Section ran a work camp in the area where some fourteen boys lived for a fortnight and helped decorate the outside of what was the second house bought by the Trust . They also delivered appeal letters throughout Kensington and Knightsbridge; helped set up a children’s playground and redecorated a room for an 82 year old lady on whose behalf the Housing Trust were resisting eviction attempts! Toc H repeated these decorating projects at least in 1965.
Gary M. James was a Mark I resident involved in some of these projects. He recalls one occasion when they were doing up the flat of an elderly lady in Paddington. The Project Leader, John Mitchell, offered to give the lady a lift in his car to pick up her pension from the Post Office. When she got in the car she climbed up and sat on the parcel shelf with her feet on the seat. It turned out it was her first ever trip in a car.
One of the most ubiquitous players on the community action landscape in Notting Hill was Donald Chesworth. He has his own Toc H connections although I want to first mention his father, who although not directly involved with this particular story, was a Toc H man through and through and probably the original link between the Toc H Mark and his son.
Frederick Gladstone Chesworth was born in Lambeth on the 6th September 1898 and early on became a manager at a printing works, a job he was still doing in 1939. In the Great War he served in the London Scottish and post-war on 29th August 1920 married Daisy Radmore. Their son Donald Piers Chesworth came along in Birmingham on 31st January 1923. A brother, Martin, followed in 1930.
Ches Snr was one of the first Birmingham Members of Toc H (He and Daisy had moved there from London) and in World War II he looked after the Toc H Services Clubs in Italy. Then in 1954 he took over the role of Editorial Secretary from Barclay Baron and for the next nine years was responsible for producing The Journal, the Toc H periodical. In 1963 he retired to Tunbridge Wells where he volunteered at the Medical Library of the Kent and West Sussex hospital until shortly before his death in January 1975.
Whilst his father was supporting the troops in Italy, young Donald, fresh from an education at the London School of Economics, was a Leading Aircraftman in the RAF but with strong political views. He stood for the Labour party in Warwick and Leamington against Anthony Eden in the 1945 General Election. He lost but made waves by being, at 22, the youngest candidate in the election that brought Clement Attlee a landslide victory.
Donald stood again in the 1950 election for Bromsgrove, this time coming second to Tory Michael Higgs by just 190 votes. He then became a local councillor in North Kensington (1952-1965) inevitably sparking a concern for housing which became one of his life’s driving passions. He was also vehemently active against poverty and was chairman of War on Want for many years and he worked as an adviser to various Commonwealth governments such as Tanzania and Mauritius.
Though he never joined Toc H – possibly because he was an agnostic and Toc H is, of course, a Christian group – he had many connections beginning, I believe, in 1954 at the same time his father became editor of The Journal. Donald sat on the Forward Committee of Toc H in his role as Overseas Secretary of the Union of Socialist Youth, and as a member of the LCC. The committee was literally looking forward at the future work of Toc H.
Donald sat on more committees and held more roles with more organisations than can be listed here. Most relevantly for us he was a Director of Notting Hill Social Council (1968-1977) but we’ll cover this and other relevant work in Kensington in the sixties and early seventies in the main text. Chris Holmes, who we will meet shortly, claimed that it was Chesworth who persuaded Donald Soper to start an initiative in North Kensington, in which case he may have set off the chain reaction that creates this entire story. We’ll learn what happened to Donald after his time in Notting Hill toward the end of the article.
The aforementioned Frank Bailey would be central to another organisation formed in the mid-sixties. Following a meeting at the offices of the Kensington Post in 1965, between people concerned about race-relations in the area, in January 1966 the Kensington and Chelsea Inter-Racial Committee (IRC) was established. Its committee included Bill Carr, Pansy Jeffery along with Anne Bretherick, Anne Evans, Dr June Bean, Clive Thomas, Jonathan Rosenhead, and Ivan Weeks. It was described as having a hesitant start so on Monday 29th January 1968 it held a meeting to explain its aims. The platform held Frank Bailey, James Cummings, Selwyn Baptiste and Mark Bonham-Carter. Cumming had been appointed as Community Relations Officer and we will meet Baptiste a little later.
At the meeting Frank didn’t stick to his script. Rather than explain the aims of the IRC as he was supposed to do, he chose to criticise the police. This would not be the last time that Frank’s outspoken behaviour would upset the apple-cart. During investigations for the Mangrove trial he is described by the police as a West Indian militant, much of whose activity is unhelpful in particular in relations between immigrants and the police.
The IRC’s rebooted Executive Committee featured many familiar names and some new ones who will become familiar to us. Alongside Frank as Chairman were Dora Bullivant (Vice-Chair), James Cummings (Community Relations Officer), the Revd Wilfred Wood (Treasurer), the Revd David Mason, and Pansy Jeffrey. Affiliated organisations included the Notting Hill Social Council and the
Notting Hill Group Ministry, the Notting Hill People’s Association, the Adventure Playground, Universal Coloured People’s Association, the Black People’s Alliance, and Toc H!
Another important organisation begun in 1966 was the Notting Hill Community Workshop. This in turn set up the Notting Hill Summer Project in the summer of 1967. The organisers saw the Project as a community empowerment project, driven by the failures of local democracy. The Summer Project’s principal aim was to compile a register of housing conditions, something which was deemed necessary to know before housing in the area could be improved. Other aims included obtaining evidence dispelling myths about black people jumping the queue for social housing. The Project received one hundred volunteers, most of whom were bussed-in university students. They surveyed over 8000 households and completed nearly 5500 interviews. Unfortunately the survey took two years to collate and analyse which damaged its impetus.
One of the key figures in the Workshop and in this story, was Chris Holmes. Holmes was born in Otley, West Yorkshire in July 1942. His father, Gordon, was an insurance broker and a Methodist lay preacher. His mother, Doris, was the pillar of the local Methodist community. Chris gained an economics degree at Clare College, Cambridge in 1964 and a postgraduate management diploma from Bradford University in 1966. His first job was with John Laing, the construction group, in its personnel department, based in west London. He rented a home in nearby Notting Hill. Chris was soon sucked into the local activism and community work and lived in the Notting Hill Community Workshop house. He was involved with the aforementioned Summer Project in 1967 and, as we shall see, in 1968 was appointed Warden at the Toc H house.
One thing we haven’t mentioned so far is the whole sixties counter-culture movement in the area. Home of ‘drop-outs’, activists and most of the most psychedelically enhanced musicians of the era, they have little bearing to this story, well except maybe one thing! It’s long been a mystery inside Toc H why Pink Floyd’s genius ‘madcap’ Syd Barrett wrote a song called Pow R. Toc H. By the time someone at HQ thought to write to his management company and ask in the mid-70s, Syd was living on a planet of his own making and the other members of the band had no idea why he called the song that. It’s an instrumental so I’m afraid the lyrics don’t help. But I just wonder if, as Syd was falling out of a show at All Saint’s Church Hall or popping into the London Free School on Powis Square, he spotted a sign for some or other Toc H activity in the area posted underneath a decayed and damaged street sign for POWis SquaRe. It’s just a theory.
Pretty much all that has been written so far in this blog has been setting the scene for the main drama which is about to unfold. And it begins with an ending. We saw that back in 1963 the Marksmen had been involved in community work but by 1968 the whole concept of the Marks was under threat. People had different expectations of short-term rented accommodation. No longer were small dormitories and shared facilities enough for the students and itinerant workers who had populated Toc H Marks since the twenties. Despite all the additional benefits that Toc H had layered on top of the standard hostel package, the concept was passé. Some Marks had already closed, others were slated for closure, nearly all were haemorrhaging money and various reviews had taken place. There was no longer a Mark I branch though there were still branches in the area at Hammersmith, Fulham, and at Mark II in Pimlico. Something had to give and it was decided that Mark I was to be earmarked for Special Purposes. In the late spring of 1968 it closed down for a dramatic refurbishment.
It emerged in July 1968, still catering for hostellers but now on a self-catering basis. It was also directed to take on an international aspect and was renamed an International Centre. It was to be under the auspices of Dora Bullivant who was on Toc H’s paid staff as International Secretary. We have already met Dora as Vice Chair of the IRC.
Born Dora Parry in Cheshire in 1913, she had a theatrical background having run various projects in her native north of England. She ran a production company called Strand Electric in the North and produced shows for Staveley Amateur Dramatic group amongst others. In 1952 she wrote her first play, a religious piece called On the Rock
At Toc H her pièce de résistance was a group of black dancers performing at the Royal Albert Hall for the 1970 Festival. Called Light, it was a collaboration with the actor Keefe West and featured both professional dancers and other young people. It was a contemporary piece aimed at “breaking through the language barrier [and] able to convey eternal truths clearly to an audience of every race and creed”. You knew it was going to be difficult for the rather staid elements of Toc H to handle when the Festival brochure came with the warning
“To enjoy this work, especially created for Festival ’70, it is necessary only to come with an open mind free from all preconceptions and be ready to participate in a fresh and exciting experience.”
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s go back to Dora’s appointment overseeing the new Toc H International Centre. Dora was to be based at the Toc H enclave on Tower Hill so someone was need to run the centre on a day to day basis. In the summer of 1968 Chris Holmes was appointed as Warden. Unlike in the traditional Marks the Warden at the International Centre was neither appointed from within the residents nor expected to live there, and it wasn’t an Honorary position as Chris was actually a paid staff member; more like a Centre Manager than a traditional Warden (This change also happened at some other Marks most notably Mark III at Hackney).
In time a Management Committee was also set up to oversee things with the ubiquitous Donald Chesworth at the helm. The other key figures on this committee were Pansy Jeffrey, and David Mason. It’s no coincidence that all three of these were also on the board of the Notting Hill Social Council and that the IRC committee included Chesworth, Jeffrey, and Dora Bullivant. It would becoming increasingly difficult know which tail was wagging which dog at times.
The new International Centre aimed to aid community and race relations in Notting Hill by providing a base for 10-12 residents to work in the wider community. As such, it housed an international group of residents (Trinidadian, American, English, and Guyanese) who worked or volunteered in local projects such as the Adventure Playground and the Kensington and Chelsea Inter-Racial Council (IRC). And the opportunity for people of different backgrounds and races to live together in a multi-racial community was another stated aim. The final objective was to provide a resource for community groups. Amenities such as office space and meeting rooms (and as we shall see later, printing facilities) formed part of that purpose.
Occasionally the hostel put up young people who had arrived in London without jobs, contacts or accommodation. This was under the auspices of the Blenheim Project, a Social Council initiative for ‘young drifters’ that still runs today.
The Centre offered rehearsal space for a local steel band, almost certainly this was Selwyn Baptiste’s playground band as he was a resident in the house. He was also one of the people associated with the beginnings of the Notting Hill Carnival.
The Inter-Racial Committee were given office space in part of the basement and soon Frank Bailey was running a club there for black teenagers. They also offered Free Legal Advice on Fridays between 7.30 and 9.30pm.
It’s worth looking at the basement at this point. It was actually a semi-basement so that the windows gave the occupants a view of the outside at ground level. It was broken roughly into four (with lots of cupboards, small stores, a toilet, and a coal bunker. One of the cupboards contained drawers lined with green baize where the silver would have been kept in the house’s earlier life. There was also a large extension protruding into the garden which had been added on years before.
Frank’s IRC office was at the front of the house and across the hall from it was an old kitchen. Behind the kitchen was the former laundry used by the Marksmen when the house held twenty plus residents. It had a barred window looking out into the back garden. The fourth room was just used for storage. The basement had its own entrance into the back garden and then out onto Pembridge Road so people using it didn’t have to traipse through the house disturbing the remaining residents. The residents did have access to the kitchen as it was the only one in the house but were rarely about during the day.
In November 1968 Chris cleared the old laundry to make room for the Notting Hill Community Press. The Press was started by Beryl Foster, a student nurse who had arrived from Ireland in early 1966. Drawn to the activities of the Community Workshop in 1967, her fellow nurse, Linda Gane, persuaded her to give up nursing and take a job on the second Summer Programme in 1968. Donald Chesworth and John O’Malley interviewed her and she ran five temporary Play Sites in North Kensington with Barry Persad, later the leader of the Notting Hill Adventure Playground, that summer.
To earn a living after the Summer Playschemes ended the women decided it would be a great idea to start a newspaper despite having no experience in running one whatsoever. However, on talking to some of the community groups they found that rather than a newspaper, they wanted a facility to print their own materials. So Beryl and Linda acquired and set up a press with the help of the Community Workshop and moved into the basement of Toc H. The Press printed various materials for local groups including the report that eventually came out of the 1967 Summer Project survey.
Chris let them use the basement room rent free. At that stage they couldn’t possibly have afforded rent anyway. They even relied on neighbourhood people bringing them food. The press they acquired was sold to another group and leased back from them at a peppercorn rent; the sole purpose to ensure that if they went bankrupt the machinery couldn’t be seized. Beryl dealt only with Chris, not really aware of a Centre Management Committee let alone Dora or Toc H headquarters on Tower Hill.
A 1969 Chris Holmes’ memo in the spring of 1969 gives us a good snapshot of what was happening at the time. It begins by listing the current residents who were Selwyn Baptiste, Joyce Manson, Peter Doble, Roy Phillipps, Maggie Slaughter, Frank Bailey, Susan Stoate, Pamela Stoate, Peter Browne, Keith Gaskin, Gill Long
Chris says he believes that all the above people are involved in community activities to some degree: Selwyn with the playground and steel band; Joyce the summer school and involving students (especially overseas ones) in the community; Peter giving legal advice at the Lancaster Neighbourhood Centre; Keith – a West Indian student – giving advice on the Legal Aid panel run by the IRC; Maggie also helping the IRC as a caseworker; Peter teaching religion at a local school but also helping arrange summer camps; Susan, a secretary in a local hospital visits old people in the area; and Roy involved with the Universal Black Organisation who produced a magazine
The memo goes on to say that the IRC have their office in the basement and use the building for many different meetings plus parties and social events; The West Indian Singers (A folk group stemming from the Theatre Workshop), a West Indian Youth group and one or two others use the house. The Notting Hill Press work from the basement publishing The People’s News, The Notting Hill Herald and countless community pamphlets, leaflets and brochures.
Besides the IRC it was used for meetings by Notting Hill Social Council; the Motorway Development Group; the North Kensington Renewal Coalition; North Kensington Fabian Society; Summer Play Programme; Notting Hill Sure Help Association; Eleanor Rathbone Association and others
Twelve volunteers for a pilot planning project for the Summer Play programme used the house as a base for their activities for a week; Chris delivered a training programme to voluntary housing advice workers; they helped find local boys for a Toc H Summer camp in Guildford; they took in a Czech Relief Organisation for six weeks whilst they were in London working with refugees from the 1968 Russian invasion; and they also took in girls as ‘emergency Cases’ during family break-ups.
Of the residents in the house Beryl only really recalls one troublesome tenant; an artist who used to paint his sheets and never paid his rent, although she thinks few did. The other resident she remembers well was Roy Sawh who, unusually, had a room on the ground floor and not the upper storeys where most of the residents’ rooms were. She says Sawh was one of those who did pay his rent as he knew he was on to a good thing.
Sawh was a former Communist from Guyana who lived in Russia for a while. From 1967 he was a Black Power leader, described by the police as an opportunist. Sawh was involved in many black organisations, several of which he started. These included the Racial Action Adjustment Society with Michael de Freitas (Michael X) in 1965, the Universal Coloured People’s Association in 1967 (and later a splinter group the Universal Coloured People’s Association and Arab Association), and the Black People’s Alliance in 1968. He spoke regularly about racism at Speakers’ Corner and despite his reputation with the police was credited with dampening down tensions after the Mangrove march in August 1970. In 1967 he was the second black person in Britain to be prosecuted for incitement to racial hatred and was jailed for three months (ironically using the Race Relations Act 1965 that had been brought in to try and protect black people). He moved into the Toc H Centre probably in the summer of 1968 soon after it opened but it was in September 1969 that he started one of his most significant projects when the Free University for Black Studies opened in the centre. On Monday the University taught Asian Studies; on Wednesdays – African; and on Fridays – West Indian. They were invited to use the house by the Toc H Management Committee and it ran mostly from the library of the house. It was seen as a significant piece of work in the field.
But the one constant in life is that things change and in the middle of 1969 Chris Holmes resigned to take up a community development post in Islington. It came as a surprise to Beryl who knew Chris well – they attended the same parties. She said he was friendly but reserved (except when publicly speaking) however his departure came as a complete surprise.
As both a resident and one of the prime users of the house Frank Bailey replaced Chris as acting warden for eight weeks. It was a difficult time for him as the IRC was in turmoil. He was disliked by some of the white liberal crowd and considered an ‘Uncle Tom’ by the black power groups. Community Relations Officer James Cummings quit the IRC in October because of internal tension and the Borough Council, who supported the organisation with a grant, put conditions on the funding. In essence they wanted Frank and David Mason to be replaced on the committee by Borough Council officials.
And then, whilst Acting Warden for Toc H, Frank hit the headlines again. In October 1969 there was a fuss in the Kensington Post about a woman evicted by Frank. A Mrs Marie Bethule – a 23 year old nurse – was invited to stay at the house for a few days around August 1969 with her infant daughter whilst alternative accommodation was sorted out for her. She apparently refused to accept the accommodation offered and wouldn’t leave the house.
Discussing the matter Pansy Jeffery said there were certain “personality clashes” at the house because its work was experimental and “very difficult to run”. She added that the NHSC had taken over management of the house from Toc H so they could be better involved in the community but she was concerned the row might cause the house to be withdrawn. This is the first we hear of the bloodless coup that meant that the NHSC were effectively running the centre now.
At the same time, Toc H were recruiting a new Warden. The Rev. Michael Oxer was a Presbyterian minister in Melbourne, Australia. He was present when the Revd. Geoffrey Ainger, from the Notting Hill Ministry, toured Australia and Michael was very interested in working with the London Ministry. This was agreed with David Mason and Geoffrey Ainger but they realised Michael needed somewhere for him and his wife to live. Aware of the Toc H Warden vacancy they saw how they could kill two birds with a single stone and put Michael forward, even though he himself was previously unaware of Toc H. He was accepted and in late July 1969 Sandy Giles, the Director of Toc H, wrote offering him the position on the recommendation of the Toc H Committee at the house.
Michael arrived from Melbourne in October accompanied by his wife Jenny, who proved to be a pillar of the community getting involved with many things despite falling pregnant. Their son Jonathan was born on the 26th July 1970 at St Mary Abbott’s Hospital.
After a period of getting to know the Centre and what was happening there, in April 1970 Michael produced his own report on the activities based on his first six months running things. This report reflects that there seems to be a lot of individualistic work going on rather than residents engaging in a common task. It also talks about a benevolent sponsor in the background – referring to the Social Council – and suggests they might have a vested interest in taking over the house.
Michael noted that the various groups that used the house operate quite independently of Toc H. He said that as the groups grew big enough they tended to move on and a new embryonic group replaced them. Thus Toc H is acted as a resource and support for such groups without dominating them.
He noted that several groups used the house regularly and he had developed systems for managing the bookings well. He particularly drew attention to the West Indian Standing Commission Legal Panel which he said provided a real caring service. He was pleased that as well as providing legal advice to clients it acted as a good networking meeting for lawyers from different parts of the West Indies. He went on to single out the work done by Roy Sawh’s Free University of Black Studies. He also liked the exuberant touches the Placenta Workshop theatre group and the Trinidad Singers bring to the house.
He further talked about having to evict two West Indian residents and having a poor relationship with a former West Indian resident. He warned that white people needed to analyse their motivations when trying to work cross-culturally and that simplistic political stances were very dangerous.
Then Michael discussed the two businesses operating in the basement. Firstly the IRC, which he noted was having difficulties even before he arrived and said that some members of the house management committee were on the IRC committee in an effort to try and save things. He was more scathing of the Notting Hill Press which he felt had somewhat used the house. He said he was disappointed by the attitude the Press had chosen to adopt and that his then current stand toward the Press was the opposite to his attitude on first coming to the house as Warden.
Beryl said Michael Oxer was opposed to the Press although he was kind enough to give her a room to sleep in for a short while when he discovered that I was sleeping in the Press room, having been evicted from a squat in Clarendon Road. She remembered her room upstairs was very spartan and cold.
Michael recalled that the presence of the Press was discussed at various internal meetings and the decision to ask them leave was made. This news reached the Kensington Post and in April 1970 they reported, with typical journalistic sensationalism, that the Press had been evicted. The official line was that Toc H shouldn’t be allowing a commercial firm to sublet as Toc H were a charity and it went against their rate relief. The Press, originally a simple community group has subsequently become a limited company.
Beryl recalls that Roy Sawh was the only resident she remember supporting them when they were told to leave. According to the Post, the Press complained they were being harassed in an effort to get them out. Donald Chesworth, chairman of the Toc H Management Committee, refused to comment. Whatever the reason by May they had found new premises though it would take 4-6 weeks for them to move as they had to pour new concrete floors to take the weight of the press in the cellar they had found in Ladbroke Grove. This wasn’t the end of the Notting Hill Community Press story but the end of their connection to Toc H.
The IRC also dissolved in the summer of 1971 having been inactive for over a year. Frank remained living at the house and called himself Deputy Warden though how official this was is open to debate.
Meanwhile Michael Oxer got on with the job of trying to bring order to the house and it was proving to be a very difficult task. After identifying problems in his April report things only got worse, through no fault of his. He introduced many systems to make the centre run more smoothly and was promoting its use. In October 1970, in a letter to the Post, Michael Oxer advertised the centre as a rehearsal space for bands and several made use of this.
Michael’s chief contact with Toc H was through Dora Bullivant who he found supportive but otherwise he was out ‘on the fringe’. There was no involvement of branches or the Mobile Action group and though he recalls visiting a couple of other Toc H Houses for meetings there was little contact. He was astonished when visiting the house at Birmingham at how much organised creative work was going on. This highlighted the difference between a project very much still under Toc H’s control, and the experimental community work in Notting Hill. Outside of Toc H, Michael of course was in close touch with David Mason and Geoffrey Ainger at the Methodist Ministry. Michael does recall Tubby making a formal visit to the house for a reception but was most interested in paying a visit to the Chapel. The Toc H Annual Report 1969/70 for the year ending 31 Mar 1970 summed up:
“The experiment at Notting Hill has made it possible for several interesting cultural projects to start.”
Speaking recently, Michael told me that the biggest problem was really the residents, or at least some of them. Far removed from the traditional Marksmen of old, some of the individuals in the house were difficult, argumentative and selfish and there was a lot of internal friction both between residents, and between residents and the many groups using the centre. This did not bode well for a community project. On more than one occasion it was Michael personally who was at the receiving end of the aggravation. One resident complained in writing that Michael’s “holy-rolling” activities on a Sunday were quite disturbing and asked that people refrained from stamping and jumping. This probably referred to the bands rehearsing in the basement.
Not only was the human element of the project in trouble, the fabric of the building was in constant disarray with works often required. It was clear that the experiment that was the International Centre of Toc H in Notting Hill was circling the drain.
Dora departed Toc H during the second half of 1970. Having created a brilliant – if perhaps unappreciated – performance for Toc H’s June Festival she decided to expand her ideas for using dance as social movement. In the middle of August 1970 she started Workshop 42 on Tower Hill (named of course for the hostel at 42 Trinity Square). As many as 90 young people were working on a show to be performed at UN event at Festival Hall in March 1971 to launch the United Nations International Year to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination. The show was to be repeated on April 10th at the Albert Hall in an event sponsored by War on Want (the Chesworth connection presumably).
It was no surprise then when in early 1971 Michael Oxer resigned and returned to Australia with his wife and new born son. In a letter to the Post he stated that he intended to write about the “incredibly complex experience gained trying to run the house”. In their next Annual Report Toc H said he was returning to Australia after “a hectic spell at Mark I”. Michael says this was a major understatement.
Michael would prove to be the last Toc H Warden and by February 1971, Toc H had decided to close the community house. The experiment had largely failed though there was much to be taken from it and many lessons to be learned. The one real successful project based there during the 2½ years of its existence as an International Centre was probably Roy Sawh’s Free University. This moved to Gower Street and continued a while longer.
At this point that David Mason and the NHSC became formerly involved by offering to take on the house. So in 1971 the Central Executive agreed to lease the building to Notting Hill Social Council for one year on a full repairing lease at £2000 p.a. This seemed a good solution all round and in their annual report Toc H said this allowed them to carry on the experimental work started there by Toc H since 1968 but for an income rather than a deficit.
NHSC were tardy in signing the lease. Toc H wanted them to take on financial responsibility for the property from 1st July 1971 but this didn’t happen. Discussions already taking place at Toc H about future use of the building after the lease expires. Things were about to get a little messy contractually but more of that later. First though the experimental work of the last two years was however, about to be overshadowed by something quite spectacular.
The problems of East Bengal had been rumbling for many years and erupted in December 1970 at the Pakistani elections. Then on the evening of the 25th March 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of The Nation, declared the independence of Bangladesh before his arrest by the Pakistani Army.
The 26th March 1971 – fifty years ago today – is considered the official Independence Day of Bangladesh, and the name Bangladesh was in effect henceforth.
The first diplomatic Mission of modern Bangladesh was founded in Kolkata on the 18th April 1971 after M. Hossain Ali, the Pakistani Deputy High Commissioner, and the other Bengali staff at the mission defected to the provisional government which would be headquartered there during the Liberation War.
That summer members of the UK Awami League felt that they should have a Mission or Embassy in London. An action committee was formed with Justice Abu Sayed Choudhury as president. He had recently arrived in London after attending a human rights conference in Geneva. An old friend of Choudhury, Sultan Mahmud Sharif was one of those people and he told me that in June 1971 they were first looking at the business premises of two Bengali jute exporters. These though were in Chancery Lane and near Greek Lane in east London and the League felt the new Mission should be with most other Embassies in Kensington. Luckily one of, what Sharif describes as their “freedom fighters”, knew Donald Chesworth and he offered the group the use of a single room on the ground floor of the Toc H house at a very low rent. Sharif is clear that Chesworth made the offer on behalf of Toc H (and not the Notting Hill Social Council) though whether Toc H at headquarters had any idea how generous they were being is another matter! This, of course, is immediately before the NHSC lease was supposed to commence. Chesworth had made several trips to the region during the year as a Director of War on Want and was incredibly concerned about what was happening in the region.
Sharif says the house at this time was deserted and in a dilapidated state. The group, including their wives and children, had some hard work decorating the room but when they finished Chesworth was so pleased with their efforts he offered them first the rest of the ground floor and then the entire basement for cooking and accommodating families as well.
On the 27th of August 1971 the Bangladesh Mission to London moved in to the redecorated house and the Bangladeshi flag was raised for the first time in the UK. The Mission of course was still unofficial at this point as Bangladesh had not yet been recognised by the British government. Nevertheless a large crowd were present to bless it, including Bengali members of staff who were still working with the Pakistan High Commission. The inaugural function was presided over by Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury and key speakers included Peter Shore MP, John Stonehouse MP, and journalists Anthony Mascarenhas and Simon Dring.
After liberation, Chowdhury returned to Dhaka and was elected as President of Bangladesh on 12 January 1972 and on the 4th February 1972, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, announced to the Commons that the British government officially recognised the State of Bangladesh. Later that day, from the Toc H building at 24 Pembridge Gardens, the national flag of the independent Bangladesh was again ceremoniously hoisted. And from that day the first Bangladesh High Commission outside India was officially open.
Whilst this was an amazing piece of history was happening at the house, all was not well! The NHSC were still avoiding signing the lease or paying any rent. In early 1972 Toc H started steps to regain possession of the building. By July the lease had still not been signed and though a payment of £2000 was received Toc H were trying to repossess the property. The Social Council had expressed an interest in buying the property with Donald Chesworth leading the discussions. One wonders if their failure to pay the rent and sign to lease was a tactic to convince Toc H to sell. If so that’s considerably ironic given what the Council was formed to tackle.
An inspection of the property by Donaldson and sons (Toc H’s property agents at the time) found the condition was better than when the tenant took over and noted that the main occupant at the time was the Bangladesh High Commission.
The Commission moved out around April 1973 (To Queen’s Gate thus almost reversing the Marks original move in 1927) because they were sharing Pembridge Gardens with families and now had some 70 staff to accommodate
The leasing wrangles continued through 1973 with the Council still in possession (though it’s unclear who was in the house after the Commission left) and Toc H still trying to evict them. In the Annual Report 1973/4 (For the year ending 31st March 1974), it was reported that after “protracted and tedious negotiations” a settlement was reached with the previous tenants and Toc received £4750 in payment of rents and other charges. This was final settlement. The Council vacated the premises during the year and negotiations for its sale by tender were started.
During the period it stood empty, Toc H member Rodney Broomfield, later a Central Councillor, lived in as a sort of a caretaker and there was also one remaining resident whom I believe to be Frank Bailey.
In early 1975 the Scientology based charity Narconon were looking to lease the building as a hostel for the rehabilitation of drug addicts but planning permission for the change of use was refused.
The house now lay empty for several months but the next stage of its journey awaited. It came from Toc H ‘on the Hill’ and would essentially be due to the work of one man, Peter East.
Peter joined Toc H in Skegness as a young man. Later he joined the staff and went to work in the BAOR club in Paderborn, Germany. Whilst he was there he read about the race riots in Notting Hill and in 1967 when he finally returned to the UK to become the Warden of Talbot House at 42 Trinity Square, he was committed to improving race relations. Initially he taught English to young Asians at Toynbee Hall. These were mostly Bengalis from the Sylhet region. Then he set up an Asian Youth Club in the hut at back of Talbot House (it later moved to the crypt of St Botolph’s church, Aldgate). He organised camps to the Christian community Othona, out at Bradwell and in 1973 established a hostel for young Bangladeshis at No. 7 The Crescent (Directly behind 42 Trinity Square). If you want to know more about Peter’s work then track down a copy of Ken Prideaux-Brune’s A Kind Of Love Affair.
When Peter discovered that the old Mark I was standing empty, and knowing of its existing association with Bangladesh, he felt it might make an excellent Bangladeshi community centre. Thus in the annual report 1975/6 presented at the Central Council meeting in November 1976 it announced that in the coming year,
“the empty Notting Hill Mark is to be refurbished and eventually opened as a hostel for young Bengalis working in London. This scheme, which has the blessing of the Central Executive, is an extension of the work which has been carried out so successfully on Tower Hill for some time now. The house will remain the property of Toc H who will be represented on the management committee of this experimental venture.”
And so it became precisely that. The centre was largely run by a marvellous lady called Muni Rahman, whose husband, Shah, worked closely with Peter in the East End. There were a lot of Bangladeshi cultural events and dance classes. On one occasion the young Toc H group from Southampton came and taught them some English folk dances.
Essentially a project of the new Inner London District (formed July 1975), members were to work alongside future residents getting the building decorated with Toc H providing a loan for repairs. A number of prominent Bangladeshi community members agreed to serve on the Management Committee.
And it stayed like this for the next six years – a joint Toc H and Bangladeshi Community project until in June 1982 the lease was due to expire. At Central Council it was extended for a year after which Toc H agreed to sell the Mark to Bangladesh Community without putting it on the open market.
Ken Prideaux-Brune recalls:
“When Toc H took the decision to close its remaining Marks and sell the properties we agreed to offer Mark 1 to the Bangladesh community and the High Commission set about raising the money. There was an extraordinary meeting at the Centre, chaired by the High Commissioner and attended by a number of Bangladeshi businessmen. Everyone was expected to make public pledge of what they would contribute. After the High Commissioner had spoken and invited pledges there was dead silence for about 10 minutes. Eventually someone offered a sum. Then there was silence for several more minutes and then someone else offered. More Silence. Eventually after a very embarrassing hour or so a considerable sum had been pledged. I don’t know how much of it was actually paid. I suspect that at the end of the day the Bangladesh government had to put in a considerable sum. But the building was sold and a committee set up to run it. It then emerged that there was considerable resentment against Muni. The Centre had been very much run by Muni. She made all the decisions but she also did all the work. If the floor needed scrubbing Muni would be on the floor scrubbing. The men on the committee (and I think they were all men) talked a great deal about how the centre must be run democratically but they didn’t actually do anything. But Muni was forced out (and shortly afterwards was killed in a car accident).”
There was time needed to ensure a proper legal footing for the purchase. In fact there was a bit of a battle with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea over planning permissions and perceived change of use. Eventually in March 1985 there was a ceremony to formally hand over the Centre to the Bangladeshi Community in in the presence of the then High Commissioner Mr Fakhruddin Ahmed and led by Harry Brier Chairman of Toc H.
The High Commissioner said “it was from this house that diplomatic notes were first exchanged with HM Government upon the recognition of Bangladesh as an independent state
The General Secretary of the Bangladesh Centre said;
“The Bangladesh Community will remember this momentous evening with gratitude. Toc H is handing over the charge of the premises, located at 24 Pembridge Gardens, to the Bangladeshi community in London.
In 1971, during the Liberation war of Bangladesh, Toc H offered us accommodation in setting up our first High Commission. From thence, we communicated all the Western world for support of our cause for freedom.
Number 24 Pembridge Gardens is used as a symbol of unity and co-operation in the movement for the Independence abroad here in the UK.
The history of the Independence Movement in Britain owes much to Toc H, which has given open support and aid to the Bangladeshi community.”
The sale agreement provided that Toc H would have the right to appoint a member of the Committee so Ken Prideaux-Brune took on that role. He recalls
“that the meetings were chaired by the High Commissioner or his Deputy and they insisted that the meetings should be held in English but every time someone got excited, which was quite often, they lapsed into Bengali. It quickly became clear that there was no point in my attending. So I pulled what I thought was a master stroke. I appointed Tassaduq Ahmed as the Toc H representative. Tassaduq was very much an ‘elite’ (I think his brother was Minister of Education) but was a good friend of Peter’s and had been awarded an MBE for his work with the Bangladesh community in the East End. He obviously spoke Bengali and I knew would stand no nonsense from the talkative do-nothing brigade.
And after that Toc H more or less stepped back from the Bangladesh Centre in any official way and left it to its own devices. It was, after all, all grown up. It continues to this day.
And that more or less finishes the amazing story of Mark I but I just want to end by finding out what happened to some of the key players.
Frank retired in 1990 but continued to follow his interests in African politics and the role of colonialism in shaping the Caribbean diaspora. An avowed communist, he consistently championed equality and the rights of working people, particularly black people. He died on the 2nd December 2015 exactly one year after Chris Holmes, the Warden who preceded him at Toc H.
After her Workshop 42 shows for the UN and War on Want which were about performance based on social issues, Dora developed Worksop 42 into a system she claimed as an alternative to Yoga. Dora also did much to promote dance as a way of improving mental health (Years ahead of today’s well-being initiatives) and in 1975 wrote a Relaxation in Movement. She died on the 19th March 2005 aged 91.
He left the area to work in the East End becoming Warden of Toynbee Hall (1977-1987) and in his later years he campaigned to reopen the Children’s Beach by Tower Bridge, something Tubby Clayton did successfully sixty years earlier. Unfortunately he died before the project came to fruition and after his death it was dropped. He died on the 24th May 1991.
He moved from community work in Notting Hill in the late 1960s to community work in Islington, before becoming director of a North Islington housing rights project. He went on to be Deputy Director at Shelter as deputy director (1974-76). After positions with the Society for Co-operative
Buildings, an East London housing association, and CHAR, the housing campaign for single people, he ran London’s largest public housing department at Camden Council. In 1995 he returned to Shelter as Director in his most high profile role. The election of a Labour government in 1997 opened up new doors and Chris was a member of various groups, committees and commissions..
He wrote two books, A New Vision for Housing (2005), and a history of Notting Hill housing trust in 2006. His health began to deteriorate in 2008 and by the following year he was unable to walk. Living in a wheelchair focussed his activism on better access for disabled people.
He died on the 2nd December 2014
As well as her involvement seen above, Pansy also belonged to various groups sympathetic to her own passions such as the West Indian Mother Club and she was on the management committee of North Kensington Neighbourhood Law Centre. By the end of the 1970s it became clear to her that an increasing number of elderly people of Caribbean origin were suffering from isolation and loneliness so Pansy opened a drop-in centre in 1980, which evolved into the Pepper Pot Club in Ladbroke Grove. Pansy died in 2017, the Pepper Pot Club continues.
He was a member of the Greater London Council representing Ealing North 1973–1977. He also stood for parliament on a number of occasions and was later Chairman of the Electoral Reform Society. Mason died on the 18th May 2017.
Michael returned to Australia on returning to Melbourne Michael became a member of a new multi faith team (Presbyterian, Methodist and Anglican) working in the inner SE area of metropolitan Melbourne. In the late seventies Michael ‘hit a wall’, his marriage broke up and he left the church to become a renovations builder. He then became a major player in the Australian and International bicycle industry until his retirement. Remarried with a daughter by his second wife and six grandchildren, Michael lives in Melbourne.
Roy continued to talk the talk at Speaker’s Corner and also stood unsuccessfully as an independent candidate in several elections during the 80s. In 1987 he wrote his autobiography, From Where I stand, which was said to be the first Indo-Caribbean autobiography published in the UK. He is currently living in Australia with his Australian partner Jenny Lawther, a specialist in housing for women.
Thanks to Ken Prideaux-Brune, John Mitchell, John Burgess, Michael Oxer, Dr Tank Green, Beryl Foster, Mark Ecclestone, Sultan Mahmud Sharif and Gary M. James.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
This blog is part of a series of features that look at the history of the Marks and other properties of Toc H. In December 2020 I delivered an online webinar about the Toc H Marks in the UK on behalf of Talbot House, Belgium and this article is essentially a summary of some of the information from that online lecture. It contains details and images of the first 24 Toc H Marks in the UK as well as some of the other hostels. I may update this one frequently as I discover more pertinent facts
So let’s begin by reminding ourselves how it all began quickly look at how it all began..
When the war ended, Tubby Clayton had a dream. His dream was to recreate the fellowship of Talbot House in peace time. He wanted to open a building, a new Talbot House, in London. In April 1919, writing in The Messenger – the news-sheet of St Martin-in-the-Fields, the church of his good friend Dick Sheppard, Tubby outlined his plans to open a new house. He thought Trafalgar Square would be a good place.
In June Tubby heard that the Guards’ Club was moving from its premises at 70 Pall Mall to a new building in Brook Street. He immediately set his eye on taking the old building for Toc H. However the leaseholders, the London Joint City and Midland Bank, had other ideas and Tubby’s plan was thwarted.
Looking elsewhere he turned to Red Lion Square. His sister Belle had taken up lodgings there during the war and Tubby often stayed at her flat during his leave. So in late 1919 he rented a five room flat on the top floor of 36 Red Lion Square and opened what was sometimes retrospectively known as Mark 00. It was here that the first Toc H hostellers lived, these being Tubby, Arthur Pettifer, Herbert Shiner, George Spragg and Frank Wilkins.
A constant stream of Foundation Members responding to Tubby’s Whizz-bangs turned up at the building and gained the attention of those in the flat by pulling on a piece of string dangling from the window with a luggage tag attached to the bottom. The tag, which dangled five feet off the pavement, bore the words – in Tubby’s handwriting – “Toc H, Talbot House, once of Poperinghe and Ypres”.
There’s no piece of string anymore; in fact there’s no 36 Red Lion Square at all because on the night of 10/11th May 1941 the Luftwaffe flattened it.
The First London Houses
It was clear that Red Lion Square was not going to be big enough for what Tubby had in mind so when it came to light that the war-time organisation – the Anglo-South American Committee – had reached the end of its useful life and held properties in Kensington, a delegation approached the committee’s head – Dame Guthrie-Reid – and she agreed to rent one of those properties – No. 8 Queen’s Gate Place to Toc H.
8 Queen’s Gate Place, Kensington
Opened March 1920
Leased from Dame Guthrie-Reid’s Anglo-South American Committee
Negotiations started in late 1919 and its acquisition was discussed at a meeting of the newly formed Executive Committee on 23rd December 1919. It was announced as a done-deal in The Times on 12th January 1920. But they had barely occupied the Mark when they realised it was too small.
Closed May 1920
Current Status: Extant. Private apartments
23 Queen’s Gate Gardens, Kensington
Opened May 1920
Leased from Lord William Cecil
Used by William Cecil’s wife, Lady Amherst as her ‘wool depot’ during the war. The Cecils’ eldest Capt. Hon. William Amherst Cecil died on 16 September 1914 during the First Battle of the Aisne whilst serving with 2nd Bn. Grenadier Guards.
On Ascension Day 1920 (May 13th) Mark I received the Old Carpenter’s Bench and rest of the chapel fittings from Talbot House (via the Ordination Schools at Le Touquet and Knutsford)
The above panels were originally in Queen’s Gate Gardens but transferred to 24 Pembridge gardens (See below) where it is believed they are still in place.
Closed 1927 (Mark relocated)
Building Status: Extant. Private apartments
24 Pembridge Gardens, Notting Hill
Opened 4 July 1927
Purchase price donated anonymously
A diary was kept and published that tells the story of the first few years of this Mark’s life
Chapel dedicated 10th October 1927 (By Tubby)
Mark I remained happily in Pembridge Gardens for the next 40 years but in the late sixties needed to reinvent itself. In July 1968 after period of closure it reopened as self-catering hostel and with fewer residents. It began working even more closely with the local community. Among the residents in 1969 was Selwyn Baptiste, one of the founders of the Notting Hill Carnival.
Two of the wardens around this time were Chris Holmes who went on to run Shelter and Frank Bailey who had been London’s first post-war black fireman and went on to become a social worker and trade union rep.
However by February 1971 Toc H decided to close the Mark down and leased it to Notting Hill Social Council when this lease expired around 1973 Toc H put the house up for sale. Being unsuccessful they instead ear-marked £12,000 to bring it up to standard and turn into a self-catering hostel for Bangladeshi students. Around 1977 the Bangladesh Centre was established as a joint venture between Toc H and the Bangladeshi Community and remains there to this day though Toc H are no longer involved. They sold the building for £165,000 in 1983.
Later this spring I intend to write the story the House in the years after it closed as a Toc H Mark.
Closed Feb 1971 (finally sold 1983)
Building Status: Extant. Bangladesh Centre
123 St George’s Square, Pimlico, London
Opened September 1920
Gifted by the Duke of Westminster in memory of his mother Sibell Mary, Countess Grosvenor.
Formerly the London home of Henry Cubitt, 2nd Baron Ashcombe. Toc H paid a Peppercorn Rent and were eventually – in December 1929 – granted a lease of 999 years. It not only became the second hostel but also Toc H headquarters and remained so until HQ moved to offices at 1 Queen Anne’s Gate in February 1926.
The house next door was also gifted to Toc H but rather than occupy it, Toc H chose to let it and benefit from the rents.
In 1969 it underwent a major refurbishment and had to run for six months with six residents instead of 40 which crippled it financially.
Among the Memorial rooms in Mark II was Bernard’s Room. Bernard was Bernard George Norton who died on 6th April 1917. He was in the choir at Talbot House and painted the sign board which hung outside the Old House. This signboard was transferred to Mark II where it hung before being returned to Poperinge. Another room at Mark II was the Trench Room.
Formerly the vicarage of St John’s Waterloo, new vicar John Woodhouse arranged for it to be leased to Toc H
Smaller than its brothers and the only one south of the river at the time it was often known as the Cinderella Mark. However it survived nine years in Lambeth until London County Council stuck their oar in. A plan to build an extension to County Hall was in the offing and in early 1930, seeing the writing on the wall, Toc H dispersed it’s Marksmen across the London Mark diaspora and temporarily moved HQ there whilst waiting for their new offices in Francis Street to be ready.
Current Status: Demolished. The Forum Magnum Square at the County Hall extension now stands on the spot
Church Crescent, Hackney
A Punch magazine appeal raised the funds for Toc H to buy this former rectory in South Hackney.
Renamed Punch House Mark III continued to exist relatively quietly in Hackney through the nineteen thirties but by 1939, in common with the rest of the Marks, it suffered as young men were called to war. In December 1939 the last residents moved out of Mark III and it was moth-balled.
In 1940 it stood empty and was badly bombed. It was initially reopened in 1947 and by April 1949 it was back to full capacity, officially reopening on the 5th April 1950.
However refurbished or not, there was no getting away from the fact the building was still a Victorian Rectory! So a bold plan to replace it with Toc H’s first purpose built Mark began in the late fifties.
The last guest night of the old Mark III was held on the 29th November 1960
Closed on the 10th December 1960 with demolition commencing on the 15th.
Building Status: Demolished to make way for Prideaux House
Church Crescent, Hackney
Opened officially by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother at 4.15pm on Friday 1st June 1962.
Built through a special fundraising campaign
Once complete, the new Prideaux House (named for Lancelot Prideaux-Brune) was a much modernised hostel. Many of the rooms were named for contributors to the appeal but perhaps the most poignant was the Our Twelve Room. Endowed by Mrs Alexandra Louise Gray, it is memory of twelve members of her family who gave their lives during the First World War.
It had 12 three-bed rooms along with quarters for the Warden and Padre and a separate suite for the housekeeper and her assistant. Then there was a wide array of rooms, meeting the hostellers every need, from the ubiquitous Chapel to a Dark Room.
Perhaps the most important figure in Mark III’s long life was Gualter de Mello. He joined Toc H in his native Brazil in 1953 and was initiated by Alison Macfie whilst on her travels in South America. In 1957 Gualter spent a year at Mark I whilst acting as Tubby’s weekend ADC and then some time at the Brothers’ House. After doing his theological training at Ely Gualter was ordained at St Paul’s in 1964 after which he took a curacy at St John of Jerusalem Church in South Hackney and became padre for Mark III where he moved to in September 1964. After his curacy finished he became Warden as well as Padre.
To understand the work of Prideaux House under Gualter I can do no better than suggest you seek out a copy of Kenneth Prideaux-Brune’s Any Problem Is No Problem published in 1996. What follows is but a glance.
Under Gualter’s guidance Prideaux House began to turn from a hostel into a community centre. Gualter ran the House successfully but clashed with Toc H Executive over his vision. This led to him leaving the Mark for a time and a succession of wardens running it in his place. Then in 1982, as Toc H disposed of the Marks, Gualter was able to buy it for a new charity he has set up, and to cut a long story short, could run it as the Community House he had always wanted.
Closed 2002 but rebuilt
Building Status: Demolished to make way for a new (current) Prideaux House
Upper Park Road, Manchester
Opened April 1923
In 1921 a new appeal was made and in April 1922, largely due to the appeal, the first provincial Mark opened in Manchester. Talbotousian Pat Leonard was shipped up from Cheltenham Ladies’ College to run things. Gartness was a huge old house on Upper Park Road just east of Moss Side. It was a hostel for Theological students before Toc H acquired it and on 19th February 1921 William Temple chaired a meeting at which Tubby outlined the aims of Toc H. A year later the house was Toc H’s. Described as being built by a Christmas Card designer because of its Ivy covered walls, Pat and other hostellers ‘dug out’ the old cellar to create a beautiful chapel.
The house was blessed by Neville Talbot 28th April 1923 and officially open the following day
The Dining Room was added to the house as an extension in 1926. It was a memorial to the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division. The following slideshow shows some of the plaques which now survive in the possession of Tameside museums.
Sir Matt Busby opened a further extension on 15 Nov 1969. The proceedings were relayed to local hospitals through the Hospital Radio facilities run by Toc H. Mark IV had a purpose built studio in the new wing. We’ll hear more about Toc H’s involvement with hospital radio shortly.
Building Status: It was demolished in 2007 when they built a mosque next door. At present the Gartness site is still vacant and used for car parking.
Perhaps one of the most lasting memorials of Mark IV though is a rugby team. In 1924 members of the Mark formed a rugby club which they called Toc H Manchester. After moving to various sites the club arrived in Didsbury and in 1986 the name was changed to Didsbury Toc H. It is still active today
574 Winchester Road, Bassett
Opened January 1923
An advert appeared in the Times in August 1922 stating that the owner of a medium-sized house with six acres of beautiful grounds “might be disposed to give it to a religious or charitable institution if satisfied as to the use to which it would be put. It was essential, the advert continued, that house should be used as a permanent memorial to one who fell, and preferably for the benefit of those hurt in the war”
The house was the Firs; the owner was Walter Southwell Jones; and the man who fell in the war was his son, Second Lt. Louis Jones who was born in the house and died 20th June 1917 in France. Tubby happened to be staying at Little Hatchett, his family’s holiday home nearby, and he shot across to see Southwell-Jones.
It was a bit classier than its urban brothers boasting a tennis courts and no less than three bowling greens and a 1.5 acre wood. Some of the bedrooms even had ensuite WCs – virtually unheard of in the UK at the time.
Louis Jones’ old bedroom was turned into the chapel.
During its life the Mark was connected with one particular piece of Toc H work that needs much more research. That is Hospital Radio, in particular football commentaries. Its origins are a little hazy with several branches (and one or two other organisations) claiming its genesis. We believe though that it started through the work with the blind that Toc H was well-known for; a sighted member would take a blind person to a football match and describe the action to them as the game went on. From this came the idea of broadcasting a commentary down GPO telephone lines specifically to local hospitals. In 1966 Southampton Hospital Radio started broadcasting live from the old wine cellar under the Mark. A complete programme service came out of there, including newscasts, children’s programmes. In August 1971, they moved above ground, having raised £9,000 to build a single storey, two studio building in the cabbage patch alongside the Toc H Mark V Youth Hostel.
Closed as a Mark in the early 70s but the house served as a Toc H centre until 1975
Building Status: Demolished 1978 to make way for new housing
In 1973 the name Talbot Close had been approved by the District council as the name for the approach to the new flats and is the last remaining sign of Toc H as the whole site is now covered in new properties.
71 Newhall Street, Birmingham
Leased from the Boys and Girls Union who continued to share part of the House with Toc H.
Known as Cathedral House, the cellar chapel was named Arras because it apparently looked like the Eleventh Division cellar chapel in Arras in 1918. It included the Altar Frontal from Poperinge.
The House was too small for both organisations so Toc H set out to find another Birmingham House.
Closed Toc H moved out 1925
Building Status: Demolished. Unknown date
77 Clifford Street, Birmingham
Opened Spring 1925
A disused pub, The Alhambra, the beer cellar was used to recreate the “Little Cellar Chapel of Arras” which was even more beautiful than before and was considered the powerhouse of Toc H in Birmingham. It opened officially on Friday 13th November and the cellar chapel was dedicated by Bishop Talbot (Neville and Gilbert’s father Edward)
I finally manged to find a photo of the second Mark VI. This is taken in Guildford Street, Lozells looking towards Clifford Street. The building on the right is the closed Alhambra pub and now the Toc H Mark so the photo was taken between 1925 and 1937. Note the big metal Toc H sign out the front (Designed and manufactured by Boddy Brothers of Norwich) and the Toc H blazer badge on the chap in front of the car.
Building Status: Demolished. Unknown date
6 Wake Green Road
Opened 18th January 1937
Gifted to Toc H by Sir Herbert Austin (Founder of Austin Motors) in memory of his son Vernon
There were rooms for 14 residents and a Warden but the ground floor of the house was for community use including Moseley and District Drama Group, who were renowned for their performances of Shakespeare plays in an amphitheatre in the garden. And in many ways Mark VI’s most exciting ‘room’ was the huge garden which included an adventure playground with aerial walkways. There were also outbuildings which contained an office and a ‘bunk room’ with 2 sets of bunk beds for putting up volunteers. The Mark had long gone self-catering and was in fact repurposing itself as a Community House. They sold it in 1973/4 on the understanding that Toc H could continue to use it for two years when they moved again to 24 Grove Avenue but by now they were no longer a Mark but something entirely different and very much of the time.
Building Status: Demolished
15 Fitzroy Square, London
Opened 7th November 1922
It was originally leased as the vicarage for All Hallows but Tubby sublet it to Toc H. In 1923 an anonymous female donor gave £6000 for Toc H to buy the house (almost certainly the Queen (Mary of Teck) but don’t tell everyone.)
In autumn 1929 the House was extended into 15 Richardson’s Mews behind it and they opened a new Club Room
Building Status: Extant. Flats/Offices
Christ Church Road, Pitsmoor, Sheffield
Opened July 7th 1923
The House came about when Tubby was wandering around Sheffield with Douglas Leng and six other Foundation members of Sheffield Toc H. Tubby spotted a suitable house and waiting for a nearby policeman to turn his back, hurried over a chalked a cross on the door.
Purchase price (£1275) borrowed from HQ.
The house was Westwood in Christ Church Road and was formerly the residence of Sir William Ellis, the Civil Engineer and steelmaker.
So Mark VIII in Sheffield was opened a little behind schedule on July 7th 1923 – the first birthday of Sheffield branch – by Lord Plumer, a President of Toc H.
Sheffield was a fairly short-lived Mark which closed in 1938 but the house was retained as centre for South Yorks division until at least 1951.
Memorial rooms included the BB Room – no, not the Barclay Baron Room but dedicated to Sheffield Battalion Boys Brigade. Later there was a Douglas Leng Room, named for the aforementioned Branch member who died aged 43. Captain Leng served in the Yorkshire Dragoons and was a Director of the Sheffield Telegraph. He died from gunshot wounds and was presumed to have taken his own life.
Building Status: ??
29 & 31 St Paul’s Road, Bristol
Opened March 1923 (Officially opened in June)
In May 1922 Bristol was in Toc H’s sights and it was only natural that Barclay Baron would be involved given it was the city of his birth and he had many connections there so he became appeal director. Toc H were led locally by John ‘Nick’ Nicholson (of Poperinghe and Knutsford renown) who was also a Rotarian and that group did much to assist Baron.
Actually two houses knocked together, they were bought by Stanley Gange (Rotarian?) and leased at low rent to Toc H.
The first Warden was a Mr Lewis formerly an officer with the 4th Gloucesters and the Boys’ Brigade
Building Status: ??
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.
16 Cotham Park, Bristol
In 1944 Mark IX moved to Ashley Down House. It was formerly Hampton House School but they were evacuated to Stroud.
One of the big activities from here was the Bristol Toc H Film Unit. They took a projector round and showed films in hospitals, youth clubs, care homes etc. Big part of Toc H work. Perhaps it was no surprise that one of the local Toc H members was Frank Gillard a renowned broadcaster who was later part-responsible for getting the BBC’s Bristol based Natural History Fil Unit established. He is also well remembered in Toc H as the broadcaster who reported on the liberation of Poperinge and Talbot House in 1944
By 1955 the Mark was in terrible disrepair and appeal launched to save it but to no avail and it closed before the decade was out.
Building Status: Extant. Now listed
40 Clarendon Street, Hull
Opened October 1923
The House was organised for Toc H by Colonel W H Carver, later a Conservative MP and leader of the Toc H group in the House of Commons. He personally contributed £250 towards the appeal and about £1000 was raised locally, the remainder being borrowed from Toc H HQ
It was officially opened on. Much was made during the opening ceremony of the East Ridings role in the recovery of Gilbert Talbot’s body by a party from the East Yorks Regiment led by Sergeant Shepherd (Later RSM Shepherd). A member of Toc H, he was present at the opening.
Clarendon House at was a former home for the Church of England Incorporated Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays. This society was later renamed to the less linguistically challenging Church of England Children’s Society and survives today simply as the Children’s Society.
Around 1931 the branch couldn’t maintain it as a Mark and it was delisted though kept for a while.
Building Status: Demolished, a playing field
Princes Avenue, Hull
Westbourne House didn’t last long and was closed permanently by the Luftwaffe
Building Status: Destroyed by enemy bombing WWII
44 Princess Street, Leicester
Opened October 1923
In August 1923 the Central Executive approved Leicester’s request to buy Stonesby House, at for £5000. It belonged to Dr Donald, a friend of Toc H and was in De Montfort Square. Standing on a corner overlooking a garden, it was strongly reminiscent of Mark I at 23 Queen’s Gate Gardens.
Leicester opened on the 15th Oct 1923, a week after the storming party took possession
Building Status: Extant. Now offices
Sedburgh Road, Halifax
Opened 22nd February 1924
Opened in Shaw Royd, a large house on the corner of Sedburgh Road and Shaw Hill Lane lately the home of Colonel Sir Edward Whitley, himself a Toc H member. It was announced that Toc H acquired it in October 1923 and the storming party got it ready so that there could be a huge Housewarming party on New Year’s Eve 1923 though the official opening was not until 22nd February 1924.
Closed December 1934 but may have been downgraded from Mark as early as 1931. The Shaw Royd estate was sold by Toc H in 1939.
Building Status: Demolished
119 Kennington Park Road, London
Opened 13th December 1924 by the Prince of Wales on the afternoon of the 1924 Birthday Festival which the Prince later attended.
Gifted by Mrs Dilberoglue in memory of her two sons killed in the war. The gift was announced at the 1923 Birthday Festival in December 1923
Dick and Gus Dilberoglue were both at Eton; both Captains of their houses and both rowed in the ‘Eights’. Both went to war as well and Dick fell on 15th September 1916 leading his company of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards whilst his brother Gus acting as Adjutant to the 3rd King’s Own Hussars died, near Domart, on 1st April 1918.
Toc H was looking for a new house south of the river when Tubby’s friend Dr Cyril Garbett, then Bishop of Southwark, pointed him towards a vacant former servicemen’s club on Kennington Park Road. It needed money spending on it and seemed out of Toc H’s reach until Tubby recalled the mother he had corresponded with recently. Mrs Dilberoglue came to look at it and that was that.
The Brothers’ House, as it is always known, tended to have slightly older Marksmen who stayed longer. Amongst them was the highly loved and respected Neville Minas whose story I have told previously. As well as a Marksmen Neville Honorary Warden at the House for several years.
Plans to refurbish it as a Community House in 1982 amounted to little and it was sold for £96,000 in early 1983.
Building Status: Still standing. Broken into flats
1 Eccles Old Road, Salford
Opened November 1923?
Oakfield at in Pendleton was presented to Toc H in 1923 by Henry Leigh Groves in memory of his parents. Henry Leigh Groves was for a long time High Sherriff of Westmorland and other acts of generosity including buying the bed of Lake Windermere to give to Windermere Urban District Council. His parents were William and Eliza Ann Grimble Groves. William was part of the wealthy brewing family and one of two brothers who started Salford Lads Club in 1903.
It was dedicated on 26th November 1924 by the Lord Bishop of Manchester having survived for a year as an ‘experiment’.
One of the leading lights in Salford Toc H was Michael Coleman who later served as Vicar at All Hallows whilst Tubby was in the Orkneys on war work. In 1943 Coleman went to work for Toc H in Canada and was a Canon at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria. He became Bishop of Qu’Appelle in 1950.
Closed and sold in the late sixties – with the donor’s permission – to financially support Mark IV in Manchester.
Building Status: Demolished
31 The Common (Kempt Terrace), Woolwich
Date Opened 6 December 1924
As early as March 1924, the Central Executive called for a House in Woolwich as a base for Rev Hutchinson, newly appointed chaplain for S.E. London. By the 9th May Toc H had bought and taken possession of 31 The Common (Kempt Terrace), Woolwich (Now the South Circular)
Almost certainly built for Board of Ordnance Mark XV stood two doors south of General Gordon’s birthplace on the same Terrace. It was officially opened on 6th December 1924 by Sir Acton Blake, master of Trinity House.
Building Status: The House was demolished in 1971 to accommodate the widening of the South Circular
A spanner is thrown in the works of Mark numbering when the next house to designated number XXII in honour of the 22nd (Queen’s) London regiment opposite whose barracks it stands
3 Jamaica Road, Bermondsey
Alec Paterson, one of the early drivers of Toc H, served in the Bermondsey Battalion of the regiment and the Mark was named Alexander Paterson House.
Whilst it was very much a Toc H Mark, many of the first hostellers were to be drawn from the ranks of the Oxford and Bermondsey Club which operated in the area. The OBC was, of course, often called the Cradle of Toc. Charlie Thompson who’d previously run a boxing club at Mark III was involved with both Toc H and the OBC so made an obvious choice for Warden. Charlie was also a gents’ outfitter who supplied ties and blazer badges for Toc H for decades.
The building was an old pawn shop right on the junction with Abbey Street, it wasn’t it remarkable condition so in 1927 Toc H were forced to abandon it before it fell down. There was much discussion in the ensuing months about allowing this tatty, decrepit, building to become an eyesore with Toc H signs still attached. Ironically it would remain standing for decades before finally being pulled down
Building Status: Demolished
95 Denmark Hill, London
Opened 28th May 1930
There was a brief hiatus until October 1928 when it was announced that Mark XXII was to reopen but at some 2½ miles away. In fact it wouldn’t actually open until the 28th May 1930 when it was once again renamed as Alexander Paterson House. It was opened by Lord and Lady Plumer. It contained the first garden of any size in a Toc H Mark.
Toc H moved out in the late sixties and from 1st April 1971 it was leased for five years to the St Giles Centre re Social Work in Camberwell before being finally sold.
Building Status: Extant
Charlotte Row, High Street, Swindon
Opened 10th March 1923
In conjunction with Marlborough College?
Swindon’s house Redville, was opened with some pomp and circumstance on 10th March 1923 by General Hunter-Watson. However it was listed as a hostel and unnumbered as HQ refused to give it Mark status because it lacked a chapel and fewer than half its residents were in Toc H. Finally this changed and it was elevated to Mark status in 1925.
Many of the hostellers were apprentices with the Great Western Railway whose engineering works had dominated the town since 1843.
In September 1939 Mark XVI briefly became the Headquarters of Toc H which is why HQ staff Hubert Secretan, Jack Harrison, William J. Musters, and Robert Shelston can all be found listed there on the 1939 Register. However, once the ‘phoney war’ ended, HQ shipped back to London and remained there during the Blitz and for the duration.
Mark XVI’s next claim to fame came at the end of 1967 when on 30th December Hospital Radio Swindon began broadcasting from the cellar. In 1976 a fire destroyed the studio – and 3000 records – but Toc H stepped in and offered to build a studio on their land and by 1977 the studio was in full use. The Mayor of Thamesdown officially opened it in 1979, at the time Swindon Hospital Broadcasting Society purchased the studio from Toc H for £750,000.
Closed 1977. Taken over by Mental Health After Care Association
Building Status: Extant. Offices?
Hill Street, Itchen
Somewhat quietly added to the lists in early 1925. I can find little fanfare for it and it didn’t survive all that long – just until 1928 when the lease expired. The forgotten Mark, it was in the Old Parsonage on Hill Street in Itchen. Attached to it was the Guild House, the recently opened HQ of the Sea Scouts dedicated to the Scouts who died in the war. It was with these and the Rover Scouts that the Mark were to do most of their work.
Interestingly a former tenant the old house had painted a little word or phrase over the doorway to each room. These read things such as “Grace and Truth”, Cheer; Sincerity; Joy; Fellowship; Peace; and Love. All very fitting for Toc H.
Mark XVII stood only three miles from Mark V at Bassett and less than a mile across the river from the Talbot House Sea-going Boys’ Club in Southampton. The building has long since gone.
Building Status: Demolished
34 Grainger Park Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Opened 17th April 1926
Greystoke stood at 34 Grainger Park Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It was opened on 17th April 1926 by Sir Charles ‘Tim’ Harington
Interestingly Grainger Park Road runs up to the course of Hadrian’s Wall which must have pleased Tubby with his love of history
Small in comparison to many Marks, Greystoke slept eight initially. Its study was a Memorial for Marc Noble. Noble, one of the first ever Boy Scouts who, with his brother Humphrey, attended Baden-Powell’s experimental camp on Brownsea Island in 1907. Noble died 1 Jul 1917 in France and his nephew, also Marc, went on to become a leading light in the Scout movement.
In 1940 it became a Services Club and though it was still a Mark in 1949 Toc H left it soon after needing bigger premises. In the sixties St John Ambulance took it over and renamed it St John House.
Building Status: Extant. Now offices of an IT firm?
Jesmond Park West, Newcastle
Mark XVIII reopened at Glendyn, Jesmond Park West
Building Status: Demolished and replaced by new housing (Glendyn Close)
East Street, Leeds
Opened 4th October 1929 (As a Toc H Mark)
The Red House Settlement stood very near the river and opposite some factories. It was founded in in 1913 and by 1924 the local Toc H branch were working with the Boys’ Club there. In January 1927 there was “some prospect of Toc H taking over the Red House Settlement” and in mid-1928 it came on Toc H’s books as a hostel. Then on 4th October 1929 it was opened by Lord Middleton as Mark XIX. The Archbishop later dedicated the new chapel in the old wine Cellar.
In truth the Red House was always more a Hostel than a true Mark which is why it drops off the list again and why another Mark is required in Leeds (See later). There were no residents at the 1939 Register but still operating as a community building, in particular a long-running Poor man’s Lawyer Service. It closed as a Mark officially in the forties and in 1951 was requisitioned by local authorities as a day nursery.
The Chapel had been used as an air raid shelter during the war but was reinstated as a chapel in 1949. Leeds branch were allowed to continue using the House on Monday nights for branch meetings
In March 1934 a room was dedicated to Leeds branch member George Ironside Brown who was killed in a car crash the previous year. The 22 year old from Newcastle was a hosteller at the Red House.
Building Status: Demolished
67 Upper Richmond Road, Putney, London
London’s eighth and final Mark (Chronologically) opened in Putney at in 1930. Marks were so important in those days that they were shown as such on Ordnance Survey maps! Originally called Meaburn House, it was once the home of Sir John Thwaites, the first chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works and the man credited with the development of the Embankment.
It sustained extensive damage during WWII but survived and on the 10th June 1967 a new extension was opened by Mark Bonham-Carter. The first chairman of the Race Relations Board (and Helena’s Uncle) a he was also a cousin of Brian Hulbert Bonham-Carter who was taken prisoner in 1940 whilst working for Toc H in France
Building Status: Extant. Now private housing
228 Osmaston Road, Derby
Opened 16th May 1931
In February 1930 The Journal announced the purchase of a House in Derby and Toc H took possession in March warning that considerable alterations will be necessary before it can be opened. Graeme House is as 228 Osmaston Road (Also known as Ivy Square) midway between the town and the engineering works where many of the Marksmen will be employed.
Closed 1969. Sold in December 1971 for £9000
Building Status: Demolished. Residential Care Home now on the site
13 North Grange Road, Headingley, Leeds
Opened 19 March 1932
As the Red House in Leeds never really made it as a Mark, in 1929 Lord Brotherton, a former MP made his fortune in the chemicals industry, offered to find and endow another house for Toc H to act as a divisional HQ. The house he found was at 13 North Grange Road, Headingley. Originally called Lyndhurst it was changed to Brotherton House when Toc H took it over.
Brotherton died in October 1930 before the house was handed to Toc H so his executors passed Tubby the title deeds on the 5th December 1931 at a Yorkshire Area Festival. The Storming Party entered on New Year’s Day 1932 and Mark XXIII was officially opened by the Princess Royal on the 19th March. The first occupant was an Australian in Yorkshire to learn wool-dyeing.
Rooms were dedicated to local regiments and battalions as was common including the Green Howards Room. However one room was dedicated to the dead of the Bentley Pit disaster which occurred on the 20th November 1931. A gas explosion caused the mine to collapse killing 45 people.
The chapel received the original cross from Gilbert Talbot’s grave which later went to All Hallows and then to Talbot House.
Building Status: Extant. It is now known as Bishop’s House
62 Rodney Street, Liverpool
Opened December 1931
The last of the true Marks – for want of a better expression – was also the most famous building having been the birth place of William Gladstone, four times British Prime Minister. The imposing property at 62 Rodney Street, Liverpool was given to Toc H by Gladstone’s son Henry Neville Gladstone, a cousin of Gilbert Talbot’s mother Lavinia. He had purchased the house from the executors of Dr Glynn (who lived there for many years) and also the freehold from the Corporation to be held in trust in perpetuity by the Diocesan Board.
Gladstone House was officially opened after some refurbishment in December 1931 with both the Mayor and Bishop of Liverpool present. Although always run as a Mark it didn’t receive its number until after the war.
There are two Memorial Rooms of note. One is the Gladstone Room which is the room the great man was born in in 1809; the other is the Leonard Comer-Wall Room which also pays tribute to Blackie his War Horse.
On the 8 June 1917, a week after his promotion to Lieutenant, Leonard was with the RFA in action near Wytschaete when he was hit by shrapnel from a shell. His groom, Frank Wilkinson was killed by the explosion and his mount ‘Blackie’ was badly injured but survived. Leonard was taken to a casualty clearing station behind the lines but died later that day. He is buried in Lijssenthoek cemetery. Blackie was bought out of the army by Leonard’s mother and after a period of recovery on a farm, returned to duty at Wellington Barracks in Liverpool. He finally retired to Horses’ rest in Broadgreen where he died peacefully in late 1942.
Upgraded around 1974 it was retained by Toc H but went self-catering in January 1976. It remained until the eighties then was finally old.
Building Status: Extant and listed, it has been converted to flats which still bear the address Flat x, Toc H, 62 Rodney Street.
As well as the official Marks, there were a number of other hostels established by Toc H that were never granted Mark status. This section gives a brief account of these houses.
The Talbot House Sea-Going Boys’ Club was originally based at The Dock House, on the corner of College Street and Orchard Lane. It later moved to Brunswick Square but in 1959 an extension was built and the entrance became Bernard Street. This closed on 2nd April 1982. If you want to know more about this Ray Fabes wrote a paper which is available on the Toc H Centenary Blog here
1925 Brighton Toc H ran a Boys Hostel for newspaper lads and hawkers. Situated at 60 and 61 John Street, it was just a few doors down from where they ran the local Rover Scout unit. A pub until 1918, the building became known as The John Street Toc H Boys Hostel but it only lasted until the end of March 1926 when it appeared to be taken over by the St. Vincent de Paul organisation.
Haileybury House joined the lists as an unnumbered Hostel in the summer of 1925. Based at Durham Row, Stepney, and originally run by Haileybury College it was most famous as being somewhere Clement Attlee lived and volunteered there when he was first starting out as a Barrister. He was manager from 1907-1909. Toc H took it over and Stepney group used it as their branch rooms but it was gone from the lists by July 1927.
In January 1926 another hostel is added at 16 Rutland Street, Hulme, Manchester. Yet another old pub, – the Bleak House, closed in 1924 – it deliberately set out to attract the working class of the Hulme district. Toc H felt that the standard houses were “too pleasant, too suburban”. Retaining the name Bleak House, it was in fact something of a homeless shelter, working with the “down and outs” although former regulars of the pub used to call in for a chat and found the bar was now a comfortable club room and coffee bar. It was also popular with cabbies, tram-drivers and night worker. Beer was off the menu but they were always offered a cuppa. It was dedicated on 30th April by William Temple
In the autumn of 1927, the Newcastle Mark spawned a little brother at Gibson Street. Populated by Marksmen from Mark VIII on a rota, it was yet another former pub now turned to youth work. There was an additional hostel outside Newcastle at Walker which was aimed at ‘boy’ migrants.
And in early 1929 a hostel at 20 Poole Road Bournemouth is transferred from the Gordon Boys Association to Toc H. It was still being used by Toc H in 1936 – described as a small boarding house – and I haven’t yet discovered when they moved out.
This building became private flats then a Council Welfare Services Home, and finally a care home which has only recently been demolished and rebuilt.
Probably the most famous was Talbot House at 42 Trinity Square, London but that is going to be featured in a forthcoming blog so I won’t go into any details here.
I have also found an intriguing reference to another hostel in Manchester but have not yet found out anymore about it:
“Mum and Dad were very active in the international Christian movement Toc H and its work to improve the lives of children. In 1938 Toc H opened a hostel in Manchester called Kersher House. Dad appointed Arthur lsrael, later known as lsdale, to run it.”
So far we haven’t mentioned the League of Women Helpers’ properties and again, they need more time and space but briefly Marquise I, as it was playfully but not officially known, was more properly called New June – named for Henry Newbolt’s novel. It opened on Tower Hill on Saturday 4th October 1924, the ladies decamping from their old HQ at 7 Tower Street. It was in the top floors of 50 Great Tower Street (now covered by the Tower Place shopping centre) and included a roof garden much loved by the hostellers. Tubby’s sister Belle was one of the residents and started a lunch club for men there (Inspiring Barbara Sutherland to start one for women).
In 1927 Second June opened at 10 Stanley Gardens, Notting Hill and this now became the LWH HQ (and a Hostel). It was short-lived and closed in 1932. At about that time New June relocated to a house on the corner of Water Lane and Great Tower Street. This time Belle Clayton – who died in 1925 lent her name to one of the rooms.
And then of course there was Sheldon House, a hostel for girls but more of that anon.
We mentioned the PM Club in our blog about Stuart Greenacre. Catering – pun intended – for boys in the hospitality trade who were only free in the afternoon, by 1973 the Earls Court hostel could accommodate 150 young men. Ray Fabes wrote a paper on this project a few years back. I’ll see if I can get him to dig it out for me.
And that’s that for the UK Marks and Hostels. Look out for more articles in this series about the properties of Toc H.
Also in this series
Earlier I published a detailed history of Mark III
Whilst the Toc H was a Movement made up of thousands of unpaid members in groups and branches across the globe, the organisation would have seized up if it wasn’t for a large and active staff team greasing the wheels and pushing the whole thing forward. Somewhat like the church, Toc H staff were expected to serve where they were needed and it was common-place for field staff to be moved from pillar to post to apply their skills where they fitted best. A fine example of this would be Stuart Greenacre, known widely in Toc H as ‘Greeno’. From his early beginnings as a branch member, Stuart joined the staff team in 1931 and spent 27 years serving Toc H across the UK and abroad and even passing over ‘in the saddle’ as we shall see. This is his story.
Greeno was born on the 25th of November 1901 Birmingham to Edward and Mabel Greenacre. He was christened Arthur but later preferred to be known by his middle name of Stuart. As a youngster he was a member of the Church Lads’ Brigade, a good indicator of where his life was heading.
Like his father and many of his family members, Stuart began his career as a salesman in home furnishings but he was clearly looking for more than work from his life. In November 1923 we find one A. S. Greenacre as Honourable Secretary of the Oxford Federation of the Church of England Men’s’ Society (CEMS). I believe this is Stuart and given that quite a number of Toc H men were also in the CEMS, this may have been Stuart’s route to Toc H.
The first mention of Stuart being in Toc H is a newspaper report that retrospectively reports that he had been a member of the Nottingham group of Toc H where he held the post of Jobbie or Jobmaster, the man responsible for finding work for the branch and its members to carry out. He would have been a member in July 1924 when the group were elevated to Branch status and in December when their Lamp was first lit by the Prince of Wales in London.
It would be his transfer to the Manchester branch which would give him a role he could really get his teeth into. In January 1926 the Manchester district branches had opened a hostel at 16 Rutland Street in Hulme. An old pub, they retained the pub’s name of Bleak House and deliberately set out to attract the working class of the Hulme district. Toc H felt that it’s standard houses – the Marks or hostels it had opened across the country – were “too pleasant, too suburban”. Bleak House was something of a homeless shelter, working with the “down and outs” although former regulars of the pub also used to call in for a chat.
In the autumn of 1926 the main bar was turned into a coffee ‘stall’ and named in honour of the fallen as most rooms in Toc H hostels were; in this case it was the Unknown Soldiers’ Room. The Journal announced that “a coffee stall will be opened very night from 9’o’clock until 6 a.m., staffed by three members recruited from Manchester and Salford area”. Stuart was one of those members. It was popular with cabbies, tram-drivers and night workers and in a report he made to the Manchester branch in 1927 Stuart concluded
“people look to the Coffee Stall as a powerhouse for service – from dressing injuries to clearing up family differences and caring for the homeless.”
Stuart remained in the Manchester area until 1931. As well as running the coffee stall at Bleak House (until at least April 1928) he was the Honorary District Secretary and Salford District Pilot, all voluntary unpaid roles. However, in March 1931 The Journal announced that “A.S. Greenacre (“Greeno”) is to become the Secretary of the Southern Area, now enlarged by the addition of the Thames Valley and Oxford Districts”. This was a paid staff job and his postal address was listed as 47 Francis Street, London, Toc H’s headquarters at that time.
The role of the Area Secretary was varied and was fundamentally to act as a conduit between the branches in his area and Toc H HQ. He would represent Toc H by attending and speaking at local groups and branches, rallies (gatherings of groups and branches in an area), initiating members and presenting Rushlights and Lamps to groups as they earned them. He wouldn’t have done this in isolation though as HQ stalwarts like Tubby, Barclay Baron, Peter Monie and Pat Leonard all liked to attend rallies and so Stuart would have known all the Toc H executive very well. This meant that his abilities were brought to their attention and explains why – in October 1931 after just over six months in his first paid role – Stuart was assigned to Special Work. He left the Southern Area and was first sent to Northern Ireland to spend some time helping the groups there and the lone branch in Belfast. After Christmas he was sent to Scotland to do similar work there with Bob Sawers and then was posted to the South Western Area in a holding position until Easter.
In May 1932 it was announced that he was being appointed as Area Pilot in South Wales and Secretary, in the Western Area. His address is listed as Toc H, Insurance Buildings, New Street, Cardiff. This was the home of the Cardiff branch of the North British and Mercantile Insurance company, of which Walter Southwell-Jones was a director. Southwell-Jones was the Toc H benefactor who gave Mark V Southampton to the organisation and even sat on Central Council for a while. The fact that Toc H in Cardiff used this building was presumably no coincidence.
By the time of the staff conference in September 1932 Stuart was listed as South Wales & Western Area Secretary. This was two distinct Areas and quite a big responsibility given how quickly Toc H was expanding. In fact by July 1933 Stuart had relinquished South Wales and was focussing on the Western Area. His address was now the Bristol Mark but I don’t know if he was living there or it was just an office.
Then in October 1933 Toc H announced that six men were to be dispatched overseas (Two to New Zealand and four to Australia) to strengthen the groups and branches. Stuart’s brief was to forge new and stronger links of personal friendship between Toc H in the UK and in Australia, and also to assist Toc H Australia to solve for itself its own constitutional problems. Whilst several Ambassadors (Not least Tubby and Pat Leonard) had toured the Dominion to get Toc H going, this is the first time staff men have been assigned a formal tour of duty abroad.
He left Southampton on the 17th January 1934 for Fremantle, on the Jervis Bay, a Commonwealth Line steamer built by the Australian government for the purpose of shipping migrants. His companions were Rex Calkin and Ronald Wraith. The fourth man seemed to have dropped off the list but Ronald’s new wife Doris travelled with them. The party became known as Regron (REx, GReeno & RONald). They were certainly busy travelling right across the continent and they seemed to meet their brief. In the 1935 Annual Report it was said that “the results of their visit exceed our most sanguine expectations”. In practical terms this was reflected by the six independent Toc H Associations in Australia effectively restructuring under a parent association.
Stuart often enthused about his time in Australia and was a good friend of his travelling companion Rex Calkin, who was the General Secretary of Toc H. Stuart and Rex arrived back in England on the 2nd February 1935 (Leaving the Wraiths in Australia) and Stuart was posted as Acting Secretary East Midlands Area, switching with Alan Cowling who was sent to take up a Secretary post in Australia. After a permanent Area Secretary was appointed in May, Stuart returned to Bristol to be Western Area Secretary again.
It was whilst he was in Bristol that Stuart met Gertrude Bolton, the woman he would later marry. Gertrude was a staff member of the League of Women Helpers having left teaching after being been drawn to the Movement by Phyllis Wolfe. Phyllis was a fellow teacher at Camden House School in London and member of Toc H but both she and Gertrude joined the staff and formed something of a triumvirate with Elsie Potter, something of a legend in the LWH. Primrose recalls
“Mum told me about travelling up to Manchester to speak to groups of women about Toc H and what a shock it was for her to experience the conditions under which people lived. She also told me about taking East End kids on camping holidays and having to find shoes for them.”
Stuart’s next role change came in July 1936 shortly after the huge 21st birthday celebrations at Crystal Palace. A post-festival ‘cabinet reshuffle’ saw Stuart sent back to South Wales as Area Secretary (His place in the Western Area taken by Reg Smith whom we have featured in this blog). A year later, an unwell Stuart was replaced by a Mr Johnston. On recovering he was sent to help out in the Lincolnshire division of the East Midlands area but in December 1937 was posted to the South-Western Area as Area Secretary based at the local Toc H HQ at 42 St David’s Hill, Exeter. He was still holding this role at the time of the 1939 Register and his address was given as 12 Richmond Road, Exeter, a boarding house. As well as his paid role with Toc H, the register also recorded that he had some sort of voluntary role with the Women’s’ Voluntary Service Motor Transport unit. Incidentally, at the same time, Gertrude was living in lodgings at 21 Victoria Park Road, Exeter and was Regional Secretary for Toc H Women Helpers Travellers English Office. Three months later, on the 9th December 1939, they were married. Gertrude left the staff at this time.
This was of course a time of great change for the entire world, not least Toc H, who had turned their attention to opening a new chain of Talbot Houses across the UK and around the world to serve the pastoral needs of Service Men and Women. I am working on a blog about these Services Clubs for later this year. Stuart was assigned as Warden at the Toc H Services Club in Plymouth and whilst running this he became a father for the first time when his son, christened Timothy, was born. Tim’s godparents were his mother’s great friend Phyllis Wolfe, and John Brunger. The family were living in Dawlish at the time and Stuart was still South Western Area Secretary and also Pilot for the region.
On the 1st February 1941 Stuart was privileged to become the Warden of a unique Toc H Services Club. The Toc H Services Club of America at 46 Union Street, Plymouth was funded by the British War Relief Society, an American humanitarian aid organisation. Tubby and Barclay Baron were at the opening which was performed by Lord Astor, Mayor of Plymouth.
The Union Jack and the American flag both hung over the front of the building causing some confusion since the USA was of course not yet in the war. On March 11th the Duke of Kent paid an official visit but then on March the 20th there was a surprise visit from the King and Queen who were visiting the nearby YMCA. Stuart recalled the event
“The first I knew was the arrival of a breathless sailor, having run all the way from the YMCA to tell me that ‘they are coming here. Lady Astor asked them and they said yes.’ I had just time to put my tie straight and walk to the door, and up came the Royal car. It was a great joy to receive and welcome them on behalf of Toc H. Most graciously they talked to many Service folk and lady helpers. Both the King and Queen said what a delightful house this is and wished it every possible success.”
However, two hours later Plymouth was undergoing its worst bombing yet and Stuart said
“All night we fought hard and saved the buildings opposite, fed and watered firemen and A.R.P. workers, bandaged the wounded, and cheered [up] the women and children.”
The next night the Toc H Club was damaged in further bombing and they shared with the YMCA whilst it was being repaired.
However Stuart wasn’t just running the club for Servicemen and women. He also organised an appeal for clothing for various citizens of Plymouth who had lost theirs in the dreadful bombings the city suffered. The South Western branches responded admirably and sent speaker vans around the streets of Devon and Cornwall and within 36 hours two branches alone (Seaton and St. Austell) had collected and sent to Stuart some 2000 items of clothing. Stuart wrote
“The story of St. Austell’s great gift is good. The Secretary [of the Toc H branch] is a school teacher. He showed my letter to the Head. The Head called the school together and read my letter to them and then sent the children home, and by the afternoon a lorry set out loaded with clothes for Plymouth. Within 48 hours of the second ‘blitz’, Seaton again sent 50 sacks of clothes.”
Stuart travelled to St. Austell on Saturday 3rd to open their new headquarters. In his speech he told the assembled crowd of Toc H men and signatories that he had had only 4½ hours sleep since the previous Sunday due to many further bombing raids in the Plymouth blitz.
He may well have welcomed a change of scenery when, by August 1941 he had been posted to Leicester as Area Secretary. He and Gertrude were living here when a daughter, Primrose arrived. Old friend Rex Calkin would be her Godfather.
Growing up as the daughter of a Toc H staff man presented Primrose with some difficulties. She recalls
“One of the things I found difficult as a child was explaining what my dad did, what his job was. Other kids had dads who were postmen or factory worker or doctors but what exactly was Toc H and what did dad actually do? ¨Well he goes to meetings and he meets lots of people and he likes helping people.”
Stuart was soon on the move again and by September 1945 was posted to London where he became the London regional Secretary based in the House of Charity in Soho Square which Toc H used during the war. After this regional office closed he was relocated to the main HQ at 47 Francis Street.
In October 1945 Stuart returned to Exeter to speak at a large gathering of Toc H (Women’s Section) as the League of Women Helpers were now known. He praised the efforts of all in the Services Clubs but stated
“I am anxious that the public shall not judge Toc H by its wartime suit – that was only an expression of our will to serve.”
And Stuart certainly still had the will to serve. One of the first things he did in London was get a Bayswater branch up and running.
Whilst in London, Stuart and Gertrude’s third child, Mark was born. His Godfather was Austen Williams, a Toc H Padre who had recently spent most of the war interned in German Prisoner of War camps after being captured working for Toc H with the BEF. His other Godparent was Elsie Potter, still a leading light in Toc H (Women’s Section).
The children were all quite young when the family relocated again to Chandler’s Ford in Hampshire when Stuart was appointed Southern Area Secretary in 1948. This would prove to be his final posting. It was here that the family really grew up and they have fond memories of the years spent in Hiltingbury Cottage in this pretty area near Southampton.
Primrose adds that
“during and after the war there was absolutely no anti-German talk in our house in fact I think Toc H must have befriended some German families after the war because I can remember a very grateful Herr Claus”
Stuart was based at the Talbot House Seafaring Boys’ Residential Club where Inky Bean was Warden (ably assisted by Mrs Bean). The children occasionally accompanied Stuart to work. Mark still has a half size Valencia Acoustic Guitar bought for his 10th birthday from a Spanish sailor. He has strong recollections
“I distinctly remember being taught the game of billiards and snooker by a large sailor and thinking how huge the table was and how smooth the surface was. Then the Hythe Ferry going down the Solent past the Cunard Queens if they were in dock. Going on the little steam rain on the Mile long Hythe Pier. That’s a wonderful memory.”
The family also knew well the nearby Mark V at Bassett. Mark again
“We all remember Toc H Mark 5 on the outskirts of Southampton. I remember garden parties and fund raising fetes there in the summer months. I usually got myself into some sort of trouble.”
“Lots of the Toc H people had nick names; Tubby, Sawbones (Hugh Sawbridge), Inky Bean, etc. We met lots of these people. They came to the house or we went to them or we met at various Toc H functions. I liked it when Tubby came or Miss Macfie because they both had terriers, Tubby’s was called Chippy and I was allowed to walk him round the garden holding onto the lead.
We also met some of the Winant volunteers. I can remember Dad being delighted because Anne Rockefeller was coming to see us. She of course being the granddaughter of the American business magnate.”
The Southern Area was huge and included the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands so he was away a lot at weekend conferences and evening meetings. Primrose says
“When he went to Jersey he always brought back some cherry brandy and we were allowed a thimbleful to taste. He was not the sort of Dad who went to the pub, he was a half pint man and he also found Mrs Bean’s dinners too huge to eat when he had lunch at the office in Southampton.”
Stuart started a Toc H branch in Chandler’s Ford in the mid-fifties and then restarted a Milton and Eastney group in early 1958. He was a church warden at St Boniface church and leader on a committee which planned St Martins in the Wood church as an offshoot of St Boniface. Primrose again
“I can remember being very pleased when Dad started up a branch of Toc H in Chandlers Ford because the Dads of some of the kids we knew joined and then they would maybe know what Toc H was.”
Unfortunately, in the early fifties Stuart got an infection in the spine, a spinal streptococcus. They operated at a hospital in Alton, Hampshire he was there for about 12 months. Mark remembers visiting him there several times with their mother. He says
“A very kind Toc H man built a device which allowed him to read a book lying down. That was so helpful during a very long stay in hospital. It took months to get him back on his feet again with them gradually increasing the elevation of his bed. Stuart wasn’t one to hang around in bed. He wanted to get back working for Toc H ASAP. I remember Mum saying that she thought he should have convalesced for a lot longer before returning to full time work with Toc H.”
Sadly Stuart’s great service to Toc H was to end too abruptly and when he was far too young. On Thursday 15th May 1958, Stuart had been attending a meeting of the Management Committee of the PM Boys’ Club run by Toc H (so called because it served the hotel page boys and bell-hops who were only free in the afternoon). He was on the platform of Westminster station when he had a heart-attack. He was taken to hospital but died later that day aged only 56. Mark says
“A Red Cross nurse was standing next to him and she got some men to lift him off the train onto a station bench seat. He was taken to St Thomas Hospital on the south side of the river Thames. That Red Cross Nurse contacted Mum and they met later in London, what a wonderful woman. Many years later when Mum died whilst having lunch in the Cafeteria of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square she was also taken to St Thomas Hospital.”
If it was a great loss for Toc H then it was a tragedy for his family, the children still quite young and deprived of their father. Mark remembers
“I was in the cricket field across the road packing up the stumps after practice with a friend called Chris White who lived down the road. Prim came running out of our house calling me and screaming the news that dad had died. I remember dropping the stumps and just running off into the neighbouring corn field where I ran into John (Pop) Vining the farmer who did his best to comfort me with some very kind words.”
And Primrose adds
“I can remember the dad of one of Tim’s friends being heartbroken when dad died. I saw him crying at the Memorial Service. I was fifteen at the time and it made a great impression on me that so many people, the church was packed, would come to honour my Father. In the local paper the headline was ‘Friendship was his Forte¨ and I remember that because I had to look up the word forte to see what it meant.”
As well as a local memorial service at St Boniface (11th June) there was a service at All Hallows and Stuart’s ashes are in the Columbarium under the church. Gertrude’s ashes were also placed there when she died in 1984. Southern Region Chairman John Goss said of Stuart
“His outstanding quality was that he made a personal friend of everybody. He would go to tremendous lengths to help others in difficulties and try to share their burden.”
According to Primrose, Stuart’s philosophy was
“Get involved if good things are being done,
get involved to stop bad things being done
Always do your share”
I think it’s fair to say that Greeno got involved and certainly did his share.
Grateful thanks to Mark, Primrose and Tim Greenacre for their help in putting this blog together.
Primrose and Tim went to Poperinge with a Toc H party led by Rex Calkin in 1961. She says:
“Going into that loft at the top of Talbot House is something I will never forget especially the iconic sign Abandon Rank all ye who enter here. I love that.”
Mark’s ended up emigrating to the country his father so loved:
“The last time I saw Tubby Clayton was when he visited my Mother at her cottage near Shaftesbury in Dorset in 1971 the year I emigrated to Melbourne, Australia. Tubby was very supportive of my move to Australia and gave me the name of one of his most distinguished contacts Sir Edmund Herring, Chief Justice and Lieutenant Governor of Victoria based in Melbourne. Needless to say I didn’t actually follow up on that contact.”
From time to time this blog features the stories of the men and women who have made a significant impact on the history of Toc H. This is another such story but what makes this one different is its somewhat poignant ending. Tubby sometimes spoke of him at meetings and described him as “really nobody of any importance, just a very humble, normal fellow”. In Tubby’s understated way this was high-praise indeed.
William John Musters was born in Campbell Road, Bow in February 1897 to German parents. His father Justus (Sometimes Eustace or even Justice) was a baker and bread-maker, a trade dominated by Germans in the East End at that time. William’s surname was actually Muster but after he left the army it mutated to Musters for some reason. We will refer to him by his obvious nickname of ‘Mus’.
By the age of 14 Mus had left school and was working as a Warehouseman’s Clerk. Young Mus was also a footballer and soon began to gain a reputation as being a talented goal-keeper who could easily have turned professional if he had wanted it. Tubby later claimed to have heard of him in this capacity though they didn’t meet during World War One. Mus enlisted in April 1915 and was soon promoted to Sergeant in charge of four or five men and an 18-pounder gun. According to Tubby, Mus’ original commanding officer was a great man, a Major who was a brave outstanding Christian. Unfortunately he was killed and his replacement was a weak Subaltern who left Mus and his men alone at their guns soaking up a German barrage. Many of his men were killed and Mus himself was broken mentally and physically – a shattered foot.
His elder brother Henry Eustace Muster died on the 31st July 1917 and as his body was never found, is commemorated on the Menin Gate. This loss, combined with his anger at being abandoned by his officer on the front, left Mus very bitter about war. He was discharged in September 1918 and spent two years recovering in a Scottish hospital. Afterwards he found himself engaged to a young Scottish girl – Isabella Reekie Melville – and selling typewriters for the Yost typewriter company, an American business selling in the UK.
Meanwhile, in London, trying to get Toc H underway in 1919, Tubby had only the poorly typewriter he brought back from Poperinghe and £19 – from selling a medal he was awarded at Oxford – with which to replace it. He contacted Yost who sent out their young, limping salesman along to The Challenge office in Effingham House, Arundel Street. After explaining that his American masters would not let Tubby have anything new for £19 Mus eventually provided a reconditioned Yost No.10 for £10. However, Tubby’s first secretary, Mrs Payne, acquired on loan from a local hospital, refused to touch the No.10 so Tubby summoned his new, young salesman friend. The No.10 was taken away and a newer model replaced it.
That evening, at Tubby’s request, young Mus joined the prototype Toc H hostellers in the flat on Red Lion Square, where Tubby explained his plans. Shortly afterwards Mus left Yost and got a new job but had a few days off between posts which he gave to Tubby helping with the administration of Toc H. He was much missed by Tubby and Mrs Payne when he started his new position so they were delighted when three weeks later he turned up at the office – having quit his job – and announced he was postponing his wedding and coming to work for the fledgling Movement. And so our Mus became Toc H’s Registrar, a position he would hold for over 20 years, and the first paid staff member in Toc H.
As registrar he was responsible for keeping the membership records which, over the coming decade, would grow exponentially. And with his knowledge of accounting he also helped keep an eye on the expenditure even holding Tubby’s personal cheque book. He sat on the Finance Committee and did his best to stop the founding padre over-spending.
Mus moved into Mark I but when HQ moved to Mark II in September 1920 he was billeted there. However, he was living across the river in Mark III on the 9th September 1922 when he finally married his fiancée Isabella. The wedding took place in the nearby St John’s Waterloo and was performed by Tubby, then still a Curate having not yet been appointed to All-Hallows. Though he had performed weddings whilst at Portsea, this is the first time I am aware of him marrying anyone in London. (The normal vicar of St Johns was of course John Woodhouse, a staunch Toc H man who had provided St John’s vicarage as Mark III. Freddie Domone, Secretary of Mark II, was best man.
The newlyweds first home was a flat created by members in a couple of deserted rooms over the stables in the mews near Mark I in Kensington. Even though the stairs apparently collapsed when furniture was being taken up, one shudders to think what such a property would be worth today.
His great interest was sport and Mus had much to do with the activities at Toc H’s newly acquired sports ground in Barnet. He ran Toc H’s annual sports day at the Folly Farm site and also organised a 5-a-side competition there.
Despite his shattered foot he also kept goal for both Toc H and in the 1925/26 season Wycombe Wanderers, one of the best amateur teams in their league. He made 31 First Team appearance for the Wanderers beginning with a game against the London Caledonians in September 1925 and finishing with a Cup game against Oxford City in October 1926. He even played for an Amateur Football Association ensemble against Tottenham in New Year’s Day 1924, alongside the formidable Charlie Thompson who has graced these pages before.
For much of this time, he and Isabelle lived at 22 Fossway in Dagenham but by the thirties had moved into central London and were living in Tavistock Road near Paddington. In 1939 he and Isabella moved into the Toc H Mark in Swindon along with several other HQ staff temporarily evacuated from London because of the ‘phoney’ war. At this time he was listed as Chief Accountant as well as Registrar. But Mus’ story was about to take an unexpected turn.
Near the beginning of the war in 1940 there was some discussion about whether Toc H could support pacifists or Conscientious Objectors. At one Toc H meeting a pacifist was allowed to speak which apparently upset some old soldiers. A branch official wrote to Tubby for his view on the matter and Tubby’s reply was through the pages of The Journal. To summarise Tubby stated that “No man on active service can be allowed to attend a meeting at which a Pacifist is eloquent” and “I should have a thought a Pacifist today would be content to leave Toc H alone”. The article ran over a couple of pages and Tubby’s tone was about as aggressive as he ever got on paper. This startlingly ‘hawkish’ outpouring from Tubby must have shocked many in Toc H but perhaps none more so than Mus, who after serving the Movement so faithfully for over twenty years, handed Tubby his resignation. This came as a great surprise to all his colleagues but demonstrated just how entrenched his convictions, stemming from the bitterness left by the first war, were.
Life goes on and in December Mus started a new job – one which he beat several dozens of applicants to. A fortnight into his new role, on 14th January 1941, Mus left his West Kensington home after kissing Isabella goodbye. Two hours later, a colleague found him sitting in his chair in his office quite dead, taken by a heart attack. He was only 43.
Reeling from the destruction of his beloved All Hallows and living under the shadow of the belief that Talbot House had been destroyed, Tubby must have entered 1941 with some despondency. On the 8th of January he had lost old friend and Toc H president Lord Baden-Powell and on the 15th that important Toc H benefactor Lord Wakefield. But these were both old men who had lived long and worthy lives so surely the greatest tragedy for Tubby must have been the sudden death of the old friend who had so recently left his side because of a disagreement.
Still reeling from his recent departure, Tubby and all of Mus’ Toc H colleagues now had to come to terms with his premature death. Thankfully the bombing of All-Hallows had left the crypt and Columbarium mostly untouched and so a service was organised to receive Mus’ ashes. Tubby described that service in the Journal. The following are extracts from his long and poignant telling.
“We entered under the Cromwell tower….thankful that the winding staircase stood unimpeded….the Undercroft was lit by lamps and candles and Arthur Pettifer was there in charge with all arrangements beautifully ordered. We came East, passed the great blacksmiths’ gate and stood in a half circle, lit by candles which showed the place was quite unharmed….Unfairly I appealed to Barclay Baron to say a few words, without a moment’s warning. He complied and never used his powers to a nobler purpose……the kindly light shone softly on some names, fondly remembered, both of men and women, who had within Toc H fulfilled their task, and Sergeant William Musters thus came home.”
The name of Prideaux-Brune has been attached to Toc H for its entire existence. Latterly this has been through the work of Ken Prideaux-Brune in his varied roles of Director, Editor of Point 3, International Secretary and much more. However, for decades the foremost Prideaux-Brune in the Movement was Ken’s father Lance. A Foundation Member and great friend of Tubby, Lance’s time with Toc H was just one facet of his incredible and fascinating life. This is a glimpse at that life.
The Reverend Edward Shapland Prideaux-Brune was the second son of Charles Glynn Prideaux-Brune of Prideaux Place in Padstow, the Prideaux family being of ancient Cornish roots (The Brune’s being from Hampshire). Edward took holy orders and from 1884 was incumbent Rector in the parish of Rowner in Gosport. Long associated with the family, the church of St. Mary contains a Brune family memorial dating back to 1559, and the manor can be traced back in the family to 1277 when it was granted to Sir William le Brun by Edward I.
It was in the Rectory that Lancelot Oglander Prideaux-Brune was born on 17th October 1894. At that time, the youngest of four – Humphrey, Cheston, and Hugh preceded him – he would gain a younger brother, Amyas, in 1903.
The happy father wrote to his cousin John Oglander, shortly after the birth thanking him for agreeing to be a Godfather.
Thank you very much for your kind letter and consent to be godfather to this quartus. My wife is delighted at your acceptance and it is indeed a great gratification to us both that the ancient relationship between the two families should be thus sealed, as likewise I am sure it will be at Padstow, when they hear of it. The baptism of this new arrival, which raises my mother’s grand-maternal status to the dignity of double figures, is fixed for Sunday next at the afternoon service, when I trust you will think of us. Our neighbour, Captain Martin of the 60th Rifles, is the other godfather and my sister-in-law, Rosalie Grant, the godmother. Alan Grant, my brother-in-law, will take your place (as proxy) on Sunday next. Then as to the name over which there has been a great discussion on the part of the 2 females (I mean my wife and Isolda) it is finally settled for Lancelot Grant Oglander. I was rather for Nicholas Oglander or Edmund Seldon, but the child’s mother has taken so much trouble, poor dear thing, as Mr. Carlton would say, that assuredly it is but fair that she should have the whole choosing of the name. When I say above that it was finally settled, it is of course subject to your approval with regard to the “Oglander”, as I am charged by the two, if you disapprove, to ask you if you would be so good as to write or should there be no time for that, to telegraph “No”. I am glad to give a good account of my father. He is going to and fro (Crediton to London) on North Cornwall Railway business. As the S.W.R. are assuming a hostile attitude, it is I hope some comfort to him to get something out of them by a frequent use of a free pass. I was much interested to hear that the Cadenabbia [retreat?] is known to Joan and yourself and equally sorry that Mrs. Oglander is suffering from a painful throat. With every wish from Rowner Rectory, I remain, etc.”
It was just a co-incidence, though an interesting one, that in 1910 a certain Tubby Clayton came to be a Curate at St Mary’s Portsea just 3 miles due east of Rowner and Lance’s family home. Moreover before Tubby’s time the Revd. Prideaux-Brune’s counterpart at Portsea was William Cosmo Lang, a great churchman who would have connections to both Talbot House and Toc H.
Educated at Marlborough College, a school founded in 1843 for the sons of Church of England clergy, Lance didn’t follow his father into holy orders but instead joined Lloyds bank in 1913 and moved to London. His career was soon interrupted by the war and Lance, who had an interest in all forms of motor transport, responded to an ad stating that the army desperately need motorcyclists. He applied and two weeks later he was summoned to a hangar and told “There’s a motorbike in that crate. Put it together and show us you can ride it.”
Two weeks later, on the 20th November 1914, he was in France as a Corporal in the Army Service Corps Motor Transport company attached to the Royal Engineers. As a despatch rider, his uniform came complete with spurs which were still issued to riders reflecting their earlier use of horses for transport. When he pointed out they were rather an impairment to motorbike riding, he was ordered to chuck them over a nearby hedge.
His stint as a rider was only a few months long as Lance was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and transferred on 1st July 1915. It wasn’t all plain-sailing though as his son Ken recalled:
“Although he was supposed to be sent to a motor transport unit, the order was such a scribble that MT was read as HT and he found himself in a horse transport unit. He loathed horses and had never ridden but they said “We’ve been ordered down to the Somme so you’re going to have to come with us while the mistake is being sorted out. But”, they went on, “We’ve got a horse that even you will be able to ride. It pulled a milk cart in civilian life so it moves slowly and stops every 20 yards or so.”
The mistake was sorted out and Lance was assigned to the supply trains – columns of lorries – getting ammunition and other supplies to the batteries around the frontline near Ypres. This was how he came to be near Poperinghe and how in February 1916 he made his first visit to Talbot House. It would clearly impact his future. We don’t know how many times he visited but it was believed to be several.
Lance survived the war despite collecting bruises after being blown clean off his motorbike early on, and suffering ptomaine poisoning towards the end. Like most people though, he didn’t escape the period totally unscathed. A cousin, Edmund Prideaux-Brune was killed during the fighting in May 1918 but, perhaps more tragically, in October 1917, Lance’s younger brother Amyas died after a short illness. He was away at Gresham’s School in Holt at the time and was only 14 years old.
In March 1919 Lance left the army and returned to his job at Lloyds. At first the bank refused to employ him saying that he had been dismissed when he signed up in 1914 but the government had in fact made it illegal to sack anyone who enlisted so they had to take him back.
Soon afterwards he became an early resident – a Marksman – at Toc H Mark I in Queen’s Gate Gardens. This was the start of a lifelong relationship to Toc H Marks. In May 1921 Lance took over as a Warden, an honorary position where one of the Marksmen was responsible for overseeing the day to day running of the house. Lance replaced Herbert ‘Shi’ Shiner, Mark I’s first warden and a man who was a close friend. Shiner and his new wife Elizabeth moved to Petworth in Sussex where he was a big name in local government and a stalwart of Toc H in the area. Shi and Lance probably first met in Belgium where Shiner commanded a heavy gun battery. In 1921 Lance represented hostellers on the London Club Committee, his first, but by no means last, committee role for the Movement.
Lance was not cut out for banking and in 1921 struck out and formed the Automobile Service Company of Marylebone to sell and repair motor cars. The initials, ASC, paid tribute to the branch of the army in which he had served. This homage was reflected in his early choice of business partners and employees. His initial partner was George Henry Cope Morgan, formerly a 2nd Lt. in the Royal Garrison Artillery and they opened their first premises in half of D H Bonnella and sons showrooms at 60 Mortimer Street. Bonnella made small electrical appliances for the aviation industry but also supplied Ford so there was some synergy.
The business soon moved to larger premises at 166 Great Portland Street. Another former soldier joined the team as workshop manager. Cuthbert Marc Anthony (better known as Dick), was formerly a Staff Sergeant in the Army Service Corps in Lahore. The showroom and garage became agents for the French Seneschal car which Dick Anthony regularly raced to publicize the marque.
Cope went on to become a farmer (Possibly in South Africa) and at some point Lance recruited Geoffrey George White as his sales manager. White lived for a time at Mark VII in Fitzroy Square, a few hundred yards from the garage. Born in 1905, he was too young to have served in the war.
Lance also became a worshipper at All Hallows once Tubby was appointed there in late 1922. Tower Hill was to become another integral part of his life. He would become a Churchwarden at All Hallows from 1929 until 1937 and is commemorated with a stained glass window in the north aisle.
Lance remained living at the Toc H Mark until 1926 leaving only when he married Constance Tetley on 5th June. I am not certain how they met, nor is their son Ken, but Constance’s brother Geoffrey Tetley was Tubby’s aide de camp in 1925. They were both the children of the wealthy industrialist Henry Greenwood Tetley and his second wife Charlotte. Charlotte became a key benefactor for Tubby in several of his guises. She provided trusts for his ordinands’ scheme and for his work on Tower Hill with the Toc H and All Hallows, and Tetley Trusts. Through the latter she did Toc H a great service by providing them with 42 Trinity Square as a base for their works. Originally gifted as a clergy house, it performed a myriad of roles and I intend to tell the story of this Talbot House later this year. Lance would be a Trustee on both of these schemes.
The newlyweds lived at Stanhope Court in Tyburnia, part of the Hyde Park Estate but in 1934 moved to Thrift Wood House, Limpsfield, Surrey, a 1920s property in a wood running alongside the old roman road that ran from Peckham, to Lewes. Here they would spend the rest of their days.
Lance’s interest in motor cars went well beyond just selling them. He was a keen driver too. Although they never drove in motor circuit races they did compete in motor rallies throughout the thirties. The first major rally of the modern era in Great Britain was the Royal Automobile Club Rally and Coachwork Competition of 1932. 341 competitors in unmodified cars started from nine different towns and cities (London, Bath, Norwich, Leamington, Buxton, Harrogate, Liverpool, Newcastle upon Tyne and Edinburgh.) Lance was in that number, as was Dick Anthony, both driving Aston Martins, which as we’ll see shortly, was their main marque of the time.
Lance and Constance specialised in the coachwork competitions (Concours d’Elegance) which required drivers to first complete the rally and then show their cars for the judges which required lots of overnight polishing, picking out the letters on the tyres in white paint, and generally making the car gleam. They achieved considerable success in this somewhat esoteric endeavour and their son Ken has a number of their medals.
Ken said of his parents:
Lance liked to say how, when they got married Constance agreed to teach him to dance and he agreed to teach her to drive; and, he added: ”I was much the better teacher!” He always maintained that she was the better driver and she did all the night driving on the rallies.
They also owned a 1926 Sunbeam with a crash gearbox and she was the only person who could drive this smoothly. She once said that the invention of synchromesh had taken all the fun out of driving. The Sunbeam was a magnificent vehicle. There was a large gap between the front bench seat and the rear bench seat and so when the top was down the rear passengers had their own windscreen which they could unfold and pull towards them. Lance claims on one occasion to have conveyed two cricket teams about a mile from the field of play to his house for tea. Men stood on both running boards and crammed together in the space between the front and rear seats. The 1930s was indeed a different world!
I have compiled a table at the end of the blog showing Lance’s (and Constance, since she was regularly his co-driver) participation and performance in some of the major rallies of the era.
Meanwhile the premises on Great Portland Street were no longer adequate for Lance’s successful business and in early 1928 they moved to 10-14 Macklin Street just off Drury Lane. The premises adjoined the rear of the Winter Garden Theatre and although Lance continued to trade as Automobile Services Company at first, in the early thirties he changed the business’ name to Winter Garden Garages (previously the name of the premises only). They continued to sell Senechals until 1931 when Lance turned his attention to Aston Martin and they were loaned a recent Le Mans entrant from the factory, which Dick Anthony raced at Brooklands. At the time Aston Martin was somewhat circling the drain and, impressed by the car he had borrowed, Lance pumped money into the company in return for the sole London concession. By January 1932 he was a board member at Aston Martin. Although his time with them was short, he is known is some circles as the man who saved Aston Martin. Certainly he bankrolled their entries into the 1931 Le Mans. However, orders were not coming in fast enough and after poor sales at the Olympia Motor Show, Lance sold his stake in the company to Arthur Sutherland in March 1933.
Lance opened an additional garage at 179 Tottenham Court Road (aka 2-10 Pancras Street) where he continued to sell Aston Martins alongside other sports cars. His employees now included a junior salesman, Geoffrey Dunning Hunt who lived at the Brothers’ House in Kennington. Also too young to have served in the First World War, Hunt would join the Royal Artillery during the Second World War.
Despite no longer having a say in the running of the company, Lance did much to support Aston Martin including driving them in various rallies (See table at end) and supporting some independent drivers racing standard Astons at the 1934 Le Mans with Dick Anthony in charge of the pits. Lance and Dick were also on the first committee of the Aston Martin Owner’s Club convened in May 1935. Lance became the Honourable Secretary and occasionally hosted tea at his house if the club were on a trip in the Kent area.
One notable customer was Cicely Ethel Wilkinson, a pioneer aviator who qualified as a pilot in 1916 although her service was driving ambulances on the Western Front. She maintained her love of motors and on the 17th April 1937 bought an Aston Martin 15/98 from Lance at his Tottenham Court Road showroom.
They opened a further outlet at 185 High Holborn in early 1937 which would become their main showroom but they retained the premises at Macklin Street (100 yards away) and the showroom on Tottenham Court Road. Lance continued to sell the marque until 1938 when the company started selling directly from the factory. Instead Lance picked up a concession for Morgan which would lead to one of the great race stories of the time.
Prudence Fawcett was the daughter of a Sheffield solicitor with – much to her mother’s chagrin – a great love of sports cars. She had set up a little unofficial business importing Alfa Romeos to sell and Customs and Excise were hounding her for unpaid duty. Lance was a friend and he sold one of her Alfa-Romeos for her to pay off the debt.
In 1937 Prudence visited Le Mans as the guest of the Duke of Westminster and announced that she wanted to enter the race the following year. To cut a long story short, Lance agreed to obtain a car from Morgan, get it ready to race, and provide the support team.
They all drove to Le Mans together and Lance managed the pits with Dick Anthony as mechanic; Constance kept the lap charts; and Geoffrey White was co-driver. A mutual friend of Lance and Prudence – Lord Wakefield – provided fuel and lubricants.
Prudence finished a respectable 13th out of 45 entrants of whom only 15 finished. It was Morgan’s first entry in Le Mans and also Prudence first and last major race as she met and married an aviator who persuaded her to give up motor racing!
Hunt and Anthony took part in time trials at Brooklands in September 1938 in a Morgan 4/4 and Lance put in another Morgan in the 1939 Le Mans; this time White and Anthony shared the driving and finished 15th.
But what of life outside business. Although Lance didn’t really engage in Toc H branch life once he left the Mark, he retained a close interest and close contact. In particular he took an interest in the management of the Marks and other residential properties and was Chairman of the Central Housing Committee for 30 years. He was on the CEC briefly in 1932 (representing Mark VII) and following his two year tenure became a Vice President in 1934. He would become a President in the late sixties, a position he would retain until his death. Additionally he was an Officer of the Corporation, Chairman of the Talbot House (Tower Hill) Management Committee and – as we have already seen – a trustee on various trusts connected to Toc H. When Toc H decided to create the first purpose-built Mark to replace Punch House in Hackney, Lance chaired the committee charged with raising the necessary funds and, when completed, the Mark was named Prideaux House in recognition of his long service to the Marks and his enthusiasm for them. All in all a rather busy man.
Lance – and Constance – were also very close friends of Tubby. It was he who married them in 1926 and baptised their children. Most tellingly, it was to the Prideaux-Brunes that Tubby took himself in 1935 when he was unwell following an unforgiving series of world tours. Although he stayed in a farm house five minutes’ walk from the new family home in Limpsfield, he spent much time in their company whilst he recovered. Their company now included baby Kenneth who had been born in London on 17th November 1934. A sister – Claire – would join them in 1937.
There was still one more important impact on the motoring scene to come from Lance. A close friend was Raymond Mays the well-known racing driver who co-founded the English Racing Automobiles stable (ERA) with Peter Berthon and Humphrey Cook. Mays originally raced Bugattis, Mercedes, Hillmans and other marques but in the late thirties developed and drove his own ERA cars. In 1938 his newest project was a road-legal version of their 4.5 litre Invicta but it was doomed from the start and indirectly caused the breakup of ERA. Cook walked away with the company name and Raymond Mays was left to pick up the pieces. He wasn’t alone though. Lance had already had some involvement as his good friend Mays wanted him to distribute the new cars. However there was some contention about this as another of May’s trading partners, Charles Follett, was vying for it too. Lance wrote a very forthright letter to businessman Philip Merton who was backing Follett’s case. The following extracts are from that letter:
I submit that we are the right people to distribute, as we know the trade well. We have the right premises, comprising ample floor space, a repair shop, petrol pumps etc., all in one spot. By next September we can be free of all agency commitments and with the exception of the Morgan, my intention would be not to take on any commitments for next season, so as to concentrate the full weight of my organization on launching the E.R.A.
Follett’s organization is not, in my opinion ideal for distributing your car. His premises are very good west-end showrooms, but you cannot make a wholesale depot of a west-end showroom. His commitments are far too heavy……..
………on the other hand, Follett would be a great help on the retail sales, and I therefore suggest the following. The Winter Garden Garages to be appointed the Sole London Distributors with the special care of the wholesale sales, and they would appoint Follett as a special main agent, giving him preferential deliveries and every possible help.
In the end, this was moot because as we saw, the original project was shelved. Instead, in August 1938 a new company Shelsley Motors was formed to sell the “Raymond Mays Special” sports tourer, based on the V8 Standard Flying 14.
Shelsley, was named for the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb that Mays was famed for, was based at with the address 185 High Holborn although the workshops were at Raymond Mays and Partners garage in Bourne. Lance, Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon and Phillip Merton were the directors.
The car was unveiled at the 1939 RAC Rally and reports speak highly of the car’s handling and the power of its modified engine based on a Standard 2.7 litre V8. Four were entered in the Rally. Three were Tourers with bodies by R.E.A.L. whilst the fourth was Lance’s own specially commissioned drop-head coupe with a Burgundy body by Carlton – registration FLN388. The Tourers were driven by Raymond Mays, Dick Anthony and Sammy Davis. Anthony didn’t finish due to a minor accident. Lance retained the drop-head until 1951 and it is still thought to exist today, believed to be in the USA.
Sadly this venture never got off the ground and only the four cars mentioned were built (There are rumours of a fifth but no conclusive evidence). Shelsley Motors was wound up on the 25th July 1939.
After the breakup of ERA Lance tried to organise peace talks with Cook but ultimately they failed. However, he and Constance did later purchase the 1938 1.5 litre ERA Works car on behalf of Mays, for which he was delighted and most grateful to his old friends.
Anyhow, as the autumn of 1939 approached the whole world of motor sport was to in as much turmoil as everything else as war loomed. In the 1939 civil register a note is written against Lance’s entry saying that he will “be available for work from November”. I think this suggests that Lance was already thinking about temporarily or perhaps permanent closing his garages. Although Winter Garden Garages is still listed at Staffordshire Buildings in Macklin Street in the 1940 and 1941 trade directories, we know that Lance retired from this work early in the war. He maintained an interest though and in March 1943 attended a Motor-Racing Brains Trust meeting organised by Rivers Fletcher.
Dick Anthony went on to service airport plant for John Mowlam whilst Raymond Mays formed British Racing Motors (BRM) after the war. Lance would continue to work with Mays as a director of the motor business he ran, which involved monthly visits to Bourne.
Lance was recalled to the (now Royal) ASC being commissioned 1st August 1940 and served as Lieutenant and later Major in administrative posts at Northern Command headquarters in York.
After the war he made no attempts to revive his business though he sold the occasional car privately still including, in May 1951, his Raymond Mays Special drop-head coupe. However, retirement, if that’s what it was, was not spent pruning roses. Locally he was for many years churchwarden of Limpsfield church and chair of the governors of the local primary school.
Just a few miles from the family home was Beech House in Nutfield. A sprawling country mansion, it was purchased in 1949 by the London Police Court Mission, a kind of forerunner to the probation service originally started by the Church of Temperance England Society. Lance was introduced to their work by George James Morley Jacob (Normally known just as Morley Jacob) who was a Toc H member and former Marksman and long-time secretary of the mission. Morley even spoke about his work to Mill Hill Toc H in 1932. The Nutfield home opened in May 1952 and was “A new type of home for delinquent boys where the problem is being tackled through work in the market garden, a craft department and in further education classes”. This was clearly aligned with Toc H’s work and it’s easy to see what attracted Lance. He became the chairman of the home’s committee.
All this public work was on top of his continued Toc H connections. And Toc H would soon become a family thing. Constance belonged to the General Members’ branch of the Women’s Association and in the early fifties was on the Executive with Alison Macfie, Annie Barron, Nora Ellison and Norah Edwards helping steer the Women’s Movement toward integration. She was also involved with the purchase of Alison House, sharing Lance’s enthusiasm for Toc H properties.
Around 1951 Tubby called Lance and Constance ‘dismayed’ that his ADC had had the temerity to ask for a week off. Lance’s son Ken was called to the fold, and never left! Ken’s first work was to be Tubby’s companion on a trip to see Johnny MacMillan in Stirling. Later, whilst at Oxford, he would spend a few weeks as one of Tubby’s official ADCs and he would be the British organiser of the Winant Volunteers, the Claytons, an early member of the Projects team, editor of Point 3, International Secretary, and of course – for ten years plus emergency stand-ins – Director of the Movement. In fact at the time Ken became Director in 1974, Lance was a President and Constance was a Trustee!
Daughter Claire attended many Women’s meetings with her mother and was a volunteer waitress at the Lunch Club in Crutched Friars for several years.
Lance’s biggest input to Toc H remained with the Marks and other houses. As mentioned earlier he was heavily involved in fundraising for the Mark at Hackney which would be named in his honour. Lance was of course at the opening on 1st June 1962, along with the then Administrator George Davis, Tubby and the Queen Mother who opened it. John Burgess, a Warden at Mark III in the seventies, recalls Lance and Constance visiting Prideaux House in 1973 for inspection. Lance was also involved with Clayton House in Croydon.
Time though is relentless and Lance died on the 2nd May 1987 at the age of 92 and his wife of over sixty years, Constance followed less than two months later on the 26th June. A chapter closed.
Major Rallies entered by Lance as Driver
This list is not necessarily complete
My grateful thanks to Ken Prideaux-Brune, John Burgess, and Charles Trevelyan for their help in putting this blog together. As ever, a plethora of online sources were used and I should particularly mention Motorsport magazine, Find My Past, and Ancestry.
Finally I am especially grateful to the following two sites for much of the motor racing history. I’m no petrol-head and these sites helped me understand much about what I have written. If you are interested I suggest you click the links and take a look
This short, and largely visual, blog was inspired by a recent acquisition. Despite being the son of a keen philatelist, I had never heard of Maximums before, so the 1965 postcard of the chapel in Talbot House was to be my education in the matter. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. This blog looks briefly at all the postage related paraphernalia relevant to Toc H and it’s not much – unless of course you know better.
The first Toc H related stamps were in fact issues to help raise funds for All Hallows in 1943 after it was seriously damaged through two separate nights of bombing in late 1940. This set of six stamps were issued in a presentation card and were available to anyone making a donation of at least 2/6 (Two shillings and sixpence) to the All Hallows restoration Fund.
The next Toc H related stamp was issued in Belgium in 1965 to celebrate Toc H’s Golden Jubilee. The brainchild of the man who ran Old Flanders on the market place, it was a solitary 3 Franc stamp.
Often seen as a standard First day Cover, it was also issued as a Maximum. This is a postcard style First Day Cover featuring a picture on the front too which the stamp is affixed and franked. More common in continental Europe than the UK, I was happy to obtain one recently.
The final item, to my knowledge, is not a stamp but simply an envelope and a postage frank from Australia commemorating the Centenary of Tubby’s birth.
Probably about time we had another stamp in the UK.
One of the longest running programmes started by Toc H was The Winant Volunteers, which began shortly after the Second World War and finished less than a decade ago, though it had long left the umbrella of Toc H. Now the story has been told in full and is freely available online.
The author, Nick Robertshaw, was a Clayton Volunteer in 1970. He returned to the U.S. the following year, and was employed at his Clayton assignment, in mid-town Manhattan, for thirty years. His wife, Nanette Rousseau, served as the American coordinator for some fifteen years. They are now retired, and live sixty miles north of New York City, in the township of Pawling, New York. The preface to the book was written by Edgar Masters, who was a Winant Volunteer in 1952. He has served as President and Chairman of the organization.
The organization was the brainchild of John Gilbert Winant, the U.S Ambassador to Great Britain during the Second World War, and of Tubby Clayton, Founding Padre of Toc H, and long-time vicar of All Hallows. After Winant’s untimely death in 1947, Tubby organized a small group of young Americans to work in London’s social service organizations for the summer. At that time London was only slowly recovering from the catastrophic damage of the War. The U.S. was comparatively unscathed, and the initial groups were largely from backgrounds who could afford to work alongside the youth of London without financial worries. Tubby travelled widely, and through his efforts recruited and raised funds in the United Sates, especially in Texas, through his connections with the oil industry.
The numbers of Volunteers increased over the years until by the 1960s there were close to seventy in each year’s group. For some years an orientation was held on the island of Iona at the beginning of the summer, and after the eight weeks or so of work, Tubby would host a review at Talbot House in Poperinge. The Queen Mother was an early supporter, and for many years held a reception specifically for the Volunteers at Clarence House. From 1960 Volunteers were placed in cities outside London, starting with Bristol. Toc H Committees were instrumental in setting up placements, initially in settlement houses and church- based programs. Other cities included Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, and for many years the majority of the Volunteers were placed outside London
The History makes the observation that the year 1968 was a turning point in the organization’s development- a year that saw turbulence in the United States and rethinking by many young people of society’s goals, leading to smaller and more diverse groups. There were major changes in Britain as well. Inner city settlement houses gave way to placements to local authority social service departments. As Toc H contracted throughout Britain, Volunteers were concentrated in London. Accommodations were mostly centralized in one residence, and the groups were much smaller. At the same time as costs increased the number of alumnae and alumni who had time to help declined, as with many other voluntary organizations.
The organization formally closed its doors in 2011, after close to 2,000 young American volunteers participated as Ambassadors of Goodwill, a term coined by the longtime American Honorary Chairman, Dwight D. Eisenhower,
It should be noted that in the U.S. the organization is called Winant and Clayton Volunteers (in the U.K. Winant Clayton) This is a history of Americans going to Britain only. From 1959 over 700 Clayton Volunteers participated in assignments in social service programs on the East Coast of the U.S. Their story remains to be told.
Fifty years ago today, at All Hallows by the Tower, the Reverend Gualter de Mello, a chaplain in Toc H, joined John Urban Burgess and Marolyn Joy White in Holy Matrimony. I know many people reading this blog today will know John and Marolyn and will join me in wishing them a very Happy Anniversary.
Today’s blog is short tribute to John. You see, and I’m not sorry to make this personal, but I wouldn’t know most of the people reading this blog if it hadn’t been for John; I wouldn’t know Toc H at all if it wasn’t for John; and I wouldn’t know a part of myself that John has helped me develop over the years. So thank you John Burgess. Oh, and, well done!
I suspect it was not a coincidence that this joyous event took place on Tubby’s 85th birthday. By 1970 John already had Toc H firmly ingrained in him and he knew Tubby well. Let me tell you how that came about.
John’s parents, Harold and Margaret were both staunch members of the Movement in Essex and it was perhaps inevitable that John would join them, being inducted into the Colchester branch on the 21st September 1961.
Just three days later he struck out for Tower Hill for the annual clash between the Romans (Marksmen) and Boadicea’s gang (East Anglian Scouts). What happened that day would become pivotal a few months later. In John’s own words:
“I was stepping off the pavement looking down at the deep kerb, and a photographer took a photo of Tubby. A good portrait. Just three quarters of my face was visible. Tubby was sent a copy of the photo and he asked who the young man was. Next I had a letter from him inviting me to spend a weekend with him on Tower Hill.”
That weekend John was given small tasks to perform most notably walking Chippie in the precincts of the Tower. This led to him becoming a part-time ADC whose jobs included sending Tubby to change his clerical collar and bib which were constantly covered in tobacco, ash, custard and gravy.
He travelled to Belgium with Tubby in 1962 along with the Winant Volunteers. Tubby led them around the battlefields and cemeteries telling his stories all the way. John’s been going back ever since and has many friends in Flanders.
Tubby liked to keep detailed records of people he met and it was John’s job to interrogate them for all their personal details and record it all. It’s no wonder he has such an encyclopaedic knowledge of Toc H people to this day.
In March 1967 John was sent to Paderborn to work in one of the BAOR Service Clubs run by Toc H. He would remain in Germany for four years serving briefly in Munster and Verden as well as Paderborn.
On his return to the UK he moved into Mark III (Prideaux House) in Hackney. It was the first Mark to admit women alongside men, and Marolyn White was also staying there. They met, fell in love and in December 1970 were married at All Hallows by Gualter, who was Warden of Prideaux House.
Marolyn worked, most of her career, for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and John was now entrenched in Toc H. He was firstly working on Tower Hill at Crutched Friars but in 1973 when Gualter left, John became Warden and remained in that position until the spring of 1977. During his time the Youth Club opened behind the house and the Summer Playschemes went from strength to strength.
He left Hackney in the spring of 1977 to join the field staff for Beds and Herts. Though John’s role was wide and varied he became a specialist in the Project Scene – the work of Toc H that was pumping new life into the Movement
John was constantly encouraging branches in his remit to arrange or sponsor projects. He would help them find the resources they needed. That is how he came to Cuffley Youth Centre in 1988. The centre had previously done some work with Toc H but that was under a previous manager and with Toc H branch members now gone. But on 2 Nov 1988 John Burgess met with Richard Gentle for the first time. It was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship for the Youth Club, for Toc H, and for many individuals, not least me.
Though I wasn’t there the day Richard and John met, I was a volunteer at the Youth Club and that’s how in July 1990 I found myself sitting in the Upper Room listening to Jacques Ryckebosch unfold the tales of Talbot House. That was when I first tried the bait of Toc H and from that moment John slowly reeled me in. That is how he works.
Over the next few years I observed John’s prodigious but understated body of work for Toc H. Even a bad accident in 1997 couldn’t stop him though it slowed him down a little. John continued to give his life to the Movement, though sadly, elements of the Movement didn’t show the same loyalty to John when the chips were down and his long career ended in redundancy. Not that that stopped John being heavily involved in Toc H. He has continued to give his all, not least with the incredible work he put into the archives. He has kept up regular contact with all the various Toc H folks he as befriended over the years and continues to nurture, inspire and enthuse a whole family of Toc H people.
Let one of his oldest friends in Toc H tell us
He has befriended, affirmed, encouraged and lovingly challenged them, and there must be many people out there who first discovered, to their surprise, that they could do things they thought were beyond them, because John trusted them to do so. Many, young and old, have gone to meetings totally unaware that, an hour or so later, they would have been ‘volunteered’ by John for some task – and then found themselves to be an important, and valued, member of a team.
So well done that man and well done Marolyn too. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have done for me and may you bask in the glory of all you have achieved.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
I was recently contacted by a man who was decluttering his garage. He had come across two volumes given to him by a friend some years ago which, in turn, had come from a house clearance in Hindhead many years earlier. One contained a number of family and personal photographs whilst the second is an extraordinary collection of poetry, largely by the person who collated it. The poetry goes back to 1916 when the author was still a boy and comes forward to 1965 when he transferred his later poems – written on scraps of paper at different stages of his life – into the notebook. Amongst the poems are several with a Toc H theme which is how I came into the story and now hold the book in my hand. The author’s name was quite familiar to me as he appeared in my recent Barclay Baron story on several occasions but I realised I knew little about him. That research is underway and I will publish a blog about him and his poetry in due course but in the meantime, I wanted to share just one of the poems. So this readers, as a taster, is a poem by the Reverend Geoffrey Batchelar written to celebrate Tubby’s 80th birthday.
I don’t know if this was ever published but it didn’t appear in The Journal of the time. Instead the December 1965 edition contained a few stanzas by Edmund Blunden about the Jubilee Celebrations in Poperinge earlier in the year.
Since its rather a short blog, I have illustrated it with a few less commonly seen photos of Tubby. The original poem is also reproduced as well as a transcription.
An unseen cloud of witnesses A multitude of men Who preach the word, who listen, Who wield the mighty pen?
Men, in every walk of life Who speak or who are dumb, And men who, from your wisdom, Have picked up just a crumb
Now join together, heart and soul, To give to God his praise, Who raised you as their leader And set them on their ways.
Men, for fifty years now – At Talbot House in ‘Pop’, In Toc H here and every where – Have seen you at the top.
And many a man on ship and shore Has clasped your hand as friend, And found you as their anchor Until their journey’s end. —-
We’ve watched you on your pilgrimage Lonely, at times (it seems) – A young man seeing visions, An old man dreaming dreams.
We’ve seen you at our Guest Nights, Inspiring one and all; We’ve shared your prayers and praises In Chapel, Mark and Hall.
We’ve watched the high and mighty. We’ve watched the great and small. Listening to your wisdom – A little bit for all.
We’ve watched Tower Hill Improvement, The joy of “Children’s Beach” – Achievement of ambition Outside most mortals’ reach.
We’ve seen the Marks grow one by one, The Branches multiply, As Toc H spreads around the globe Its love to fortify
The leper has been given hope When BELRA you inspired; The keen imagination of A hundred men you fired.
The “Winant Volunteers” you brought To help in the “East End”; And so with “Clayton Volunteers” “The States” made many a friend.
And so to you, dear “Tubby”, (Though many mem’ries fade) We bring you a reminder Of all these friendships made
In Persia, “Pompey”, Poperinghe, In Tooting, on Tower Hill, In Pimlico and Paddington, Malta and far Woodville,
Kalgoorlie and Calcutta, In Petworth and Painswick, At Broken Hill and Bloemfontein, At Winnipeg and Wick,
In “Beagle” and “Acasta”, In mighty grey “Q.E.”, On the Rock of Gibraltar, On land and on the sea,
On SS “Almanzora”, On tanker, trawl and train, In Jerez-de-la-frontera, In Portugal and Spain,
At Knutsford and All Hallows, At Abadan and Ryde – Where’ve your foot has landed, And many a place beside…..
We one and all now greet you, (Wherever we may be), At your great age of 80- (Toc H’s Jubilee).
May these few lines remind you Of what we tried to say- That Thousands owe a debt to you They never can repay
A week or so ago, Bertin Deneire told us of his first trip to England to take part in a Toc H project. Now Bertin is back with a further guest blog about a trip to London in 1971. Although Toc H doesn’t feature heavily, I think this is a lovely, evocative story of one of our Belgian friends discovering the English capital for the first time. This article has been posted in the Toc H facebook group previously, but I felt it deserved another airing. Over to you Bertin………
Although my first visit to England (1969) had been a wonderful eye-opener, to say the least, it took me another two years to finally visit the capital of my new adoptive homeland: London! The reason for this being purely financial, as any trip abroad was – certainly in those days of economic recession – a fairly costly undertaking.
In that particular year (1971) I was in my first year at Teacher Training College, and as I hadn’t had a summer holiday of any meaning, I managed to coax my parents into making a trip to the City, something that had been strongly recommended by my professor of English at the TTC, I stressed. And so, in early November of that year I decided to cross the Channel for the second time, with a view to visiting ‘the capital of my dreams’. The mid-term break looked the perfect time for five days in the City, and so we left Poperinge full of ‘burning’ anticipation. ‘We’, that was Ray, Marc, Julian and myself: four mates from the TTC, hoping to spend a visit at a minimum cost but with a maximum in return. Apart from being prospective English teachers, we all had the same thing in common: we were confirmed anglophiles and… raring to go.
Unlike on my first visit to the UK, we decided to cross the Channel from Calais to Ramsgate using the novel hovercraft, thinking that was to be an experience in itself. We booked our outward journey on the first flight of the day, planning to return on the last one scheduled, which gave us a substantial discount.
On the eve of our departure, I gave my battered leather holdall a liberal sweep from the dubbin tin and packed a minimum of luggage: my striped pyjamas, some spare clothes, my trusted shaving gear plus a few city maps I had received from BTA Belgium. On the morning of our departure, Marc’s father took us to Calais and the journey to London was to be completed by train, the four of us having bought a BritRail Junior Pass.
The ‘flight’ proved quite a disappointment as the weather was rough and there was an ominous swell in the Channel. I was most disappointed that you couldn’t walk around in the craft and besides, looking through the portholes was almost impossible, as the whipped-up spray made visibility almost nil. Somewhere in the middle of the Channel, the sea became dangerously turbulent, and all you could see on both sides were two walls of green, as if the craft was caught between two soaring waves of seawater. Each time the hovercraft reached the crest of a wave, it plummeted nose-first into the dark dip shaped by the towering rollers, the seatbelt holding you in place and preventing you from hitting the low ceiling. Rolling on the swell, all you could see from the portholes was – only sea this moment and only sky the next.
I started swallowing more frequently and managed only just to keep my food down. One of the female passengers sitting at the far end of my bay was so violently sick that she fainted and fell head-first on the floor in the central alley. Two flight attendants rushed to pick her up and tried to bring her round by dampening her brow with cologne tissues, the stench of vomit mingling with the smell of cheap eau-de-toilette. Fortunately, the crossing took only 45 minutes and so we were glad when we finally arrived at Ramsgate terminal where we boarded a shuttle bus to the local railway station.
I can still remember the dragging train journey through the bleak Kentish landscape followed by the tedious trundle through the grey suburbs of Greater London, showing the untidy backyards of endless terraced-houses. What a difference from my first drive through the Kentish landscape, two years before!
As the train slowed down, following the banks of the River and passing the Oxo Tower on the South Bank, we got our first glimpse of Westminster: the impressive Houses of Parliament, The Mother of all Parliaments, as we had been taught, and of course the slender Big Ben tower, famous for its legendary chimes.
We got off at a bustling Victoria Station where we bought ourselves a Go-As-You-Please ticket, a pass that would entitle us to limitless use of the underground and other London Transport for three full days. This, we first used for the trip to our accommodation, which was in Kennington Park Road in the South West.
Our lodgings were in a place called The Brothers’ House, a Victorian edifice smack between the famous Oval Cricket Ground and the busy Elephant & Castle crossroads. The hostel, which was run by Neville Minas (a wartime friend of Ray’s aunt), was one of several establishments owned by the Toc H movement. Actually, it was not meant for tourists but – in line with the caring nature of Toc H – it served as a ‘social’ hostel for long-time residents who had no home of their own. As an exception to the strict house rules, Neville had been found prepared to put us up for four nights. We could even have half-board for a small extra charge, something we gladly accepted.
Mr Minas’s agreement, however, came at a price. We were supposed to share multi-bedded rooms with other guests who seemed to be either minor office clerks or junior shop assistants, with a few social ‘outcasts’ thrown in. I found myself allocated to the basement in a dank room with three other portly, middle-aged men.
On the first night of our stay, I couldn’t get my sleep as their snoring – in different keys and rhythms – kept me wide-awake. Sometimes, it seemed to mingle with the rattling noise of the late underground trains, winding their way somewhere deep beneath us. Outside, you could hear the slowing-down of black cabs, their screeching brakes eerily tearing up the still of the night, a noise only to be exceeded by the blaring siren of the odd ambulance going by. To top it all, a brisk wind made the small sash-window next to my bed produce an erratic but most annoying jangling noise.
Early in the morning, after I had finally dropped off, one of the men stumbled out of his creaking bed and – scratching his body like a rousing gorilla – made his way across the squeaky lino to the washstand. While the tap was running, he undressed and started washing with no obvious inhibition. Stock-still, I peered from under the blankets at this slightly hunchbacked man, hung like a baboon. The scraping sound of his razor cut through the eerie silence like sandpaper on stone. Now I knew for certain that I wasn’t going to get any more sleep… Half an hour later another of the men got out of bed and went through the same motions, his neighbour following suit shortly after.
When they had all left the room I got up myself, had a quick wash and made my way to the ground-floor where the kitchen was. Some of the guests were already having their breakfast: thin crispy rashers of bacon with eggs, followed by slices of toast and Robertson’s marmalade. Mrs Brierly, the charlady, gave me a cup of her strong brew, something that picked me up in no time. It looked pitch-black but smelled like creamy malt. After my erstwhile rather unpleasant encounter with tea, it now seemed to do me a world of good, and I became a tea addict there and then.
By now, my friends had come down and apparently they too had spent more or less the same kind of restless night. Only they didn’t care much for tea, and settled for a steaming mug of Nestlé instead (referred to by Mrs Brierly as ‘Nestles’). Not being used to instant coffee, we joked behind her back that was she really meant was ‘Nettles’.
After breakfast we decided to ‘hit the town’ in pairs. Marc and Julian would go together, while Ray and I would visit something different, each comparing notes in the evening on what we had seen. We were pretty sure this would work, since we shared more or less the same interests: history and war, museums and art galleries, statues and monuments, music and fashion…
An icy draught struck us in the face as we left on our first outing that morning. The air was thin and crisp, as it seemed to come down straight from a cloudless sky. Streams of dead leaves lined the gutters, and freak winds scurried them up into the air, the universal reminder of a windy autumn. Kennington tube station was only a few minutes’ walk from our lodgings but the biting wind added a mean chill factor.
At the station, a black attendant working the lift (and who looked not unlike Uncle Tom) took us down to the platform. From here we took the Northern Line to the intersection with the Circle Line. The smell of carbolic acid was all around and each time a train arrived, a metallic voice called out “Mind the gap! Mind the gap!” It struck me that passengers were so stoically silent, as everybody seemed to be immersed in their newspapers or books.
In the big, glazed-tile hall leading to the different platforms a lone busker was playing ‘Cry me a river’ on his tenor saxophone, his instrument case serving as a collection box. The melancholic tune echoed wonderfully in the arched hall as we hurried past to the eastbound escalator. I was quite impressed by the man’s obvious talent, but we were reluctant to stop and listen to him as everybody was rushing by, and apparently nobody paid attention to this brilliant young singer.
I found it a great shame that we didn’t stop to listen but we were simply dragged along with the maelstrom of hurrying commuters. As we passed him by, Marc and I pretended to search our pockets for some coppers, which gave us a fleeting moment to enjoy the man’s impromptu performance. As we left rather reluctantly, I thought to myself – what is an artist like you doing in a place like this? You should be in the studios making records!
We got out at Trafalgar Square, the nucleus of the City. The grandness of the place with its clover-shaped fountains and its grand statues was positively overwhelming. This, I pondered, was where the big political rallies and CND marches had taken place, the place where the likes of Bernadette Devlin and Bertrand Russell had addressed big crowds with their inspiring speeches. As we emerged from the pedestrian subway, a flock of pigeons flew up, almost darkening the sky as they swirled towards Nelson’s Column. Here and there we spotted something that we had never seen in Belgium: graffiti – scribbled on office buildings and public walls. One of the slogans that seemed to reoccur all over the city was ‘Clapton is God’ and also the unfathomable scribble ‘Kilroy was here’. But who the heck was Kilroy, we wondered.
The streets were much busier than I had expected with an endless stream of red double-decker buses and boxy black cabs gingerly snaking their way through the congested traffic. Again there was that eerie noise of braking taxis adding to the juddering engine noise of the stationary Routemasters… endlessly idling in neutral.
It was much colder than I had expected for the time of the year, and it struck me how many tramps and young people could be seen huddling up in bundles of tattered blankets. Others were sleeping rough in big cardboard boxes, the ones that come with washing machines or tumble driers. I kidded that a couple of tramps had a row over who had the best box. I imagined one said to the other “It’s not a fair world; yours is a Miele; I only have a Philips!” All joking apart, it was a sad sight: some of the young men – barely a few years older than us – were lying in porticos, cuddling some thin mongrel; others in a desperate bid to keep warm were stretched out on the central heating grids of some office building.
Although it was only early November, you could already see the bemittened chestnut men with their charcoal fires, the acrid smoke from their blackened braziers hitting your nostrils like the proverbial ‘punch on the hooter’.
We found it rather difficult to decide where to start our sightseeing tour, as obviously there was so much to choose from. Only now did I understand the full meaning of Samuel Johnson’s famous quotation When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. Naturally, we would go for the free museums such as the Science Museum, the V&A, the National and Portrait Galleries.
The big tourist attractions such as Madame Tussaud’s and The Tower we would keep optional, as these were rather expensive for our narrow student’s budget. And of course, there was Cricklewood Green in the North West, which we deemed a ‘must see’ as it featured on the famous Ten Years After rock album…
After some discussion we made our way up north to the British Museum for our first proper visit. On entering the forecourt we felt absolutely overwhelmed by the sheer size of the museum. We just stood there for some time in sheer awe at the extensive choice of rooms and galleries. After some careful consideration I picked out the Sutton Hoo collection and the Lewis chess players while Ray went to see the Egyptian rooms and other classic highlights like the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone.
By lunchtime we felt positively peckish, and managed to find a cheap snack bar in Manette Street, a cul-de-sac off Charing Cross Road. With its gaudy colours and Formica tops it still had the atmosphere of the Swinging Sixties. As we went in, a sickening smell of over-cooked frying oil struck us in the face. But that didn’t ruin our appetites. We managed a hot meal for under a pound, and you could still get a cuppa there for only 10 (new) pence then. Ray now suggested nearby Foyle’s for our next visit, but I said that we had better keep that for our last day, as I didn’t want to spend too much of my meagre pocket money on the very first day of my holiday.
The bustling streets were now very busy with hurrying passers-by. Some of them – presumably civil servants – were dressed in posh pinstriped suits, topped with the archetypal British bowler and the universal black brolly. But the sight of the young men living rough seemed to haunt me and, was it imagination or was it the cold, but I felt shivering all over, despite our hot lunch. Ray suggested going back to our lodgings and putting on more clothes but I said that I had only brought my nylon school anorak, which was obviously a bit thin for these icy conditions.
Instead, we took the tube to the other side of the river and visited the Imperial War Museum. It struck us that whenever you entered a museum the attendants would check your bags as in those days, security measures (IRA terrorist threats?) were already quite prominent. Anyway, that didn’t take long and at least it was warm and cosy there. We thought the Imperial was superb and we marvelled at the fabulous displays of weaponry and other military artefacts.
When we got home that evening, I asked Neville what the cheapest clothes shop was in London. He replied that Marks & Sparks offered good value and that British Home Stores might be an alternative. After some hesitation, he added that Petticoat Lane often had good second-hand winter coats that could be had for a third of the price, if you could settle for such a compromise, he concluded dryly.
The next morning, after a much better night’s rest and a full English breakfast, we set out for Middlesex Road where indeed we found several such clothes stalls. The offer was quite extensive and included half-long Monty coats, worn black donkey-jackets, gabardine trench-coats, long, sand-coloured cashmeres and old army greatcoats. I knew my fussy mother would never have approved of such a dubious purchase but the understanding Ray promised to keep ‘mum’. After some browsing around I went for a camel duffel-coat that looked as if it had hardly been worn, though it did smell a bit of mothballs.
I must admit that it was rather oversized, but Ray said that was the fashion, and – fair enough – with its big pockets and warm hood it was exactly what I needed. The stallholder didn’t even have a mirror but I gloated at myself in a nearby shop window. In my naïve imagination I thought I looked like a CND protestor ready for the next Aldermaston march.
As it happened, the bearded Ray found something for himself: an old Navy jumper, which made him look a bit like the HMS Hero sailor in the famous Players’ advert, I joked. The jumper sported the letters RTC Fleet, but none of the benumbed stallholders seemed to know what the abbreviation stood for (we filthily joked that it meant ‘Randy Tits and Cunt’), but at least we were now ready to brave the cold. That afternoon we visited Carnaby Street and The Kings Road, hoping to somehow get ourselves in a Sixties mood. However, it seemed obvious that it wasn’t anymore like in the days when The Fab Four were setting the scene (well it wouldn’t, as they had recently broken up). No Twiggys or Shrimps to be spotted either, and very few hotpants or miniskirts (not surprisingly in this kind of weather).
As a matter of fact, we had difficulty finding where Mary Quant once had her famous shop. Since it was a Saturday, Portobello Road street market was on, and like Petticoat Lane that seemed to be our thing. I bought myself a tiny, solid brass Churchill statuette, a fine paperweight that would grace my study desk at TTC, I imagined. Ray for his part managed to find several fine second-hand LPs: Jimi Hendrix, Carole King, Neil Young, King Crimson, Rod Stewart and the Faces…
On our third day, we visited Downing Street where we had our picture taken at the world-famous No 10 (a far cry from the stringent security measures these days). Then it was up to the Changing of the Guard, which was then still performed outside Buckingham Palace gates. After that, we had lunch in a kitschy Wimpy Bar (I particularly liked their plastic tomato-shaped ketchup bottles). The meal seemed to be a repetition of breakfast, as – allegedly – you could eat well in Britain by “having English breakfast three times a day”.
That afternoon we visited a number of bookshops including the big W.H. Smith & Son on Oxford Street and a few second-hand shops off Tottenham Court Road. Still, we decided to save our money for the last day and settled for some window-shopping in the boutiques and posh arcades of the West End. To me, Fortnum & Mason with its gloved servants and thick-carpeted floors was the cream of the crop. I thought it looked more like a boudoir than a shop. Still, no purchases here!
That evening we decided to go and see a play. As we crossed Leicester Square, I was hoping to see the likes of Roger Moore and Julie Christie but the only people we saw were shivering tourists who, like ourselves, were queuing up impatiently at the box-offices. It was to be either Agatha Christie’s ‘Mousetrap’, Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ or Harold Pinter’s ‘Caretaker’. We finally settled for the latter but the play proved to be slightly more difficult for us to comprehend than we had expected. In order to make good our disappointment we returned to our lodgings by making a detour through Soho, hoping to get a glimpse of the ‘window women’ (we later heard that this was a continental custom – not a British one) but apart from a few leering Chinamen and the odd rowdy drunk there was little that attracted our attention.
On the final day of our stay, we decided to do a spot of shopping. In fact, after having scrimped and saved for three days we thought we might ‘splash out’ a bit now. As agreed, Ray and I decided to visit Foyle’s, whereas Julian and Marc wanted to buy something fanciful from Harrods.
On entering the famous shop I almost lost heart. I had never seen anything like this in my life. Six floors of bulging shelves, books stacked up to the ceiling, piles of volumes dumped in every nook and cranny… (I later learned that the shop boasted some five million volumes).
The language section alone seemed to take up almost an entire floor in itself with every kind of book available. I really didn’t know where to begin, let alone what to buy as the collection seemed to cover every aspect of the English language. An absolutely ancient lift, complete with concertina metal door, took you to the different floors but on each floor we arrived it was the same story. Truly an Aladdin’s cave!
After much hesitating, Ray went for the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, at cut-price rate, and the bulky Cassell’s Comprehensive Dictionary, both of which were hard to come by in Belgium. I too wanted something you couldn’t get in our country. But what…? Then I remembered our professor’s celebrated words that “prepositions” were “the key to a good command of the English language”. The man had added that you could assess anyone’s knowledge of the language simply by their use of prepositions… But here was so much more: grammar books, pronunciation dictionaries, reference books and – quite literally – thousands of Penguin paperbacks.
After some painful ‘soul-searching’, I finally settled for F. T. Wood’s ‘Prepositional Idioms’, a large volume on prepositions, as the wise professor had recommended. The book seemed to explain every aspect of this difficult matter: prepositional idioms and adverbial particles, phrasal verbs and collocations. From now on there were to be no more questions on the use of the correct preposition, I concluded (I could already see my marks going up at the next English test). However, this ‘pick of the basket’ cost me a grand £2.75, my steepest expense up to now.
The problem on the final day was that both our money and our travel cards had run out. From now on, our explorations were to be ‘on Shank’s pony’, as Neville had termed it. So, that morning we walked from Westminster Abbey, along Whitehall, across the Strand and by way of Fleet Street all the way down to St Paul’s. This was to be another highlight of our visit. In this ‘Cockpit of Britishness’ were the tombs of three of the most famous men in British history: Nelson, Wellington and Wren. But we were also intrigued by the mysterious Whispering Gallery, which proved its name after all.
Later that afternoon, we continued south to Trinity House, another Toc H establishment on Tower Hill. Neville had an old friend living there who had agreed to take us free of charge to The Tower, where apparently he worked in administration. So, as promised, Alec Churcher led us through the staff entrance, on the pretence that we were doing “a history study on The Tower”, the kind man managed to get us in for free. Alec then left us to our own devices while he went his way to his office. Ray and I marvelled at the colourful Beefeaters and the legendary ravens, although we were not unduly impressed by the opulent Crown Jewels, especially as it was rumoured they were fake!
As time was pressing now, we spent our very last pennies on a bus fare from Tower Hill to our lodgings. We thanked Neville profusely for his kindness and had our holdalls packed in no time.
By now, the only money left in our thin purses was some loose coppers. So we had to walk all the way from Kennington Park Road to Waterloo Station, dragging our bulging bags with us. Ray claimed he knew a shortcut that would get us there quicker. However, our map was a little too sketchy for such an undertaking, so we had to ask the way on several occasions not to get lost completely.
We fretted and nagged each other until we finally found our way back to a bustling Waterloo Station. Just in the nick of time, we managed to board the train back to Ramsgate, for the very moment we slung our holdalls into the luggage rack above our seats the train gingerly set in motion. Panting and with burning feet we stretched out for the long journey back to Belgium. I looked out of the window and saw the murky river Thames flowing wide along the railway line. The sight of this dreary part of the City gave a depressing feeling. It wasn’t difficult to imagine how the Cockneys must have lived through the dark and dangerous days of the Blitz, or indeed to conjure up the grimy squalor of Victorian days with its shabby rogues and top-hatted chimney sweeps. However, no flight of fancy could ever deduct from my lasting feelings for this British metropolis.
Little did I know then that a couple of years later, after graduating, I would find myself in Greater London employed as a French teacher in two secondary schools. Later still, that first trip to London would stand me in good stead for my future job as a tour guide in the city of my dreams. As we left the station behind us, I couldn’t help thinking of the poetic lyrics Ray Davies had written a few years before when he immortalised it in his dreamy ‘Waterloo Sunset’.
Dirty old river,must you keep rolling, flowing into the night.
People so busy,makes me feel dizzy. Taxi light shines so bright.
But I don’t feel afraid. As long as I gaze atWaterloo Sunset I am in Paradise.
In some ways this blog has a very tenuous link to the history of Toc H since it looks at something that happened over two years before Talbot House opened its doors and even further before Toc H was formed. And yet the event focused – quite literally because it was a photographic session – on the man whose name adorned the house but more crucially, whose death in the First World War became archetypal of the loss of almost an entire generation. Gilbert Talbot was almost certainly destined for a career in politics and these photos actually give an indication of this. We will never know what impact he, and the many other young men and women who lost their lives before their potential had been unveiled, would have had on the Twentieth Century but then of course, the War that claimed their lives, meant the world was irrevocably transformed in any case.
There is another reason that I wanted to write this blog though, and that is the photographer. Mary Olive Edis (She usually dropped the Mary professionally) was born in London in 1876 to a successful physician and his wife. She took up photography at the age of 24 and by 1905 had set up a studio in Sheringham, Norfolk with her sister. It was between here and a studio in Notting Hill that she divided her time and became a competent and sought-after portrait photographer. At different times she also had studios in Cromer and Farnham. Thus it is the former, along with Sheringham, that gives me local interest, and the latter, where I believe the photographs featured here were taken.
Edis took photos of everyone from local gentry to the fishermen of Sheringham and much of her collection is now at Cromer Museum, which is housed in a former fishermen’s cottage just down the road from Edis’ studio. She started using Autochrome, an early colour photography technique, in 1912 and became renowned for it. Her most famous body of work is probably from just after the Great War as in 1919 she became a War Photographer, the first female photographer to be officially engaged as such. She married in 1928 and became Olive Edis-Galsworthy and died in 1955. Her ashes are in Sheringham Cemetery.
But it is the session she had with Gilbert Talbot that we share today.
Gilbert Walter Lyttelton Talbot was born in Leeds on the first day of September 1891 to Edward Talbot, Bishop of Winchester and Lavinia Lyttelton, a niece of Gladstone. His uncle, John Gilbert Talbot was Conservative MP for the Oxford University constituency 1878-1910.
In 1905 Talbot went to Winchester and was in Trant’s House. Trant was the name Wykehamists gave to Mr Bramston. After a shaky start, he turned into a model student, won the Duncan Prize for reading and edited the Wykehamist magazine. Whilst at Winchester, he write to a London paper with such an air that he received a response from a major Liberal politician believing the schoolboy was a figure of great importance. And perhaps he was, even then. He was a prefect and head of his house and was looked up to by the younger boys in his charge. It was said he showed splendid moral courage and purged school life of its ‘pollutions’.
In 1910 he went up to Christ Church, Oxford to read Literae humaniores (Greats) then in 1911 his father was appointed Bishop of Winchester and the family moved to Farnham Castle. Talbot would spend his holidays there. During his visits home he would often meet politicians and other important men who stayed at Farnham Castle. Some of them influenced his thinking and stirred his political ambition.
A Conservative who recognised the need for a policy of social reform, he once told his parents:
I want to lend a hand in the fight against poverty and misery and wrong … My greatest ambition is to be among the great world problems and to try and give my part to their solution.
At Oxford he was a founder member of the New Tory Club, Secretary of the Canning Club and President of the Oxford Union. Amongst his contemporaries was Harold MacMillan, a future Premier. He later said of Talbot:
I feel certain that if he had been spared he would have made a great mark in our politics.
He wrote early on for some periodicals on subjects such as Public School Life and at Oxford, he spoke often at the Union. The Times asked him to write about the Prince of Wales’ time at Oxford, which he did with aplomb.
Canon H. Scott Holland knew Talbot well and wrote a short character sketch of him just weeks after his death. He said that Talbot loved getting to the principle of the matter and analysed motives admirably.
Of all those he met at his parent’s house, none had a greater impact on him than the former Tory Prime Minister Arthur Balfour. Balfour visited the family at Farnham Castle on a number of occasions. After a visit in April 1912 Talbot wrote:
AJB can never have been in better form. As usual I was quite overpowered by the charm of the man. It’s simply the size of the intellect that first strikes one – in a different class to everyone else’s in the room
At this period he was out of the political limelight. After a landslide defeat to the Liberals in 1906 Balfour continued to lead the Tory party but stepped down in 1911. He would return to political power during the war but spent the interregnum as MP for the City of London and giving talks.
In March 1913 the Pall Mall Gazette and many other newspaper carried an advert announcing that Mr Balfour promised to debate a “subject of present day importance” with Mr. Gilbert Talbot, son of the Bishop of Winchester, at the Farnham Corn Exchange on April 25. He was a guest of the family at Farnham Castle for the weekend following the Friday night debate. The Bishop took the Chair. The discussion was organised by the Farnham Field Club as the finale to their lecture season. It was a condition of Balfour’s attendance was that no press coverage was allowed.
Nevertheless, the subject was leaked and turned out to be The Future of the British Nation. The local paper, took the view that they should be allowed to publish the basic facts and said that Talbot, in opening, spoke at length about the decadence in the life and aspirations of the English people. He was supported by Mr. Livingstone who also took a pessimistic view of the future of this country. It should be noted, at this point, that Talbot was sometimes described as a clever controversialist, so he may well have been looking for a strong reaction from Balfour.
The Rev. A. E. M. Sims and Mr Balfour took the opposing view. The paper doesn’t go any deeper into the debate except to say that Mr Balfour’s charming personality was much appreciated by the audience and there was a ‘hurricane of applause’ for him. The meeting closed after two and a quarter hours.
However, Talbot wrote his own summation later in which he admitted to be nervous at first but once he got into his subject he lost that and felt very excited about it all. He was glad to hold their attention throughout.
I suspect that the Edis photographs featured in this blog were taken at this weekend, probably in Edis’ Farnham studio which was at 68 Castle Street, just down the hill from Farnham Castle. She opened the Farnham studios for a couple of months each spring and it was open in April/May 1913. Given that the debate had attracted much interest, it seems fitting that they should mark it by having their picture taken together. Nevertheless its possible it was in 1912 or another time altogether. That doesn’t really matter. It just matters that they were taken.
And this is what it left us. One of the great portrait photographers of the time, capturing for posterity a man with his life and career ahead of him.
Of course a long life and great career were not to be. I expect most reading this column know how Gilbert Talbot lost his life at Hooge on the 30th July 1915 and how a humble soldiers’ club in Poperinge took his name and held it for eternity.
I loved Gilbert – he was always delightful to me, and I cherished the most confident hopes that if he lived he would do great things for his country. He has done great things – the greatest and most enviable – but not in the way I expected
It was Balfour who said that had he lived Gilbert Talbot would have one day been Prime Minister of England and thus this final photo from the Olive Edis’ session shows the former prime Minister alongside the one who may have been.
But let us, as so often we do in Toc H, leave the last word to Tubby Clayton, who said of Gilbert Talbot:
One would have been to English public life what Rupert Brooke began to be to English letters
Today’s Guest Centenary blog is a first-hand look at the UK Project scene from Bertin Deneire who took part in many activities back in the seventies and maintains a close connection to Talbot House to this day.
At Talbot House, the famous British soldiers’ club in Poperinge, I had heard of Toc H Projects, an organisation that ran camps for underprivileged children with the help of volunteers, native as well as from abroad. I made enquiries to one Miss Rolande Blanckaert, the local Toc H representative and a Talbot House trustee who would test you before your ‘application’. She was a kindly and most helpful spinster who lived only a few yards from The Old House in Gasthuisstraat where she ran a millinery and hatter’s shop.
I can still picture Miss B sitting in her cosy little backroom bedecked with Albion souvenirs and other paraphernalia of Britishness: Jasperware pottery, a miniature Union Jack, a Toby jug, a couple of old Fortnum & Mason jars, pictures of royalty, a framed brass rubbing… On the mantelpiece was a silver-framed B&W picture that clearly had pride of place in this shrine of anglophilia. It was that of Miss B shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth II, as in 1966 – on the anniversary of Toc H – she had been introduced to HRH herself on that most memorable occasion.
When I first visited her, she immediately started testing my English, stressing the fact that everything in the language hinged on collocations and prepositions (how right she was!). If I paid attention to these, I would be OK, she claimed. After a few further questions, Miss B seemed quite surprised that she didn’t have to coax me into joining the Projects, as I was already ‘keen as mustard’ and ‘raring to go’. To me, Miss B herself spoke absolutely perfect RP English (maybe that was because she listened to Radio 4 all day). How I envied her command! And so, together with Stephen, a younger schoolmate of mine, I decided to travel to Guildford (Surrey) in Southern England for ‘a fortnight’s holiday with children who otherwise would not have one’, as the heading on the Toc H Projects brochure read.
The booklet mentioned ‘deprived’ kids, and as I had never heard this word before I quickly looked it up in my well-thumbed Prisma Dictionary. Before long I would come to realise that the true meaning of the term was quite different from the one explained in the book…
Anyway, as I had been working as a tobacco stringer for the past month, I had earned some good pocket money that was to be used for my travelling expenses. This was topped up with some extra sterling that my generous granddad had bought off good old George Sutherland, a mate of his (a Scottish expat actually), who worked as a gardener for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Poperinge and who frequently travelled to the UK.
In my battered and CND-stickered wallet I kept a chart of the various notes and coins plus a handy conversion table based on fractions of a 240th (the common denominator to add up the pounds, shillings and pence). As the pound in those days was still ‘old money’, it was not an easy thing for us continentals to get acquainted with.
Instead of ‘decimal’, the system was still ‘imperial’ with 20 shillings to a pound (spelled £) though not in a ‘guinea’! and 12 pence (spelled ‘d’) to a shilling (called ‘bob’). Apart from such monetary absurdity, there were more puzzles in this enigmatic money-game such as half-a-crown, sixpence, three-pence and twopence (spelled ‘tuppence’). There was even a ‘monkey’ (although my budget did not reach that far) plus an assortment of Mickey Mouse coins like ‘halfpennies’ and ‘farthings’ at the other end of the scale. Very, very confusing… indeed.
We are sailing, we are sailing…
In spite of ample parental advice to be prepared for all kinds of weather, I wanted to travel light, and so I packed only what I imagined to be the bare necessities for a holiday in England: my pocket Dutch-English dictionary, a pair of faded blue jeans (flared in those days!), my trusted M65 army jacket, a pair of well-trodden Claysons, my precious Alpine pocket knife, a down sleeping bag, a few spare T-shirts and some clean underwear.
Since English summers were reportedly wet, or at least humid, I thought some kind of impermeable jacket would protect me against the notorious British climate. As I did not own such a garment, I reluctantly asked my Mum for her expert advice. She claimed that a fisherman’s oilskin would be the best choice. However, there were no such things on sale in the clothes shops of a rural backwater like Poperinge, so I took recourse to the local DIY shop where they sold PVC jackets for navvies…. And although I would stick out like a human canary, the garment would at least keep me dry even in the worst of deluges. Although the newly introduced hovercraft was the in thing at the time, we still thought in ‘national’ rather than ‘European’ terms, and by consequence we unwisely opted for the Ostend to Dover crossing rather than the much shorter Calais-Dover route. Stephen and I had decided to hitchhike our way to Ostend as in those days this way of travelling was well accepted and without much danger, certainly for boys. But Stephen’s Dad objected, not because of any risk to ourselves but simply because we stood a chance of missing the ferry, if we were unlucky at thumbing a lift.And so, early that auspicious August morning in 1969, Stephen’s father took us in his comfortable Citroën DS, and dropped us off – holdalls and all – at the ferry terminal in Ostend. Here we were, two green Flemish kids with hardly any travelling experience but ‘bright-eyed and bushy-tailed’ for the coming adventure across the Small Divide.
I must stress that we had arrived there well on time for, as the man at the travel agency had warned, you needed to complete a number of official forms before boarding the ferry. In those days every ship’s passenger had to fill in a pink Visitor’s Card, a white Landing Card and a grey Immigration Card. The first one was the most important of the three, as you had to present it to the Immigration Officer on arrival in Dover. And this man – we had been told – would question you about your purpose for travelling to the UK…!
I vividly remember how we gingerly boarded the ‘Princess Astrid’ across a wobbly gangplank. She had been finished only recently at Hoboken’s historic Cockerill Yards by the renowned ‘Compagnie Maritime Belge’ and was so named after our latest princess royal (my granddad sneered that royals “bred like rabbits though never lifted a finger for their keep”).
‘Astrid’ had three impressive funnels and big, white horn-like ventilation shafts sticking out from her upper-deck, a vessel much like those in a Tintin comic book. To my landlubber’s mind, she seemed absolutely enormous, but once on the open sea she would look (and behave!) more like a nutshell. The weather was clear and fine on that auspicious August morning but there was a brisk wind and a rather nasty swell in the Channel.
A salty dog
I must admit that I had little idea of what a sea journey meant, as the best experience I had yet had with aquatic transport was a rowing-boat trip on Dikkebus Pond near Ieper and a leisurely boat trip on a school outing to Walcheren in South Holland. Anyway, for us this was going to be like a mini cruise, we hoped. Stephen and I bought ourselves a 33-cl Stella Artois can, a small prismatic bar of Toblerone and a packet of 20 Senior Service Plain. We both rented a folding deckchair from the Purser’s Office and so, for the price of 5 BEF (today’s equivalent of some 20 Euro cent), we finally sat ourselves down on the sun-deck among the other – mainly young – passengers.
As I have always been most susceptible to smells, I thought I discerned a faint smell of vomit coming from the canvas fabric of my chair, but I soon dismissed this as an unfounded impression of mine. One smell that was unmistakably around was that of diesel oil. Ever since we had left the quay I had discerned the sickening stench of diesel wafting from the ship’s engine room. But worse was to come…
The year 1969 still was the time of hippies and other ‘long-haired lovers’, and so a colourful crowd of backpackers and other young travellers were lazing on the upper deck, basking in the sunshine. Some faint guitar chords could be heard coming from a young bloke leaning against the ship’s railings. Sheer heaven, I thought.
However, as we approached the open sea, the colour of the water turned a menacing dark green. ‘Astrid’, for her part, soon began rocking wildly and for those who were lying on their backs on the deck – in true hippie tradition – it was getting more and more difficult not to roll onto their neighbours. My father had told me that he’d heard from his British acquaintances that crossing the Channel on the Ostend-Dover line normally took four and a half hours: one and a half hours leaving the Belgian coast, one and a half in the open sea and another one and a half with the English coast in view. As the journey proceeded, the sea became increasingly choppy, and now and then I saw white foam flying from the ship’s bow.
As Stephen was becoming more or less the same colour as the sea, I advised him to go down to the toilets and battle it out there. I for one was convinced that as long as I could keep my eyes fixed on the horizon I would be OK, so I remained on the upper deck, now and then swallowing a hint of heartburn that was lingering at the back of my throat.
Besides, the fresh air seemed to help, in contrast to the vile smell coming from the lower deck where the toilets were. It seemed to do the trick for a while but more and more people around me were clearly turning a ‘whiter shade of pale…’ sending those still standing ‘cartwheeling across the floor’. When they too were beginning to be sick, the smell became absolutely revolting, and I turned my face from the queasy crowd in a bid not to become the next victim. I tried to recapture ‘my’ horizon but all I saw were two green walls of waves embracing the ship on both sides. I thought… my God, how will this end…? Just as I was about to join Stephen downstairs, someone on the upper deck called out ‘Dover!’ and sure enough… in the distance there seemed to emerge a greyish strip that had to be the English coastline. Almost at the same time the swell started to subside and through the salty flying spray, there appeared what Vera Lynn once glorified as ‘the White Cliffs of Dover’. Unfortunately, I can’t remember exactly how white they were in those days, as I have the impression that today they should rather be dubbed ‘the Grey Cliffs of Dover’.
As we staggered down the gangplank at Dover Western Docks, we weren’t half relieved to get off our erstwhile Titanic. And although it was now well past lunchtime neither Stephen nor I felt particularly peckish. The quay was draughty and humid, and the presence of a few menacing seagulls came across like the backdrop to a Hitchcock film. The ferry terminal looked positively Victorian, with its wrought-iron staircases, and a pervasive smell that was somewhere between creosote and Dettol hung in the air. In spite of my self-pity I couldn’t help thinking of the poor boys in the ill-fated British Expeditionary Force who, some three decades before us, had arrived dishevelled and exhausted after their narrow escape from Dunkirk.
We were now directed through a long, draughty corridor until we reached a number of booths where stern-looking officials in long trenchcoats were checking passports and collecting our Visitor’s Cards. Here, things went agonisingly slow as the Immigration Officer – who looked not unlike Blakey, the lanky ticket collector in ‘On the Buses’ – was doing his job very much by the book. When my turn came up, the bespectacled Blakey enquired: “What is the purpose of your visit, young man?” “A holiday, Sir” I said. “How long are you staying?” “A fortnight, Sir” I replied politely. He briefly looked up from his registers and went on: “And where are you heading for?” Since the word ‘head for’ was not in my vocabulary yet he had to put the question differently. But when I said “A holiday camp with Toc H” his undertaker’s face lit up. Now would you believe it, he knew Toc H…!
I instantly felt the urge to ask him if he had ever met Tubby Clayton but I refrained from doing so. Besides, a long queue of impatient travellers was forming behind me, and as the boat had already suffered some serious delay, time was pressing for all of us. But above all, I didn’t want to hold up our waiting drivers any longer.
In the meantime, Stephen too had gone through Immigration and Customs, and so we both proceeded to Western Docks Railway Station. Here, a metallic voice was calling “Dover… (it sounded like doughver, Western Docks. All aboard for London Victoria Station”. Just as we were beginning to think that our hosts might have missed us, a voice rang out from among the crowd calling “Toc H, Toc H Projects…”
Sure enough, there they were at the station’s entrance: the three men who – we had been promised – would come and collect us – plus a few other volunteers: Bill, a white-haired, pipe-smoking gentleman in a posh Rover; Alan (who introduced himself as the camp leader) in a flimsy Hillman, and the moustachioed Rob in a flashy Ford Capri 3-litre. Rob, the one in the middle, was holding up a cardboard panel that read ‘Toc H Camp Guildford’. And so, we met our first real ‘live’ Englishmen.
After a firm handshake and some brief introductions we jumped into the cars and prepared to set off towards London. Already waiting in the cars were three more English volunteers from the Kent area, plus one German girl who had arrived on an earlier ferry and was to be dropped at a different Toc H Project location. She looked utterly Teutonic with her blue eyes and flaxy plaits. When she heard we were Flemish, she started a verbal avalanche in her native tongue but when Miss Jungmädel felt that she wasn’t getting much audience, she changed the subject. Next came a detailed account of her voyage, which apparently had been very much like ours. ”Ze vind” had been “zo fiolent” that she had been “ferry afraid of ze vaild zea… und hat mich ganz Seekrank gemacht.”
I must admit, I wasn’t unduly impressed by her presence… A square peg in a round hole I thought (or was it vice versa?)! Understandably, we didn’t ‘mention the war’! To my utter relief I was soon detached from my ‘Jungmädel’ (I hadn’t come to England to meet Germans, I was thinking) as she was heading for a different campsite. Now our hosts asked us to ‘jump in’ and so after throwing our holdalls into the boot of the car, we got in. I was a bit disappointed to be assigned to the slowest of the three vehicles. I had been hoping to admire the mahogany interior of the Rover or feel the breakneck acceleration of the sporty Capri. Anyway, we soon left Dover for the A2 with me sitting in the front of the Hillman. I must say, it gave an odd feeling especially when a car was coming in the opposite direction, you were inclined to think that it was going to run straight into you. And so, every time Alan overtook the car in front I involuntarily closed my eyes while I inadvertently leant over a little to his side.
After about an hour or so on the A2 we saw a signpost for Canterbury. Immediately a number of school memories sprang to mind. I vividly remembered Mr D’s lecture on the Murder at the Cathedral in 1170, when Archbishop Thomasà- Becket was scalped by four knights of Henry II – right in front of the altar – and how after that “most heinous of crimes” Canterbury had quickly become a place of pilgrimage when apparently all kinds of miracles started to happen there and then. Mr D had also told us of how some four centuries later the city had become the Cradle of the Anglican Church after Henry VIII had broken away from Rome because the Pope wouldn’t dissolve the king’s marriage, after which Henry still saw himself as ‘Defender of the Faith’ (though the new one!), putting the Archbishop of Canterbury in charge of his new Anglican Church.
By now the sun had come out and we were getting rather thirsty. So, some distance past the city I dared suggest stopping for a drink, something Alan found a good idea. I remember him pulling over at a roadside café in the shape of a bridge, a tubular construction that spanned both sides of the A2. We all had a lemonade at a yellow Formica-topped table enjoying our ‘bird’s eye view’. I found it exhilarating to be able to sit and relax while the traffic was hissing by under our feet – a novelty we’d never seen in backward Belgium!
Through the Garden of England
In the meantime the journey took us through the rolling Kentish countryside. The roads were full of weird and antiquated cars like bulky Zephyrs, ‘bowler-hat’ Morris Minors and three-wheeled Reliants that looked absolutely out of this world. I was wondering why – in spite of the humid climate – there were so many Minis on the roads here, as every Belgian motor mechanic swore that these little Austins and Morrises were totally unreliable and notorious ‘bad starters’ on a damp morning. Apparently, they broke down as soon as they went through as little as a puddle, and it was rumoured that the clutch burned out after only 500 miles!
There seemed to be hardly any bicycles about, but I just couldn’t take my eyes off the many Nortons, Triumphs, BSAs, Royal Enfields and other shiny motorbikes thumping away gently on these winding country lanes. In my blownup imagination, their riders, wearing Cromwell crash-helmets and leather goggles, looked more like pilots from a Biggles’ squadron than motorbikers in the first place. Since we were heading for Surrey, I was secretly hoping to get some free time so that I might visit Brooklands near Weybridge, once the Mecca of British motor-racing. Alan told me that the original racetrack was still there but that it was now derelict and not open to the general public. I don’t know why, but my preconception of ‘The Garden of England’ had been one of a rich but flat county, a bit like our Flemish Polders. So I was pleasantly surprised to see what an undulating landscape it really was. I also noticed how well preserved it looked, with centuries-old oak trees solitarily dotted in lush, verdant meadows.
But most of all, my first impression was one of space and expanse, as even in the late 60s Flanders already looked cramped with its many built-up areas and its typical urban ribbon development. The countless sheep happily grazing away only added a touch of tranquillity to this absolutely unspoilt landscape. Here and there I noticed old timber-framed cottages with thatched roofs looking like the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel’s fairytale. Now and again, Alan pointed out the traditional round oasthouses, their white pivoted cowls clearly sticking out from a canopy of green.
Time and time again as we passed through some quaint Kentish village I noticed an open grassy space, which Alan explained was the ‘village green’ or ‘common’. I couldn’t help joking that in Belgium such a big space would promptly be turned into a car park or supermarket. Other, more tended ‘greens’ that we saw, were manned by groups of sedate gentlemen playing a rather static game, apparently called ‘cricket’. I thought it looked a bit like baseball but more relaxed, an observation that prompted Alan to retort that it was anything BUT what their ‘American cousins’ played. His obvious irritation kept me from saying that at first sight, it had looked to me like a rally of the combined Kent Butchers’ & Bakers’ Unions.
When we bypassed towns like Ashford and Maidstone I finally got a glimpse of English suburbia: nice but rather small houses, smart, semi-detached dwellings and cosy pre-war bungalows. The local Norman village churches seemed Romanesque in style and with their castellated parapets and grey flint walls they looked more like barbicans than churches. Most of the houses seemed to have well-kept gardens, both at the front and back of the house. Wisteria and honeysuckle covered walls and facades, and the neatly-trimmed lawns looked very much like the ones in the Commonwealth War Cemeteries of South West Flanders. As far as rhododendrons were concerned, I had never seen such giant specimen; this being the result of acid soil, Alan explained.
Later, as we approached Greater London, we passed row upon row of identical terraced-houses with their typical bay-windows. They seemed to go on for miles and miles, and I was wondering how people were supposed to find their own front-door in the dark after a night on the town… During the journey Alan told me at length about the camp and the planned activities. “To put you in the picture”, he said (leaving me wondering what picture he was talking about). Anyhow, I immediately felt he was a responsible chap and that the project was going to be a promising one. He was studying to become a chartered accountant, he told me, while Rob was an engineer on holiday from his oilrig in the North Sea, I learned. And Bill… well, Bill was a retired bank manager and had been a lifelong Toc H member. He had volunteered to come and collect the rest of the party in his spacious Rover.
Although the conversation we were having grew more and more interesting, the trip to Guildford (some 90 miles from Dover) seemed endless and in spite of the incitements to ‘Take Courage’ beckoning from roadside pubs, ‘miles’ appeared to be so much longer than ‘kilometres’. Besides, the M20 had not yet been built, and the journey sometimes went over narrow trunk roads with the odd stretch of ‘dual carriageway ahead’. And so, it was already getting dark when the groaning little Hillman pulled off towards Guildford.
It was almost pitch dark when we finally arrived at the campsite, which carried the military name of ‘Henley Fort’ (nicknamed ‘Henry Ford’, our drivers told us). The Toc H recruitment brochure said that the place had been built during the Napoleonic Wars to protect England in case the French invaded, and that it had been used in the Second World War by the Home Guard.
In many respects Henley Fort resembled an army bulwark, complete with a highwalled perimeter and self-sufficient facilities. At even distances around the camp hung red buckets filled with sand. As they read ‘fire’, I assumed they were a kind of primitive fire extinguishers. The site was situated on the outskirts of the city, roughly between Farnham in the west and Guildford in the east.
The Fort lay right on top of the Hog’s Back, a wooded hillcrest (basically an ancient ridgeway, part of the North Downs) and this elevated position – which the Celts had used for its strategic value – was just perfect for a holiday of this nature. Compared with the main part of the Downs to the east of it, it looked a narrow, elongated ridge, hence its name.
Alan told me that in the Middle Ages the Hog’s Back lay on the road from London to Winchester and that it also formed part of the Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury. This well-preserved and unspoilt green area boasted a wide array of wildlife including foxes, badgers, hedgehogs and even roe deer, while the spreading bushes and hedges – as we were to find out – yielded an abundance of mulberries, brambles, rosehip, blackcurrants and elderberries. A beauty spot indeed confirmed by none less than Jane Austen who, in a letter to her sister Cassandra, wrote: “I never saw the Country from the Hog’s Back so advantageously…”
The kids, who had arrived earlier that afternoon, were still out and about. Some were riding piggyback on the volunteers. Others were just running around barefoot, screaming and shouting like madmen, while a few intrepid boys were chasing some of the girl volunteers through the adjoining bushes. I thought, my goodness – what a bunch of rascals…!
The children slept in small, green tents while we, the volunteers, were under bigger canvas, feet to the middle. The camp leader and the caterers slept in a wooden chalet where they also had a small office, a first-aid post (which smelled of – what I would later come to know – TCP), and – adjacent – an oddity called the ‘tuck shop’. The kids were surprisingly young, some of them just toddlers really, but what struck me most on that first encounter was how good their English was – in spite of their young age. To any Brit this must sound like a strange thing to say, but I was so impressed by their pronunciation, their accent and intonation that for the first time I understood the true meaning of the expressions ‘mother tongue’ and ‘native speakers’.
Soon, Stephen and I were introduced to the other volunteers, most of whom seemed to be about the same age as ourselves. A number of them were sons or daughters of Toc H members while quite a few others were Police Cadets who had joined the project as part of their compulsory ‘social competence’ training. But it was Angie, an 18-year-old traffic warden from Greater London, who struck my eye from the very moment we met. She had soft features and the most beautiful beady eyes I had ever seen, and… she seemed to smile at me all the time…
Eye (and ear) openers galore
Alan took us into a stale-smelling building with two long trestle tables and an assortment of folding chairs. This room – I figured – was the dining-hall. As we were still standing, he said, “Park your bums, lads!”, to which I drew a complete blank. Surely, HE was the driver of the car, so why were WE supposed to park HIS car, I thought… Besides, I wasn’t too sure about that ‘bum’ bit either (was that short for ‘bumper’, perhaps?). But soon Alan smilingly rephrased his invitation to “take a seat and make yourselves comfortable”. And so we cottoned on…
As we had had nothing to eat since our departure from Belgium, he went into the kitchen to get us some food. This, however, was going to be an eye-opener, to say the least. Since Mr Trawlber, the visiting cook, had already left, Alan was going to do the cooking himself, he promised.
“How about some soup and a pie, boys?”, Alan asked. We nodded eagerly as we were rumbling with hunger after our erstwhile maritime ordeal. Being fond of soup, we had no objection to the proposed starter, but after we had tasted some of Campbell’s Tomato Cream ‘Alanese’ we were beginning to think he had erroneously added sugar instead of salt, as we had no idea that soup could ever taste sweet!
As far as the pie was concerned, I vaguely remembered my father, who had been posted with BAOR (the British Army On the Rhine) during his National Service, speaking highly of the delicious English pie. But, obviously, Dad had only tasted apple and cherry pies during his spell with the British, and he might not have heard of the savoury variety. After Alan had popped two frozen porkpies in the oven, he opened a bag of peas the size of marbles (a far cry from my Mum’s cherished ‘extra fins’), and put some cotton-wool Mother’s Pride bread on the table. I thought it looked more like ‘Mother’s Shame’ compared to the crusty loaves we had back in good old Pop.
The peas, for that matter, smelled like mint and for a brief moment I thought that Stephen, an incorrigible joker, had played one of his practical jokes on me again, and had put toothpaste on these ‘green giants’. Judging by his likewise reaction, I concluded that he hadn’t! And so, in a prompt attempt to camouflage the suspicious smell I topped my share of ‘minty’ peas with a blob from a square sauce bottle standing on our table. It carried the name ‘HP sauce’, which – I supposed – stood for ‘Ham Pickle’ or something. Once again, I was unpleasantly surprised to find out that it was NOT some kind of ketchup, as I had been assuming. Alan explained that the initials HP stood for Houses of Parliament, but once again I failed to see the connection… Was this the staple sauce for MPs, I wondered?
Anyway, when we finally started our momentous ‘First Supper’, the pork pies were still rock-hard inside, and as I did my best to put up a brave face, I felt the pink mince slide down my throat… like a lump of meat ice-cream. For drinks there was only the choice between Nestlé’s instant coffee (which Alan pronounced ‘nessels’) and two complete novelties for us. First, there was ‘Robertson’s squash’, which looked like diluted orange juice, and of course the universal ‘cuppa’. I settled for the latter as I was of the idea that “when in Rome…”
While pouring, Alan suddenly said, “Say when!” I looked at him in slight embarrassment but he just repeated in a higher tone of voice “Say WHEN, Bert.” And so, trying not to be too disobedient to my kind guest I just emulated “When, when what?!” It seemed to do the trick and we were soon to learn that ‘when’ simply meant ‘enough’ in tea lingo. I then brought the scalding mug to my lips (how could anyone drink such a hot beverage in summer, I wondered) but I was surprised to find that it was not at all a herbal tisane. So, I soon refrained from the old Roman adage, as the brew – I thought – tasted like an infusion of… spring hay.
When Alan saw my obvious disappointment, he advised lacing it with milk and adding some sugar. This I did, and sure enough, with some imagination you could have been forgiven for thinking that English tea was some kind of disastrous hot cocoa. When I had finally managed to finish my ‘cuppa’, Alan asked, “Would you care for some more, Bert?”, an offer that I hastily declined with a polite ‘thank you’. However, I was most bewildered to see that he now wanted to fill up my mug again… Only much, much later, and to my obvious detriment, I was to learn that – unlike in Dutch or Flemish – in these circumstances the expression ‘thank you’ actually meant ‘yes please’. Little did I know then that I would come to love the drink. In fact, the experience did not stop me from eventually becoming a tea addict.
Talking of disappointments, my first visit to the toilets that night was both literally and parabolically an ‘eye-opener’. I was a bit surprised to see (or rather ‘feel’) the quality of British toilet paper, which looked much like the kind of greaseproof paper we used in Belgium to wrap dairy butter in. Next to the toilet was a box of sharply-folded sheets that bore the brand name Izal. When I gingerly ‘applied’ the meagre material it didn’t seem to ‘do the job’. Obviously, Mr Deconinck wàs right after all.
Before going to bed we asked if we could have a shower. So Alan promised to show us to our ‘ablutions’. These consisted of a plain wooden shed with one long zinc gutter over which simple brass taps were fitted. At the far end were two primitive showers with wooden, toilet-style louvered doors. Would this work the other way round too, I wondered? Would blue be cold and red be hot? You never knew in a fickle country like this, I reckoned. But, surprise surprise… this was Continental! Or were we British in taps perhaps? As I had forgotten my own soap, I grabbed hold of an orangy-red bar that had been left lying about by the person before me and which bore the name ‘Wright’s’. But when I applied the stuff, it gave off a sharp, almost tarry smell. For a moment I thought it was something the cleaners used to disinfect the floor but sure enough this would prove to be our ‘sample soap’ at the camp.
As we were about to turn in, Alan ushered us into the dank dining-hall asking if everything was to our satisfaction. He then presented us with a hot beverage, which he called Horlick’s. The drink looked like hot cocoa but instead had an unexpected malty flavour. At least a pleasant novelty to round off a most eventful day. After downing our mugs, Stephen and I were shown to our sleeping accommodation, and although I was a trifle apprehensive as to what oddities the following day would bring, we gladly crawled into our down sleeping bags to spend our first night on British soil and slept like logs.
Out and about
The next day, I was up at the crack of dawn. The interior of the tent felt stifling but it was already broad daylight outside. I gingerly slipped out not to wake the others and had a quick look round the camp, which was still dead quiet. I took a deep breath and the prickly smell of newly-mown hay quickly brought me back into the world of the living. Only now did I see what a charming beauty spot the Hog’s Back was, overlooking the city of Guildford below with its massive cathedral still shrouded in the morning mist.
I hurried to the showers and had a quick wash. In the meantime, Alan had opened up the dining-hall from which the penetrating smell of freshly-toasted bread mingled with the crisp morning air. A huge pan of scrambled eggs was waiting on the table while a large tray of baked beans was already simmering in the oven. But there was also fruit juice, milk, various kinds of cereals like Cornflakes and Rice Crispies… while a tea dixie the size of a small oil drum was brewing on a nearby trestle table. Breakfast? I thought this looked more like lunch to us!
A stern-looking, bespectacled character, called Mr Trawlber, was already doling out portions of scrambled egg on small plates for the camp leaders. In his oversized duffel-coat, this chain-smoking ‘Capstan’ chap looked not unlike Jack Hawkins in ‘The Cruel Sea’, I thought. Mrs Trawlber – on the other hand – proved to be a most kindly character with whom I hit it off straightaway. Together with her husband she worked at the campsite as a resident caretaker, doing the odd job and looking after the place when the kids were on their outings.
Later I was to help her out quite a bit with the catering though I was slightly bewildered when she started calling me ‘love’ after a couple of days. Might she have taken a fancy to me, I wondered? When I cautiously told Alan about this, he just had a good laugh as he said that ‘love’ was only a vague term of endearment and that I shouldn’t take it too literally…
Soon the kids were woken up (Wakey wakey, show a leg…) and led – rather unenthusiastically – to the zinc washstands. After this, they filed in four queues for their breakfast: cereals, scrambled egg on toast and tea or milk. As for cereals, they came in the shape of Cornflakes and Rice Crispies plus two oddities that went by the names of ‘Weetabix’ and ‘Shredded Wheat’, little crumbly cakes that seemed to be made of compacted roughage.
Stephen and decided to go for the Cornflakes (they looked not unlike crisps), though not before we watched how the kids were eating them, with milk and caster sugar (we thought that one was supposed to have them plain). As the kids enthusiastically shook them from big cardboard boxes, Stephen joked that Cornflakes looked like some sort of chicken feed, and with the Kellogg’s cockerel on the box, you might be inclined to think this was indeed the case. When I finally tried a Weetabix, I must admit it didn’t taste too bad, although the biscuit did look like something you might find on the floor of a sawmill… And so this breakfast thing went on and on, while the kids worked their way through the various courses of this extended first meal of the day. Just as we thought all was finished, the kids started to help themselves to big jars of what looked like apricot jam; though it struck me that there appeared to be some sort of small strands in it.
We saw how they spread their buttered toast with this thing that – we now learned – went by the name of ‘marmalade’ (to which Stephen and I reacted with an ‘Obladi Oblada’ chorus). The stuff looked appetising enough so we decided to give it a try. But when I felt the red rind crack between my teeth, releasing a bitter taste on my palate, my enthusiasm for the traditional British breakfast suffered another blow.
Still, no matter how hearty your appetite, no breakfast was never had before you’d said ‘grace’, another linguistic novelty that we emulated parrot-fashion: “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.” Then, after the meal, the kids took it in turns to do the washing up, tidy the tents and sweep the courtyard with witch-style birch brooms. Only then did the day proper start. In the meantime the mist had cleared and gave way to glorious sunshine, leaving the Hog’s Back crowned with a strato-cumulus sky.
Each team was allotted a group of eight to ten kids for two volunteers: one male and one female. My ’buddy’, as they were called, was a 19-year-old policewoman called Judy. She was kind but firm with the kids and turned out to be a very responsible volunteer. Besides, she always proved ready to help me out each time I got stuck in my failing English, and soon I was like putty in her hands. Morning activities at Henley Fort usually meant scavenger hunts, outdoor games like wheelbarrow, tug-of-war or sack races, and of course sports. Football and cricket were the favourites though Steven and I wisely watched the latter from a distance, as our involvement might have had disastrous effects on the game, and even more so on our egos. If wet, activities were shifted to some kind of ‘lecture’ like a lesson in deaf-and-dumb sign language or a cartoon show. Each time we went on a daytrip we took packed lunches, which were had outdoors as one big collective picnic: doorstep Mother’s Pride sandwiches (again!) cut in the familiar triangular shape, small blocks of cheddar (which Stephen and I dubbed ‘candle wax cheese’), bags of Smith’s crisps, bars of Kit- Kat, oranges and bananas and the universal Robertson’s squash, which came in plastic one-gallon containers.
I myself was always hungry enough to help wolf down the piles of sandwiches (only the ones with Marmite – which I initially mistook for maple syrup – which I loathed), so we rarely returned with any leftovers. As for the crisps, these too were rather a novelty for me. I had recently ‘discovered’ them in a souvenir shop on a school outing in Belgium but, having no idea what they tasted like, had assumed they were bits of dried pancake, sprinkled with white caster sugar… Our outings ranged from a visit to the nearby Royal Engineers army barracks at Aldershot (fascinating), a visit to a local piggery (ugh!), boating on the Wey (wet fun), horse and pony-riding (the kids’ absolute favourite), a visit to a local animal park (where – typically – I got bitten in the shoulder by… a donkey!) or to a local adventure playground (no theme parks yet in those days), a picnic at Frencham Pond (a beauty spot), a trip to the seaside and – to top it all – a night at the local stockcar races. Toc H members from the Surrey branch volunteered to drive us in their cars and mini-vans, and kindly took us to these various locations in the county.
One of the regular drivers on these trips was Bill Crook, the man who had also taken some of us from Dover to Guildford. I just loved his company, as he was a kindly and well-spoken gent whom I saw as a paragon of the Old World. I particularly liked the smell of his pipe, which he filled with a ready-rubbed mixture called ‘Parson’s Pleasure’. Wherever Bill went, he was followed in his tracks by a fragrance of honey and figs. There and then I swore that back in Belgium I would take up pipe-smoking, albeit for the sake of looking more British, and hopefully… more ‘intellectual’.
Talking about the seaside, one day we travelled from Guildford to Chichester on the Sussex coast for a ‘bucket-and-spades’ outing. Before we set off, Alan taught us a song for the occasion. It had quite a catchy tune and seemed to cheer up everybody in our ‘gang’. This is how it went:
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside,
I do like to be beside the sea,
I do like to stroll along the prom, prom, prom,
Where the brass bands play Tiddley-om-pom-pom!
So just let me be beside the seaside,
I’ll be beside myself with glee;
And there’s lots of girls beside,
I should like to be beside,
Beside the seaside, beside the sea.
It proved to be another scorcher and all my apprehensions about the British summer were brushed aside there and then. It was absolutely sweltering that day, as it had been most of the time during our stay (we’d hardly had any rain yet). In fact I had expected (or rather wànted) it to rain as in my simplistic mind ‘rain’ would have added up to the quintessential British atmosphere, as I had savoured it in songs like ‘Flowers in the Rain’ and ‘I can hear the grass grow’ by The Move and in The Hollies’ ‘Bus Stop’ (please share my umbrella…).
When I told Alan about my prejudices he explained that due to the presence of the Gulf Stream this part of the UK enjoyed some of the highest summer temperatures in North-West Europe, almost like the French Riviera, he claimed. It very much felt that he was right again.
I was quite surprised to see how different the English coast was compared to our Belgian seaside: very little sand but mainly pebbles, making it difficult to walk barefoot on the beach. Another thing that struck me was that long stretches of coastline were covered in a black, tarry substance blotting our swimming trunks – suspiciously pitch. The blistering August heat made it all the messier, and the sticky substance was soon all over the kids’ bodies. So we had quite a job trying to get these nasty stains off their hands and feet. By the end of the project many kids were still covered in these black smudges, almost as if they were suffering from some contagious skin disease. I soon learned from the locals that this was the visible result of the infamous oil disaster with the ill-fated Torrey Canyon, the oil tanker that had broken up off the coast of Cornwall some two years earlier (1967).
Jam and Jerusalem
A few times during our stay we were invited to a church fête, or found ourselves entertained by members of some local W.I. branch. Anyway, wherever we went people would stuff us with food as if we’d just returned from a long spell in a German POW camp. Obviously, in the days before, these ‘char ladies’, in gaudy floral skirts and grotesque Dame Edna glasses, had been baking all kinds of fanciful cakes for ‘these poor kids’ who ‘must be starving’. Pastry and pies were then put on display in their village hall as if they were about to be inspected by Delia Smith herself. To me, however, the whole do seemed more like a Barbara Castle look-alike contest than just another kids’ party.
The kindly ladies moved about from one trestle table to the other like ‘wallpaper on the march’ while the kids ate themselves to the brink of indigestion. As may be expected, on the return journey we frequently had to stop the ramshackle Bedford van to let ‘dear oh dear’ Dermot or ‘poor thing’ Lesley be sick by the roadside. Needless to say, the nauseating incidence had a knock-on effect on the rest of the willy-nilly witnesses, although in my case the effect was subject to the distance yet to be covered.
One thing was certain: on returning to the campsite volunteers were never queuing up to do the clean-up job (especially not that time when the sliding sidedoor got stuck with puke). So on a few occasions, yours truly had the honour of mopping up the repulsive remains of the previously wolfed-down ‘bridesmaids’ and other by now very obvious ‘upside-down’ cakes. And yes, once again I was nonplussed when they started calling Lesley ‘poorly’. Surely, money could have nothing to do with the fact she went on being ‘sick’, or was it ‘ill’? Gosh! Well, I suppose all downsides must have an upside, as eventually I learned the difference between these two, including one word I bet even Deconinck would never have known – ‘queasy’!
English as she is spoke
We volunteers had very little time for ourselves with such energetic children around. They also had a ready tongue for their age, and I soon learned many new – mainly rude – words from them. Especially when emotions ran high, their vocabulary turned to the four-letter version. These kids were simply devilish but at the same time they could be sweet and adorable. I distinctly remember sitting by their bedside at night, telling them a short bedtime story (well, as best I could) or reading a few pages from their comic strips. When I ventured into a fairytale, they would suddenly look up in surprise and say “No, no, it’s not the knight drew his sWord! It’s… the knight drew his SWORD – stupid.” Free teachers!
After the first week I felt absolutely knackered, as we’d had little sleep all week. First, there was always some staff-meeting laid on by the assiduous Alan, an assembly where next day’s activities were presented and discussed. Obviously, this happened only late at night when the kids were sound asleep. And after that, we often kept ‘socialising’ with the other volunteers.
When Alan took the address at these meetings he spoke at length about the past day and about what lay ahead for us and for the kids. Sometimes the other volunteers would interrupt him with a ‘hear! hear!’ exclamation (or was it ‘hear here’?). Again, Stephen and I didn’t know what to think of the use of ‘hear’ in this case. Alan spoke loud enough for us to ‘hear’ him clearly, and obviously the room was light enough for him to see that we were ‘here’. Admittedly, it took us some considerable time to solve the ‘hear hear’ enigma!
On the first meeting of the Project we were obviously the focus of attention for the other, mostly British volunteers. As most of the party knew very little about a small country like Belgium we had to tell them over and over again about our federal nation, about the Flemings and the Walloons and about Brussels as ‘pig in the middle.’
Only the names Bruges and Ypres seemed to ring a distant bell for some. Fortunately, sometime in the previous term, I had prepared an essay for my history lessons on the topic so I was pretty knowledgeable about the situation. We also told our keen audience about the difference between Luxemburg the country and Luxemburg the province; and how Leuven University had remained Flemish thanks to the students’ revolt of the previous year.
Everybody seemed to think that Belgians only spoke French (they’d never heard of Flemish) and that we were some distant cousins of the French. When we explained that in spite of everything the official language in Flanders was Dutch, this must have sounded like ‘double Dutch’, and when I added that we even had a third official language (German!), they simply drew a blank. Most volunteers were astonished to hear that we spoke at least four languages (well, just about). Stephen, who was reading the Classics at the time, added that it was not uncommon for some Flemish students to have a basic to good knowledge of seven languages (including one’s own dialect of course). When the volunteers heard his claim, they prompted him to say, “I love you” in every possible language he knew. When he finally managed ten, he was forever regarded as an expert linguist.
In return we took a test of their French, which turned out to be almost nonexistent. When they tried to speak it, it sounded like something from a Laurel & Hardy sketch, the French version that is; something in the range of “jai voudrai zavoir un verre de vain.” So when one of the female volunteers claimed she could do a French folk song everyone rallied round her in keen anticipation. But as she struck up the first notes, Stephen and I had the greatest difficulty to stifle our laughter as she sounded like a rusty Petula Clark rendering Frère Jacques… Absolutely impossible, if you ask me!
Twice a week you also were on ‘guard duty’, meaning that two of the volunteers had to sit among the kids’ tents at night and make sure that silence was observed after 9 p.m. Whenever there was some noise coming from a tent you had to go in and have a look. Usually, it was one of the kids feeling homesick, a misplaced teddy or someone wanting to pop out to the ‘loo’. If they didn’t keep quiet for no good reason you could always threaten them that they’d be sent off into the dark bushes where “the ‘orrible bogeyman” was lurking about… That usually did the trick.
I distinctly remember that when things went silent (apart from the sound of chirping crickets), David, a volunteer I teamed up with, and myself went on chatting all through the sultry night. In spite of being a staunch anti-Vietnam protester and a confirmed CND supporter, Dave was always dressed in a military jacket and crêpe-soled safari boots, which he called his ‘brothel creepers’. When we were on night shifts, Dave – three years my senior – used to gauge my ‘karma’ while burning long, thin jossticks that he let smoulder gently into a long, thin strip of ash. His typical ‘patchouli’ smell only added to his quintessential hippie charm. Dave had also brought his guitar on which he sometimes played ‘Where do you go to, my lovely’, Peter Sarstedt’s hit of that year. In spite of his placid nature he was quite a talkative chap, most willing to teach me an array of new and useful taboo words, including the various names for the female body parts, something even the progressive Deconinck had been loath to do… Dave’s catchphrase was ‘Jolly good, mate’, a sentence he used for almost every positive reply.
From him I also got to know the hidden meaning of more racy words like ‘Bristols’, ‘cleavage’, ‘gash’ and ‘cherry’. You never knew when these might come in handy, if I were to ‘land’ myself a British ‘bird’, dexterous Dave concluded. And there were quite a few to look out for… There was Pam with the pout, and Jill with the inviting smile. There was Ann with the big b******s who “gave us a couple of good points for discussion”, as Dave put it. But most of all it was the more mature Martine who caught our eye. With her doe eyes and her sylphlike figure she really was the pick of the basket. Even in her faded jeans and sloppy sweater she looked like someone from a lads’ mag. A real ‘stunner’, I was soon to learn. So it didn’t come as a surprise when Martine told me that she was an air stewardess with British Airways. She’d been flying between London and New York on the 747 Jumbo Jet, and was now in her final training for service on Concorde. This knowledge coupled with her glamorous looks made me realise that in this case ‘the sky’ was indeed ‘the limit’.
However, it was good old Dave again who read my thoughts and warned me not to “count” my “blessings”. One day, while we were out and about with the kids we came across some early blackberries by the roadside, and obviously we all started picking them. While I stood straddled across the ditch reaching for some juicy ones luring us on the high bank, Dave shook his head in disbelief. When I wondered why he looked so pensive he said. “Bert, don’t you realise that blackberries are like women?” Totally perplexed I enquired why he would make this sort of comparison. To which he said, “Don’t you know, the most attractive ones – they’re simply out of reach.”
And there were more wise words from ‘Jolly Dave’ – as he came to be known. He also warned me about the dark side of the blue moon, warning me against ‘French blues’ (though most other French expressions were ‘good fun’ he said), ‘purple hearts’, ‘black bombers’ and ‘funny fags’, things we had never heard of in a rural backwater like Poperinge. Anyway, I suppose I learned more about this perfidious lingo in that fortnight than I had done in the whole span of my secondary education.
Our conversations concentrated mainly around pop and rock music, which Dave seemed to be so knowledgeable about. He told me all about budding supergroups like Cream, Jethro Tull, The Who and Pink Floyd but we also reminisced about the past: the Beatles, the Animals and of course the Mersey sound that we both adored. He had also brought a number of copies of Melody Maker, which I simply devoured during my spare moments.
Dave had hoped to travel to Woodstock that year but the cost had proved a bit too high for his ‘meagre means’, and so a working-holiday had to be the alternative. Thus, he was saving for next year’s rock festival on the Isle of Wight where – he rightly predicted – most of the Woodstock bands and singers would converge.
One night as we were having a big bonfire on the campsite we rallied round Dave who taught us his favourite tune. Accompanied by his guitar and kazoo, he sang Don Partridge’s BLUE EYES, a simple busker’s song that matched his jolly nature. Soon, he had everybody singing along. This is how it went.
It happens every spring I hear this bluebird sing Love is here again to stay But now that I’ve seen you I know this time it’s true Love is really here to stay Blue eyes look my way Make today my lucky day Blue eyes looking at me Hope you’re liking what you see Hope you’re liking what you see Nobody ever saw This deep deep blue before Bluebells look up in surprise The sky admits defeat The sea will kiss your feet I could drown in those blue eyes Blue eyes shining down Everything is right somehow Blue eyes stay here with me Find my world in those blue eyes Find my world in those blue eyes It happens every spring I hear this bluebird sing Love is here again to stay But now that I’ve seen you I know this time it’s true Love is really here to stay Blue eyes look my way Make today my lucky day Blue eyes looking at me Hope you’re liking what you see Hope you’re liking what you see And the beat goes on… into the night
When your ‘buddy’ proved to be a ‘she’, the shift promised to be all the more exciting. Twice that fortnight I had guard duty with Angie, the traffic warden, and I was thrilled that we hit it off like the proverbial ‘house on fire’. She had everything I liked in girls in those days: of a kindly nature and very feminine, though a bit on the plump side. Besides, she proved to be a good listener with a bubbly personality, something that worked wonders with the kids. With her dark beady eyes, wavy hair and chubby cheeks, dressed in floral blouse and flared jeans she looked not unlike Margaret Ashton, the young actress in ‘A Family at War’, I imagined.
On a few occasions Angie told me about her frustrating job and how she wanted to move on to the proper police force, which she called ‘the Met’. She told me all about life on the beat in ‘the Smoke’. She seemed to be quite knowledgeable about historic criminals like Doctor Crippen and Reginald Christie, two infamous killers whose horrific murders were displayed at Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors. She also knew a lot about the Kray Twins, a couple of dangerous gangsters who had recently been convicted for a number of murders in East End gangland.
I must confess that apart from new words, she taught me a few other exciting things into the bargain… Many a night we spent in the open – back to back – looking out on the star-strewn Surrey skyline, talking the time away, with Angie’s crackling trannie tuned to 199 metres Medium Wave. The nights were chilly and the damp coolness of the soil beneath us made me realise autumn (and school!) was just around the comer. But the sky was spangled with stars, and the air was heavy with the scent of a nearby honeysuckle. And when one night she whispered those three well-known words, followed by a lush, lingering kiss…. I felt like in a Hollywood movie, as never before had anyone made that age-old declaration to me… in English. I suppose if Alan had known what was going on during our night shifts, he probably would have had second thoughts about teaming us up. Thinking back about those blissful moments, I’m sure I never felt happier in my life… though, with hindsight it was all very, very innocent indeed.
Booze-up! What booze-up?
On the Saturday of the first weekend, the kids’ parents were invited to come and visit their sons or daughters and see how things were ‘shaping up’ at the camp. There would be a party that night for all of them, and David and Alan’s parents with some volunteers were going to supervise the campsite. Alan had decided that Stephen and I could have the night off, as apparently we had done more than was expected in the past week. So it was decided to visit some countryside pub where live music was laid on. David and Alan disappeared with some of the female volunteers and promised to be back with some means of transportation to take us to their ‘drinking den’, as they termed it.
In the meantime, Stephen and I walked into Guildford town centre to make that long-promised phone call to our parents back in Belgium. As I stepped into the familiar red booth for the first time I thought things would work like in our public telephone kiosks, though I should have known better by now. I lifted the heavy receiver from its hook and inserted a few half-crowns. Not being familiar with GPO procedures, I had to recourse to a passer-by to help me out with this new enigma. I just couldn’t get through. The kindly lady who assisted me soon saw what was wrong. You had to dial the number first and only put your money in once the connection had been made after which you had to push the A button. Apparently, they first connected you and only then did you pay… What a country, I thought!
When we arrived back at the campsite we had a quick wash and a change of clothes, but apart from a pair of crackling-new Wranglers and a clean cotton shirt there was little else to wear for the ‘grand outing’ that we had been promised. So Stephen and I felt all the more embarrassed when a smart Cortina pulled into the courtyard and the four of them got out all dressed up to the nines: Dave and Alan both in drainpipes, roller-neck pullovers and suede jackets and the girls, well… they were simply unrecognisable: hair all done up in beehives, tight miniskirts, mascara and make-up, and smelling like English roses. Boy, what a transformation! We hardly recognised them.
The pub lay at a fair distance from the campsite, and so when we arrived there the ‘gig’ was already in full swing. Just as Stephen was about to enter, a brawny doorkeeper held his hand up against Stephen’s chest and said, “Sorry mate, but you’re not coming in like that”. When Stephen asked why, the answer came without delay “No jeans allowed!”
I thought it a bit odd that our hosts did not try to coax the man into making an exception for two ‘ignorant’ foreigners, as we ourselves would certainly have done in such a case in Belgium. But this was England and – as we were to joke – Britannia “never waived the rules…” And so we simply returned to the car park discussing where we could go instead. As I was wearing jeans as well, the odds were much against us ever being allowed into any other club.
But Stephen, a resourceful fellow in dire times, then came up with a bright idea. In order not to run the same risk again, we decided to turn our jeans inside out and wear our shirts casually over them. Sneaking behind the cream-coloured Cortina we both undid our trousers and so, in ‘reversed’ jeans, which looked not unlike a pair of grey canvas trousers, we entered the next establishment where – fortunately – nobody seemed to object to our ‘Belgian slacks’.
Inside ’The Hare & Hounds’, a cosy pub with bottle-bottom windows, a small band was playing to a capacity crowd: R&B and a touch of jazz. Stephen and I thought that this might be a dancing do or something, but our English hosts only seemed to be interested in the bar. Soon it appeared that they were intent on having us sample every possible beverage the pub had on offer. So we had lager, mild, bitter, half-and-half, stout, porter, real ale, draught Guinness… you name it… but none of these ales seemed to have much taste, we concluded. In fact, they all tasted pretty much like the time-honoured ‘near beer’ kids drank at lunchtime in Belgium, Stephen and I concluded.
Dave and Alan were quite impressed that this number of drinks didn’t have much effect on us. What’s more, we assumed that the pub’s fridge had broken down, as all of the drinks were served positively tepid. And, that in the middle of summer! There was nothing wrong with the fridge, Alan assured us; that was the way to drink it! The girls, for their part, drank even greater oddities: shandy (which – horror of horrors – seemed to be a mixture of lager and lemonade!), a kind of flat and weak cider, a Bambiish bubbly called ‘Babycham’ and a spicy tipple called ‘ginger beer’ which was anything but beer…
We thought little of the skills of the bartender as one, you never serve beer without a head (in Belgium this was a sign of stale beer) and two, you certainly didn’t fill it to the brim as this made you spill your precious drink all over the place. Some country! Beer glasses too seemed to be different from the ones in our Belgian cafés: big conical ones for pints and small mug-like glasses for halfpints. I also noticed a few elderly gents having their drinks from dull metal beakers that did not look unlike the pewter cups Belgian cycling champions are presented with. These – I learned – were called ‘tankards’, Dave explained, and were supposed to give the beer a smoother taste. He also informed us that it was quite normal for some customers to keep their personal tankard over the pub counter. What oddities, I thought.
Another thing that struck me was that English girls smoked so much more than their Belgian counterparts. In those days, cigarettes were still socially acceptable but it was quite unheard of for Belgian girls to be heavy smokers. Maybe it all had to do with the ‘emancipation craze’ of the day. Anyway, the universal ‘fag’ at the time was the golden Benson & Hedges for men, and the navy blue Rothmans for women. Just as we was getting in the mood, a loud bell rang out from somewhere above the counter. At first I thought there was a fire-alarm but, as Alan explained, it simply meant ‘last orders’, and so after a final hasty swig we found ourselves back in the car again.
Fortunately, on the way home we found a fish & chip shop still open. Dave got out of the car and ordered us each a helping of soggy chips (they looked more like sliced potatoes to me) and some tasteless fish in a batter, “the ultimate British meal” he declared. When we were handed our portion I was surprised to see it came wrapped in a newspaper… But Dave ensured that this was “the done thing” and besides, it kept the ‘grub’ hot, he claimed. Once again, we were not unduly impressed by this time-honoured British ‘delicacy’. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop Stephen and me from gobbling up the fatty food like greedy gluttons. And this… while The Surrey Advertiser was being printed all over our fingers and thumbs.
Close encounters of the hairy kind…
When we arrived back at the campsite, the parents had already left and “all was quiet on the Western Front”, as we used to joke. I staggered to my tent and, after having some difficulty unzipping a ‘reversed’ fly, fell asleep almost immediately. Some time later I woke up with a bulging bladder that was close to bursting. I gingerly crawled out on hands and knees, and hurried to the bracken bushes to answer the much-needed ‘call of nature’.
Just as I began to relieve myself, I heard a sinister grunting a few paces from where I stood. For a brief moment I thought the dreaded bogeyman DID exist after all, but I was still sober enough to see a hairy, pig-like animal run off at lightning speed. Anyway, that ‘close encounter of the hairy kind’ would result in one thing, in that the word ‘wild boar’ has never been deleted from my ready vocabulary since. The next day, the running joke was that “Bert had seen the Hog’s Back from close-up”.
The second week was very much a repetition of the first one; only time flew by even more quickly. On the final day it took us almost half an hour to shake hands and hug all those boisterous kids whom we had come to love so dearly. And, after we had said goodbye to our closest friends, Stephen and I publicly promised to come back the following year, a statement that was cheerfully applauded by the gathered crowd. Naturally, also Jolly Dave came over with a final piece of advice to keep our ‘pecker’ up. As far as Angie was concerned, she was probably too upset to see us (me?) off…
These boots are made for… bragging
After that, we went down to Guildford town centre for a hasty lunch in a gaudy Wimpy bar and a spot of shopping. As – by now – I had more or less run out of money I was thinking of changing some of my spare Belgian francs into sterling. To my surprise, Alan showed me into an office in the High Street that said ‘Building Society’. I was glad he had accompanied me there, as I would never have guessed that British banks hid behind such deceptive names. Perfidious Albion, I thought.
Later, while window-shopping, I suddenly spotted a group of bald, young chaps dressed in orange silk garments. They were walking down the High Street in a row behind each other, singing and chanting, and beating tambourines. They seemed to be singing the same plaintive song over and over again. Alan explained that they were Hari Krishna people, some kind of eastern cult, apparently.
Personally, I couldn’t understand why young people would want to shave off all their hair (while we did all we could to grow ours as long as possible!), then dress up like the Dalai Lama, and go walking the streets half in a trance for the sake of some obscure religion…
Still, it seemed to be the ‘in thing’ at the time. Alan went on to explain that he knew one of them, as they had once been in the same school. “Always was a bit of an oddball”, Alan concluded. “What ball?” I repeated, wondering if this was some kind of physical description of the man in question.
As far as our shopping spree was concerned, we were adamant to bring back something you couldn’t get hold of in Belgium, something that was to serve as the ultimate proof of our trip across the Small Divide. So Stephen bought himself a couple of ‘psychedelic’ batiked T-shirts and a sleeveless kashmir fleece jacket, both of which he got from the local hippie haunt. I for one found a bulky Chambers’ English dictionary (for the princely sum of £1) and a pair of smart black leather ‘Chelsea boots’, the sort that pop stars wore.
Besides, we were hoping that our purchases would – in some way – lessen the impending pain, since we were both due for school in a fortnight. In spite of this unpleasant prospect, I already saw myself strutting through the school gate, shod like a British beatnik, while Stephen was sure to be branded the first genuine ‘hippie’ in our school. Hopefully, if ‘Endive’, the rigid priest Prefect, would turn a blind eye to our outlandish attire, we were bound to be ‘the talk of the town’.
As far as the boots were concerned, I remember when I went into the shop, the sales assistant was a trifle puzzled to hear me claim that I took a 44! But, after some clarification it turned out that I took a 10. “Imperial size!”, he now stressed! The man kindly gave me a tin of dubbin grease as a bonus, and he further enquired if – perhaps – I wanted a pair of matching “shoe trees”. Once again, I was at a loss as I had no idea what ‘trees’ could have to do with ‘shoes’.
When he finally showed me a pair of the said utensils, my penny dropped for the umpteenth time. Unlike the shoes, which my mother was to condemn as ‘sheer dandy boots’, the dictionary proved to be a wise investment as it is still – in spite of its battered condition – one of my favourite reference works after all these years…
Anyway, we couldn’t linger on in the High Street as Bill was already waiting to take us back to Dover. The return trip was totally uneventful and both Stephen and I slept off our accumulated tiredness on the back seat of his speeding Rover. As soon as we were back on the ferry, I climbed to the top deck of the ship’s aft side and watched the White Cliffs slowly disappear in the dusk. This time the sea was like a millpond but the sky was slightly overcast with a hint of fog, like a thin shroud tucking up the land we were leaving behind us.
Can you tell me where my country lies?
I remember staring at this picture-perfect skyline where the sea touched the sky, wondering how anything could ever be so faultlessly level after our ghastly inward journey two weeks before. A few of the erstwhile menacing seagulls followed in the ship’s frothy wash like an airborne escort on our way out, almost as if they were waving us goodbye. For a brief moment I imagined they were albatrosses, as Fleetwood Mac’s namesake hit had been ringing in my ears over the past fortnight.
So, here we were, back on our way to our Flemish hometown with the prospect of a new – and final – year at secondary school. And although I wasn’t burning with anticipation for the new stint, I was now more adamant than ever that I wanted to become an English teacher. What’s more, I could hardly wait to tell good old Deconinck about our ‘outlandish’ experiences and about the countless linguistic oddities we had picked up over the past fortnight, which had proved him so right.
Clearly, I was in two minds about my first holiday in England. What a wonderful and unforgettable experience it had been. Yet, at the same time – and for the first time in my life – I felt homesick for a country that wasn’t mine! I didn’t know about Stephen, who was fast asleep on the deck by now, but as far as I was concerned I wondered whether I would be able to keep my promise to Angie, Dave and the others, and come back for a second spell… Little did I know that in the coming half century I would cross the Channel hundreds of times, hoping each and every time it wouldn’t be the last…
Time after time, when Neville Minas’ name appears in one of the Toc H groups on facebook, a flurry of posts appear from people who knew him saying what a wonderful man he was, a perfect gentleman. Certainly, whenever Neville was at Talbot House on one his wardening stints, the queue of local people waiting to see him stretched out the huge front door of the Old House. He was a dear friend of mine, if only for a few short years before his death, and I thought it was time his story was told. The later years, indeed the better part of his life, was quite simple because Neville was a devout and dedicated man. Dedicated to his work, his church, and Toc H. It was a simple life by many standards but then the life he had had before he was even 25 would have been enough for most people.
Neville Stephen Minas was born in Burma (Now Myanmar) on the 23rd August 1921 to Armenian parents who travelled to Burma in the 1880s. Neville’s father, John Isaac Minas, was a Civil Engineer working for the Burmese government which was still then under British rule. Neville was the youngest of seven children. Independence was on the horizon for Burma and although there was rioting in Rangoon by the Green Army, this had quieted somewhat by the thirties and Burma became a separately administered colony in 1937, with its own Prime Minister and Premier.
This road to independence stalled in the 1940s when the Second World War broke out. After the attack on Pearl Harbour on the 7th of December 1941 the Japanese fully entered the war and on the 23rd December bombed Rangoon for the first time. Burma quickly became a major front-line in the Southeast Asian Theatre. Singapore fell and the British administration in Burma collapsed. The army retreated as the Japanese troops advanced. Only the Indians and Anglo-Burmese remained in their civic posts. Neville told me he remembered seeing the flashes of Japanese planes reflected on the golden dome of the Great Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon as they flew over whilst he was fire-watching.
As a 20 year old young man, with aspirations to be an Anglican priest, Neville was moved by the firm he was working for to Mandalay. For the first time, he was separated from his family and with all that was happening around them, this must have been terrifying. Every day Neville went down to the docks to see if his family were amongst the refugees arriving from Rangoon. And for weeks he was disappointed daily. Finally they arrived on a boat and the family was reunited. It wasn’t for long though, on the 3rd April 1942, Good Friday, the Japanese bombed Mandalay. The Minas family sheltered in the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Mission School but finally loaded a bullock cart with all their possessions and moved out.
At Myingyan, one of Neville’s brothers who worked for the railways, found them room on a train, and they were transported to Myitkyina in the north of country. This journey would have been slow as one person’s account of a similar journey said the train stopped at every pool it passed to take on board fresh water. The trains were overcrowded and the steam engine must have been working hard. At Myitkyina Neville and his family awaited a flight to India. However, they were massively oversubscribed and Europeans and Eurasians were given priority so Neville offered to walk to Calcutta with thirty customs officers, and meet his family there. In fact Neville and the customs officers were just part of 300,000-400,000 mostly Indian evacuees fleeing through the jungle to India. One report suggests his brother Eric was with them but I believe Eric actually travelled separately of Neville.
The exodus, which became known as The Trek was, on the surface, an organised evacuation. Permits were required for the different paths to be taken and for any item not on the prescribed list. It was supposed to be a fair migration too but was anything but. Colonial racism was at the fore and as Indians, Burmese and other people of colour, trudged on foot or with a bullock cart, the white émigrés rode by in motor cars.
And the journey was not an easy one. Neville said later that the early days were like a picnic. They had fresh food and water and were given hospitality at all the villages they passed through on route south to Indaw. This wasn’t to last. They needed to aim west now but trying to avoid the interior of the jungle, they waded through the Chindwin River for three days attracting leeches which sucked their blood and left them covered in sores. This was the longer route – several hundred miles – but was considered safer than heading directly west over the mountains. However their food ran low and they had to cross the Naga Hills where both head-hunting tribesmen (The Konyak) and tigers roamed.
One day Neville picked up a charred stick, only to find it was the burnt arm of a child. He said:
We slept and walked among the dead. There was always a stench of death. We had never seen so many dead bodies – and I never want to see a vulture again.
According to the records I have seen, Neville finally arrived at the Evacuee Camp in Almora on the 17th May 1942 after a 400 mile hike. Although he could not find his family at first, he did eventually find his mother and an aunt alive. The rest of the family had been split up and it was years before the whole story could be pieced together.
His father and three of his brothers Haikki, George and Oscar had travelled together. Haikki died on the way and their father, John Isaac died on the 5th July 1942 in a British camp at Panitola fifty miles over the Indian border. George and Oscar survived and died in Australia in 1991 and 2008 respectively. Eric, also survived and died in Eltham in 1990.
In Calcutta, Neville joined the RAF as a Base Accountant with the rank of Corporal. This later entitled him to the Burma Star which he always wore proudly. After the war he returned to Rangoon; Burma was reclaimed by the British in 1945 but gained independence in 1947. However, Neville left there on a ship called the Pegu and arrived in Liverpool on the 5th October 1949. His profession was listed as an accountant and the address for where he was to be staying was in Morden in Surrey. The ship’s manifest did say that he intended future residence was to be Burma, but this didn’t seem to be the case as Neville appeared to settle in London.
He was soon living at the Brothers’ House in Kennington – Toc H Mark XIII. A staunch Christian, Neville began working in the Finance Department of The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (From 1965 the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) HQ in Westminster but Neville also became an honorary warden of the Mark. This house was of course presented to Toc H by Mrs Dilberoglue in memory of her sons Richard and Augustus killed in World War 1. Amongst other things Neville taught English to many young Belgian lads who came to stay in London. He lived – at least for a time – in the Poperinge Room and had a pair of black cats known as Sooty and Sweep.
He was much loved by all who knew him and that included Tubby. Neville was one of the walk on guests at the end of Tubby’s This Is Your Life in February 1958. I first met him at a North of the River Rally in Kempston in the early 2000s and visited him several times in Cambridge. He also joined us at Ely when Gualter de Mello’s Hackney Crew gathered each year for a celebratory weekend. Gualter was another of Neville’s many good friends in Toc H. They met when Gualter came to stay at the Brothers’ House for a short while.
Retiring in 1983, Neville moved to Cambridge living in the community housing project at Langdon House. He became a member and secretary of Cambridge branch remaining with it until his death. Neville was a member of the Burma Star Association and was very involved with St George’s Church in Chesterton, Cambridge.
However, he was perhaps best loved for his regular stints as a warden – he spent a month there once a year – at Talbot House, Poperinge where he made many friends – both Belgian and British.
He moved to own flat in Union Lane not far from Langdon House, Chesterton but returned to Langdon House – now a residential home – for his final few years and was very happy there. He liked nothing better than to receive visits and phone calls from his many friends and far flung family members. People were important to Neville and he was very important to a great many people.
Neville passed peacefully away at Addenbrooke’s Hospital on Sunday, October 17th, 2010, aged 89. Though he never married or had children, he had nieces, great nieces, and even a great, great niece. Of course, he also had his church and Toc H families all of whom speak fondly of this lovely gentle man.
This shorter and more visual biography is really just an excuse to illustrate some Toc H membership cards from over the years. By chance I acquired on eBay a set that once belonged to Reg Smith. Reg had caught my eye on many occasions during my research, firstly because he shares my dad’s name and secondly because he comes from Norwich. He also embodies the Toc H staffer sent from place to place to do a job although in Reg’s case he ended up back in his native city.
Born in Norwich in January 1906, Reg became a branch member in that city (Member number 13529) then in 1936 joined the staff. He was posted to the West Country and became the Western Area Secretary. He returned to Norwich in 1938 and married Joan Barley. They were to go to Australia where Reg was to take up a staff position there.
However, the impending war intervened and the posting was cancelled. Instead he was posted to Yorkshire and became Area Secretary there living in Harrogate. He became involved in the Service Clubs and from 1940 his address was given as Brotherton House, the Leeds Mark, although whether he and Joan lived there or it just his correspondence address is not clear.
In May 1941, his membership changes to the Western Area and this is likely when he became Western Area Secretary living in Clifton and Bristol until at least October 1949.
By April 1951 though he has returned to Norwich and is living on Constitution Hill and employed as East Anglian Area Secretary.
He and Joan also organised Toc H holidays to Farnham Castle, a former Bishop’s Palace and then (and now) a conference centre.
He was posted to the West Country again, living in Exeter but returned to Norwich on his retirement in 1972. He was living in Drayton on the outskirts of the city when he died in September 1993.
Having recently acquired a copy of one of the few books missing from my Toc H collection, namely In Flanders Fields (qv), I thought I’d put together a short, mostly visual blog about Toc H and the early pilgrimages to the battlefields and cemeteries of the Salient, and of course, to Talbot House.
The pilgrimages began before the war had even officially ended. Travel restrictions were lifted in July 1919 and civilians – mostly women – wanted to see where their loved ones had fallen and were buried. On the 1st and 2nd of November 1919 – still 10 days before Armistice – on All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day, thousands of French families travelled on special trains to the battlefields to visit the graves of their loved ones and commemorate all the dead. A trickle became and stream and the stream became a river.
At first most of the tours were organised privately, often by motor car. They did give employment to some former soldiers. Before long they were commercially attractive enough for companies such as Thomas Cook to get involved. But as these tours were often out of reach of the working class, charitable organisations also began to arrange pilgrimages. The Canadian Red Cross brought several Canadian widows and bereaved mothers to London in January 1920 before taking them on to France and Belgium; the Salvation Army took over their first party in April 1920; and St Barnabas, began opening hostels on the Continent and would soon begin their own trips, the earliest of which were arranged with the full support of Toc H before they began their own independent pilgrimages with their members.
And to accompany these tours, a number of guide books began to appear. The earliest are probably the The Illustrated Michelin Guide to the Battlefields series which began publication in September 1919 with Marne, Amiens, Soissons, and Lille, and were followed in January 1920 with Ypres and Rheims.
A Short Guide to the Battlefields by the Revd. J. O. Coop, D.S.O., T.D. Senior Chaplain of the 55th Division was published in April 1920 and then in July, Toc H got in on the act with The Pilgrim’s Guide to the Ypres Salient
Officially the follow-up to Tales of Talbot House, The Pilgrim’s Guide was clearly launched to both promote and raise funds for the fledgling Toc H. It was printed by Herbert Reiach Limited of Covent Garden, and an editorial note says that it was put together entirely by ex-servicemen. The names of the contributors include Charles John Magrath, a YMCA colleague of Barclay Baron who joined forces with Tubby at Talbot House (and Dingley Dell) in 1918; Captain Hugh Pollard, the firearms specialist later credited with starting the Spanish Civil War; Boyd Cable, the pen name of wartime propagandist Ernest Andrew Ewart (who also wrote Front Lines and several other titles about life in the trenches); and several others. Illustrated with sketches and maps, it is a lovely work and was often overlooked until reprinted by Talbot House. You can buy a copy of the reprint from their website. The Pilgrim’s Guide to the Salient (2019 reprint)
Other early guides include Lieutenant-Colonel T.A. Lowe’s The Western Battlefields. A Guide to the British Line. Short Account of the Fighting, the Trenches and Positions and the Ministerie des Chemins de Fer’s Aux Champs de Gloire Le Front Belge de L’Yser.
The market was soon flooded so the rest of this blog will focus purely on those tomes connected closely to Toc H. It is worth mentioning the mentions in Henry Williamson’s Wet Flanders Plain, the relevant extract was published here previously.
The next pertinent book was originally published as a supplement to the December 1930 Journal. The Old House was described as a Handbook for Pilgrims to Talbot House at Poperinghe. Remember, it was around this time that, finally exasperated by the constant knocking on the door, M. Coevoet Camerlynck succumbed to Lord Wakefield’s offer and sold Talbot House to Toc H (through the specially formed Talbot House Association).
The guide, which is available either as a thin hard cover book if you can find it (as pictured in the group picture) or the paper cover supplement, is a lovely descriptive record of the House and area with many photos, sketches and maps as well as extracts from notices and a list of all the books once held in the Talbot House library.
The acquisition of the Old House led to renewed vigour in the pilgrimages though now smaller groups went and stayed in the House itself. This prompted two new publications. Firstly, Tubby and the Rev. Geoffrey Harold Woolley issued the sparse booklet The Salient Facts under the Bangwent Series (Other titles included the thumbnail sketch of Pettifer and Tubby’s Fishers of Men). Woolley was an officer of the Queen Victoria Rifles who served in the Salient and was ordained after the war and joined Toc H. Little more than a pamphlet – Tubby describes the 16 page booklet as a ‘miracle of compression’ – it adds little to the reader’s knowledge but should be part of any serious collector’s library.
In 1935, Toc H republished The Old House in a condensed booklet called Over There – A Little Guide for Pilgrims.
The final booklet in our round-up was Barclay Baron’s In Flanders Fields, published by Toc H in 1954. Another small offering subtitled A little companion for the visitor to Poperinghe and Ypres, it is precisely that and perfect for popping in one’s pocket. Which is the perfect place for us to pop off and finish this short blog.
Today’s blog is a guest post by Ray Fabes, a former Toc H staff member and academic with a special interest in youth work. This article is a paper written in 2008 about the Talbot House Seafaring Boys’ Residential Club in Southampton, for many years a classic piece of Toc H work with young merchant seamen.
Unfortunately the article has only survived on paper so has been scanned in (thanks to Ray’s daughter Nicola for that) and rather than retype it, I have decided to post it as a series of images. I hope this doesn’t detract from the writing in any way.