Branded – the story of the Toc H logo

By Steve Smith

Since Toc H have just released a new logo, I thought it was an apposite time to look back at the logos Toc H has used over the years. This is based on a short document I put together for Toc H earlier in the year. It’s not definitive since there were few rules and regulations about use of icons and symbols earlier on, and also, many variations were created for Jubilee years, festivals, and regional purposes.

When Toc H was reborn in 1919, the first formal logo was a somewhat art nouveau rendering of the letters T&H inside a circle. It wasn’t widely used; the Toc H News Sheet had it’s own elaborate header and it was swiftly replaced by a slight variant, which sits in the middle of the (sadly missing) Round Robin, adds the letters O & C as well. This variant also appears on the cover of the first edition of Half The Battle – the first book published under the Toc H imprint, in January 1922 – and, on the porch column at Mark II in St George’s Square.

Then, as regular readers will know, in the Summer of 1922 the Lamp of Maintenance was introduced to Toc H as a sign of branch status, and depictions of the lamp became the symbol of Toc H. Indeed, until the 1960s, no-one really spoke of a Toc H logo. The Lamp quickly became synonymous with Toc H and was incorporated in print, as badges, and elsewhere, for several decades. The version shown here was the closest thing to a logo at the time but there were several variants. The lower version being one example.

Additionally, Toc H were given permission by the city of Ypres to use the Double Cross of the city arms (The Cross of Lorraine). This emblem appears on the men’s lamp of course but was also used in blazer badges and the like.

In the sixties Toc H was trying to get more professional and wanted to formally adopt a logo.  There was serious talk about using a fishing rod to represent its quest for extension and connecting with people. Needless to say, this, frankly bizarre idea, got no traction. Instead in 1969 to coincide with the merging of the men’s and women’s Movements and the replacing of The Journal and The Log with Point 3, the logo here was introduced to the integrated Movement. Designed by Bartley Powell it was said to be an attempt to illustrate light in the world, the right-hand side being a stylised version of the world.

The familiar lozenge shaped logo was slightly modified in 1989 to an oval shape and the lamp design was simplified. The colour of the printed logo was also settled as dark blue (although a similar orange one existed for a short time)

In 2005 the rugby post or TV aerial – as it was colloquially known – was introduced to usher Toc H into a new age. It went down like the proverbial lead balloon. Not least, it dropped the lamp from the logo which had long been seen as the heart of Toc H. Unpopular with the membership and many staff, it didn’t survive long.

In 2009 after the appalling reception of the revamped logo, it was decided at an AGM to return to the popular blue logo (Here a version without the lettering underneath)

Now, with a promising rejuvenation of the Movement, it was time for a rethink of the logo. Full details and some of the runners up can be seen in the spring 2023 newsletter. Here’s hoping this will become a familiar image on our high streets and elsewhere in the coming years.

Those ‘Orrible Coffee Houses: Toc H in BAOR

By Steve Smith

In a blog last September, I looked at how the war-time services clubs were starting to morph into something else in occupied Germany. Here we pick up that thread but first we need to look at what was happening with our troops at the end of the Second World War.

The British Army Of the Rhine was formed on the 22nd August 1945 to replace the British Liberation Army (Specifically Montgomery’s 21st Army Group) which pushed through continental Europe – along with the other Allies – after D-Day. BAOR was to serve in the British Occupied Zone which was that part of Germany handed to the UK, when the country was carved up at the Potsdam Conference.

Toc H had been attached to the BLA and began opening clubs in Belgium, France, and Germany as early as September 1944. I’ll precis what I wrote about this in my previous blog, to get us started.

The first Toc H club to open in liberated Europe was actually the Leave Centre at 28-30 Boulevard Waterloo, Brussels which opened in September 1944. A three-storey building that, during the occupation was used by German NCOs. Toc H took it on and installed Harold Hodge Molland as Warden.

Next was the club at Mechelen in Belgium, which was also the first to close when it was no longer needed in mid-1945. These were followed by Belgian clubs in Antwerp; Ukkel in Brussels; Roeselare (where Shaun Herron was Warden); and De Haan – which was described as a seaside convalescence home.

There was also a club in France at Saint Omer but with the Allies advancing east, the need was greater in the interior, thus Germany was next. By June 1945 – one year after the D-Day landings – there were eight Toc H Clubs in Germany.

The first Toc H Club in occupied Germany opened at Süchteln  in the spring of 1945. Formerly a tavern called the Krefelderhof on Hindenburgstrasse, Harry Ashton was installed as Warden. Interestingly a special token was created to spend in the Club, something that would be continued later.

The club didn’t last very long – the army was advancing rapidly – and was soon moved to Bad Salzuflen, near Herford.  Although there were no barracks there, a considerable military presence was in the area including soldiers living in requisitioned housing. Toc H took over the Café Rheingold initially but later moved to the grander Hotel Europa. As well as Toc H, the NAAFI, and the YMCA were based there, their headquarters all lined up along a street that soon became known as Holy Row.

Toc H headquarters on Holy Row, Bad Salzuflen

A second club opened at Nienburg near Hanover but by July 1945 had moved to Hanover itself where it took over part of the Central Hotel opposite the railway station. It was one of the few buildings left standing in this devastated city.

Göttingen opened mid-1945 and others followed at Fallingbostel, Herne, Lübbecke, Soest, and Berlin (Spandau). Soon after they had opened, the BAOR came into existence and in November 1945 Toc H War Services work was superseded by Toc H Services work, which would continue for some fifty years.

Initially they were to simply provide the sort of home comforts that the original Talbot House was renowned for, most importantly a hot meal and drink. Later, the scope of Toc H Services work would expand as we will see. Toc H was only one of several organisations in the zone and early on, one of the smallest. But, with a reputation stretching back to the original Talbot House and enhanced by the sterling work they did throughout World War II, Toc H punched way above their weight. The NAAFI were the official providers of amenities; the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes were set up by the government in 1920 to provide for military personnel. They ran shops, canteens, launderettes, bars, and more but, being a government organisation, were perhaps not as homely as they might be. Here the organisations who made up the CVWW (The Council of Voluntary Welfare Work) stepped up. And of them all (Including the YMCA, YWCA, Salvation Army, Church of Scotland, Catholic Women’s League, Jewish Hospitality Committee, Church Army, and the Methodist and United Board churches), who but Toc H knew how to provide a home from home.

Of these early clubs, the Berlin club at Hakenfelde, Spandau is perhaps the most interesting. On the 4th August 1945 Toc H requisitioned an old house at 61 Schönwalder Allee for its staff, and then opened a club at the Karlslust restaurant and dance-hall in nearby Hakenfelde Stadt Park. The restaurant was owned by Julius Loebel and here is what The Journal had to say about it:

On the edge of a wood some 500 yards from the main road a notice in Russian and a signboard showing the Тос Н lamp announces that Julius Loebel’s restaurant is now in the hands of Toc Н. Here a beer garden is laid out, Julien Denys, Jimmy James, Albert Crick, and Paul Sanderson being the present proprietors. A skittle alley, a large concert hall with stage, and an indoor cafe, together with feeding and, for part of the staff, sleeping quarters complete the buildings. It cannot be described as ideal for the purpose but every advantage must be taken of it while the good weather lasts. With the advent of dirty weather, promised by all to arrive in October, the example of its late owner will probably be followed and the building vacated for more suitable, climate-resisting premises.

The Karlslust, Hakenfelde

Toc H did indeed find more suitable premises, at 59 Schönwalder Allee, two doors down from the staff house. It opened for business on 11th September and Toc H would remain here for the next four decades or more.

And whilst Toc H may have moved out, the story of the Karlslust was not over and it was to have a tragic ending. In February 1947, when reopening as a private club, with a fancy-dress ball, a fire broke out and the Karlslust burned to the ground resulting in the loss of around 80 lives, including some British soldiers. Loebel himself died whilst trying to retrieve a cashbox from the inferno. It was the worst post-war fire in Berlin’s history. It’s not unreasonable to assume that the Toc H Club serviced the numerous British and German firefighters dealing with the awful conflagration that night.

Map of North Spandau showing locations of Toc H Clubs

The Toc H club was quite close to Spandau prison where several convicted Nazis – including Rudolph Hess – were held. The soldiers who guarded the prison were amongst Toc H’s customers. Later Toc H extended their hospitality to the American guards and – in the sixties – to the Russians. However, Toc H were not allowed to except payment in Roubles so warden Angus Laing decided to offer the Russian guards free tea. They, in turn, were unable to accept this, as they were not allowed to take free gifts from the British!

In 1946 a British military hospital opened in Spandau and Toc H were asked to provide the canteen facilities, and then, when a new hospital was opened Charlottenburg, Toc H had a purpose-built canteen. Again – much later – in 1967, Peter East was responsible for opening a Toc H shop in a later military hospital. He had returned to the UK by the time it opened but was flown back by the military for the unveiling. Incidentally, Peter was also responsible for getting British newspapers delivered to Spandau prison, and it is said, they ended up in the hands of Hess, who kept up to date with world affairs through them.

West Berlin, of course, was divided into British and American sectors and together formed an enclave within the Russian Occupied Zone of, what had become, East Germany. For the duration of the Cold War, it was in effect enemy territory. Access through East Germany to West Berlin was allowed but strictly controlled.

In 1961 a wall was built to divide the city. Peter East was warden of the Toc H club at the time and wrote an article in The Journal about Christmas 1963 when West Berliners were allowed to see their family in East Berlin for the first time since 1961 but had to queue nine hours to do so. He also reflected on the sixty-five wooden crosses on the wall that marked the deaths of those people killed whilst trying to escape to freedom in the west. However, we are getting ahead of ourselves.

We get a good idea of how things were in late 1945 from Barclay Baron, editor of The Journal, who spent two weeks touring Germany, in October and November 1945, looking at the Clubs and Circles. (Circles were a new form of Toc H developed around the War Services clubs where one or more active Toc H members in the services, collected men and women around them who might or might not eventually apply for full membership of Toc H). Baron admits to being anxious about how he would find his beloved Germany but once over the border he seemed relieved to see “bright dahlias leaning over a well-painted fence, men (usually in the remnants of grey-green uniform) ploughing the fields with a lean horse and an ox harnessed together, women picking potatoes, children, not badly dressed, playing here and there” but then, he reached the industrial Ruhr and the war struck home; “mile after mile of desolation, in extent utterly beyond anything the bombed cities at home can show.”

Baron visited a number of Toc H centres including Fallingbostel, where Vic Martin and his wife ‘Bill’ late of Warden Manor were in charge (Warden Manor having been requisitioned as an Anti-Aircraft Battery). Vic and Bill started a playground for German children, the first such post-war project and a strong pointer of the direction Toc H would take in BAOR. The legendary Jock Brown also set one up.

And this is a good place to note, that almost from the start, Toc H was adding value to the canteen and club facilities. At these clubs, or through Circles, Toc H did its core work. Whether that was running groups for families, or starting a Rover Scout group, the members got stuck in. As early as October 1945 there was a circle at the Karlslust club, and Berlin also established a Sunday School for British children, and a Women’s Afternoon for military wives; at Bad Salzuflen they made contact with a children’s hospital; in Lübbecke they worked at a German refugee camp.

The need for welfare and home comforts for soldiers increased in 1949 when National Service was introduced and there was a surge of very young men being conscripted into the army, with many being posted to Germany. These, often unwilling, soldiers were suddenly ripped from the bosoms of their families for eighteen months, and needed both pastoral and spiritual care of which Toc H and the other organisations were more than capable of providing.

In 1950, Frederick Gladstone Chesworth, the editor of The Journal, produced a small booklet – Soldiering On. Published in November, the book’s subtitle was An Impression of Toc H on Service with BAOR. There was additionally a magazine for Toc H BAOR entitled The Web but I have never seen an issue and I’m not aware that any survive in the archive

The clubs circa 1950

And, what of the clubs? Herne and Soest closed soon after opening, and Hanover didn’t last long, moving to a hotel on Einumer Strasse in Hildesheim by 1948, where Jock Brown created his playground. Göttingen and Hamburg closed in late 1949 but Cologne and Münster opened at much the same time, the latter a small premises on the barracks. Troop reshuffles in the early to mid-fifties led to the closure of Lübbecke, Cologne, Bad Oeynhausen, and then Fallingbostel (Gasthof Koning), and Hildesheim. Instead, Verden was open by 1954 and Paderborn opened in November 1955.

Marienburg, Cologne (top), and Munster (Below)

By April 1960 Toc H was focusing on four clubs at Paderborn, Berlin, Verden, and Münster, which, with the addition of Wolfenbüttel in 1972, was the line-up until the end. Regarding the latter, Toc H inherited a bookroom from the Church of Scotland in the 1960s. In 1972 Frank Dupont and Keith Rea were asked by the Army to extend this and offer a wives’ tearoom, at, what was, the most isolated garrison in the BOAR zone. Needless to say, Toc H took up the challenge, supplying “tea and wads” (A wad simply being a snack) from a corridor of a barrack block, which eventually developed into the popular Families’ Room and Shop.

Additionally, the administrative headquarters were at Herford, in common with most of the CVWW organisations and John Burgess says Toc H took over a failing club there in the 1980s though it seldom gets a mention in the listings.

John knows much of Toc H BAOR, as he went out to be a warden in Paderborn on March 17th 1967. He was there for the next four years (with very brief stand-in roles at two other clubs, Münster and Verden).  Paderborn was two houses – both formerly belonging to doctors – on Furstenweg. One was the canteen/club whilst the other was the shop with storage in the basement. On at least one occasion, the cellars flooded and the stores were floating around the place. They also had a small shop in a room on the Barker barracks.

A selection of images of the houses in Paderborn (Courtesy John Burgess)

Babs Jones worked in the Paderborn club in 1966 whilst her husband was stationed there with the Royal Engineers. The warden at the time was Peter East who she said was the nicest guy. She also recalled a German housekeeper called Susie.

There was a ladies’ hairdresser at the Paderborn house (next to the Gents) run at one point by Judith Jackson. Her husband later took a chair there as a men’s barber and was occasionally joined by his brother, an ex-army barber. His name was Mick Jackson but since leaving the army he had a music studio in Benhausen. Jackson was a songwriter who co-wrote, and originally performed, Blame It On The Boogie, a huge hit for the Jacksons in 1979.

Hairdressing salon at Paderborn (Photo John Burgess)

The Toc H clubs built on their fine reputation during the 1960s. The canteens were famous for their egg sandwiches, and for supplying Pukka Pies when they came to the market in 1964. The shops provided the Sunday papers, a range of British products not available on the German Net (The German civilian environment), and a plethora of souvenirs to take back to loved ones in the UK.

Whilst this blog pulls together the dry facts of the subject, and people like Tim Day and John Burgess, have given me fascinating insights into the scene, I am delighted to be able to share this wonderful account of life with Toc H on BAOR by Cynthia Hare as a guest blog. Click here and the blog will open in a new page.

It wasn’t all plain sailing though and probably the most serious incident occurred when the Verden Warden, Frank Dupont, was brutally attacked by a soldier. The man in question had family problems and desperately needed cash to go home to England. Frank was badly hurt in the robbery and hospitalized – John Burgess took over the club for three months. However, whilst Toc H sought compensation from the soldier for Frank’s injuries, Frank himself befriended his attacker and stayed in touch. Never had the Christian ethos of Toc H been more evident.

A selection of Toc H mobile services with BAOR

Toc H also provided many mobile canteens and gained a reputation for going to the obscure places where soldiers were operating but other organisations couldn’t be bothered to go. However – despite the willingness to, literally go further – the provision of shop and canteen services was little different to what the other organisations (Red Shield, YMCA etc) were providing. Toc H had always tried to add something extra as we have seen and the early seventies heralded a new era, inspired by the blossoming Project Scene in the UK.

John Burgess, now Project Development officer in the UK, revisited Germany in 1972 for a recce and found an enthusiastic Warden in John Sowerby. Toc H were acutely aware that new deployments in Northern Ireland and on various NATO schemes, led to increased loneliness for the wives and children left behind in a foreign country without the normal family support net they might have in the UK. A summer playscheme was run at Paderborn in 1973 and was so successful it was repeated and run at Verden in 1974. The playschemes would become a mainstay of Toc H in BAOR for the next 15 years or so, and involved flying out volunteers from the UK, often on trooping flights. The army also fed and accommodated them, putting on social activities and really making them welcome. Each scheme had a support group of parents and serving soldiers. This unprecedented cooperation by the army even stretched to soldiers becoming permanent volunteers on the scheme. One, Mick Tierney, a Sergeant in the 3rd Armoured Field Ambulance, came out of the Army and joined the UK Toc H Staff.

Playscheme in Berlin

John’s role was to select and train project leaders and make sure they had access to everything they would need.  A project leader would first be required to make one visit to meet the army, the parents, and the support group, then do a scheme in the British Zone in Germany. If they did well, they could then go onto Berlin which was the one everybody wanted. The first playscheme in Berlin was in 1978.

Woolwich Barracks were used for Leaders’ Training weekends.  The Reverend Alan Johnson laid on his church hall at his Dunstable Church, to accommodate the volunteers before their trip to either Luton or Stansted airports. A couple of years later Toc H appointed a Development Officer to bring on the playschemes and similar activities.

As the 1970s moved into the 1980s there were few physical changes – the shop in Verden moved to the ground floor in 1980 to make it more accessible, and Wolfenbüttel moved into new premises around 1982.

In 1984 Berlin consisted of a shop and canteen, an office, living quarters for staff, and 10 beds for use by soldiers of their families temporarily in Berlin. They also ran an extensive mobile canteen and shop and still had a shop and canteen in the British Military hospital

However, by the mid-eighties the cracks were starting to show. There seemed to be some difference of opinion between those working in Germany and Toc H members in the UK. Several Quaker members – including, at one point, a future Director of Toc H – didn’t think Toc H should be working out there at all. They were generally not comfortable with the part of Toc H’s charter that set out to “improve the efficiency of the forces”.

Tim Day was a former LTV at Talbot House (Trinity Square) who became a Development Officer (and later Head of Development). In the late eighties the director John Mitchell asked him to look at what was happening in Germany. Tim had previously run a playscheme in Paderborn in 1982 (with Lois Fowler). There were concerns both about the playschemes and the shops, and whether they should be continued, so Tim created a report for the CEC and developed a German Development Policy. Tim was of the opinion that the retail work was only there to support the welfare work, that is, the playschemes.

Tim recalls that when driving into West Berlin through East Germany you had to drive from Checkpoint Alpha on the West German border, through East Germany to Checkpoint Bravo where you entered Berlin. Since you were generally driving under military registration plates, the RMP checked you in at Checkpoint Alpha and checked you in at Checkpoint Bravo. Crucially they recorded the time exact times and should you arrive at Bravo too quickly, they would fine you for speeding. The East German police had no authority. Tim was once asked to run a box of maps urgently to Bravo, so the RMP signed him in half an hour earlier than it actually was allowing him to speed.

The clubs were suddenly the centre of attention with Toc H in the UK in 1988 when a worker there decided to report to Central Council, the fact that the shops were selling soft-porn magazines. This was of course, totally expected of newsagents in those days, particularly to male dominated population like the army. However, for Central Council it was a step too far. After much debate, such magazines were withdrawn from the shops.

The following year, a considerably more serious event was the beginning of the end for Toc H in BAOR; the Berlin Wall came down. Gorbachev’s reforms and the end of the Cold War led to Options For Change, a restructuring of British troops in Germany. Wolfenbüttel was earmarked for closure in 1992. In the early 1990s the Berlin Club was reduced to offering itself as a B&B to tourists in the area.  By 1994 BAOR was replaced by BFG (British Forces Germany) which halved the troop strength in Germany. British soldiers were withdrawn from Berlin and the club there closed in 1994.

In July 1997, the CEC decided to shut down Toc H’s remaining operations in Germany with most of the clubs (and staff) being taken over by other organisations (Paderborn by the YMCA). Thus ended 52 years of continual Toc H Service Clubs in continental Europe (although, of course, the origins stretched back a further 30).

So what then of the men and women that made these clubs what they were. We cannot list them all for there were many Wardens and Assistant Wardens over the years, not to mention housekeepers, assistants, and volunteers. A few of the key names though are Vic & Bill Martin (the married couple renowned for running Warden Manor in Kent), Jock Brown (later famous as Warden of the hostel on Gibraltar), Peter East (of whom I wrote recently), John Burgess (without whom I wouldn’t even be writing this blog), David Ruddy, Angus Laing, Fred Mason (an ex-wrestler), David Woodall, John Sowerby, and Bob and Elsie Peyton-Bruhl to name but a few.

Just a few of the Wardens

Responsibility for the clubs lay with the BAOR Commissioner. When the BAOR was formed in August 1945, Padre Paul Webb – deputy to Arthur Edgar as Toc H Commissioner to North West Europe – was appointed as Toc H’s first BAOR Commissioner. Webb was a former missionary in Burma and had been part of Toc H’s team in post D-Day continental Europe. He held the position of Commissioner until 1951 when the church required him to go back to the UK. His replacement was Angus Johnston, former Toc H Secretary for Scotland. Johnston resigned in late 1957 to be replaced by Church Army member, and former Warden of Talbot House Singapore, Ernest Robert ‘Bob’ Preston. He finished in 1961 to be superseded by Bill Gibb, who had worked in the Toc H Services Clubs since 1944. Bill did four years as Commissioner and was replaced in mid-1965 by Cyril Minchinton, who was only in post for a little over a year.

Paul Webb

Following Cyril was the near legendary Mayne Elson – I’ve added him to the long list of people who need their own blog – who worked for Toc H in a variety of roles, home and abroad. Elson retired in February 1969 and Eric Barrington stepped into the breach until January 1972 when Keith Rea started an eight-year tenure in the post. Another Toc H stalwart, Rea presided over a time of great change in BAOR, as did his successor Gilbert Francis, who took over as Commissioner in July 1980. Francis retired in 1987 and was the last to bear the title of Commissioner. His 1988 replacement, Tony Caldwell, was a Field Officer, as was Malcolm Lowe who took the post in May 1991.

Special mention should also be made of Hans Temmel, a Berliner, who after serving as a boy soldier in the German army spent two years with the YMCA before joining Toc H in 1948 in Herford to look after the accounts. He held that same position for 40 years until his retirement and is credited with keeping Toc H BAOR afloat in the early days. Hans died in February 2001.

BAOR work actually accounted for a considerable part of the Toc H workforce in the sixties and seventies, although this was partly because the turnover was quite high in some areas.

So finally, what did the men (and women) who were served by Toc H, have to say about it? Well, this is the British military so don’t necessarily expect gushing bouquets. After all the clubs were often known by the nickname The ‘Orrible Coffee Houses. Some of the online military forums provide the best quotes.

Here’s what Shotgun has to say: “I remember [Toc H] being an addition to the NAAFI. They used to go around in old vans dishing out tea on the ranges and on the outskirts of camp. Usually run by nice old ladies with blue rinses. The clubs had a good atmosphere. They also did a good line in bible-bashing, and good luck to them.”

Well, Toc H were never ones for thrusting religion down people’s throats so I don’t know if he was getting them mixed up with other organisations. They certainly went round in old vans dishing out tea, but old ladies with blue rinses – I’ll not comment.

Though, those ladies were not be messed with as Wizzard recalls: “We were on the ranges at Soltau when the van pulled up with much needed teas, pies and such like. In the queue, one of the troops was telling a joke with a very colorful punchline. When he finished, the nice lady in the van rattled the swear box and said ‘That will be 50 pfennigs for swearing” (There’s a bit more to that story but for the sake of decency, I’ll curtail it there)!

The Lord Flasheart was certainly grateful: “Remember doing a site guard in Münster and the local Toc H van was the only one that came out to see us. The NAAFI van couldn’t be arsed as there wasn’t that many of us.”

I also asked in one of the forums for old soldier’s memories of Toc H in BAOR. Here are some of the replies I got.

Used to get a fantastic full English with tea and toast complete with a Sunday paper in Paderborn for 6Dm, a great hangover kit.

Summer 1953, the Toc H tea van and ladies turning up in the middle of nowhere whilst we were on field exercises. The Yanks (enemy) took aerial photos of us all lined up waiting for our cuppa.

The Toc H put out much better scoff than the NAAFI, and if I remember they were cheaper as well.

Best egg’n’cress sarnies ever. That’s my memory of Toc H

And where better to leave this blog than with the words of the soldiers whom Toc H served. Giving the troops some home comforts whilst they were serving their country, was of course where it all began back in December 1915. During World War II the men and women of the Movement stepped up formidably, and during the occupation of Germany, Toc H were right there looking after the troops and their families. Let us hope that such a service is never needed again.

Thanks to John Burgess, Tim Day, Cynthia Hare, and the massed ranks of the British Army (BAOR)

My Time with BAOR

By Cynthia Hare

All walks of life came through the doors of the Toc H Services Club in Verden, and it was where I finished my growing up.  I was two months shy of 18 when, on 1st March 1972, my brand-new husband, Len, and I were collected from Hanover Airport by Frank Dupont, the then Warden of the club, an elderly gentleman who Len was to replace as warden over time.


The building itself was quite forbidding to look at from the outside.  It had originally been a Prussian Officers Mess, and was still part of a German army barracks, separated only by mesh fencing.  Of more excitement to Len, who was a railway fanatic, it was just yards from the busiest level crossing in Germany, closed 17 hours out of 24 in total, and steam engines would thunder through pulling huge goods wagons.  Many a time we would sit there by the barriers waiting to get in or out of the club.

As I sit here now and let the memories wash over me it is hard to know where to start.  Inside, the club was arranged over two floors.  On the ground floor at the front was a huge lounge area…a little stark to be honest, but they were used by soldiers, wives and families so had to be easily cleaned.   There were a couple of pinball machines too, and you could hear the ping ping of the ball in play from upstairs in the shop. 

Opposite the lounge was the door to the canteen, and a long corridor down to the kitchen behind.  The warden’s office was on the right, easily accessible, then toilets, then store rooms and finally the back stairs which led up behind the shop to the stock rooms and living quarters for the staff. 

To the left of the lounge was a staircase, two flights with a half landing, which led up to the shop and the chapel.  Walking through the shop on the left was the hairdressers. 

We found very quickly that the club had a rhythm that became second nature.  The canteen was basically run by German ladies, who had alternating early and late shifts.  But if anyone was absent due to leave or sickness, then one of us would need to cover for them.  300 or so bread rolls were delivered around 7am and these needed to be sliced, by hand.  Dozens of eggs were boiled then mashed up with tubs of margarine using potato mashers, a whole tin of ham about 3 feet long was sliced, cheese and onion mashed together, huge tins of tuna and jars of mayonnaise, then the rolls were buttered and filled ready to either  go out on the mobile canteen that served the camps, or into the canteen for a 9am opening.  Then two huge urns of tea and coffee were made, and whoever was on the mobile that day loaded up the van to be on the road in time for the mid-morning breaks in the camps (Two separate barracks, one housing 1 Div HQ, and the other the signal regiment.)

Meanwhile, the shop was opening up, yesterday’s papers counted for the returns sheet and disposed of. On a good day that day’s papers would be in by about 10.00am but this was dependent on so many things.  The papers were flown into Hanover by an aged Dakota DC3.  They were met by a lovely Polish driver with an equally aging covered army wagon, and driven the 40km or so to Verden.  So everything was weather dependent, traffic dependent and vehicle/plane reliability dependent on both sides of the north sea!  When they did arrive it was a scramble to get them undone, the orders named up and put away for collection, and the rest out on the shelves.   Off duty soldiers would haunt the place until the papers arrived, they were gently encouraged to consider magazines or books on really foggy days, and perhaps make use of the canteen while they waited.

Len Harvie, warden at Verden with Cynthia

Then the buses would start to arrive.  These were bringing wives and children under school age down to the club.  There were no creches or pre-school groups in those days, so this could be a very hectic time, with all eyes peeled for children helping themselves to sweets.  But it was where the club came into its own, providing a space away from military quarters where wives could gather for an hour or so, chat with friends while munching ham rolls and cream doughnuts, pick up the newspapers – generally, the Sun or Daily Mirror, maybe the Express, get their magazines (or comics for a lot of them, so many no older that me with at least one child in tow), buy birthday cards and gifts to send home.  And somewhere to bring visitors from the UK, parents who would spoil the children with toys, and buy cuckoo clocks, wall tapestries, perfumes and the like to take home as mementos from Germany without having to cope with a language barrier in the town.

Young customer in the shop

Once the buses had gone, there would still be custom at a slower level, these more likely to be officers or warrant officers’ wives, collecting husband’s papers…now we move into the Telegraph, Guardian and Times area…and their magazines, more Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping than My Weekly and True Lies.  And customers for the hairdresser.  Most days we had deliveries to unpack….what I called ‘Corner Shop Goods’ from YMCA, anything from soup to batteries to sweets to squash to washing powder to matches…and books, jigsaws, games, greetings cards and stationary from SCBD (Services Central Book Department, who also provided the papers, mags and comics).., perfumes, jewellery and watches from Gustav Heinneman, whose rep, Dave was British with a German wife, and an amazing array of toys and gifts from a lovely German chap call Joseph Harms.. My goodness he was a rogue, in this country he would have been a cockney on Petticoat Lane, but he was a shrewd business man and knew what would sell.  He used to tell the story that he had the British to thank for how well his business was doing, because during the war they bombed his warehouse and the Germans built him a bigger one which was also bombed, so the Germans built him an even bigger one which was the one he was trading out of then.  So he was always good to us!  Then we got to know Henry…that wasn’t his name, he was Dutch with a totally unpronounceable name so Len christened him Henry and it stuck…he was a real heart throb, young with dark floppy hair, and all the women serving in the shop would fight to be the one to make him coffee!!!  He worked for Warrens, and provided the more luxurious goods, Canon cameras, the more expensive watches, radios and Sony stereo equipment to order, not to mention up to the minute albums to play on them.  45’s were sourced to order from Minims in London

Then one day an officer came in and asked if we could order something from Mappin and Webb for him.    We looked into it and all of a sudden we were taking regular orders as news spread that we could provide high end silverware.  We were selling George Foreman grills (not under that name of course) 40 odd years before he ‘brought them to the world’!

Anyway, back to the daily rhythm.  Lunchtime saw a steady stream of soldiers coming in for hot meals or more rolls and even ice creams depending on the weather.   The Toc H staff would have lunch prepared by the housekeeper, Fray Ueltzen, who was a very neat, orderly lady who kept the flat beautifully clean, and would cook wonderful thick soups with bread from the baker, (she was also very naughty and would make a green pea soup with sausage floating in it if she knew we had been out the night before!)  But there would also be bangers and mash and a wonderful meatloaf amongst others.

In the afternoon, whoever had done the mobile run in the morning would be responsible for taking films and picking up photos from a local photographers, another service undertaken on behalf of British soldiers who had little or no German. (To be fair, neither had a lot of us, but we managed, and we could always get Lisa to ring up if there was a problem…more about her in a minute)

Then around 5pm our ‘rush hour’ would start, as soldiers were stood down, and would come in for papers, magazines etc., top up on sweets and chocolate, have a general mooch around the shop to see if anything new had come in…they always seemed to know when Mayfair had come in, a ‘top  shelf’ magazine, which we would order in by the hundred.  (I remember very many years later, when I was Regional Secretary for East Anglia, making a stand at Central Council when it was proposed that the clubs should no longer sell this magazine.  My take on it was they came to us, bought Mayfair and went back to barracks.  If that hadn’t been there, they would have carried on into town and bought far worse.  There was much tutting, and I honestly can’t remember how the vote went, but times, they were a-changing.)

And the canteen swung into action.  It never ceased to amaze me that even though there was a wonderful cook house on camp with quite an array of meals to choose from, many – particularly after pay day – would prefer to come down for a plate of something with chips.  (After the annual 3 week military exercise called Eternal Triangle, there would be queues out the door, with soldiers even in the lounge with plates on their laps, and the main order was ‘Everything on a plate’, so steak, bacon, chop, frikadellen, sausage, beans, eggs and chips…and sometimes  ‘Double everything on a plate!’  On those occasions it really was all hands to the pumps)

The club would finally close its doors around 7.30pm.  The last customers of the day were for ‘social calls’   This was a dedicated telephone line into the office, where two social calls were available an evening.  Supposedly 3 minutes long, you could book a call to England for 3dm, bearing in mind there were no telephones in the junior ranks quarters, and few in officers quarters.  If the service was busy, then you got your 3 minutes, just.  But if it was quiet that night you could chat for much longer.  The down side for us was we couldn’t go home until the calls were finished!  And there was a regular, Major Price, who would book every night…his wife and family were in England. 

During our 5 years in Verden, Toc H staff came and went.  They were all single men, the majority were hard working, but there were one or two who had come for the wrong reasons, and they rarely lasted the first 6 months.  You had to be prepared to work hard, and turn your hand to anything, whether it was clearing tables in the canteen, washing up or even cooking the meals  (I did 63 full meals one evening after an exercise and Len made the mistake of asking what was for dinner…) or cleaning the toilets if the cleaner was away;  stock taking at midnight, washing the shop floor – which was huge – lugging 60lb boxes of books up two flights of stairs,   (yes I did),  covering each other’s workload if someone was unwell, oh and breaking up cat fights that could regularly kick off amongst the squaddies wives  (once I threw a bucket of water over two of them who were fighting on the steps of the club stopping anyone from getting in or out, possibly not my finest hour, but it did the trick)  it was hard work, and everyone was ready for their 3 weeks of leave at the end of 6 months, but we played hard as well.

The German staff were a constant.  Frau Ueltzen I have already mentioned, but not that she was the daughter of a German tobacco importer and cigar manufacturer, and an English mother.  In her youth she was well known in Verden as she accompanied her parents in the carriage and pair.  And she would attend parties and balls in what was now the Toc H shop.  When Len hung military prints of soldiers in different regimental uniforms on the walls up the staircase, she said it reminded her that in her day their were pictures of German soldiers hanging in almost identical places.   She also told us that during the war, as it was coming to a close, some German soldiers came banging on their house door.  As they opened it two British soldiers opened fire and shot  one dead, then chased the other through the house and out of the back door.  I asked her what they did with the dead soldier and she said she and her mother just dragged him out into the street, shut the door and cleaned up the blood.  She was fun to go to the market with, which I did once or twice.  On one occasion she picked a couple of cherries from a stall and gave me one to try.  We agreed they were really good, but she walked on.  When I asked why she didn’t buy some she said “I don’t like the man”.  No answer to that.

Lisa Kuhn was the Canteen Manager.  She became my second mum.  Blind as a bat, her English was amazing, she took no nonsense from anyone behind the counter, but had a brilliant sense of humour, and was a great judge of character…she could tell almost immediately who was a stayer and who wouldn’t stay the course.  Her husband Richard was the padre’s driver, which he drove in a military vehicle, but his own car was a Mercedes.  He told me once, Hitler said when we won the war every man would have a VW Beetle…we lost the war, and we all have a Mercedes.

Lisa Kuhn

Elfriede ran the other alternate shift to Lisa.  Her English was not quite so good, but she had a gentle nature.  Her husband, Herbert, worked on the railways, and spoke English with a Lincolnshire accent, a hangover from his POW days in Lincolnshire.  We spent some happy evenings at their old farm house, where the whole family lived, the mortgage passing down the family line along with the house.  A wonderful idea if you ask me.

Regrettably I cannot remember the names of the two ladies who mainly did the cooking, one I think was Anna.  But I do remember that at the change of shift – around 2pm – when it was quiet, if there was a celebration someone would produce a bottle of cherry or apricot brandy and some kuchen (cake).  Sometimes the celebration was a little manufactured (somebody’s husband’s grandmother’s niece had a baby) but that break was well earned.

Another huge omission is that of Hans Temmel, the Toc H accountant who worked at CVWW HQ in Herford, with Keith Rea during my time.  He was lovely, but always gave us a fortnight’s notice of his on the spot check of the accounts, so we had time to prepare the books!  It drove Keith crazy.

After three or four years John Burgess came out with a view to setting up a playscheme through the summer holidays.  He did a lot of ground work and identified a terrific couple, Cpl Alan Laundon and his wife Christine, who took the lead roles on the military side.  They did a tremendous job of selling the idea to parents, and when the two project leaders came out to stay to help with the final organisation Len and I hosted them (we had a quarter in Dauelsen by this time).   When the time came for the playscheme it all happened away from the club but we did have a chance to meet the volunteers, and the army laid on some entertaining for them too.  We in the club did get to receive all the accolades from grateful parents which we duly passed on, and another successful playscheme was born.

Once Len was warden and we had our quarters we were expected to host any and all visiting dignitaries from London.  My parents obviously – dad was General Secretary at the time – also Sandy and Lady Giles, and my favourites Ken and Barbara Prideaux-Brune, with their two boys. When Ken became director, I organised a fork supper at Dauelsen for some of the officers it was useful to know.  I had made a trifle for dessert and Barbara was helping me clear away the first cause when I heard her giggle from the kitchen.  I went in to find my cat busily licking off the cream from the trifles.  I was horrified, but Barbara just picked up a fork, whirled the cream around a bit to cover the custard and we took them in.   And if anyone noticed we didn’t have trifle they didn’t comment!

Because I was a young female I was often asked if I would babysit when functions were on, especially for officer’s children.  But I became very much in demand so I was often booked up quite far ahead!  People were very kind and appreciative, and often a meal was left for Len and I, Len joining me once he had locked up the club.  On the night of one memorable Officers Mess Christmas Ball, I had 12 infants put to sleep in two neighbouring houses with coms link between the two houses…well done the signal regiment!  I was terrified in case any one of them woke up because they would have woken the rest to be sure! 

And talking of Christmas, oh my goodness, what a few weeks leading up to the main event!  The shop and canteen both got busier as the time went on, but after the officers’ ball – always the first to kick off the season – we were invited to every other ball, party, general shindig there was going. This also meant that the hairdresser was busy, and I would find myself washing hair, sweeping the floor, cleaning the sinks while keeping an ear on the shop.   Not to mention the introduction of the Santa Post Box…each letter individually answered by …guess who???  Late nights and early mornings really take their toll!  Finally after Christmas, we would go to a couple of Scottish friends for Hogmanay, which ended with a full cooked breakfast at about 5am.  It was fine until the government decreed there should be newspapers on New Years Day…we went straight from the party to open the club for three hours to sell newspapers…Len could hide in the office, I was hanging onto the till for dear life, the only thing to be keeping me upright and awake.  That and the constant teasing from equally bleary-eyed customers!   Good times.

I think the thing was we stepped in and helped whenever we could.  The SKC (Cinema) Manager rang in a panic one day…the lady who normally manned his sweet kiosk was on long term sick, did we know anyone who could step in that night?  I did…I knew the stock, I knew the customers.  So straight from the club to the cinema…payment?  Constant free tickets for both Len and I…and in a cinema where the programme changed 3 times a week, and no British television at that time, they were worth it!  

And remember, this was the times of ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland.  We were governed by Station Standing Orders and whatever the state of alert was at the time.  That meant sometimes we had an RMP on duty checking everyone in and out, vehicles had to be checked before you got in them.   The general atmosphere changed, but we did our best to keep everything the same at Toc H, so it was still welcoming.  Although Sunday services were no longer taken, we maintained a small chapel which Father Kenny, the RC padre would often use to just listen or comfort either soldiers or their families for whatever reason.   Because we were 1 Div HQ and Sigs we didn’t have regiments going out to Belfast, but the army is one big family, and if one hurts they all hurt.

But even these times were source of amusement.  The Toc H tea wagon was welcome anywhere, and I think it was in Berlin that during a security drill a couple of lads in the role of terrorists hijacked it and hid in the back.  Sure enough, while every civilian and military vehicle was being thoroughly searched at the barracks gate, when Toc H rolled up the barrier was lifted and they were waved straight through!

And at our own barracks in Verden, during a bomb alarm drill, a shoe box was wrapped up in brown paper and string, with the word BOMB written on the top, was placed on the bottom step of a barrack block.  Without exception, every soldier in the block jumped over the box as they ran outside…whoops!

And then, after 5 busy but happy years, we were transferred to Munster, which was a totally different kettle of fish.  I don’t want to go into the real reason we were sent there, suffice to say the club – which was Toc H’s largest – had become run down, and it needed Len to work his magic as he had in Verden.

Because of the magnitude of what needed to be undertaken and the physical size of the club – it had five outlying shops plus a large mobile shop – my role had to change, and I took over the administration from Len.  There was also a German admin person, Frau Frances Ruber, and her dog, a flat lab called Sam.

But Munster was a huge garrison town where the British were not welcomed.  During the war the barracks had all been full of German soldiers, and since then the British were regarded as the occupying force.   The German staff in the canteen and in the shop were suspicious of us from the start, as were the Toc H staff.  In short, there had been a problem, we were there to sort it out.   We had also taken a member of staff from Verden with us so we knew there was someone we could trust.  He lived in the mess with the other staff while Len and I were lucky to be in a cottage in an outlying village.  (And would you believe, a railway line at the bottom of the garden where a train went by just once a week on a Sunday!)

Another staff member who came our way was Peter Featherstone.  I was never actually sure where Peter was based…he would be sent to any of the clubs when extra hands were needed.  He was always cheerful, and if the world seemed to pass him by you would be wrong, many little pearls of wisdom would be dropped here and there, although he never seemed to say a lot.  His front teeth were a source of fascination as come meal times they wouldn’t be there, but would reappear straight afterwards! 

We inherited Ron, a Scot who drove the mobile shop.  He would go to all the outlying quarters areas that had no other facilities, and on Monday he rested and needed it.  His shop was his baby.  He kept it stocked, knew exactly what he could sell and what he could not, cleaned it, maintained it.  He was very quiet and unassuming, and his customers loved him.  When he went on leave, Peter would take the shop out and it was a thankless task as all he was asked was ‘When is Ron coming back?’

Otherwise, the life of the club was much the same as Verden, only much, much bigger.  One of the satellite shops was in the British Military Hospital, and not unsurprisingly had a huge turnover in greetings cards, magazines, sweets and toiletries, along with paperbacks.  The others were scattered in different barracks, one as far as 40k away in Wulfen.  These were each run by a military wife or two, and they mostly took a pride in how they presented things.   Occasionally we would be asked if we would like a tent at an open day, and I would be packed off with a van full of stock to spend the day either shivering or perspiring under canvas, depending on the weather!   We would make sure I had stock that was available in the main shop but not in the satellite shops due to size limitations, and this would often bring people from the outlying areas into the main complex.

Just once I did the mobile canteen run for the tank regiment in the barracks behind the main club.  Only once, as I forgot to shut the sliding door after one stop, took a bend too fast on my way to the next stop, and one of the urns went flying out of the door and somersaulted across the tarmac, showering the tea everywhere. Amidst cheers, one of the engineers picked up the urn and lid and hammered them back into shape as best he could, but I had to go back to refill the urn so couldn’t get away with it! 

Munster was hard.  It was much like Verden, but with people working against you rather than with you. We won one or two of the Germans around, Aggie and Hermie who both worked in the shop, but not Frances not Herte. They blamed us for the loss of loved ones during the war, Frances in particular lost her fiancé fighting the Allies.  Trouble makers amongst the British staff were identified and sent home, with Keith Rea and Len having many a difficult conversation and coming home strained and white faced.

Most of our friends were also ex-pats who worked on the garrison.  John Mitchell (not the Toc H man) was the Quartermaster, and he really was a cockney, and some of the stories he could tell would keep us laughing for hours.  His favourite saying about someone who was a bit mean was ‘he’s got short arms and long pockets’. His wife Gerda was German, and a friendlier and more tolerant lady you could not wish to meet.  On one momentous occasion when we were in their car and manoeuvring through traffic she shouted out,  “Mind the bollocks John!”  Bollards…she was close.

We also befriended a couple who were Scottish, and she and I approached the then padre about starting a Sunday school.  He was delighted and found us a room, and I just had time on a Sunday morning to take a class, play for the songs and rush back to the club just before opening time.  Many months later, the incoming padre – who was very High Church and brought incense with him! – was horrified to find his Sunday School being run by a Presbyterian and a Methodist!!  We were still going strong when Len and I came home, but I often wonder how Pat (name just came to me) got on after I’d gone.

Playscheme at Verden

We came home at the end of 1978, and I really felt there was more for us to do, but Len’s mother had had a couple of strokes by then so it seemed time to move.  I had also applied for the job of Project Co-Ordinator in Germany which was being vacated by John Sowerby, and I really wanted to work more outside of the clubs with the families…I was more mature by then and had learnt a great deal about what support families needed, but I lost out to a better candidate.

And whilst all that I have written gives a flavour of what Toc H in BAOR was about, Len has really just summed it all up in a few words:

We were a little bit of the UK and home for the troops

Cynthia Hare, nee Francis, was the daughter of Gilbert Francis, sometime BAOR Commissioner and General Secretary of Toc H. From 1972-1978 she and, her then husband, Len Harvie, were wardens at Verden. I want to close this account with another paragraph from her pen.

A final word here, something which distresses me greatly to this day.  When I was in Verden I sat on a working party that was looking into how the army and the Ministry of Defence could support soldiers leaving the army, to help them back into society.  That was nearly 50 years ago, and still we find ex-soldiers on the streets because they haven’t been able to adjust after 22 years of being told what to do and where to go.  That initiative obviously didn’t get very far.

Perhaps this is something that Toc H can address through its new array of community hubs!

The Sunday Break – Toc H on TV

By Steve Smith

It was many years ago, during one of my frequent discussions with John Burgess about different aspects of Toc H’s history, that he mentioned The Sunday Break. It was, he told me, a TV show from 1961 about Toc H, in which he appeared and he would love to see it again. I did a little research at the time and concluded that it no longer existed; not all television was even recorded at the time (much was broadcast live) and even if it was, it was likely on expensive magnetic tape that was frequently wiped and reused. Nevertheless, I made a few notes about the programme and filed the information away.

Therefore, a few months ago, when I was checking eBay as I frequently do, I nearly jumped through the roof when I saw that someone was selling a 16mm cine film labelled Sunday Break – Toc H Dor Knap Centre. I had found the Holy Grail! This is the story of the programme, and how I came to obtain, and then digitize it.

As soon as I saw the film on eBay, I knew I had to get it; not for myself but for John, and for the Toc H archive at the University of Birmingham. I checked it out and saw that it was in an ABC-TV film-can and being sold by a reputable dealer. This was the real deal, so I put in a bid. Whilst I didn’t expect anyone else to bid on it because of its Toc H connections, I knew that there was a massive market for ‘missing presumed wiped’ television shows, whatever the subject matter. I anticipated a bidding battle and I got one. However, I wasn’t going to let this get away and ten days later, and over £100 poorer, the film was mine. But this was only half the battle, to coin a phrase well-known in Toc H. To preserve the film and to enable it to be widely seen, I needed to get it digitized.

Digitizing a cine film involved scanning every single frame at high-resolution and then rendering all those scans into a single, digital movie. Given that 16mm cine runs at 30 frames a second and the film was known to be around nine minutes long, we were looking at some 16,000 scans! I needed to find an industry recommended digitizer who would treat the project with the care and respect it deserved. Strangely, I found such a company based at Teignmouth, Devon, spitting distance from another old Toc H property, Lindridge.

The cost of digitization was high, so I started a GoFundMe to raise money and was pleased that various people and groups, including both Toc H and Talbot House, soon helped me reach the target. The film was duly sent off and then I had to wait. Being a well-respected company meant their services were in high-demand. After a few weeks though, the digitized film was ready, and I wasn’t disappointed. This blog is to share the fruits of this process with you all. The link to the film is at the end but don’t skip the rest of the blog, you might miss something interesting.

So what’s this film all about?

Penry Jones

Let’s start with a chap called Penry Jones. Jones was a member of the Iona Community and knew Toc H through Iona’s founder, George MacLeod, a friend of Tubby and a former staff member of Toc H Scotland. Jones was passionate about bringing religion to young people and occasionally spoke to gatherings of Toc H members.

In 1958, having spent ten years as the Industrial Secretary of the Iona Community, Jones joined ABC Television, part of the Independent Television network (ITV), as a producer. One of the first things he did in his new role was to develop a religious magazine programme called The Sunday Break. The 45-minute show, broadcast – unsurprisingly – on Sunday evenings for three weeks each month, invited well known figures such as pop stars, and groups of young people into a club set at the studio in Manchester to discuss topics of the day. Featuring skiffle, jazz, and rock’n’roll, with discussions ranging from religion to sex, The Sunday Break was one of the most controversial religious programmes of the time. It regularly got audiences of millions, knocking the BBC’s staid efforts into a cocked hat. Incidentally, the programme appears to have an identity crisis being sometimes known as The Sunday Break, and just as often, only as Sunday Break. It ran until 1962.

Meanwhile, Alec Churcher, a staff member of Toc H who had spent much of his time developing Toc H with young people as Schools Secretary, had – in 1959 – been appointed Secretary for Service and Training. At much the same time, Richard Ayshford-Sanford, a friend of Toc H’s Administrator John Callf, was made aware of a slightly dilapidated property near Broadway in the Cotswolds, on offer by its owner (Lord Dulverton) for a peppercorn rent. Originally offered to the Boy Scout Movement, they were put off by the amount of work needed; Toc H “disowned discouragement and leapt with joy at the task”. Dor Knap was brought into the fold, and became an ideal venue for Toc H conferences and training. Alec Churcher would become its leading proponent. (I’ve added Churcher to my list of future blogs, trust me he deserves his own).

Alec Churcher

In the early sixties, Churcher had devised a training session entitled The Life and Work of a Branch. It had already been run several times when, in early 1961, it was planned to be held at Dor Knap for one week from Saturday 12th August, led by Churcher himself. Penryn Jones got to hear of this and decided it would make a good feature for his Sunday Break and arranged for a film crew to be sent along.

Thus, for three days during that week in August 1961, director Frank Cadman and a crew, were buzzing around the Toc H people at Dor Knap making their short film. Thomas Edward Francis Cadman, was the son of a stage manager and had cut his teeth as a cinematographer with the Kenneth Graeme Film Company before moving to Ealing where he directed The Bailiffs starring Flanagan and Allen (who didn’t meet at Talbot House despite the enduring myth, although probably quite close by). He made further shorts of Fred Karno scripts but went on to make his best-known documentary, Commando-The Story of the Green Beret (Made in 1945 but didn’t get a cinematic release until 1952). Cadman then became a producer for Associated-Rediffusion’s Cine Holiday programmes and was amongst the first to broadcast amateur cine home movies on television. Perhaps those of us passionate about the history of Toc H will always remember him for his film on Dor Knap.

It was broadcast live by ABC Weekend TV – who held the weekend broadcast licence for ITV in those days – at 6.15pm on Sunday 26th November 1961, presented by Barry Westwood. The programme carried the overall title of Jews and Christians – how do they get on? and Rabbi Rosen was in the studio discussing this. Other guests included jazz musician Terry Lightfoot and singer Clinton Ford.  The Toc H film was included as an insert but Alan Hill (Assistant Schools Secretary) and David Dawson of Mark XXII (Putney) were in the studio.

Given that an integral part of Churcher’s training course was a discussion around the question, What would you consider the prejudices that separate men?, you’ll understand why it was included with this episode. Sadly, as I implied earlier, the bulk of the show either wasn’t recorded at all, or if it was the tape has long since been wiped and reused. Just the filmed insert survives. Our only hope of ever finding the whole show is that someone filmed it off the television with a cine camera at the time (Home video recorders did not yet exist). It seems unlikely. Perhaps slightly more hopeful is that someone recorded the audio only from the television on a reel-to-reel tape-recorder. If this also seems fanciful, remember this is exactly how the commentary of Tubby’s This Is Your Life show survives.

Another interesting fact about the filmed insert is that John Burgess is convinced Frank Cadman filmed it in colour. As a cinematographer of some renown, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility, and in the fifties Cadman was a strong proponent of cine films and home movies. Of course, other than a very few test broadcasts from Alexandra Palace, colour television broadcasts were nearly a decade away but John believes Cadman said that colour film captured the nuances of the scenes better, even if only broadcast in black and white. It is possible that the original films were colour but these would have been edited down to the nine minutes we see and a black and white print made for broadcast. It is highly unlikely any of the colour footage remain, if this is the case.

In the TV Times that week, an article by John Callf entitled Friends for 46 Years, introduced the large readership of the television magazine, to the work of Toc H.

Now, I know you are itching to watch the film, and it may help if you have a little knowledge of some of those to look out for.

It opens – in an obviously set up sequence – with two young men, manhandling their suitcases and walking up from the village of Broadway, to the house on the hill. These young men are the just turned sixteen, John Burgess (Colchester) and his colleague Cyril (Market Drayton). On arrival they are met by George Atkinson, who along with his wife Dorothy, were wardens at that time. After showing the boys around (and meeting two other guests whom I haven’t identified) John and Cyril meet Dorothy as she is arranging some flowers.

As they take their cases upstairs, a young man in glasses and a dark jumper emerges from the room to our left and goes outside. This is our first glimpse of John Mitchell, future Director of Toc H.

I can’t yet give you names of the parties clearing tree roots in the garden or repairing the road (other than John Mitchell appearing again in the latter). The deck tennis also needs work though I see John Burgess and Cyril watching the proceedings.

John Mitchell, a great disciple of Alec Churcher, leads the group discussion on Fairmindedness in the lounge, and John Burgess recognises Don Wilde in this scene.

The film then closes with the commentator reading out the Four Points of the Compass.

So there we have it. A piece of Toc H history encapsulated, first on film but now preserved digitally, hopefully for eternity.

And what of the main protagonists. Frank Cadman went on to make several shorts about the RAF but sadly went bankrupt in 1967 and died in 1980. Penryn Jones stood, unsuccessfully, for the Labour party at several seats during elections in the early sixties. He became head of religious broadcasting at the BBC, then Religious Programmes Officer at the ITA. Upon retirement in 1982, he became chairman of the Iona Heritage Trust, and he died in 2004.

Alec Churcher, remained a steadfast member of Toc H until his death in 1980. John Mitchell became a Director of Toc H and later organised many Toc H projects in the South East region. I know this because it was on a John Mitch project that I met my future wife. Of Cyril, I’m not sure, but John Burgess, well he started all this as far as I’m concerned, firstly by getting me involved with Toc H and then by mentioning there was this old film that he would love to see!

The Sunday Break film is available here or click the image below

Other films are available at my History of Toc H YouTube Channel here

And an earlier visual blog about Dor Knap here

And if you can find it, the story of Dor knap is told in this excellent book: Dor Knap – Its Toc H Life: The House on the Hill – By David P Encill, Ray Fabes, George Lee, and Lionel Powell

Mr Peter – a glimpse at the life of Peter East

By Steve Smith

One hundred years ago today, a man was born who would go on to make an impact on two continents. He would not make the sort of ground-shaking, seismic impact that sees some men remembered with statues, plaques, and other bombastic monuments because he was amongst the most unassuming men I ever met. But to many young Bengalis in East London, and many more still in Bangladesh, Peter East – often Mr Peter – was the man who helped them find their way in the world and Peter’s memorial is the lives they have gone on to lead.

This is not a detailed look at his work with the Bangladeshi community because for that you need nothing other than Ken Prideaux-Brune’s 1985 book, A Kind of Love Affair (From Brick Lane to Bangladesh). Rather it is a brief look at his early journey in Toc H and an attempt to understand his legacy.

Next Saturday, a large group of Peter’s friends and associates will gather at All Hallows to remember and celebrate his remarkable life. Sadly, I won’t be able to as I am away on holiday and much as I admire his work, I can’t class myself as a close friend; I only met him in his later years. The first time was at a small photography project I was running at Brixworth Country Park. I must admit that the name meant nothing to me at that time when I was introduced.

Peter (second from left) at Brixworth on the project where I first met him

The man I met was large of stature but quiet and humble. I noticed that he had an artificial hand but otherwise, he was simply another Toc H member I was pleased to have met. The next time I met him – I think at a dinner at the St Ethelburga’ s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, in Bishopsgate – I had started to become interested in the history of Toc H and I had read Ken’s book. I now saw Peter in a very different light. Sadly, I think that was the last time I saw him as he died not very long afterwards but I continued to learn about him and his work as I attended various fundraising dinners for the Friends of Khasdobir and as I started researching Toc H on Tower Hill.

Who was Peter East and how did he come to Toc H? Born in Skegness on the 22nd April 1923, at 20 Lumley Road (now an Oxfam charity shop), his parents were Bert and Lizzie East (the latter also known as Lillie). Bert’s family had been ropemakers and had owned a ropewalk in Boston, Lincolnshire and the family had only moved to Skegness a few months before Peter was born, the eldest two children having been born in Boston. Lizzie’s father Joseph Bowens was a brush maker in Boston and lived with Bert and Lizzie when he was widowed, until they moved away. Peter’s siblings were Herbert Joseph (known as Bert) born 1917, Kathleen Mary (1921), and Elizabeth Mavis (1925)

Older brother Bert worked for the Public Benefit Boot Company before the Second World War. This pretty much did what it said on the tin and sold boots for the benefit of the public by cutting out middlemen. Bert was also an active member of Toc H – since at least 1937 – which no doubt had some bearing on his younger brother’s later decision to join. And Bert certainly made an impact during the war as he joined the army and became one of General Wingate’s original Chindits, the unit making long-range penetration missions into Burma to attack Japanese troops. He would write letters home from India, though they were no doubt highly censored. He also officiated at Toc H Circles overseas and would later give talks about his experiences with the Chindits.

For Peter though, there would be no military career. His ambitions to be a chef were also thwarted in October 1938, when, whilst working in a bakery, Peter had the accident that would alter the course of his life. He let his right hand come into contact with the knife of a dough-cutting machine and he lost three of his fingers and part of a fourth. He recovered but military service was not possible. Although listed as Incapacitated on the 1939 register, he later became a clerk for the council and we know that he joined Toc H as a member and worked in one of their local War Services Clubs  One of his jobs was apparently writing letters in French. He later became branch secretary.

Barring his accident, Peter’s early life was a fairly normal one. After the war, Bert joined his father in East and Son, a business now specialising in making sun-blinds and waterproof covers, allowing the family to live in reasonable comfort in the leafy wide roads of central Skegness. Bert Jr married Gwen Johns a sister at the local hospital 1949 (Peter was best man) and Kathleen married local band leader Cyril Cowpe, two years later (Peter was Groomsman). At one point Peter and his parents lived in Latchford House, a large house on Roman Bank and let out rooms to boarders.

Peter did join the family firm for a time, however he decided to train at Butlins in Skegness and by the mid-fifties he was running the Butlin’s holiday camp in Ayr, Scotland. It was here he was working when his father died in 1955.

Tubby Clayton clearly had more of a pull on Peter than Billy Butlin because in June 1958 Peter was appointed to work with the Toc H Service Clubs with BAOR and he was a Warden in Berlin. He was in Berlin when the wall went up and wrote an article in The Journal about Christmas 1963 when West Berliners were allowed to see their family in East Berlin for the first time since 1961 but had to queue nine hours to do so. He also reflected on the sixty-five wooden crosses on the wall that marked the deaths of those people killed whilst trying to escape to freedom in the west. It would not be the last time Peter would come to see the effects of partition on human suffering.

Peter (far right) in Berlin

Peter remained in Berlin for virtually all his time with BAOR, sometimes running the club on his own, though he did move to Paderborn for a while. He was made Deputy Commissioner BAOR to Mayne Elson before returning home on the 27th October 1967 to take up the wardenship of 42 Trinity Square (Talbot House) from Group Captain Oliver and taking over his flat. Tubby was still resident on the Hill at this point.

By late 1968 he had the medical student residents – people like Geoff Ibbotson – open a medical centre at the Men’s Care Unit of St George’s Methodist Church.  Additionally, whilst in Germany Peter had read about the race riots in Notting Hill and came home determined to something to improve relationships. This started when he oversaw the running of English classes, initially for Pakistani boys. The work with young Pakistani boys expanded to include trips out to the Tower of London, museums, zoos, “anywhere that wasn’t Brick Lane”. This led to the formation of the International Youth Club which met on Saturdays (and occasionally Fridays and Sundays too).

Under Peter’s wardenship Talbot House was the heart of Toc H in London, even when Tubby died and then when HQ moved off the Hill for Wendover, it remained a key centre for Toc H work, straddling as it did the City and the East End. In 1969 Peter was appointed London Marks’ Commissioner (Whilst remaining Warden of Talbot House).

A conflab of Wardens (Peter, Bill Brittian, and John Burgess) at a staff gathering

The work at the house was active and diverse. One project worth noting though, because of the contact Peter made with the community of Stepney (or rather Tower Hamlets as it was now more properly known), was in 1971 when Peter was running summer playschemes at Matilda House by St Katherine’s Dock, sponsored by Avenues Unlimited, an organisation founded by Derek Cox, who would work closely with Toc H. The playscheme covered the whole of Tower Hamlets and was aided by the Winant Volunteers.

One resident of the hostel at Talbot House, Martin Rivett, recalls a children’s party there where Peter caused consternation among some of the guests who did not know him well. When the tongs could not be located, Peter removing the sausages from the deep fat fryer by putting his gloved (artificial) hand in the hot fat and pulling them out!

Then Peter’s focus turned to the newly founded nation of Bangladesh. The story of how Toc H were closely entwined with the establishment of this new state can be read in my earlier blog

Peter visited Bangladesh 1972 and he soon began working with young Bangladeshi boys and was proud of what he did to help racial harmony with the Asian community. In 1973 he took over Number Seven the Crescent (behind 42) as a hostel for Bengali boys and for the next nine years was the centre of his work. This is where Ken’s book is far more valuable than anything I could write and so I won’t try. Peter would continue to visit Bangladesh every 18 month or so, sometimes taking youngsters who lived at the hostel with him.

To give some idea of its significance of Number Seven, Bishop Trevor Huddleston was a regular visitor, and Ashok Basu Dev – the first full-time Asian youth worker in the country, working with Avenues Unlimited – worked closely with Peter taking the boys away to various Toc H residential centres. Rickmansworth – a site originally owned by the old East End Highway Boys Club would become a favourite. Toc H would eventually buy the site.

Peter guiding some youngsters at camp (Probably Rickmansworth)

Caroline Adams replaced Ashok at Avenues Unlimited and worked closely with Peter for the next nine years and along with people such as John Newbigin, Shah Rahman, Dan Jones, Pat Topely, Mike Thomas Abbas Uddin, now leader of Tower Hamlets council, and Pola Uddin (later to become Baroness Uddin of Bethnal Green, the first Bengali woman in the House of Lords the Community) were given the tools to flourish for themselves. Peter’s contribution to this was community was recognised when he was honoured in the 1979 New Year Honours’ list with an MBE. And it was Peter’s work with the Bangladeshi community in Spitalfields that led to Toc H allowing Mark I in Notting Hill to go full circle and to become a Bangladeshi Centre in 1976. It still serves this purpose today although is now completely independent of Toc H.

Whilst it’s easy to assume that Peter and Toc H’s work created a positive, diverse community in the area, it cannot be forgotten that it did so against a background of National Front marches and violence. Brick Lane could be violent as well as vibrant and it is testament to Peter that he never shied away from this. He even lived on the Holland Estate in Spitalfields.

Eventually, it would not be fascists or bigots that brought this period of work to an end but accountants. Talbot House was owned by the Wakefield Trust and it was no longer viable for them to let Toc H use it for free. The same was true for Number Seven out the back. There was resistance but ultimately, just as all the other Toc H Marks had gradually closed, Toc H closed 42 Trinity Square and Number Seven as hostels. Peter was Warden to the end.

Peter with some of his young friends as his 60th birthday celebration

And that might have been that. Never married, Peter decided on his 60th birthday in April 1982, three weeks after his beloved hostels closed, to take a year’s sabbatical from Toc H. He spent time with his family – his mother died in October that same year – with his friends such as Ken and Barbara Prideaux-Brune, and John and Marolyn Burgess. And then on the 30th April 1983, Peter decided to turn his sabbatical into permanent retirement and finished working for Toc H. He retired, not home to Skegness, or to a bungalow on the south cost, not even to Spain – yet – but to Bangladesh. John Burgess drove him to Heathrow and he departed for his adopted country on the 15th May 1983.

Within a year he had worked out a plan to help the people with whom he lived. It was published in the form of a letter published in Point 3. He planned to help young people in Bangladesh complete their education by  providing small grants to families to stop them having to send the children to work.  The pilot project was in the Syhlet district of Bangladesh. Schools Under the Sky had begun. Along with Harun Ahmed, Peter formed the Khasdobir Youth Action Group in 1984 to run the Schools project and several other spin-offs. As well as work with the young they also worked with the aged, poor community in Bangladesh.

Harun Ahmed and Peter

Harun was widely respected in Sylhet, his power and influence in the village of Khasdobir was immense. He was automatically the chairman of any organisation formed and nothing happened without his say so. But it was a benevolent dictatorship as such as Harun cared deeply for the poor of the district and was a very humble man overwhelmed by the attention Toc H sometimes directed at him. John Burgess was the first Toc H staffer to visit the project when he went to Syhlet in November 1984 for four weeks. A UK based project – Friends of Khasdobir – would be set up to support Peter’s and Harun’s work. Originally under the umbrella of Toc H, it set up as an independent charity in 2006.

Peter at the School Under The Sky

Peter had to spend four months in UK in 1986 when he became severely ill with hepatitis but he recovered and returned to Bangladesh. Two years later though, at the age of 65, Peter left Bangladesh for Alicante in Spain and proper retirement. Harun kept the project going alone until his death in March 1997. The following year Peter lost his brother Bert.

Meanwhile, he had moved into the Abbeyfield Home built in the grounds of Toc H headquarters in Wendover. He remained in touch with Toc H and the with the Friends of Khasdobir who held many fundraising meals in Bangladeshi restaurants in Wendover and farther afield.

Peter died, aged 81, on the 15th May 2004 in Stoke Mandeville and was survived by his sisters. His funeral was at St. Mary’s Church; the Reverend John Hull took the Service.

As I said at the beginning of this article, you won’t find a statue to Peter anywhere in the East End or in Bangladesh. Not even a blue plaque. What you will find are people who talk about him and his work with love, affection, and gratitude; people whose lives were immeasurably enhanced by coming into contact with Peter when they were younger. And such was the dedication of Peter and his colleagues, his work survives and flourishes today.

If you enjoyed this blog please consider making a donation to the Friends of Khasdobir

Further Reading

A Kind of Love Affair (From Brick Lane to Bangladesh) by Kenneth Prideaux-Brune (Toc H 1985)

The Swadhinata Trust

Many thanks to John Burgess for his help with this article

Dishonesty and Deceit

By Steve Smith

It’s hard to believe that a Movement for good might find itself at the mercy of confidence tricksters, and yet Toc H did, many times. Now we are not talking about complex scams worthy of Hustle or Now You See Me, but the name of Toc H being taken in vain by those who would try to make personal gain from it. Pretty much the earliest example seems to be reported in the Toc H News Sheet of October 1921 when the magazine warns of a man using the name Rodney Stubbs and claiming to be a member of Toc H who was approaching members with tales of woe and borrowing money. Stubbs was described as being 6 feet tall and missing his left leg and eye, and walking with the use of crutches. He was put up at Mark III near Waterloo for six weeks but returned this generosity by ‘doing certain things that no member of Toc H would”. The mind boggles! He was given his marching orders by Mark III and a warning was sent to other members not to be taken in by him.

Stubbs may well have been using his real name as five years earlier, someone of that name who claimed to be ex-East Surrey regiment and about to join the Royal Flying Corps but was actually a deserter, was prosecuted for obtaining money by false pretences from various clergymen. In late 1920, almost a year before he chanced his arm with Toc H, he was charged with passing a forged cheque and obtaining board and lodgings by false pretences. His chastisement by Toc H clearly didn’t stop him and in 1924 he was sentenced to three months imprisonment for further convictions for the same offence, and prosecuted again in 1934. It seems our Mr Stubbs just couldn’t help himself.

In April 1928, members were told that two men had been blagging money out of Toc H. Charles Ayres claimed to be a member of Leicester branch as well as ex-RFC, whilst a Mr Rivers aka A J Davis, carried a copy of the Toc H Journal and a letter from the warden of Mark XVI Swindon as ‘proof’ of his credibility and asked for money.

The following month all members were warned that D.F. Handcock, a former resident of Mark I, was claiming to be a member of Toc H – which he wasn’t – and obtaining loans from other members and their families. He was described as 5’ 8”, thin, fair and spoke with a lisp! The same year Ernest Henley, aged 26, already known to Mark VII, Edinburgh and Leeds Branches was identified as “one who will not work and leaves owing money.”

In 1930 Branches and Groups are warned against Captain Francis Pineo, representing himself a member of Wellington Branch, N Z, and Adamson claiming to be of Hull branch. Then in 1932, against W. Matthews, often purporting to be R. C. (Dick) Matthews, Secretary of Kentish Town group, with whom he had no connection.

Two decades later it was still going on when in 1951 members were warned against lending money to Tom (or Tony) Mitchell Martin and were warned to inform the police if he approached them. In 1957, he was sentenced to two years imprisonment at Rugby Magistrates Court for a string of offences involving taking money by deception. In 1952, Edwin Victor Heath was jailed for six months after falsely obtaining £1 from Gloucester Toc H (amongst other similar crimes).

It was clearly not an isolated thing. Perhaps the good nature of Toc H made them be seen as a soft touch!

A deception of a different sort and with a far more tragic outcome was that perpetrated by William Stapleton Turner that culminated in the summer of 1926. Turner was very involved with both Toc H and the Boy Scouts in Bromley, Kent. He described himself as Brigadier-General Turner and often related tales of his time in France, Mesopotamia, and Salonika including how he was gassed on the first day of the Somme. He also claimed a DSO which he wore on his uniform along with various other medals.

In fact it was all a sham. Turner was the son of a Peckham tailor who joined the Royal Artillery as a Gunner and was a temporary Lieutenant when discharged in 1919. He became involved with the Boy Scouts shortly afterwards and this is when his Walter Mitty lifestyle seemed to begin. It would be Toc H that would be his undoing. He joined Toc H and was soon elevated to Secretary of the local branch. However, his behaviour was seen by some as suspicious and he was asked to attend a meeting of the branch to discuss allegations and rumours. The date of this meeting just so happened to be 1st July 1926, the 10th anniversary of the first day of the Somme.

A few hours before the meeting Turner obtained the key for Keston Scout Hut from a Mrs Lewis who lived across the street. He told her not to worry if she heard shots fired because he intended to set up a rifle range for the boys and arrange some shooting practice. At around 12noon, Mrs Hills next door to the hut did hear a shot and went around to investigate. She first found Kenneth Wright, a man formerly connected to Bromley Scouts and then staying with Turner. He told her that the General had shot himself and ran off to fetch the police and a doctor. Mrs Hill then went behind the hut and found Turner there with a bullet wound to the head and a service revolver on the ground next to him. He died soon afterwards.

There was much mystery surrounding his life and his death but it was generally accepted that he took his own life. Most chose to remember the good work he had done for the Scouts and Toc H over everything else and in a letter to the newspapers Tubby said,

“His secrets and sufferings are over. Let us allow the many who mourn him to hold his memory dear.”

But now let’s close this short blog with a tale of how one person who came to Toc H was not all he claimed to be but whose unmasking led to changes in the law. In 1981 Colin Evans was introduced to Toc H by his probation officer. The Movement, after all, had a good record working with offenders. Toc H were not told about his convictions. In 1982, with the full knowledge of the Berkshire Social Services, Toc H placed Evans as a childminder for a family with three children. In June of that year Social Services learned that Evans’ previous convictions were for offences against children. They did not pass the information on to Toc H.  In 1983 Evans abducted and killed 4-year-old Marie Paine. He also attempted to abduct several more children. At this time, police checks on volunteers were somewhat random and made difficult by unwieldy card-based systems. This tragic case led to the introduction of the Criminal Records Bureau and computerised systems (and what is now the Disclosure and Barring Service). Just to be very clear, no blame was attached to Toc H for this dreadful series of events.

Whilst we are on this slightly distasteful subject, we can’t ignore the fact that – in common with a great many other organisations – Toc H had a longstanding relationship with Jimmy Saville. This is something I was personally involved in at one time. It just goes to show that when it comes to safeguarding, we must always ensure we never take our eye off the ball.

There we go then, from the workshy and lazy to deceitful and depraved individuals, the history of the Movement is littered with those who wished to pull the wool over Toc H’s eyes. Thankfully these people are really in a considerable minority and the majority of people who have given their time and talents to Toc H over the years have been decent, honest folk. I know, because I am privileged to call many of them my friends.

A Most Generous Man – the Story of Charles Wakefield

By Steve Smith

To say Charles Wakefield made his money in ‘black gold’ and spent it on fast cars and fast planes is true but misleading. He was essentially a successful motor-oil merchant, not quite an oil baron, and the fast cars and planes were not him living a hedonistic lifestyle but rather serving a desire to support others in their pursuit of speed and adventure. He was even known as the Patron Saint of Aviation, championing not just the pioneering solo fliers but also the rapid growth of commercial flights during the early decades of the 20th century.

And this was by no means the only outlet for his acquired wealth. He was a philanthropist of some note who supported many a worthy cause including the one that explains why I am even writing about him. This of course was Toc H, and although Lord Wakefield did not dedicate as much of his life to the organisation as some whom I write about in this blog, what he did do for the Movement resonates to this day.

Wakefield (Left) at a Toc H Birthday Festival


Although born in Liverpool, he came to love London especially the City which was a passion he shared with Tubby. And he loved people, particularly the disenfranchised and disadvantaged. And most of all he loved children.

“Never let us forget the Tiny Tims of humanity” was one of his favourite expressions.

Charles Cheers Wakefield was born in Kirkdale, Liverpool, the youngest of six children of John Wakefield, a clerk at Custom House, and his wife Margaret. The family were Wesleyan Methodists and John was a lay preacher. John’s brother Thomas was a missionary for the United Methodist Free Church and lived in Kenya for 25 years. The family – including our Wakefield when he grew up – would be greatly influenced by Charles Garrett, the pioneer of Wesleyanism in late 19th century Britain. Garrett’s Liverpool mission was up and running ten years before those in London and Manchester!

Wakefield’s birth date – 12th December 1859 – would take a new significance when he later became involved with Toc H since he shared it with Tubby. It was also the date – in 1915 – that Holy Communion was first taken in Talbot House on the day after the doors opened.

Wakefield’s baptism took place at the newly built Grove Street Wesleyan Chapel on the 23rd February 1860. Cheers was not an affectation added later in life as was sometimes believed but his mother’s maiden name with which he was baptised.

Painting by Oswald Hornby Joseph Birley


By the time he was 11, the family were living in Wavertree, then still fairly-much a village on the outskirts of Liverpool but soon to be engulfed by the city. He attended the Liverpool Institute, a Grammar school known as the Liverpool Institute and School of Arts in Wakefield’s day, famous for pupils such as Paul McCartney and George Harrison almost a century later. Wakefield was there in an era when Anthony Trollope regularly doled out the prizes although I found no records of our man being awarded anything significant. Nevertheless, he was well-read and enjoyed nothing less than William Shakespeare, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and John Ruskin.

He was described as being “of sturdy build, heavy in the shoulders, short in the neck, and yet slim-waisted and of exceeding quickness of the feet” and so, perhaps unsurprisingly, was a keen sportsman. He enjoyed football, cricket, running, and by all accounts he was a highly competent boxer though his soubriquet was the Smiling Boxer because he never lost his temper and always kept a smile in his eyes.

It was on the football field that he met one of Charles Garrett’s sons and this would lead to his religious transformation. He moved from the dogma of heaven and hell to the sense that being a good Christian meant doing good deeds. He joined the Young Men’s Christian Association around 1875 when in his teens.

As he grew up and entered his twenties he competed in athletics competitions at Wavertree Cricket and Football Club. He also played rugby for the club and was Honorary Secretary for a time.

Beyond sport he was developing his philanthropic interests and was a voluntary worker with the Free Churches teaching Sunday School at St Paul’s Wesleyan Church, Old Swan for many years.

A Career Begins

Career-wise, by the time he was 21, he was employed as a book-keeper for W & F Walker, oil merchants, at Irwell Chambers, Union Street. William, Frank (and Richard) Walker established their business in the late 1860s and dealt in oils and paints. Colonel William Walker, the senior partner, was well-regarded both as a business man but also for his public service. He was a Justice of the Peace amongst many other things, and both he and Frank were officers in the 18th Liverpool Rifle Volunteers (Liverpool Irish), a Territorial regiment. This sense of civic duty may well have influenced young Charles Wakefield.

Wakefield was clearly ambitious and in 1885 – when he was 26 – Vacuum Oil, an American company producing lubricating oil, opened a sales office in Liverpool. Wakefield was, in modern parlance, head-hunted, as the American giant had heard about a young man in Liverpool who was knowledgeable of all matters pertaining to oils and lubricants. And so he left Walkers for the Vacuum Oil Company.

Their sales office was on the first floor of the Albany Building on Oldhall Street. Built in 1856 for Richard Naylor and designed by James Kellaway Colling, it was meant as a meeting place for cotton brokers (and clearly other businesses) with offices and meeting rooms, together with warehouses in the basement. From here, Wakefield plied his oils. He also became a freemason in 1886 when he joined Royal Victoria Lodge, doubtless interested in both the philanthropy of Masonry as well as the benefits to his business.

On the 17th February 1887 Wakefield married Sarah Frances Graham at Victoria Park Chapel, the new Wesleyan Church which actually stood in Olive Vale. The Grahams did not appear to be Non-Conformists though the marriage was carried out under a Methodist liturgy by Minister Josiah Slugg. Absent was Sarah’s father William, who had died in 1870 when Sarah was just 11. Sarah was listed as an Insurance Writer at the 1881 census. They would live on Russian Drive in the West Derby area of Liverpool and then briefly in a Beech Lea opposite the Botanic Gardens.

Lady Wakefield and Freda by Charles Haigh Wood

And as Wakefield set out on the path of marriage, his business life was gathering pace.  In February 1888 he was elected to the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. That same year we see one of his first registered patents when, along with Walter Grimes, he registers a patent for a sight feed lubricator. Over his lifetime, Wakefield and his companies filed dozens of patents for lubricators, oils or other related inventions and improvements to the same. Perhaps most notable was the Wakefield Lubricator that bore his name.

He was also well travelled as he sought new sales leads abroad. In September 1890 he travelled to Bombay to open an Indian office for Vacuum Oil.

In September of 1892, a fire broke out in the offices of the Cotton Buying Company in Albany Buildings. It quickly spread into Vacuum Oil’s office and some considerable damage was done. However, Wakefield announced that thanks to the quick action of the fire brigade, a duplicate set of records was saved and Vacuum were to continue trading immediately from an office just up the road.

Notwithstanding this optimism, just over six months later, it was suddenly announced in the Liverpool Post that the Head Office of the Vacuum Oil Company had been removed to London and all future correspondence should be addressed to Albany Buildings, Victoria Street, London (This was 47 Victoria Street in Westminster). The Wakefields packed up their bags because Charles Wakefield was now going to be the General Manager of Vacuum Oil for Great Britain and the Colonies based at the London office.

London Beckons

It was a time of great change for Wakefield and he soon adapted to life in the capital. He lived on Pendennis Road, Streatham – in a house he named Campher, an older spelling of a product then made artificially from turpentine and something he doubtless knew well!

By 1896 he was a member of the London Chamber of Commerce and also a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society. His frequent travels and knowledge of international trade made him an expert in those fields. He met Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa in the early 1890s and he and his wife were in Japan in the mid-1890s during the first Sino-Japanese war. They also travelled to Russia.  

In March 1986 Whittaker’s published his first book, Future Trade in the Far East. In it he shared knowledge of trade routes and in particular information about the Trans-Siberian Railway, then under construction. An interest in steam engines – because of their need for lubrication – had led to a fascination in the world of railways. He was also immensely keen on international relations, something which we will see more of later.

The first of several books written by Wakefield during his lifetime

By 1897 he was connected to the Wesleyan Churches at Streatham and Brixton Hill and he was Senior Society Steward. He took presidency for many meetings including Temperance gatherings and general church meetings. Also by 1897 he was also a steward for the Orphan Working School in Haverstock Hill, North West London, one of many similar roles he would later take. The Methodist Church was a prime mover on adoption and in 1869 a Methodist minister Thomas Bowman Stephenson had founded the first Children’s Home  – a renovated stable in Church Street, Waterloo. In 1871 the Wesleyan Methodist Conference approved a second home and by 1908 the project morphed into the National Children’s Home (Today still going as Action for Children). Wakefield became a General Treasurer of the NCH. His love for children, in particular disadvantaged ones was evident. As Harold Murray, the great educationalist and schools inspector remarked;

What did excite me was to see Lord Wakefield, his kindly face all sunshine, sitting on the platform at the Queen’s Hall with a little orphan child on his knee during a performance in connection with the National Children’s Home; and that I saw more than once.

It was in 1898 that what was probably Wakefield’s most momentous lifestyle change came about. Working for Vacuum Oil meant he was an employee, albeit well-paid but an employee nonetheless. He was now almost 40 and highly-experienced in the lubricants realm. He travelled the world chasing orders and had built up a bank of clients, colleagues, and friends. And so, after a row with his Vacuum Oil bosses, Wakefield took eight of his employees with him and established C. C. Wakefield and Company, who traded product known as Wakefield Oils. The lubricants were used for steam engines and heavy machinery and the business was based in the City in three small rooms at 27 Cannon Street. Wakefield was the boss and he was supported by James Browne as Managing Director (and later Secretary), and Walter Ripley Graham, Sarah’s brother. Browne was born in County Donegal in 1865 and Graham in Liverpool in 1854.

The new business did not curtail Wakefield’s desire to make the world a better place. In the early 1900s his interest in children’s homes and orphanages was presumably what inspired him and Sarah to go one step further. In March 1901 a girl christened Lilian Lora, was born to William and Emily Lye. William was an old soldier who now worked as a gardener, travelling to various parts of the country in pursuit of work. Although Lilian was born on the Isle of Wight the couple had married at the Wesleyan Chapel in Southend in 1898 and so the Wakefields probably came to know of them through Wesleyan circles. Two years after Lilian’s birth, Emily gave birth to twins Cecil and Dorothy. Sadly Emily died two days later and neither child survived the month. This clearly had a massive effect on William and his children. Although he would remarry in 1905, for reasons we cannot be sure of, he felt unable to continue looking after Lilian which is how, by 1907, Charles and Sarah Wakefield had adopted her as their daughter. Before the 1926 Adoption Act, there was no official and legal process of adoption and such arrangements were normally private or perhaps arranged through a charity or the church. Lilian’s name was changed to Freda Wakefield and some newspaper reports, mentioning her appearances with her father at various civic events, sometimes referred to her as his niece. This was soon corrected though and Freda became very much part of the family. We shall hear more of her soon.

Shortly before the adoption, the Wakefields had moved to south east Essex. At the 1901 census they were lodging with the Agar family in Prittlewell (Where incidentally, the remains if a Toc H chapel can still be found in the parish church). Wakefield is described as a manager for an Oil Colour Merchant. Also lodging with them is Walter, Sarah’s brother, similarly described. They would later live in a large house The Leas, on the front at Westcliff.

It was not all about liquid oils and lubricants for the business. In 1903 they introduced Carbic Cake which was a solid fuel used in portable flare lights for contractors’ use. They would later claim it to be an improved method of packaging the ingredients for acetylene and exhibited a Carbic acetylene lamp at Olympia.

Civic Life

In 1904, Wakefield took a major move into public service when he joined the City of London Corporation, probably the oldest local authority in the country. He was elected a Common Councillor representing Bread Street ward on the Court of Common Council.

He remained committed to the Freemasons having joined Streatham Lodge in 1898 when the family moved to London, and in 1902 became a member of the Westcliff Lodge. He joined the Guildhall Lodge when it was formed in 1905 (becoming Master in 1915). He was also Patron of the Royal Masonic Institution for Boys, Patron of the Masonic Nursing Home, and a member of several other groups including the Anglo-Brazilian and Anglo-Argentinian Lodges, reflecting his interest in international trade and relationships. And he was listed as a PAGDC (Past Assistant Grand Director Ceremonies) – phew!

As Junior Grand Warden of England

By the early 20th century, Wakefield had become a great collector of art specialising in modern Dutch Masters. His extensive and valuable collection included works by Jozef Israëls, Bernard Blommers, and Johannes Weiland as well as numerous water-colour drawings by Myles Birket Foster, the British illustrator, engraver, and watercolourist.

With art, as with everything, his generosity knew no bounds and from 1911 he helped the Corporation of London build their own gallery, and that which became the Wakefield Collection.  Works acquired with his help include Sir George Frampton’s bust of Queen Mary, and Holman Hunt’s The Eve of St Agnes. His srt donations continued throughout his life. He also purchased the seal of Dick Whittington for the Guild Hall. 

In November 1906 a ‘large and influential deputation of citizens’ presented the Lord Mayor with a requisition requesting Wakefield be appointed Sheriff the following June. He was so nominated in April 1907 and elected by a show of hands from the liveried companies and much pomp and ceremony at the Guildhall in June. The appointment as Sheriff took effect in September and lasted for a period of one year.

As Sheriff in 1907

Wakefield was described as a citizen and haberdasher at the time, the Haberdasher’s Guild being his mother Guild but he was a member of nine other livery companies at the time, a unique feat. These were the Worshipful Company of Loriners, Spectacle Makers, Gardeners, Gold and Silver Wire Drawers, Cordwainers, Masons, Tinplate Workers, Playing Card Makers, and Turners. He served at various times as Master of the Haberdashers, the Cordwainers, the Gardeners and the Spectacle Makers Companies.

Additionally, he was a member of Billingsgate Market, of Bridge House (The body responsible for the Thames bridges within the City), and of the Sanitary Committee of the Port. At various times he was also President of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, and a governor of St Thomas ’s and Bart’s Hospitals…I could go on.  To list every honour or award he got; every position of authority – whether paid or honorary – that he held; or to list every donation he ever made, would fill a book of great size.

By the time Wakefield became Sheriff for 1907, his daughter Freda was taking an active role in proceedings. That year she was Lady in Waiting for the Lady Mayoress Elect, Lady Bell. She was also a Maid of Honour in 1911 and would support her father in his myriad roles.

Freda, far right, as one of Lady Burnett’s Maids of Honour in 1912

Toward the end of his year as Sheriff, in June 1908, Wakefield was elected as an Alderman for the Bread Street Ward and that same month was knighted for his services to the City of London in the King’s Birthday Honours.

Enter Castrol

And if the Civic element of his life was doing well, his already successful business was about to go stratospheric. It was a simple enough idea, if you were as knowledgeable about lubricants and lubrication as Wakefield and his team clearly were. C. C. Wakefield and company decided to improve their popular lubricant with the addition of castor oil. The new brand would be called Castrol to reflect this (Interestingly it appears as Cashol in some early adverts but this might be a case of wrongly interpreting someone’s handwriting as much as anything else). Over the previous decade C. C. Wakefield had moved from focussing on heavy machinery and steam engine lubrication systems to the growing world of motor car and aeroplane engines. At around the same time as it introduced Castrol, the company began to be associated with the sponsorship of motoring events. In particular, in October 1910 the company and its new Castrol branded oil appear in adverts for Claude Grahame White and the Gordon Bennett trophy. White was one of England’s aviation pioneers who earlier in the year made the first ever night-flight during the London to Manchester Air race, itself the first long-distance air-race in the country. White then won the prestigious American Gordon Bennett trophy in New York flying a Bleriot XI and using Castrol oil.

Wakefield had been interested in aviation since its start. Flying as a sport got off the ground (Pun intended) in England in 1909 after the first national aviation meeting was held at Doncaster racecourse in October.  Wakefield Motor Oil, not then rebranded as Castrol, performed admirably in several of the aircraft that were breaking records at that meet. Soon afterwards Wakefield presided over a meeting at Drapers’ Hall to publicise the sport. At that meeting he made a speech which the media in part was compared to Jules Verne or H G Wells in that the predictions were so futuristic. Talking about the success the Germans were having with their Zeppelin programme, Wakefield predicted heavier-than-air craft that might reach speeds exceeding 120mph.  He predicted transcontinental transport carrying both passengers and goods – this at a time when aeroplanes were lucky to get one man into the air let alone two. He even painted a picture of aerodromes all over the country lit up at night with neon signs proclaiming their names. He mentioned mail delivered by air and air-taxis. It was, without doubt a prophesy of Nostradamic proportions.

Coming back down to earth and to his business, in 1910 a spin-off company, Carbic Limited, was floated to acquire the rights to produce Carbic Cake (along with the brand names Carbric, Brillia, Setlyne, and others). The directors were Wakefield and Browne of C. C. Wakefield along with W. M. Letts and Walter F. Reid.

The main business itself was doing splendidly and a decision was made to move to a new building on Cheapside, just around the corner form the Cannon Street offices they had occupied for some dozen years. This led to a story that would have stirred Tubby’s interest; in 1912 whilst workmen were preparing the site at 30-32 Cheapside (which would become Wakefield House), they unearthed a buried wooden box under the cellar. The box contained some 400 pieces of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellery, including rings, brooches, and chains, with bright coloured gemstones and enamelled gold settings, together with toadstones, cameos, scent bottles, fan holders, crystal tankards and a salt cellar. This collection became known as the Cheapside Hoard and is mostly held by the Museum of London. The company moved into their new premises in October 1913.

Wakefield House, Cheapside

Discovering Hythe

On the move too were the Wakefield family themselves. Having broken down whilst driving down Black House Hill, on the way in to Hythe in Kent, and whilst waiting for assistance, Wakefield remarked what a beautiful place it would be to live. Soon after he bought White Cottage on the hill and some adjacent land. In 1913 they were having a new house, to be called the Links, built on the land. An area with commanding views over the channel and Romney Marshes, it was, as the house name suggests, alongside Hythe golf course, Wakefield being a keen golfer (He would later be President of the Kent Professional Golfers’ Union). Inside the new house went a staircase, wooden panelling, mouldings, pediments, and some other items rescued by Wakefield from an old mansion in Botolph Lane in the City of London condemned in 1906. Sometimes referred to as Wren’s house in the city, the old City dwelling belonged to the John Cass Institute. Wakefield bought the items to prevent them going to America.

Wakefield came to love Hythe almost as much as the City of London. He frequently extolled the health virtues of the town, even calling it Dr Hythe although how healthy the house truly was is another matter. Water pressure at the top of Black House Hill was virtually non-existent and the handful of residents were frequently trying to get the council to install a better supply.

Design for The Links, Hythe: south elevation. Courtesy RIBA Collection

The Wakefields continued living in White Cottage even though the new house was finished; Sarah found it too large for entertaining. Thus when war broke out they immediately offered it to the military. In fact, by Christmas 1914 Wakefield had over two hundred soldiers of Kitchener’s army billeted there and he laid on Christmas dinner for all of them. He later said that for a time he lived amongst “250 of Kitchener’s army and had never seen such chivalry amongst men.”

Recruiting in the Guildhall, London by Fred Roe (City of London Corporation)

The War Years

This brings us nicely on to Wakefield’s military connections. Despite his strong religious conviction, Wakefield was not an outright pacifist and he saw value in instilling some discipline and military skills in young people. Hence, in 1913 he presented the Guildhall Cricket and Athletic Club with a rifle range. By this time he was already a member of the City of London Territorial Force Association. In the autumn of 1915, he was elected Lord Mayor of London, a considerable honour but most well-deserved and at the time of his election, he became an Honorary Colonel with the 26th (Service) Battalion the Royal Fusiliers. A battalion raised early in 1915 – from bank clerks and accountants – by his predecessor as Mayor, Sir Charles Johnston, along with Major William Pitt. It was, inevitable, known as the Bankers’ Battalion.

Wakefield in uniform

Wakefield was of course facing the challenge of being a Mayor during wartime but he was well suited to the task and highly-motivated, particularly regarding recruitment. On 10th January 1916 he opened up Mansion House as a recruiting office. He took an energetic part in the recruitment drives for the forces during the First World War.

Inspection Of The London, Brighton And South Coast Railway Hospital Train

In May 1916 the 26th Battalion went to France and took part in various battles of the Somme before moving on to Flanders. Wakefield paid visits to the Western Front in 1916, and also to the Grand Fleet in Scapa Flow.   He offered a £500 reward to the first person to bring a Zeppelin down on British soil.

Perhaps most interestingly to this group, he did much to raise funds for the YMCA huts that provided “home club life” for troops both at home and abroad. Whilst not quite providing that authentic home from home that Talbot House achieved, the YMCA huts did a most important job. Barclay Baron was one of those closely involved with their running.

Inspecting Trinidadian troops

The Wakefields lived in Mansion House for his year of office but went to Hythe whenever it was possible. Religion remained important to Wakefield but his interaction was not limited to the Wesleyan church. Whilst Lord Mayor he presented a proposal to hold a conference at the Manor House to reconcile denominations and create a united British church. It met with a lack of interest and enthusiasm among church leaders.

A Church Warden at St Mildred’s in 1916, he made history from the outset of his term as he became the first London Mayor to demand that his inauguration parade stopped outside St Paul’s Cathedral so he could go in and pray.

Leaving St Paul’s on the day of his inauguration

His religious outlook, his remarkable work in recruitment and support of the troops, and his philanthropic nature in general helped make him a very popular mayor. So successful was his tenure that many of his colleagues wanted his mayoralty extended by a year as he was doing such a fine job in lifting the morale of the city. Wakefield himself rejected this on the grounds that – though honoured – he did not wish to stop any of his fellow Aldermen from having their year in the spotlight.

Entertaining wounded soldiers at Hampton Court 1916

This public success during the war years was tempered – as was the case for most people – by personal tragedy. In Wakefield’s case it would most pertinently be the loss of two cousins – sons of his Missionary uncle Thomas. Leonard John Wakefield of the London Regiment (Post Office Rifles) died in June 1917 and Leonard’s brother Thomas Butler Wakefield of the West Yorkshire regiment died a few weeks later in September, both in France.

During and after his tenure as Mayor, honours continued to be bestowed upon Wakefield. In May 1915 he was appointed a Knight of Grace of the Order of St John and on the 16th February 1917 created a Baronet of Saltwood in Kent. Two years after that Wakefield was Created Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).

With his 20 HP Crossley

In the middle of getting these honours, on the 23rd January 1918, C. C. Wakefield and Company, was incorporated with the shareholders being Wakefield, James Browne, and Walter Graham, the former directors of the earlier company. Despite the fact it was increasingly known for its main Castrol product, the company did not change its name to Castrol until 1960, long after Wakefield’s death.

Post War

After the war, and with his mayoralty over, Wakefield continued as before. One interesting occurrence came when in July 1918 it was announced that Wakefield had bought the original Hell Fire Corner Board from near Ypres and installed it in his garden. I have no idea if it survived, and it seems there was actually more than one of these boards.

Continuing to live in White Cottage rather than the now empty Links next door, Wakefield was taking a great interest in the affairs of Hythe.  In March 1920 he became a Justice of the Peace and a year later became a member of the newly formed Hythe Chamber of Commerce. As always, he was keen to help sports people out and he financially supported Hythe Football Team even becoming their President. Wakefield attended home matches whenever he could and always bought the ball after the cup final. In January 1922 he opened the Hythe British Legion club and donated £200 towards it. They had approached him to borrow the money but he said he never lent money, donating it instead. He also supported the Hythe Association of ex-Servicemen.

With Hythe football team 1922

Several Boys and Cadet camps were held in a field near his house and he usually laid on refreshments from them. These included the Duke of York’s Camps which Toc H was involved with so it’s quite likely Wakefield had some dealings with the fledgeling Movement, perhaps the likes of Henry Willink who attended many Duke of York Camps, at this time. Whilst the Links had proved too large for hosting intimate dinner parties, it’s huge terraces and large Italian gardens proved useful when the Wakefields entertained 400 boys from these camps at their house! And in 1926 he nailed his political colours to the post when he became President of the Hythe Conservative and Unionist Association.

In August 1921 Lady Wakefield was recognised for her war work receiving a Gold Medal from British Red Cross. She was very involved in charitable work particularly that regarding the welfare of soldiers but also organisations that supported women. As Lady Mayoress during the war, she went to great efforts to reduce the civic functions taking place at Mansion House, and kept her entourage of Ladies in Waiting and Maids of Honour for only the grandest occasions, looking after her own affairs for much of the time.

Her husband’s support of aviation continued perhaps most notably with the provision from 1920 of several annual scholarships for the RAF. These scholarships were endowed to assist in defraying the expenses of the Royal Air Force College, for Flight Cadets whose parents or guardians were in reduced circumstances, and to certain Aircraft Apprentices who were selected for cadetships. Five scholarships, each of the value of £75, were awarded (three to Flight Cadets and two to Aircraft Apprentices).

We have already spoken about Wakefield’s interest in trade and foreign relations and he was very involved with the Sulgrave Institution, which promoted Anglo-American co-operation. It was based around the village and manor of the Northampton village of Sulgrave whence George Washington’s ancestors came from.

In September 1922 the family travelled to America with Wakefield heading a party from the Institute. They were to present the American people with a bust of William Pitt, two of Viscount Bryce, and a statue of Edmund Burke. They also presented a wooden pew from Sulgrave church to their hosts. Freda unveiled the bust of Bryce, a former Ambassador to the US, in New York.

British Delegation from the Sulgrave Institution (L-R) Rev. G.C.F. Bratenhal, Wakefield, Freda Wakefield, John Weeks, Alton B. Parker & Lady Geddes

Wakefield was also chairman of the Czech Society of Great Britain being awarded the Order of the White Lion, the highest Czech award, in 1923. He wrote a privately published pamphlet about the trip. Wakefield would also write America to-day and to-morrow: a tribute of friendship in 1924, and On Leaving School: and the Choice of a Career in 1927.

Wakefield’s interest in aviation continued and reached new heights in 1924 when a De Havilland 50 he owned won the prestigious King’s Cup for the Round Britain Flight. It was piloted by Alan Cobham, a test pilot for de Havilland and one of aviation’s true pioneers. On being awarded the cup, Wakefield stated that light aircraft competitions marked in epoch in aviation and in ten years’ time young people would take to the light aeroplane as a sport and hobby as they did to the motorcycle and two-seater motor car!

Two years later Wakefield would finance Cobham’s return flight to Australia and in 1929 launched Cobham’s ‘Youth of Britain’ aeroplane by severing the rope that tied it to the ground, with an axe.

Perhaps most famously, in 1930, Wakefield would help fund Amy Johnson’s flight to Australia, the first solo flight from Britain to Australia by a woman.

In 1931 Bert Hinkler would praise Wakefield’s sponsorship and support when he made the first crossing of the Atlantic in a light ‘Puss’ Moth as well as shattering many other records and in 1935 a Castrol endorsement contract and the generous patronage of Wakefield provided the funds for Jean Batten to purchase the Percival Gull Six G-ADPR monoplane in which she made a solo trip from England to New Zealand.

Motor sport was also close to his heart.  He supported Sir Henry Segrave’s speed trials in the USA; was the donor of the Wakefield Gold Trophy for the world land speed record, first awarded to Colin Campbell in 1928. Wakefield laid on a celebratory lunch for Sir Malcom Campbell after he drove the Napier-Campbell Blue Bird at a shade under 207mph in Daytona. Two years later, Segrave would reclaim the land speed record – lost briefly to the US for the UK travelling at over 230mph.

Segrave was also a beneficiary of Wakefield’s support on the water.  During the twenties and thirties Segrave and Kaye Don used a series of speedboats named Miss England to contest world water speed records. All were built for Wakefield, the first being built in Hythe. Miss England II was built in 1930 after Wakefield had obtained a pair of new Rolls-Royce type R V-12 air-racing engines. Miss England III was the last of the series. She was delivered to Wakefield on 9 May 1932 and two months later Don set a new world water speed record of almost 120mph on Loch Lomond.

1926 would be a particularly interesting year for Wakefield, especially in the terms of this blog. In September his daughter Freda married Ivor Ormonde Corry Ware at St Nicholas Cole Abbey in the City. She used her birth name of Lillian Lorah Lye but she recorded her birth father as deceased even though he didn’t die until 1953.

However, a few weeks before that, on 1st July 1926, Wakefield met Tubby for the first time. It seems inconceivable that he was unaware of Toc H given his philanthropic nature but there is little to suggest he had had any substantial contact with them prior to this date. The meeting came about when Tubby, as Vicar of All Hallows, was approached in June by the men of the Corn Exchange in Mark Lane and asked to arrange some prayer meeting to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July. He agreed to hold a fairly low-key service at All Hallows.

Wakefield had been Lord Mayor of London when the Somme took place so Tubby sent him a telegram to Hythe on 30th June to invite him to join them for prayers were he coming up to the city then following day. Following early morning services at 6am and 8am, a special commemorative service was held at 1.05pm. The current Lord Mayor, Sir William Pryke, attended accompanied by his Sheriffs. Six Toc H men acted as Stewards.

Tubby made a stirring tribute to the fallen including the following:

This ancient City has many faults but forgetting her debts is not one of them. The only way of paying this great debt is by loyalty to God and greater loyalty between man and man.

Wakefield had attended and afterwards met Tubby. Also joining them was Paul Slessor thus starting a lifelong friendship but it was Wakefield and Tubby who immediately hit it off  

What occurred that day, in All Hallows, was the coming together of two men. Neither was born in London but both loved that City and its rich history. One was a former Mayor, the other incumbent in one of the oldest churches in London. Both men had played vital supporting roles in the war and were keen to both remember the fallen and look after those who survived.

Tubby had dreams and plans to turn Tower Hill into a garden space for City workers and nearby residents alike. He shared those dreams with Wakefield that day and the businessman pledged his support.

Then in 1929, Wakefield was at the heart of something that holds him dear in the heart of all who loved and who love Toc H. It began in September 1929 when Tubby wrote a letter to the Times. In it he spoke of viewing the mine crater at St Eloi whilst on a Toc H pilgrimage when the party sat for an hour by the crater side and “watched a beautiful sunset repeated in it.” In the letter he said that men of two races lay beneath it. He also said that the rest of the craters were now filled in and growing kitchen produce (Not quite true as it happened), and suggested that St Eloi be purchased and preserved as a tranquil pool of peace.

One man who read this letter was Wakefield. He immediately offered to buy the crater for Toc H. After discussions with the Imperial War Graves Commission, it was decided that Lone Tree Crater would be a better option and Paul Slessor – with his multi-lingual abilities and business experience – was dispatched to make negotiations. The crater was purchased on behalf of Toc H and renamed the Pool of Peace. It remains so to this day.

Wakefield was pleased with how things went and asked if he could be of further service. It just so happened that Talbot House itself was potentially for sale and once more Slessor was sent to Flanders to negotiate. At the 1929 Birthday Festival in December, the Prince of Wales was able to announce that Talbot House had been bought for the Movement (Although it would actually be owned by an Anglo-Flemish organisation to satisfy Belgian property law). Wakefield stumped up the purchase price along with a £10,000 endowment towards its running. Although in limited use in 1930, it was not officially opened until Easter 1931 when Wakefield himself turned the key to open the door and lead the party inside.

The opening of Talbot House Easter 1931

Whilst all this was going on, Wakefield had a lucky escape in August 1927 when he was on the London to Deal train returning home to Hythe. It derailed near Tubs Hill station, Sevenoaks killing over a dozen passengers. Wakefield injured his knee in the crash. Though not serious – he continued to Hythe by car – it was an injury that remained with him the rest of his life.

More Honours and Titles

More positively honours continued to be bestowed on Wakefield. On the 21st January 1930, he was raised to the Peerage as Baron Wakefield of Hythe in Kent and created a Freeman of the Borough of Hythe on 30 May 1930. On the 28th June 1934 he would be promoted in the Peerage to become Viscount Wakefield of Hythe. He was appointed GCVO (A Knight of the Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order) on the 23rd June 1936, one of only six such appointees during Edward VIII’s short reign.

Back in the City in 1935 Wakefield became the first member of the Corporation to be made an Honorary Freeman, invited by the Court of Common Council to take the Freedom rather than applying for it. It is the highest honour that can be bestowed by the City and he shared it with a few notables such as Churchill, Pitt the younger, Gladstone, Montgomery, and Florence Nightingale.

Tubby once said “Lord Wakefield has so many titles and so many accomplishments that I don’t quite know whether to salute him as Colonel of the Fusiliers or as an author, nor do I know when I shall come before him as a beak ”

And whilst not as formal as the official honours given him, I have little doubt Wakefield was charmed by Tubby’s gift in return for his generosity to Toc H. Tubby presented him with a signet ring dropped in the offertory box by an unknown pilgrim during the summer of 1930, a most special treasure.

The reopening of Talbot House was the high-point in a period where Wakefield was very active for Toc H. In 1930 he funded the Skittle Alley in the basement of 42 Trinity Square (The other Talbot House which I have written about extensively here . Wakefield bowled the first ball and he and Neville Talbot were beaten by Sir Henry Segrave  – the land speed record driver –  and Lord Middleton – a Vice President of Toc H –  after which members of the Royal Automobile Club bowls team gave a demonstration.

Opening the skittle alley at Talbot House (42 Trinity Square)

Wakefield also bought the house next door (41 Trinity Square aka Wakefield House) which served many purposes including use by Toc H. It was intended to be demolished to extend the park but like 42, 41 remains standing to this day the last Georgian buildings on that side of Trinity Square. In 1937 his bust would be installed on the front wall of Wakefield House.

One of the terraced Georgian houses in the Crescent, backing on to Trinity Square, was also taken by Toc H and named Lady Wakefield House.

In 1931 he was elected as a President of Toc H and also served a three-year term on Council.

But it was in 1933 that Wakefield helped Tubby’s other project, the one that the two had talked about that their first meeting in 1926, get off the ground when on 28th April 1933 the Tower Hill Improvement Company was incorporated and ready to commence business from the 27th June 1933. In October Tubby and Dr Bertram Ralph Leftwich published The Pageant of Tower Hill, which included the outline of a scheme to improve the Hill – the Commendation was written by Wakefield. Then in December 1933 the inaugural meeting of the Tower Hill Improvement Fund was held. Lord Wakefield was elected President and launched an appeal at the Guildhall in January 1934 in his position as Alderman of the City.  The scheme to turn the Tower Hill area into a place of entertainment and relaxation for City residents and workers was underway.  

The first significant outcome of the scheme was the opening of the Children’s Beach in July 1934. Wakefield performed the opening ceremony cutting a ribbon at the top of the gangplank leading down to the beach. This same year Wakefield sponsored volunteers for the Toc H/BELRA leprosy scheme, one of the latest of Tubby’s passions.

Until now, Wakefield’s financial contributions had mostly been made directly but in 1937 the Wakefield Trust was established. Many of the properties in Trinity Square and the Crescent, mentioned above, as well as dozens of others, were purchased by, or transferred to, the Trust.

Part of the process required the destruction of old warehouses on Tower Hill and on the 18th March 1937, Wakefield presided over a high-profile demolition of such buildings. Wakefield rang a bell after which a series of explosions ran along the building. At each explosion – and the last failed – a piece of brickwork toppled backwards. Not though because of the explosions, they were only magnesium flares for show, but rather because a team of navvies from demolition company Goodman Price were hidden behind the warehouse and tugged at ropes slung around the brick until they fell.  There is some lovely Pathe footage of this event here

Ringing a bell to begin the demolition of warehouses on Tower Hill

We destroy only to create upon this site a new garden for London’s citizens, young and old

The land where the warehouses stood became a small park known as Wakefield Gardens. It remains so to this day and is that open space just outside Tower Hill underground station.

Further gifts to Toc H included the funding for Harington House in Gibraltar in 1938 and the following year he gifted a site – I think Tower House a few doors south of 42 Trinity Square – and £2000 for a new Toc H headquarters to be built. The outbreak of war meant this never happened and Toc H would have to wait another 20 years before finally getting their HQ on Tower Hill.

As well as Toc H and his sporting interests, Wakefield maintained keen support of the NCH. In 1931 it was announced in the press that Lord Wakefield had donated £8,000 to their Home and Orphanage at Alverstoke. This enabled them to add Uxbridge House to the complex there. In accordance with his wishes the name was to be changed to Lady Wakefield House. It became the primary school for the Alverstoke home.

The Final years

The business continued to flourish and in 1936 Wakefield was once again making headlines. On this occasion he decided to scrap the then normal scheme of employees making payments to their pension and decided to pay their contributions himself. Not only that but he refunded them everything they had previously paid in. It was a costly exercise but typical of his great generosity.

With the outbreak of the Second World War Wakefield’s company headquarters was evacuated to Knotty Green in Buckinghamshire (A fortunate move since the Cheapside office was bombed shortly afterwards).  Wakefield himself rented Ashwell Lodge nearby in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, a quiet doctor’s house.

His support of Toc H continued and he paid for Tubby and his cousin and Aide De Camp Peter Le Mesurier to tour India in 1939. They ended up on Orkney where Tubby and Toc H undertook important war work (The Toc H Orkney story is planned for next year). Inevitably Wakefield paid for much of this work.

Tubby made sure to visit his friend in Beaconsfield when he got leave from Orkney in the summer of 1940. Pettifer joined them there. The Chief, as Tubby called Wakefield, assembled his staff on the lawn and made Tubby talk to them about what was happening on Orkney and then Wakefield spent some time chatting to Pettifer; he loved nothing more than a chinwag with a veteran. He also did something he had never before done and passed two crisp £5 notes to Pettifer. This was a lot of money back then and Pettifer, a working class, virtually retired Londoner, was most appreciative. It would be the last time Tubby and Pettifer saw Wakefield.

Whether for his oil business, civic duties, Toc H or other philanthropic causes, Lord Wakefield never slowed down. In December 1940, the day after his 81st birthday, he became unwell and sadly died on the 15th January 1941. Tubby heard the news on the radio whilst at Inverness on his way south from Orkney. It was a dreadful time for him. All Hallows had just been destroyed in the Blitz, his old-friend Robert Baden-Powell had died a week earlier, and the day before Wakefield, Tubby’s long-term colleague in Toc H William J. Musters died suddenly and unexpectedly. Now this! Tubby had intended to visit Wakefield at Beaconsfield once he was back down south and was stunned to hear of his death. It also, by tragic coincidence, occurred just a week after Amy Johnson – one who had benefited from Wakefield’s sponsorship – crashed in the Thames estuary and was lost, her body never recovered.

Charles Cheers Wakefield, was buried at Spring Lane Cemetery, Hythe on Saturday the 18th January. The cemetery lay on the far side of the golf course by his home. Tubby officiated, assisted by the Rev. Cyril Norris. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave an address. At Wakefield’s request there were no flowers.

It snowed during the service and Tubby said that,

“each flake a ‘Thank You’ from a London child”

The Memorial Service was in the Crypt Chapel of St. Paul’s Cathedral – the High Altar having received bomb damage – on Wednesday 22nd.

Caricature by Sirra


A new board was founded to run his business with the motorcar racing driver Captain George Eyston as one of the directors (and competitions manager). In 1960 the company finally changed its name to Castrol, its most famous brand and it continues to exist to this day.

He left his wife Sarah financially secure – she died in February 1950 – and he left Freda, her husband Ivor and her four children a living each for their futures.

Hythe’s greatest benefactor, he is remembered with many memorials in the town. The Freemasons honoured him by creating Wakefield of Hythe Lodge in his memory in 1945. Civically one particular tradition remains: each year at the town’s Mayor Making, a few moments of silence are observed in the Town Hall as the new Mayor hangs a wreath by the portrait of Charles, 1st Viscount Wakefield of Hythe.

From Toc H’s perspective the link between Hythe and Poperinge was cemented by a twinning arrangement and the Poperinge Saint Cecilia Band often visits Hythe to play at festivals and festivities.

In an age where it seems the majority of our wealthy business man care only about increasing their wealth, Wakefield puts them to shame. He changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people for the better. He made the world a better place. And for those of us who know Toc H, we will be forever grateful that thanks to Charles Wakefield, Talbot House remains a haven of peace and reconciliation to this day.

Portrait by John Lavery


An article like this finds information from a vast array of resources. In particular I am grateful for the following books, journals, and websites.

A Proud Citizen by Harold Begbie (Hodder & Stoughton) from which many of the uncredited image sin this article were taken

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)

Tubby Talking LP (Toc H)

The Toc H Journal (Now available online at

Grace’s Guide To British Industrial History (

The history of Hythe in Kent (

A Dictionary of Methodism (

Ancestry (

Find My Past (

The Internet Archive (

To Build Bravely -Toc H & the Borstal Boys

By Steve Smith

I recently read a biography of Alexander Paterson, written by one Harry Potter (How his life must have been dramatically changed when J.K. Rowling found success). Regular readers of my blog will know how Paterson was a good friend of Barclay Baron, a prime-mover in the Oxford Boys’ Club, and one of the key figures in the early days of Toc H. His involvement with the Movement may well have been greater if he hadn’t been so wrapped up in his main passion which was prison reform, in particular for young people. Unlike many reformers, Paterson chose not to attack the system from the outside but to improve it from within. As Prison Commissioner he set about making dramatic changes to prisons particularly building on the nascent Borstal system started by his predecessor Evelyn Ruggles-Brise. Paterson believed passionately that criminals were a product of their environment and that throwing young people into the rough and ready prisons hanging over from the Victorian age, pretty much guaranteed they would be fated to a life of crime. Instead, he wanted to treat young offenders fairly and give them every opportunity to improve their lot.

Alec Paterson (holding dog) on holiday in the Lake District. Barclay Baron is behind him.

In 1928 the three existing borstals were not enough. Besides, Paterson wanted something a little different; he wanted an Open Borstal where the lads were not locked in but remained there through self-discipline. At first Paterson was told that if he wanted to build a new borstal then he would have to find a sponsor to put up the money but then the Chancellor of the Exchequer – a certain Winston Churchill – stepped in and agreed to fund the project. A site was identified at Lowdham Grange in Nottinghamshire and plans made. There was a twist! The buildings were to be erected by the borstal lads themselves and a team of offenders and their staff from Feltham borstal were to get the project started. Furthermore, to get in underway, the team would walk from the existing borstal at Feltham in Middlesex to the new site at Lowdham Grange. And it was this march that makes this a Toc H story, for as well as the obvious connection with Paterson himself, Toc H were to provide the overnight accommodation and entertainment for the party along its route.

Paterson personally interviewed the nine staff to accompany the lads on the march. They were to be led by William Wigan Llewellin. Bill Llewellin was a former Deputy at Feltham and was to be the Governor at the new borstal. He, like Paterson, Baron, and others in Toc H had spent time as student helping at the Boys Clubs in Bermondsey. Llewellin kept a diary which helps us track the march.

The overnight stops along the route

On 4th May 1930, the nine staff (plus a support lorry and driver) accompanied by 43 lads began their march of 162 miles. There was little publicity – the service had had its fingers burned by the press in the past – though inevitably it began to pick up some media momentum as it progressed. Reports vary on the number of staff on the walk but this may be because some individuals joined the march for certain periods only. Paterson and several others walked the first leg on day one for instance, and Harold Richard Scott of the Home Office came aboard at Nottingham for the last legs. He worked with Paterson and jumped at the chance to join the march when asked. As well as Llewellin the team included Herbert Hewitt Holmes (Senior Officer), Charles Trevellick Cape (Housemaster, who later succeeded Llewellin as Governor), Harold J Taylor (Assistant Housemaster, also a later Governor and, from 1957, Director of the Borstal Institutes), Stanley Gilbert Smithson (officer, later Principal PO at Lewes prison), A T Perry (Officer), C Burns (Officer), J H Marsden (Officer), Thomas William Henry Quick (Hospital Officer), and E Young (Driver),

On Saturday 3rd May 1930, Paterson spoke to all the staff individually and wished them luck for the journey. The following day a group photo was taken and a service was held in Feltham Chapel before the party headed out of the borstal by the North Gate accompanied by an escort of Feltham lads for the first few miles.

They stopped in a field for lunch and Paterson passed round his cigarettes as the lads would not be issued theirs until the evening. They had a post-prandial game of football before continuing. The first day’s march was not taxing and they walked just 12 miles all day, though one lad (Rowley) dropped out and another (Chadwick) strained a knee and had to ride in the lorry.  At the end of the day’s walking they arrived at Rochester Parish Hall in Harrow where the local Toc H branch hosted them. One lad, who kept his own diary, said the feast awaiting them in the hall was “a sight for the blind”. Toc H had laid on quite a buffet. The same lad would later say “Toc H are brothers to all and friends to all no matter to what social class they belong”. Some went to church whilst others had a walk around Harrow with members of Toc H. Later there was a singsong until 11pm after which they settled down to sleep or, in the case of our young lad, “to ponder over the kindness of Toc H”.

After an early morning stroll around Harrow churchyard – including visiting Byron’s grave – Toc H provided breakfast and after a photo with Toc H (I wonder if that still exists?) the party left Harrow at 9.30am on Monday 5th May.

The day’s walking – they averaged 3-4 miles per hour and rested for 5 minutes each hour – took them to St Albans where they arrived about 4.30pm. They stayed at 6th Abbey Troop Scout Hut (Abbey Hill House) where Toc H again led the entertainment. There was a tour of the Abbey and town and afterwards, back at the hut, a sword dance by the Scouts, the Toc H Ceremony of Light followed by a sing-song and closing with the Toc H prayer.

On Tuesday they left St Albans a little late (10.15am) due to mishap with lorry but still arrived at their next stop, Dunstable, at 4.15pm. They seemed quite regimented with their schedules. This time they stayed at the Wesleyan Church Institute but their hosts were again the local Toc H. Amongst the entertainment laid on were piano, banjo, and ‘bone-clapper’ solos. Musical Chairs and other games completed the evening.

The 7th May walk was a longer stretch, some 17 miles to Newport Pagnell. They passed Woburn Abbey Zoo along the way and could see animals over the fences. Their stay at Newport Pagnell was not organised by Toc H who could offer no branch in the area, so it was organised by an unnamed gentleman. Although our diarist lad was grateful to the man, he did say that Toc H’s friendship was much missed.

Another long walk of 18 miles took them from Newport Pagnell to Northampton where they were joined by Harold Scott for the rest of the journey. They had a swim in the public baths followed by tea at the Valentine’s Café. The group then retired to the Toc H rooms for a sing-song and entertainment from a conjurer, a jazz band, and a ventriloquist. They also managed to squeeze a game of football in. They spent the night at the Hull memorial Buildings thanks to the generosity of the Revd Trevor Lewis, vicar of All Saints.

The next day, after breakfast at Valentine’s, they set off for Market Harborough. They were rewarded with the second swim of the march and the usual sing-song with a ‘warm-hearted’ Toc H branch at the Infant’s school in Coventry Road where they spent the night. Breakfast was again provided by Toc H the following morning before they set out on the next leg.

Marching through Leicester

On the 10th May, Paterson and his wife joined them about 11am and dished out bananas. They arrived at their next port of call, Leicester, around 5pm and were entertained by Toc H at Granby Hall. A swim was once again a highlight of the overnight stop.

The following day was Sunday so there was to be no walking. Instead, the lads and their officers would spend the day as guests of Leicester Toc H. After various church parties they toured the city. There was a visit and talk by local dignitaries. In the evening some of the boys visited the Toc H Mark and later there was more Toc H entertainment. Sadly this was to be the last as at their penultimate stop at Broughton Lodge, they slept in a dance hall with the proprietors feeding them. Alec Paterson was again with them.

Then on the Tuesday 13th May they left Broughton along the Fosse to Lowdham where a huge reception of locals and the Bishop of Southwell awaited them. Preparations by an advance party included tents and a bath-house with hot water. The boys would live in the tents until they had built the first huts and then the permanent buildings. Llewellin lived in a tent until the boys were properly housed (and whilst he remained governor, he always ate the same food as his ‘lads’)

Work on the 350-acre site began almost immediately with local tradesmen supporting the lads. A Foundation Stone for the main buildings was laid on the 28th July 1930 and the new, open borstal was on its way. The march had entered prison service folklore and the Borstal lads were now part of the Toc H family.

Arriving Lowdham Grange

What is clear is that the time spent with Toc H on the march deeply affected some of the boys. For perhaps the first time in their lives they felt the hand of brotherly friendship on their shoulders. The relationship with Toc H and the Grange didn’t end with the march though.  Nottingham and Carlton branches were soon to visit and in the case of Carlton it would begin a relationship that lasted well into the 1960s. In the winter around eight members of the branch would come to the Grange one evening a week and teach subjects such as First Aid, Engineering, Gardening, Embroidery, and Shoe-repairing. They also held a discussion circle. Later a branch was formed in Lowdham village and they – along with Carlton – would spend weekends living with the boys just to let them have contact with ‘ordinary’ people. One Carlton member would meet lads at Nottingham train station when they were released to ensure they got on the correct train.   

Bill Llewellin himself became a dedicated member of Toc H in 1932 and was later on Central Council. When he moved to run the new North Sea Camp in 1935 the Stafford group helped get things started. A second march – from Stafford to North Sea Camp near Freiston on the Lincolnshire coast – was organised and Toc H branches at Uttoxeter, Derby, Nottingham, Bingham (Carlton branch), Grantham, Sleaford, and Boston handled the overnight stops. This time there were just 15 lads and six officers (Including Bill Llewellin) who left Stafford on the 23rd May. Once again, their goal was to build the new camp themselves but now on marshland reclaimed from the sea. The routine was similar; for instance, on Thursday May 30th they arrived in Boston and had a meal provided by Toc H at St James’ Hall (assisted by the St James’ Kitchen Committee). They then went swimming in the public baths and retired to St James’ Parish Room for entertainment including a whist drive and supper where they were joined by Paterson and Scott, now chairman of the Prison Commission. Boston Toc H retained an ongoing relationship with the camp.

The Borstal Association set up a scheme where newly released lads were put under the wing of Toc H members. This worked well because not all those released from Borstal felt confident enough to become fully-fledged members of Toc H, though several did. This sort of paternalistic relationship of Toc H to potential or actual young offenders would be extended. By the late 1940s, Borstal allowed its lads five days home leave during their sentences.  Llewellin, now on the Central Council, suggested a Toc H member might act as ‘home’ where the lad’s own home was not suitable.

Toc H remained working with Borstals for many decades. One even produced furniture for the Toc H activity centre at Port Penrhyn; others sent lads to join summer projects.

There was still another march to come as well. In 1980, with the 50th anniversary of the original walk looming, eight branches were asked to re-enact the walk to raise money for the Stoke Mandeville Hospital Spinal Unit Building Appeal. The walkers this time would be sponsored and this time they would be from Lowdham Grange. On Friday 2nd May 1980 they drove down to Feltham where they spent the night in the gym. The next day they set out for the Chalfonts and the first day of their walk. Along the way they were again looked after by many Toc H folk and even visited the headquarters at Wendover. At 2.30pm on Sunday 11th May they arrived back at the Grange to a rapturous crowd. They swapped commemorative plaques with Toc H and the Bishop of Southwell led a service of rededication. In all the lads and their officers would raise over £2000 for the Spinal Injuries Unit.

And so finally, what of the key players in this drama?

Alec Paterson remained dedicated to the prison service travelling the world to study penology. He reluctantly retired through poor health at the end of 1946, was knighted the following year but died very shortly afterwards.

Bill Llewellin visited West Africa for Toc H in the early fifties to meet branches and study the Leper colonies. He died in November 1961.

Harold Richard Scott went on to become Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police where, amongst several notable achievements, he introduced the Police Cadet training scheme to get young people involved in the force.

A documentary, Those Who dare, was made by the BBC in 1955. It was about the Borstal Institute but focussed very much on the original march. My initial research suggests it survives but I’m not yet able to track down where it is held. It doesn’t appear to have been repeated after its initial broadcast nor has it ever seen a commercial release.

Borstals were eventually replaced through the seventies and eighties and are now Young Offenders Institutes. Lowdham Grange was bulldozed in 1997 to make way for a prison and North Sea Camp was converted to a Category D prison for adults.

But Alec Paterson’s dream and the role played in it by Toc H is lodged firmly in the folklore of the prison service. It remains a stunning example of how one man’s faith in some of society’s most stigmatised and rejected young people enabled many to go on and live valuable and worthy lives. 


I am very grateful to the research and assistance of Jeremy Lodge in compiling this article

Further Reading

Lowdham Grange. Borstal! by Jeremy Lodge

Alexander Paterson: Prison Reformer by Harry Potter

And Then There Were Nine

By Steve Smith

This blog is primarily an update to my blog on the Women Foundation members published back in January 2020. And yet it’s much more than that since it is also a potential revelation, at least in Toc H history terms. It won’t rock the academic world of history and historians but it does at least give me a little frisson of excitement.

First some context. Foundation members of Toc H were those men – and clearly, as this article demonstrates, women – who visited the original Talbot House whilst it was open between December 1915 and December 1918. Now, immediately I am faced with one uncertainty. Were they only Foundation members if they later joined Toc H the post-war organisation, or were they Foundation members simply by the fact they visited the Old House during the war? If the former, were there many – men and women – who visited the Old House during the war but never joined the post-war movement and thus are not counted as Foundation members?

Then the biggest issue about knowing who the Foundation members are is how their visits were recorded. There are a few official records such as the Officer’s Book where those officers who stayed in the House were recorded and also the slips completed by those who took communion in the chapel. As you may know about half of these were lost when the sandbag containing them went missing during a fraught time at the house. Nonetheless these records containing several hundred names, formed the original register compiled by people like the Reverend Richard Ridge and used by Tubby to make contact when he wished to reopen a Talbot House in the UK. Otherwise the names of Foundation members came from those who by their own volition recounted visiting the House. Jan Louagie and others are doing much to build a complete list of such people from these various sources though there is a long way to go.

However, as far as female Foundation members go, it has long been established that there were eight women whose names could be listed as such. This figure varied a little in the early days. In 1930 Tubby says ‘six nurses’, a figure which survived as late as the 1951 Annual Report. However by the time Alison Macfie came to write her first history of the League of Women Helpers in 1956, eight names had been settled upon. Those names are as per Macfie’s book and echoed in my blog linked above.

When I was researching a more recent blog on War Service Clubs I was astonished to find the following newspaper cutting.

The cutting that started this blog – Middlesex County Times November 1940

Here, literally in black and white, Mrs Grey-Clarke claims to have visited Talbot House during the Great War. And that’s it really. I have no further evidence to support her claim. In fact I can pick holes in the information given in that the British Legion did not form until 1921 so she was certainly not serving with them during the war. At the time of writing this blog, the British Red Cross VAD database has been offline for some months and is likely to remain so for a few more weeks, so I can’t even check if she was listed working in Belgium with the Red Cross or a similar organisation.

It is possible then, that Mrs Grey-Clarke is lying, or that the newspaper somehow got the wrong end of the stick. But I have no reason to make that assumption and it is also quite possible that Mrs Grey-Clarke is in fact the ninth woman Foundation member of Toc H. On that basis I will tell you a little about her life.

She wasn’t born Grey-Clarke of course! She was actually born as Marjorie Muriel Ashmore Kean in South Africa on the 16th August 1895. She was still only 19 when she married for the first time, wedding Henry Harold Cox on the 28th April 1915 in Durban, her home town being Pietermaritzburg at the time. Sometime after that she apparently signed up with one of the women’s medical services where, as Marjorie Muriel Cox, she served in Europe and, by her own account, visited Talbot House. Later sources say she worked in hospitals in South Africa and on hospital ships but she must also have served in French or Belgian hospitals to have visited TH.

We next pick her up in 1923 when – now divorced from Henry – she comes to England as a teacher and lives with a family called Grey-Clarke in Manor Park, Lewisham. One of the sons, Captain Edmund Frewen Grey Clarke, had gone to Canada as a boy and later served in the Canadian army. He caught TB in France – he was not gassed as one later newspaper article claimed – and somewhere along the line became a patient of Muriel.  He remained in poor health for the rest of his life. They wed in the Lewisham area in the last quarter of 1926. Incidentally their surname is given sometimes as just Clarke, sometimes Grey-Clarke and occasionally Gray-Clarke.

The couple move to South Zeal on Dartmoor (though they maintain a London address) where they become very involved in community life. In particular, both are deeply ensconced in the work of the British Legion and Muriel was also a member of the local Women’s Institute. It was to the Legion she devoted most of her time and in the spring of 1936 became Organising Secretary for the South Western Region. Aside from this Muriel ran Brownie’s packs, produced Am-Dram plays and was a proficient public speaker often sermonising on the benefits of co-operation and comradeship in public service.

Around 1938 she and Edmund appear to be separated and will eventually divorce and Muriel seems to locate more permanently to the London area, specifically Ealing.

In September 1939 she joined the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) and organised six warden’s posts becoming Deputy District Warden for Ealing District E. She is living in Queen’s Road at the time. It was almost certainly in the ARP that she met Frederick Charles Barrell, the Chief Warden for the district. She would later marry Mr Barrell (who was generally known as Charles)

In 1940, and living in Hillcroft Crescent which adjoins Queen’s Road, Muriel was appointed joint organiser of the Women’s Voluntary Service in that borough. Come November – and described as head of the Ealing WVS – she was establishing a Social Centre based on the ideals of Talbot House which she knew from visiting it during the Great War. The Ealing branch of Toc H were helping her with her mission. The branch’s hall at Northfields was made available to the WVS so they could offer services to those who had lost their homes in the ongoing Blitz. Toc H members were there to help out. And that small piece of information from a single newspaper cutting forms the entire basis of this short article.

All we know about Muriel after her third marriage and after the war is that in the summer of 1945 she retired as Honorary Secretary Southern Area Women’s British Legion and she died in Horsham in late 1986.

I simply don’t know why Marjorie Cox’s name didn’t appear with the other eight when Alison Macfie listed them in her books. Had she gone through her life without ever coming into contact with Toc H again, then I could perhaps understand it but we know she knew Toc H in Ealing during World War II. Perhaps it was because she was never a member – preferring it seems to hitch her wagon to the British Legion, the Women’s Institute, and the Women’s Voluntary Service. However, in my original article about the eight Foundation Women I found no definitive evidence to suggest all eight were tied in with Toc H after the Great War; the Macfies, Dorothy Allen, Rose Stapleton and Kate Luard certainly but the other three, perhaps, perhaps not! It is a small mystery that may one day be solved but until then I hope I have given Marjorie a little of the credit she deserves.

Grateful thanks are due to members of the Ancestry UK Discussion facebook group who helped me track down certain details about this sometimes elusive, oft-married, lady.

Back to Basics – the Resurgence of Talbot Houses

By Steve Smith

The original Talbot House – which opened its doors in Poperinge on the 11th of December 1915 – was almost certainly the best-known soldier’s rest club of the First World War. When Toc H was reborn in 1919 it quickly established new Talbot Houses, the Marks that I have written extensively about, in London and across the Dominion. However whilst many of the men who used these hostels may have been ex-servicemen, the Marks were by no means servicemen’s clubs.

Talbot House

As we shall see shortly, though during the inter-war period Toc H did dabble with clubs that catered for the needs of those in the armed forces, it would take another major conflict for the Movement to really return to its roots. In the late 1930s with war looming, Toc H turned its thoughts to how it could help the men and women who were donning uniforms in readiness for what was to come. This article discusses the birth and growth of the new and extensive network of clubs run by Toc H to serve the needs of servicemen and women. The most common name for these clubs would become Toc H Services Clubs but they are also known as War Services Clubs, Servicemen’s Clubs, Services Clubs, Canteens, Talbot Houses, and more. As we will see, most conformed to a simple standard (A canteen, a reading and writing room, a chapel, and accommodation) but there were variations due to restrictions of the venue, the staff available, or the specific needs of the locality. At the end of the blog is a link to a register of as many of the clubs that I have thus far located.

Let me open with what was said by Toc H itself:

It was natural that the first demand which came upon Toc H was to do all it could for men of the three Services. In some places where Militia camps and R.A.F. stations were springing up before the war, Toc H was already planning to meet their needs. The embodiment of Territorial Army and the steady growth of the number of men in training multiplied this need from comparatively few places to a very large number of towns and villages. The blackout, the taking over of buildings, the placing of numbers of men in billets, all added to the need and at the same time increased the difficulty of meeting it. In many places Toc H responded with a will. The first effort was often to open the Toc H room so many nights a week, members taking turns to act as hosts. Frequently this was soon crowded out, larger premises had to be taken and a Toc H Services Club begun. Many such are now firmly established. In other places through the initiative of Toc H, a Community Services Club been set up in which Toc H members work in partnership with other organisations. In others again, where the premises of existing organisations sufficed, Toc H has found its work in supplying part of the constant stream of helpers needed to man them. In all there are now over 200 known places in which Toc H units have opened or are largely responsible for the manning of clubs and centres.

Annual Report for 1939

But we are getting a little ahead of ourselves because Toc H went back to its roots a little earlier than 1939. Toc H in Malta really got underway in 1925 mostly due to the efforts of George Potter RN (whom we met on Tubby’s This Is Your Life and in my Portsea blog. The navy men that Potter gathered around him rented a little house at Sliema as a branch room. In 1932 Admiral Sir W.W. Fisher liked cut of their jib and helped them engage in social work. His wife helped establish a Leper Colony on Malta which Toc H visited weekly. They acquired a new leader in the Rev Charles Paton RN, chaplain to the destroyer flotillas. The House soon became more than just a Toc H branch room and proved to be somewhere that the navy descended upon whenever the fleet was in town. It was a Toc H Club providing for the physical and spiritual needs of the Royal Navy.

The Alexandria Fleet Club in 1936 (Fox photos)

In Alexandria too, the local branch assisted the navy by setting up an information bureau on the landing quay when the fleet was in and showing the men around town but the men, several of whom knew the House in Sliema, were looking for more. When the Abyssinian crisis of 1935 arose, and Paton was posted from Malta to Alexandria he established the Fleet Club at Claridge’s hotel in Rue Fouad, opening in November 1935.

For a year it was a great shore centre, a home from home, for 20,000 sailors. It was owned by the Royal Navy but Toc H, particularly Tubby himself and Fred Welbourne, did most of the running. Alexandria Toc H member Richard Dines and his wife, Ethel, soon took control. Dicky Dines was a dental mechanic from Chelmsford who moved to Africa in the late 1920s. He was based in Alexandria and doing much for the Navy even before the Fleet club opened. The Dines soon became the driving force behind the Fleet Club (Dicky would later be awarded the MBE for his work). By July 1936 the crisis had abated and most of the navy had returned to their home ports. The Fleet Club was closed and the building returned to its occupation as the Hotel Claridge.

Talbot House, Malta

In January 1937 the Dines moved to Malta where, after using some temporary loaned houses on Point Street then at 106 Strada Ridolfo, funding was provided by an anonymous donor to purchase a house at 39 Mrabat, Sliema and opened on the 20th March 1937. It bore the name Talbot House, a tradition which many of the forthcoming Service Clubs would also uphold. It would later move to Tigne Street.

The revived Fleet Club in Rue de l’Hopital Grec

Come June 1939 though, the imminent war meant that the Alexandria Fleet Club was once again required and in the autumn the Dines returned to run it along with Alan Spender, a naval chaplain. This time it was based in the former hospital of Saint Sophronios, founded by the Greek community in the 19th century. It stood in Rue de l’Hopital Grec (What similarity that address bore to the Old House!) and it was quite a place compared to other Service Clubs since it contained a restaurant, beer garden, shops, and beds for 200. It wasn’t just the navy who patronised the club either. The RAF stationed in the Western Desert travelled two or three hundred miles there when they got a weekend off or a few days leave. The army too, were finally given some leave and visited the Fleet Club.

The second Alexandria Fleet Club in 1940

Finally, in this section we must mention Gibraltar. Harington House – named for Tim Harington, a WWI army officer, Governor of Gibraltar, and Toc H stalwart – was opened in late 1938 and served until it was totally destroyed by enemy fire in late 1940. After some temporary accommodation including stables, a new house opened at 186 Main Street in the spring of 1941 with the now legendary Jock Brown  in charge. In April 1945 there was a House at 13 College Lane though this is possibly the same place as 3 as the roads intersected.

Harington House, Gibraltar

The entrances to two Gibraltar Clubs

To complete the Gibraltar story, in April 1951 a Leave Camp run by Jock Brown opened in Little Bay. It closed in 1955. Then later in the fifties Toc H were offered a set of vast, stone Moorish gun emplacements on the South bastion and Jock reopened a Leave Camp. On the 1st April 1959, Toc H needed to close the camp so Jock Brown took it on as a private venture. Later still there would be a Toc H house near Referendum Gates which became a famous back-packers hostel.

So the revival of clubs for servicemen was started in the Mediterranean but when did it become apparent that something also had to be done in the UK? Even before war was declared refugees were coming into the UK and Toc H of course responded. Several Marks took refugees in and Mark VII in Fitzroy Square, London together with the Youth Council on Christian and Jewish Relationship opened a club for non-Aryan refugees in London. By September 1939 some 450 refugees had passed through with English classes being the most popular service.

And once war was inevitable the military started organising themselves and camps opened in certain parts of the UK along with RAF bases, particularly on the east side of the country. Toc H recognised this and immediately set up a response.

Sleaford opened a club in Carre Street in February 1939 which was particularly used by RAF since the training college at RAF Cranwell was close by. Initially it only opened at weekends.

Gibraltar and Malta were declared Houses for the Services (The office was at 7 Tower Hill, a building once known as the Interpreter’s House which you might recall from a previous blog. Joining these two was Portsmouth.

Inspired by Malta, 13 Union Street in Portsea, that suburb of Portsmouth known so well to Tubby (See here) opened in April 1939 as a House for the Services. ’No. 13’ was set up and used by a handful of Royal Naval members of Toc H including ‘Skipper’ H W Thomson and Charlie Brownjohn, a naval writer who had been involved with the club in Malta.

It wasn’t actually the first club in the district because in the summer of 1938 the Emsworth branch were running the Fly Inn Airmen’s Club at The Hermitage, although this was a more simple, prototype affair. In January 1940 Emsworth went on to open a full-scale Services Club on the junction of the High Street and North Street. A former car showroom with living accommodation above, the building was owned by the Portsmouth and Gosport Gas Company who leased in to Toc H for the duration. 

That same month, with Toc H’s war efforts now well established, Portsmouth too leased a larger house. This was at 32 High Street, Portsmouth under the wardenship Rev F.E. ‘Bobs’ Ford (Released from duty as headquarters’ Administrative Padre). This was a fine old building in a historic part of the city but was destroyed by enemy fire in December 1940. The Church of Scotland then lent St Andrew’s Hall, in St Michael’s Road to Toc H which immediately opened as a Services Club until they reopened their own premises at 12 High Street in April 1941. This latter house was John Felton’s old abode, a man famous for murdering the Duke of Buckingham in 1682. I doubt this historical connection went unnoticed by the history loving Tubby.

Entertainment in a Plymouth Club (Photo Toc H Archives)

We may as well complete the Portsmouth story. In March 1942 Bobs Ford was sent to Hull and succeeded by Rupert Bliss, an ex-navy man who had travelled to India with the London Missionary Society before becoming warden at the Toc H Services Club in Woking at the outbreak of war. In October 1942 Toc H discussed plans to move the Portsmouth Services Club into a new building and they moved to Gibraltar House, Wood Path, Elm Grove, Southsea. This property was later sold so they moved to 21 Wimbledon Park Road which they renamed Gibraltar House and where they still were in November 1946. It became home to two Toc H units and a Toc H (Women’s Section) branch.

Women’s Rest Room at Gosport (Photo Toc H Archives)

Mention must go to Gosport – across the water – who in July 1942 opened Bourton House in Elmhurst Road. Portsmouth women also had their own club, Flint Lodge, at 2 Villiers Road. It was opened on the18th November 1943 by Lady Little, wife of the Commander-in-Chief of Portsmouth, Admiral Sir Charles Little. It’s first Warden was Mrs H W Hutton and it catered primarily for Wrens of which there were more in that area than anywhere else.

So back to 1939, and with war now decidedly on the horizon, the June edition of The Journal suggested some simple ways that Toc H could help the new militiamen during their time of service. It was recognised that barracks and camps would “soon be filling with young men brought together from all over the place and that Toc H must hold out a hand of friendship”. Clearly, the article said, the camps could not just be invaded by parties or individuals so the Toc H leader should contact the officer or adjutant in charge and explain how anxious Toc H is to be of assistance to the troops during whatever spare time they might have. There is the possibility that Toc H units with permanent headquarters might open them up every evening, and if they have no permanent quarters then to gather local interest into acquiring some.  Toc H, it said, should take the initiative in forming local committees to provide facilities for the men.

Suggested ways to run a club

It was further suggested in the Journal of September 1939 that branches take note of the parties of men camped around searchlights, anti-aircraft guns, and barrage balloon stations and approach the officer or NCO in charge of the station. The men could be invited to the branch or to the homes of members for some creature comforts especially now that the winter months were approaching.  Toc H acknowledged that the YMCA was starting to operate mobile units and encouraged co-operation with these, however the idea of opening branch rooms up from 5pm every day to provide some entertainment for the men was reiterated. And where the posts were isolated perhaps Toc H men could fetch the troops and transport then to the rooms. It must, the article continued, be remembered that Toc H is out to help the stranger, to make the other man feel at home and to encourage the spirit of friendship.

The branches certainly took this call seriously and several began to open up their branch rooms, find a dedicated venue to start a club, work with other organisations to form a Community Services Club, or simply provide volunteers to other canteens.

Some of the earliest clubs opened in 1939. Selby converted and opened their branch rooms in Ousegate on 1st September, two days before war was declared; Woking also opened in York Road sometime shortly after the outbreak of war with Rupert Bliss as Warden; Perth opened in the St Ninian’s Cathedral Hall on the 27th October; Rochdale opened a Talbot House in the Butts in November; Hull opened their branch HQ in South Street to servicemen on the 20th of that month meeting soldiers arriving at Paragon Station to tell them about it; Ealing opened late in the year similarly serving Northfield station; Exeter opened in late 1939 and would remain open for seven years having provided 84,000 bed nights when it closed in August 1946; Falkirk’s Little Talbot House opened in December; and Sheffield reopened their old branch rooms in Christchurch Road (closed since the summer though plans to relocate were delayed by the war) on the 13th December.


I’ve deliberately omitted Louth in Lincolnshire from the above list as their war effort deserves a special mention. The first Services Club in Louth was a joint venture with the YMCA and opened in October 1939 at 16 Market Place. Originally Toc H hoped to set up a canteen and rest room of their own with the support of the Louth Mayor, Alderman Lill. However the premises they had their eye on belonged to Sir Montague Burton – founder of the famous menswear shops – and he had already given the YMCA an option. When the YMCA scheme to set up a club fell through due to lack of support, a joint effort seemed the sensible compromise. The opening was carried out by Group Captain Clark, an RAF officer, who reflected the high number of RAF personnel stationed in Lincolnshire. This club Closed December 1945 and arrangements for disposing of the building began in January 1946. In May 1946 Red Cross took over the building as their HQ.

It wasn’t the only Toc H Services Club in town though and on Saturday 17th August 1940 Louth Toc H opened a second canteen, making it the first small town to have two clubs. Talbot House at the Eastgate Union Church schoolroom in the Ramsgate area of town was opened by Brigadier Copeland-Griffiths. Interestingly, during the opening ceremony, the Brigadier referred to the original Talbot House noting that it was now destroyed by bombing (A common belief at that time). He also mentions the three houses in France (See below) which he seems to know personally. He laments the German army overrunning the house in Rouen as the BEF left 70lbs of sugar there! The first Warden of this Louth Talbot House was J. W. White. It closed in December 1945.

Cinema advert for Louth film

There was a third club in Louth. A women’s Services Club opened above Moncaster the butcher in Mercer’s Row in February 1941 and closed in December 1945. But what perhaps makes the Louth clubs memorable is that they made a very short promotional film about them which is available to watch online here.

Woodwick House, Orkney

In the autumn of 1939, and much further north, a major piece of Toc H war work began. The Orkney story (including Tubby’s pre-war visits) is one day going to be a blog in its own right, so I’ll stick to basics here. At the suggestion of Patrick Sutherland-Graeme, a former chairman of the Central Executive and a resident of Orkney, Tubby and Peter Le Mesurier – his ADC and cousin – along with Donald Cochrane and the Gen (Arthur Pettifer) – set up a hut for the navy for whom Orkney was an important base. They later opened a house at Kirkwall and in time had a small estate of clubs and rest homes on the islands including Wakefield House, Hankey House, and Pilgrim House (aka Woodwick House). As I say I will write more of Orkney next year but you might also want to read this guest blog by Peter Russell

Late in 1939 things were getting more organised and the War Office formed the Committee of Voluntary War Work (CVWW). Eight organisations including Toc H were asked by the government to create rest centres (The others were the YMCA, YWCA, Salvation Army, Church Army, Methodist Church, Church of Scotland, and the Catholic Women’s League)

It is sometimes difficult to name where all the early clubs are because Toc H self-censored reports. Sometimes they even made up names to obfuscate things; Westwater was one such imaginary Services Club described in the Journal. The early reports were also woolly and vague and it’s not clear if they were reporting on a real club or just a fantasy ideal. They talk of a cathedral city in the West Country where the branch have revived an old church as a club but offer no clues as to which city; and of three rooms above a shop near a station to the north.

Later this censorship was relaxed and Toc H began to mention the towns and cities starting clubs. The newspapers also reported on them. Not all of course – they were opening up thick and fast. By February 1940 there 142 Clubs opened by branches for troops and a further 43 for civilian workers. Most were managed by local branches but HQ has also opened nine houses in their own right. A War Services Committee had been sent up and was appealing for funds to carry out the war work of the movement. Paul Slessor had a key role in this fund-raising.

An undisclosed club (Can anyone identify the banner?)

War Service Clubs were not the only war work Toc H was carrying out. There were also clubs for evacuated mothers and, as previously mentioned, refugees. Also, with so many men called up for service, the home front needed volunteers to lift potatoes and such like. But service clubs were Toc H’s new speciality. It really was going back to its roots. Sometimes just a simple rest room near a railway station was all that was required. Here men could catch a few hours sleep before embarking to their next destination. Wisely, Toc H staff were given a key piece of advice: “Never wake the wrong man for the wrong train”

Next we turn our attention to overseas clubs and inevitably the first of these were for the British Expeditionary Force sent out to France in September 1939. At this time Talbot House – the original – was stood ready and waiting and its locally appointed caretakers Rene and Alida Berat (The last British Warden having been evacuated in August), eagerly awaited the British troops. Most of the force was stationed further south or deeper in France and the visitors book for the spring of 1940 contains only about 50 names, so Talbot House didn’t really come into play as a War Service Club at this end of the war.

That doesn’t mean that Toc H were idle though. An intriguing and suitably vague snippet appeared some newspapers via the Press Association on the 1st November 1939 claiming that a Church of England Padre with the RAF was had established a new Talbot House in the French village where he was staying. He was providing a canteen where men could get food and play games.

Talking to branches at much the same time, Barclay Baron proclaimed that Toc H intended to set up “half a dozen or a dozen major ventures, built on the same lines as the old House in Poperinge, and a much larger number of Little Talbot Houses like the one in Ypres.”

It would be early 1940 when permission was granted by the CVWW, for certain organisations including Toc H, to open centres for the troops in France.  A January 1940 letter from a Toc H member in the RAF reported that some work had been done in Paris by four RAF members and some Padres who had found a small room over the Café de la Gare where servicemen could relax, find some fellowship and avoid the temptations of the beer tent. This was probably little more than a branch room though subsequently, a further letter from France describes two centres for British troops that had opened under the auspices of various organisations of which Toc H was one. This would be the BEF Club, a ‘Social Centre’ for British Soldiers in uniform at 28 Avenue des Champs Elysée set up by the British Colony Committee. It was hosted by several different organisations such as the British Legion and the Standard Athletic Club. Toc H ran it on Wednesday and Sunday nights.

It was on the 2nd February 1940 that Toc H send their first small team of Pat Leonard, Rex Calkin, and Grahame ‘The Dean’ Hamilton to France. The Dean spoke French like a native and was conversant with French culture. Leonard was at the time Vicar of Hatfield and was given three months leave by the Bishop of St Albans. He had strict instructions to be back by Whit Sunday (12th May).

For the first time, Toc H men were issued a military style uniform and would be recognised primarily by the Lamp of Maintenance on their cap badge.

In the New Year of 1940 Reg Staton was Warden of the Southampton War Services Club but was anxious to serve abroad. Shortly after the first team had left for the continent, Reg received his orders from HQ and on 27th February headed for northern France. The next evening he was with Pat, Rex and the Dean. On February 29th they visited a house in Lille which was already equipped with furniture and fittings. A former doctor’s house, it was a townhouse on one of the main streets of Lille. It was to be the first new, official Toc H Club in Continental Europe and was designated Mark I BEF. It seems this House was made possible by Leigh Groves, a wealthy Toc H member from Northumberland who had previously bequeathed the Salford Mark (Mark XIV) to Toc H.

A team of English women living in Lille gathered round to help. These included Mrs Gudgeon, the Consul’s wife, Mrs Harrison, Mrs Lane, Mrs Norman, and Mrs Crothers. Mr Crothers and Mr Lane were also roped in. Mr Lane acquired a Renault van on which Pat painted a Toc H lamp.

Location of the actual and planned BEF clubs in 1940

On 11th March 1940 the Toc H banner was hanging outside and the House was opened with a service in the chapel at 7.30am. The chapel had largely been furnished by the congregation of Pat Leonard’s home church in Hatfield.  At 2pm two British soldiers were collared on the street and brought in for a cup of tea and a tour.

It took a little while for it to become known but the trickle of soldiers enjoying the comforts of home soon became a torrent. Food was supplied by the NAAFI but Toc H augmented it with fresh pastries, bread, butter, and ham from local shops. The French shopkeepers were intrigued by the House – they particularly liked the very British habit of paying as you went and not expecting credit – and were invited to Yorkshire tea. In turn they presented the house with fresh flowers.

Though only open for a matter of weeks, they became popular. Friendly rivalry was established with Padre ‘Pop’ Sheppard who ran the Church Army canteen nearby. Many staff officers including Colin Jardine paid visits. The visitor’s book was a matter of pride for the team who were devastated when it had to be left behind later.

Pat was charged with writing reports on their progress and one, in the form of letter, was read out by Henry Willink at the Central Executive meeting in April. The following are extracts from the letter,

The first house is doing its job well. Mark II BEF is about to open. Three more houses are in active preparation. The demand far exceeds supply. If provision can be made there will be at least three more houses, making eight.

Many members are taking their pals to their own Toc H meetings in all sorts of places. Many other soldiers and airman ask: ‘What is Toc H? Why haven’t we struck this before?’ They will find the first part of the answer in the Houses out there – their temporary homes.

Grahame Hamilton had to leave, his appointment had always been only temporary. His knowledge of France (and French food) was sorely missed.  Meanwhile Padre Ben Dakin of Mark I in Notting Hill and Hugh Pilcher – Warden of the Toc H Services Club at Fleet – were getting ready to join the team as Mark II BEF had already been identified and more staff were needed. Hugh Bonham-Carter from Toc H Poona was recruited and Padre Austen ‘Appy’ Williams, a hosteller at Mark VII was ear-marked to go over. Williams arrived 4th May with Bonham-Carter about the same time. Pilcher and Williams joined the original team in Lille whilst Dakin started the house at Rouen (Mark II BEF) and was joined by Padre Norman Macpherson, Warwick Jackson, and Jock Steele with his wife. Bonham-Carter was to help Rex Calkin get a third house started in Douai. A fourth was also planned for Albert.

In April Pat wrote this letter to Leigh Groves

My dear Leigh,

I am sure that you will be interested to have news of the House your generosity has made possible in France. In many ways it is reminiscent of Mark XIV – it has the same feeling of stability, of honest workmanship and homeliness. It belonged – as Mark XIV had – originally to a doctor. It’s a town house, opening on one of the principal streets of this large city. On the ground floor are three large reception rooms where we serve tea and have noise and games and the radio. Up a broad oak staircase to the first floor where we have a large lounge furnished with arm chairs – an almost unknown luxury to 99% of our visitors – a quiet room, a writing room, a bathroom and a Chapel. Above are bedrooms where we can put up about a dozen casual visitors in addition to “the staff”; i.e. Reg Staton, Hugh Pilcher and myself.

By general consent Mark I, B.E.F., is the best show in the Forward Areas and it is the envy of all the other ‘philanthropic bodies’ – Church Army, Y.M.C.A., Church of Scotland Huts and Salvation Army.

The House is generally pretty full but at weekends it’s packed out, and we are hard put to it to make tea quick enough and to cut sandwiches for our hungry visitors. The proof of the pudding is the fact that every one that comes once, comes again, bringing his pals with him., I wish you could see your House – I think you would be proud of it and feel that your cheque was instrumental in bringing a little brightness, a little comfort, and a touch of home into the rather drab, monotonous lives of the lads who are serving our country out here.

It’s a long time since I saw you but I’m proud to have had a part in bringing Mark I B.E.F. into being,

My kindest regards to Mrs. Leigh and with a heart full of gratitude for what you have done.

Ever yours.

Pat Leonard’

Shortly afterwards Pat needed to return home to fulfil his promise to the bishop. He made it out just before the storm broke.  Germany attacked from the west on the 10th May 1940 invading the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

This extract from his private biography, written by his son-in-law Philip Leonard Johnson describes his escape.

However, he made his way to the nearest port, only to find the quay strewn with dead bodies. The Germans had got there first. By immense good fortune he obtained a taxi to the next port, where the very last ship to leave France was about to sail. He was in uniform but had no papers, and as soon as he tried to board the ship he was arrested as a suspected deserter. A frantic search followed for a staff officer who could identify Leonard. This was virtually impossible as the German onslaught had begun and communications were almost all cut. However, someone was at last found and papers were given. Leonard sailed home in the company of a King’s Messenger and the artist who had up to the last minute been painting a portrait of the General – so ‘phoney’ was the War at that stage, Leonard arrived in Hatfield on the Saturday evening, to take the Whitsunday Services the next day – to the considerable relief of those responsible, he having (albeit reluctantly) obeyed the bishop’s order to the letter

Reg Staton says it was around 15th May when things began to happen around Lille. The town was quickly overrun by civilians and troops fleeing the advancing German troops. French refugees, bombed out of their houses and who had lost everything, turned up at the club looking for food and shelter. The Toc H team of course obliged.

Calkin and Bonham-Carter had been spending some time in Douai setting up the House and they were there on 16th May but on 17th went to Lille to collect Pilcher and travelled to Poperinge to look into reopening of the Old House. They likely found some refugees at the House as the Imperial War Graves Commission were using it for an evacuation point as they tried to get their people to Le Havre. If there were troops in the area Pilcher was going to stay behind to run the house with the help of Rene and Alida Berat but since there were no troops Pilcher didn’t stay. Rene was confident the British troops would arrive and had stocked up with cigarettes! Calkin stopped in on Padre Ralph Dye in Ieper that day. They dropped Pilcher at Lille and went on to Douai.

On 18th May Staton, Williams, and Pilcher convened to discuss their future. They elected to remain. Minutes later a lorry turned up filled up with Roman Catholic nursing sisters and their civilian charges. Toc H fed and nurtured them as best they could before sending them on their way.

Meanwhile Calkin and Bonham-Carter were told to evacuate Douai by the Town Mayor so packed their car up and returned to Lille where they spent the night. A Church Army Padre (Probably Pop Sheppard) reported seeing all five together in Lille on Sunday 19th May. That day was when the pair decided to try their luck in Douai again and returned. Having found the town in dire straits (The House there was eventually destroyed by bombing) they collected some more stuff from the club and headed once more to Poperinge. They spent the night in the Old House but still with no troops to service they decided to collect the others from Lille and head to Rouen. Before they left they spent some time in the chapel. Baron later said that when he returned to the House in 1944 the last entry in the Padre’s log showed, in Rex Calkin’s hand, that Calkin, Bonham-Carter and Pilcher had taken prayers there on May 20th.

Following this they arrived in Lille later in the day where they informed the others they must be ready to move within an hour. Despite being full of troops the Lille House was rapidly closed. Calkin, Bonham-Carter, and Williams set off in one car and headed for Poperinge. Staton and Pilcher along with their cook Madame Clemence and someone called Platts took the Renault van and headed for Rouen where they were to join the others at the House there. Staton and Pilcher left at 11am and joined the long line of refugees fleeing Lille. They only got as far as St Pol when the car broke down. It was repaired but broke down again the following day (21st) just 20 kilometres later with the Germans close by. They stayed hidden for a few hours but eventually surrendered to the Commander of a German Anti-Aircraft battery near Vieil-Hesdin

Calkin, Bonham-Carter, and Williams also set off the same day but finding the roads blocked by refugees near St Pol, they turned up a side road and ran straight into a German motorised column. They were immediately captured.

Staton & Williams at back with (l-r) Bonham-Carter, Calkin and Pilcher seated

Of the Rouen team Jock Steele had returned to the UK on the 18th May to take his wife home – British women were ordered to be evacuated – with the intention of returning which of course was denied. The next day Dakin was sent on Tubby’s orders to Cannes re the establishment of a club down there, thus he was in safe territory when the Germans rolled through. Norman McPherson, George Bramall and Warwick Jackson remained at the Rouen house as long as they could but set out on the 21st May by foot, train, and car to travel 250 miles to Nantes successfully avoiding the invading army.

Poperinge too was overrun, first by refugees, then retreating allied troops and eventually the advancing Germans. On 24th May the town was bombed for the first time. About 250 people died in that first air raid and many more were injured. As allied troops were evacuated through the town different reports reached England. Some said Talbot House still stood whilst everything around it was rubble, others said it was gone. Toc H member Sergeant John Summerfield called on the House on the 28th May and was given blankets by Rene. He was the last visitor British person to visit the House pre-occupation because the following day, the 29th May, the Germans arrived in Poperinge.

Over the winter of 1940/41, with little information getting out, many Toc H members resigned themselves to the fact that the Old House was destroyed. Thankfully, contact was eventually made with Rene and Alida Berat, the housekeepers, and a different truth was unveiled.

Meanwhile at the end of May 1940 Operation Dynamo began the rescue of the troops remaining in France and Belgium surrounded by Germans. This culminated in the famous Dunkirk evacuations but it was too late for the five Toc H staff who were already in German hands. Toc H only returned to France and Belgium after D-day.

Returning to the Home Front and the path forward for Toc H was becoming clearer. Initially it was believed that most service men and women would be in France but after Dunkirk it soon became clear that many thousands and thousands would be based in UK camps; War Services Clubs in the UK were to be the new focus.

Branches that wished to open a Services Club had been told that they would have to fund it locally as any headquarters cash was to be directed to the BEF clubs being set up. After the fall of France HQ funded a few special clubs in the UK. Many branches took up the challenge with fortitude. This was achieved by grants from war funds, simple fundraising, and donations-in-kind of items required. There were concerts, dances, whist-drives, and many other events.

In 1940 the Toc H War Services Fund was registered under the War Charities Act 1940. It was entirely separate from other Toc H finances and when the clubs closed several gave any excess cash away to other local charities working with Service men and women rather than to the local branch or Toc H HQ. The defined purpose of the fund was:

That all monies raised or received by Toc H Incorporated for the purposes of its war-time activities in organising, providing, equipping, administering and staffing for the benefit of H.M. Services and others occupied in war work, Clubs, Hostels, Canteens, Rest Rooms, and other forms of hospitality and in affording the benefits and amenities usually afforded by Toc H to be paid into a separate Bank account to be known as “Toc H War Services Fund” Account and that all expenditure in connection with such activities be charged against said Account.

There were national appeals, most notably on the 4th August 1940 when Sir Colin Jardine made an appeal on BBC Home Service’s Week’s Good Cause, and on the 3rd Aug 1941 when Henry Willink broadcast a similar radio appeal. Later, a film about Toc H’s camps in Burma was made and shown in cinemas before the main film. The Group of Oil Companies were generous to Toc H war work.

In 1944 the first Toc H Gift Book was published by Frederick Muller Limited. Compiled and edited by Hilda Hughes, a respected figure in publishing circles, it was a collection of essays and stories by well-known authors such as J.B. Priestly, Algernon Blackwood, and Walter de la Mare. All the proceeds went to the Toc H War Services Clubs Fund. A similar second edition appeared in 1947.

In Australia a photographic exhibition of seventy photographs showing war damage in the UK that had been sent to the Courier Mail by the London Press Club and the British Ministry of Information was held in Brisbane City Hall basement in November 1941. Proceeds from the exhibition were to aid funds for the Toc H Services Club.

At its peak there were said to be around 300 clubs in Britain of which 12 were for women. Thirty-six were run by headquarters, the rest locally. Some were opened for workers – as opposed to service men and women – under the Ministry of Labour. One example of this was Cotton House in Rugby School which opened in October 1941.  The premises were requisitioned by the Ministry of Labour and run by Toc H as a hostel for war workers who didn’t live in Rugby. It was run on the same lines as the Services Clubs. The Warden was W. James Richardson, a member of Toc H HQ staff. Toc H also ran the Old School House as a hostel for conscripted or transferred women workers (Mostly in munitions factories).

Most – but not all – took the name Talbot House. Some only opened in the evening; others were open all day. Most had a warden though some were run by a committee. The League of Women Helpers (Renamed Toc H Women’s Section in 1943 in recognition of their war work) often ran the canteen (as well as their own clubs) and other organisations, in particular the WVS and the Scouts, sent volunteers to assist. This was most necessary as many branches lost up to 80% of their men to war work. Guests and visitors were encouraged to attend local branch nights and, if they wished, to join Toc H – many did!

An unspecified club for service women (Photo Toc H archives)

The clubs typically had sleeping accommodation, a canteen, a chapel, lounges for games and relaxing, though the smaller ones lacked the bedrooms. Like the original Talbot House, their aim was to provide all the comforts of home. One club provided 50 pairs of bedroom slippers, again harking back to an Old House tradition. Some clubs went a little further. Men who arrived with soaking feet were stripped of their socks and had their feet plunged into a bowl of warm water. Their socks were dried and returned along with a brand-new pair as a present. Tubby could not have helped but notice the allegory of Jesus washing the feet of Mary Magdelene.

As one newspaper reporter remarked about the Club at Reading:

Once again war has revealed, under the friendly roof of Talbot House, the fascinating diversity of occupations and sectors of life represented by men in the services.

A soldier’s review

Another journalistic description of an unnamed club in the south of England,

The gramophone was being played, the radio was pouring out dance music, darts were being thrown, cards were being dealt, magazines and books were being read, coffee and cakes were being consumed…in other words Talbot House got off with a flying start

And nothing was too much trouble as one Scottish member wrote:

A naval chaplain (Toc H Padre) blew in to see a member. After the first greeting he said, ‘Can you provide meals for forty young seaman who haven’t been ashore for five weeks?’. The Club certainly did and added a jolly singsong into the bargain.

We have already looked at some of the earliest clubs, now let’s take a look at a just a few of the others.

Bedford is a typical example. In late 1939 a local builder, George Langley, offered the branch three houses he owned in a terrace on Bromham Road (31, 33, & 35). In February 1940, with the help of the local Rotary Club, Toc H opened the houses up as Talbot House. The Reverend John ‘Jack’ Palmer came from London headquarters to get it up and running. It was immediately successful and later in the year Langley let them extend it into three more houses in the terrace. Palmer was posted to the Chilterns in October 1941 and was replaced as Warden by the Reverend Robert McRoberts. They faced a setback early in 1942 when a fire destroyed their library and 300 books were lost. John L’Anson was overcome by fumes and had to be rescued by fireman but fully recovered. The club closed in August 1945 as the need was diminishing but they were also struggling with staffing issues.

There was also a Servicewomen’s Club in St Mary’s Street late on in the war. It opened in March 1944 under the wardenship of Mrs A Davies although in 1945 she was replaced by Elizabeth Fenton. The club closed later than the Servicemen’s Club and its swansong in June 1946 was a party where Land Girls served a meal up to the Toc H volunteers. Its fixtures and fittings were auctioned off at the end of the month.

Bedford though, differed from most towns in one respect. In 1951 it revived a Services Club in Greyfriars Walk, off Midland Road, to serve troops stationed around Bedford. There were very few post-war clubs in the UK.

Like Bedford, Chester was fairly typical. After temporarily setting up a club in Sealand Road, one David Hughes lent a house at 18 Upper Northgate Street – known as the House of Spring – to Toc H for the duration of the war. The 12-bed property started operating as a War Services Club in November 1940 but didn’t open officially until the 8th February 1941. Lady Gordon-Finlayson opened the House and afterwards there was a dedication in the Refectory of Chester Cathedral where Light was taken. Tubby, bound for Orkney, was due to appear at both but running late – not an unusual state of affairs for Tubby – he arrived right at the very end. He was still able to give a speech.

Chester opening

The first Warden was Canadian Mr F Hayward, who later went on to be the Warden of Oxford Clubs. The coal cellar of the House was converted into a chapel – furnished courtesy of Lady Gladstone of Harwarden – and was dedicated by the Bishop of Chester in December 1941. An adjoining house was later taken over to expand the club which closed in November 1945 when the house was sold and Toc H’s lease ended.

Plymouth (Photo Toc H Archives)

Plymouth was of course, like Portsmouth, a major naval town but it was not until 10th October 1940 that its first club – named Little Chummy – was opened by Devonport branch. This was at Bayswater Terrace on North Road and was specifically aimed at troops waiting for trains at nearby North Road station. It was little more than a few mattresses placed on the floor. A much more prodigious club opened at 26 Union Street on Saturday the 1st February 1941. The club was a gift from the British War Relief Society of America and was named Toc H Service Club of America No. 1. It’s first Warden was Stuart Greenacre who I have written about here .  Mrs Rex Benson represented the American relief organisation at the opening and Tubby was also present.

After Stuart was moved in May 1941, Bob Sawers, for years the Scottish Secretary of Toc H, replaced him. In September 1942 Toc H put on a special night for American and French soldiers and served hamburgers, frankfurters, corn on the cob, ‘real’ coffee and French mustard, all rarities in the UK at that time even without war-time rationing.

Those who know me well, will be aware I hold my ancestral home of Great Yarmouth close to my heart so I’m glad that I am able to reproduce this account of the Yarmouth War Services Club from an earlier blog about Toc H in that town.

The Yarmouth Branch decided to turn their HQ at 146a King Street into a club.  It opened in October 1939 and was initially run by Inky Bean, later famous in Toc H circles as Warden of the Toc H Club for Seafaring Boys in Southampton. The club was centred round a canteen but also had two quiet rooms (for reading), a games room, and a chapel and was soon much used, not least by the older soldiers of the Pioneer Corps who found their billets in the summer chalets of the local holiday camps. In 1940 a journalist from the Yarmouth Mercury visited the Club. This is their report in full.

Thus I could see, almost right away after I had turned in through the doorway in Row 105 and had mounted the stairs that the house had that indefinable quality known as the “Toc H atmosphere”.

 For one thing when I pushed through the canteen door-bearing the famous superscription, “Abandon all rank ye who enter here” – nobody stared at me inquisitively, and for another, someone came forward to talk with me straight away. Not curiously, for not for a moment did his manner imply that I was a stranger there, but rather as though I had been there many times before and was looking in again after a long absence. In truth I had not been in the building in my life, though from that instant I felt that I had known it for a great while. Now this is a great feat to achieve.

After he had shown me round the premises-a canteen, two reading rooms “quiet” rooms as they are called, a games room and a chapel, he told me how Toc H had been born and had grown up here.

He was a member of the original Toc H and remembered the Rev. ‘Tubby’ Clayton taking Communion [in] the loft of a farm.

Since those days Toc H had spread to many countries, Germany and France included, and recently its 300th branch started work in Iceland.

 After the war, Clayton wrote to Inky and one or two other men in Yarmouth and in 1920 they held their first meeting in a room in a warehouse. They were a small group to begin with.

“We have never gone in for much publicity,” he said, “and it is surprising how many people think we are a boys club. They don’t realise we are a movement for men, and that we have a women’s organisation, the League of Women Helpers as well.”

Toc H now has a house for its headquarters. This is important, because the idea of a house – one of the earliest needs of mankind is essential in Toc H, and one which outsiders must grasp [to] understand the movement. will be seen how important it is to have a house. Yarmouth Toc H, then, found itself a house; originally it was a condemned building. Paper was hanging from the walls in moist and musty festoons. The floors were unsound, the paint bad, and overall was [a] coating of dirt and decay. Upon this unpromising material the members hastened with the enthusiasm only possessed by those who are working for an ideal. Day by day, week-end by week-end, the house changed. First came the cleaning, then the alteration and decoration, then the furnishing. The women helpers, for instance, painted and papered the quiet room, other members converted other rooms to new uses.

 “Where did you get the pews?” I asked as we stood in the chapel. “Well, I don’t really know,” Inky replied, “We needed them. Someone said, “I think I can get some.’ They came. Most of Toc H happened that way.”

Just about a year ago Toc H decided to open a Forces Club in Yarmouth. The peace-time activities of the branch had been hit by the war and so in October 1939, the branch took the step of returning to the original Toc H conception. It was to be a house where members of the Services could do as they pleased; there would be food; there would be companionship; both human and spiritual. It is an arduous undertaking and could scarcely have been the success it is had it not been for the help of a small group of members, and the League of Women Helper, who with relays of voluntary workers run the canteen. They serve 3000 cups of tea and coffee a week. Often there are 300 visitors at the week-end. Then, too, the club has compiled a list of friends who are willing to provide a bed for a man who may have a day or two of leave. The notice board is a reflection of Toc H activities as well; it bears the addresses and little street plans showing where a score of branches are in the British Isles. The board reveals too, the desire for human companionship “C Mathieson of Aberdeen would like to meet someone from the same place’ ran a postcard that was pinned up.

Someone is in the club – “on duty” is the wrong word to describe such a presence – to talk with men who come in and make them feel at home. Sometimes it is Inky, who comes in his overalls straight from his work, at other times it is his brother, an ex-Guardsman, or maybe another member; but the point is that there is always someone.

An incident that happened a little while ago illustrates the Toc H spirit at work.

 Up at one end of the canteen was a group of four or five young soldiers, aged eighteen or thereabouts, in very obviously new uniforms. They all looked thoroughly miserable and rather scared.

 “What’s the matter?” asked Inky.

 “Oh, we’re fed up.”

 “Fed up. What’s the trouble?”

“We don’t know what to do. We’ve never been away from home before; we hate the army.” Was the plaintive and rather pitiful reply.

 “I know, I know” says Inky “I was 18 when I was in the Army. I know what it is like. I’ve had the feelings too. But you want to see things straight.”

 He began to talk to them-fatherly, friendly gradually drawing them out.

 “See those fellows over there,” he said, pointing, “they were new three months ago, just like you, but they have shaken down well enough.”

Inky took them into another room, one of the reading rooms, brought them cups of tea, nursed them almost, and began to get them to talk. By the end of the evening they were getting on well with other men in the room and had lost their shyness. They came nearly every night after that for weeks.

 “As you know,” he said to me, “the basis of Toc H is religious. We do not ram the religion down men’s throats. We don’t urge them to go to church. We hold services and if they want to stay away they do; if not they come. We try to interest men in their spiritual welfare, but we go to work gradually.”

 “I remember there was a group I was talking with one night. I said that we were having a service in an hour and if they cared to come they would be welcome. ‘Oh no’ they said, we are going. They had not much use for church or parsons anyway. ‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘Still, don’t you think it’s good to a little thought now and then to more serious matters in life. Isn’t it perhaps because we haven’t done so that the old world is now in such a mess?’

 “That started a bit of a discussion. Anyway, an hour later they were still there, so I mentioned that the service was going to begin and went out. Some of them attended; it was quite informal, and afterwards they came back into the room arguing and talking with the padre. Afterwards, some of them came quite regularly.”

The difficulty, Inky told me, was partly that men on the whole are a little suspicious and think that a parson is going to put a fast one over on them, but an even greater difficulty is to find a good padre. Too often a strain of patronage creeps in; it may be quite unknown to the parson concerned, but its effect shows immediately, for he finds that he is avoided by all but a few.

Needless to say there is no class distinction within the walls of Toc H. The degree to which this bugbear spirit can be exorcised was shown one day when the house was undergoing transformation at the hands of a working party. Those who were there included a bank clerk, a printer, a cattle market attendant– all on an equal and friendly footing.

As Inky said “there’s nothing like papering a room together to break down class distinction!”

As I went downstairs, past the smaller quiet room much used as a study by N.C.Os., and past the chapel where a sailor comes time and again to play the organ in the darkness, I reflected that the papering process, seemed to be working well within these walls.

I remarked as much to Jack, my companion who had been with me at the beginning of the evening, but had slipped off to talk to people while I was chatting with Inky.

 “Yes, you’re right,” he replied. “I found that out when I was talking with some of these fellows. It’s a pity more paper-hanging isn’t done outside Toc H.”

Across the Yare in Gorleston, there were also clubs. In 1940 Gorleston men’s branch ran a club on Pier Plain but when, in April 1941, they lost the use of those premises, they reopened the canteen in the Minor Hall over the Coliseum cinema in the High Street where it remained until the end of the war. Here servicemen could get tea, coffee, sandwiches or a fry up by Mrs Nichols. Members of the LWH served at the counter and were assisted by the partially sighted Cyril. Ruritanian Mountain scenes were painted on the walls by a soldier who had been a scene painter for Ivor Novello productions (and remained on the walls until the Coliseum was demolished).

Later a house in Palmer Road was used for baths and upstairs was a small library and rest room where there would be gramophone recitals on a Sunday. Toc H Gorleston also provided distinctively painted (In Toc H’s black and orange colour scheme) bicycles at the railway stations for the use of troops; they were always returned. At the end of the war in Europe surplus furniture was sold off and the proceeds helped provide a canteen in Malaya for the men still fighting the war in the Far East.

Hampton Hall, Coventry

Coventry is also worth noting because its first club, Talbot House at 4 Middlesborough Road, was destroyed by enemy bombing when the city was devastated in November 1940. A large detached residence with a pleasant garden, it was originally a six-bed house up and running by November 1939, though far from complete.  Arthur Foster, from London, was installed as Warden. It was improved in August 1940 and the beds increased to 15. At this point Mr & Mrs Charles Young were Wardens.

Plans to open a replacement club in the Summer of 1942 failed to come to fruition, however in late 1942 a club for Servicewomen opened at Hampton Hall, 157 Warwick Road, the home of the late Dr John Bradley. It was officially opened on the 28th January 1943 by Lady Louis Mountbatten with a guard of honour drawn from the ATS and the WAAF. The hostel had accommodation for 22 girls. Lady Mountbatten spoke of her personal experience of Toc H clubs in Malta and elsewhere where they looked after the Royal Navy.

South Shields, or rather Westoe village, is another interesting one. It has its roots in a Community House set up in 1938 using a grant under the Oil Companies Special Area Scheme – a government initiative to help certain areas during the 1930s Depression. The house, named Trinity House, had strong Toc H connections in that Ronald Wraith who was Toc H Eastern Area Secretary became first Warden on the 1st September 1938, and Richard Newcombe Craig, Toc H Padre in South Shields was one of the prime movers.

Westoe Village (South Shields)

Perhaps inspired by this the branch then opened a Toc H War Services Club – initially at the Seaman’s Mission in Mill Dam – and later in Dr Gowan’s old house. The latter opened on Saturday 24th May 1940 with Ian Caldwell as Warden. Talbot House was officially opened by Mrs Chapman, wife of Colonel Robert Chapman. In August 1944 a scheme to turn the club into a War memorial to enable it to continue its work in peacetime was launched and it did continue as a Toc H club.

Westoe opening May 1940

Whilst the West Midlands were quite well covered, Birmingham strangely seemed to lack a War Services Club until the 2nd of December 1943 when Georgian House at 9 & 10 Easy Row opened as an Officers’ Club. If this seems somewhat at odds with Toc H’s non-elitist practice, it was because the club had been opened before but failed. Toc H, whose success elsewhere was well documented, were now asked to run it. It was situated in one of only three Georgian buildings remaining Birmingham at the time. The Rev Ken G. Bloxham was very involved with the fundraising and the House Committee.

Smuts House, London

Thus far we haven’t mentioned the War Services Clubs of London. Surprisingly there were not that many. Smith Huis was a Union Defence Force Institutes Club (See below for explanation of the UDFI) at 49 Princes Gate, South Kensington whilst Clarendon House was a slightly unique Toc H Club nearby at 20 Queensbury Place. This was for married service couples (One or both of whom had to be in the services). It had sleeping accommodation for 50, a restaurant (not a common canteen!) and the usual lounges. It was opened on the 14th December 1943 by Lady Clarendon. Mr & Mrs Bob Sawers (See Plymouth and York) were Warden/Housekeepers when it opened.

Clarendon House, London

If there was a flagship club in the UK then it was St Stephen’s Westminster. The government had decided to release for the war effort, some buildings it owned. The St Stephen’s Club was a private member’s club in Westminster, London, founded in 1870 and frequented by Conservative MPs. It was on the corner of Bridge Street and the Embankment, today the location of Portcullis House. It closed shortly after the outbreak of war and in early March 1940 it was handed to Toc H to run as a War Services Club, it’s mission to provide hot food and accommodation for soldiers returning from or on their way to France.

Barclay Baron, outside St Stephens (Photo Toc H Archives)

St Stephen’s opened on Wednesday the 10th April 1940 with Barclay Baron as host supported by Howard Dunnett, who was previously Warden in Bicester, and later Cambridge, Iceland, Alexandria and finally Italy with the mobile units.  Joining them was Arthur Foster, who had been running a Toc H house for industrial war workers in the Midland, and Gilbert Williams who was padre and crucial to its success.

Lever Brothers and Unilever gave £500 to get it underway. The old American Cocktail bar was converted into a chapel. There was a tunnel between the club and the House of Commons, which MPs had formerly rushed through to vote when the Division Bell rang. This was turned into a kit and rifle cloakroom. With 200 beds St Stephens was no small affair. 160 of the dormitory beds were allocated by the War Office in advance but 40 beds in twin rooms were spare for ‘walk-ins’ at one shilling per night. Breakfast cost 8d, dinners 11d, and supper 9d.

Off duty at St Stephen’s

On the 19th April, shortly after it opened, the BBC broadcast a short service from the chapel conducted by Herbert Leggate.

The French at St Stephen’s

However there was a sudden turnaround in the early summer. Despite the rapid and massive success of the Club, from the 1st June 1940 it was closed to British soldiers. This twist came about in late May when the German Blitzkrieg led to the mass evacuation of France. With just 15 minutes warning to the Toc H night staff, a group of 170 exhausted French soldiers arrived at the club directly from Boulogne. The next day they passed on but hours later some French sailors arrived having rowed out from Calais under fire until they were picked up by a British trawler. Then some French civilians arrived and it seemed Toc H at St Stephens had been unofficially elected as a French specialist rest house.

St Stephen’s occupied by the French

After that it was an obvious step to turn St Stephens into the HQ of De Gaulle’s Free French government (Whose emblem coincidentally included the Cross of Lorraine, so familiar to those of Toc H) and thus the tricolour hung from a balcony overlooking Westminster Bridge. On July 14th (Bastille Day) there was a massive celebration.

In late July De Gaulle moved his Free French Committee to Carlton Gardens and by autumn St Stephen’s was back to a general services club. It was quieter now the allies were out of continental Europe in that time between Dunkirk and D-Day, and comings and goings between the continent and Britain were much reduced.

The flag of the Free French

Although perhaps quieter is the wrong word. The Blitz was upon London and Baron wrote of a night when the bombing of Westminster was heavy and those soldiers and airmen in the club were forced down to the basement. Civilians caught out in the raid arrives at the door of the club and joined the troops downstairs. There was a huge explosion as a parachute mine landed on the terrace of County Hall across the river and St Stephen’s Club had its windows blown in. Dust engulfed the upper floors. The all clear finally sounded and the next day the staff team cleared up the dust and debris. Another day began.

St Stephens closed on the 12th April 1944 and was taken over by United States Army authorities (This may have been in relation to D-Day).

And so that’s just a few of the British Clubs. A fuller list can be found in the file at the end of this blog but let’s close this section with a few little facts and statistics.

Worthing claimed to be biggest Toc H War Services Club outside London

Cambridge’s original Warden was Howard Dunnett but he was joined by Inky Bean and the Reverend Murray Gawn, giving the club the hilarious line-up of Bean and Gawn and Dunnett!

Stoke proudly announced their club had No Colour Bar (which begs the awkward question, did any have a colour bar?).

Stoke (Photo Toc H archives)

In Burnley, Toc H suggested a club and were prominent in running it though it was a United Services establishment.

The Leeds Servicewoman’s Club was opened by the Princess Royal – later Queen Elizabeth II – in Sep 1944.

I believe there was a club at Ilminster which would make sense as they were one of the branches that ran Clubs/Canteens for Show people at County Fairs before the war. This and Toc H’s support for Fairground people is on the list of future blogs.

As with anything, it was not all plain sailing. Apart from the destruction of some clubs by enemy action, Minehead was destroyed by an accidental fire though a replacement club was up and running four hours later! There were thefts of cash and objects from several clubs but more seriously there was an incident at Worthing in January 1946 when two sailors assaulted Margaret Hastie, the Warden at Worthing.  And on the 5th February 1945, at the same club, Royal Marine Commando Charles Dewberry slipped and hit his head in a bath.  He died almost immediately. Somewhat less tragic was the battle for the Town Hall at Ottery, perhaps a little redolent of Dad’s Army. Toc H were using the hall as a Services Club but this led to a light disagreement with the Auxiliary Fire Service who also wanted to use the hall as a shelter.

Finally, before we head overseas, what of the Marks? The war hit them badly with most houses losing more than half of their Marksmen to the services. Some, like Liverpool, Salford & Putney, simply changed into a War Services Club whilst others reinvented themselves in different ways. The London Marks were designated ‘havens’ for off duty Officer Cadets; Mark XXII in Denmark Hill held special meetings for Continental members following a meeting there of Charleroi and Brussels members now exiled in the UK. The Seafaring Boys Club in Southampton – not actually a Mark – housed naval ratings. In February 1940 there were twenty Marks open of which nine were doing special war work.

So far – clubs with the BEF prior to Dunkirk excepted – we have spoken about the Toc H Clubs in the UK only. Toc H took up the challenge all over the Dominion. As well as clubs, branches were formed where ever Toc H men gathered and a new concept, Circles, was created to bring men together without the formality of a branch. This probably needs exploring further but now is not the time.

As it was there were really two kinds of War Services Clubs overseas; those set up in the home countries to serve the needs of that country’s troops on leave or awaiting postings; and those clubs and canteens that travelled with the troops into the theatre of war.

Australia of course falls into the first category and with Toc H being so strong in that land it is no surprise that branches soon answered the call.  I believe Brisbane was the first when a club on the first floor of Desmond Chambers at 303 Adelaide Street was officially opened on the 6th October 1940 by Sir Leslie Wilson, the Governor. It provided hot and cold Showers and other services and was open from 9am to 11pm daily. It was still open at Christmas 1945 but had stopped serving hot meals and finally closed on the 31st March 1946.

Three weeks after Brisbane, on the 25th October, Perth opened a club at Locksley Hall, 79 Stirling Street with Pop Whyte as Warden. It was a 21-room house but even so in October 1941 they took a lease on the next-door premises to extend the club. From the 1st June 1946 it was a Toc H hostel specifically for discharged servicemen in the city to take rehabilitation courses and by 1947 was a Toc H centre that closed completely in 1951. Perth also had a Women’s club at the Queen’s House opposite Lockley Hall. This opened in the autumn of 1942 with Beatrice Penrose as House Mother. It closed on 31st January 1946.

Fundraising Badges in Australia

In Sydney in October 1940 a club was opened on the second Floor of 12 Loftus Street, Circular Quay. Melbourne’s club was opened by the Governor on the 20th December 1940 though didn’t provide accommodation until December 1941. Shortly after that, in early 1942, they added a second property in Little Bourke Street to provide additional beds. It was known as Little Talbot House. At around the same time Toc H also opened some mobile canteens in Collins Street. The main club closed in April 1946. Adelaide and Cairns also had clubs but one last Australian club worth a mention is Townsville in North Queensland which opened on the 5th June 1943 with Eric Smith as Warden. Later that year the Club was privileged to receive a visit from Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the President of the United States of America to thank everyone there for all they were doing for American Servicemen.


Though not in the Dominion, one overseas club became almost legendary in Toc H circles. The seed the Toc H War Services Club in Reykjavik, Iceland was sown in September 1940 when Rear Admiral Scott, a Toc H Vice President, put a notice in Force Orders asking that all men interesting in establishing Toc H in that country should attend a meeting (It’s a little talked about fact that the British invaded the neutral Iceland in May 1940 for fear that the Germans would occupy it as they did Denmark). The notice led to a few meetings in the Borg Hotel then in a room lent to Toc H by the Salvation Army. On the 22nd October a visiting Tubby spoke at a big meeting and it was decided that a Club should be formed. It opened at Tungata 6 on the 9th December 1940 with little ceremony. 


A very old house, there was a chapel, designed by Sgt (Later Lt) Stevenson, in a separate outhouse. Initially run by Alec Churcher and Geoffrey Johnson), Warwick Jackson and then Howard Dunnett would take over later in the war. As well as the normal home comforts for the troops they established a male voice choir, and a sketching club which held exhibitions of artwork by members of the armed forces. The 1941 World Chain of Light started here. The club closed on the 17th May 1942. and the chapel furnishings were transferred to the nearby naval camp. However it left behind a Toc H branch, a Rover Scout group, a literary group, a Tic Tocs concert party, and much more. In late 1941 a second Iceland club opened and Warwick Jackson moved from Reykjavik to run it.

So now back to different climes and the Dominion once again. The approach in South Africa was totally different. Rather than operating independently through their existing network of branches, Toc H were asked to join forces with the YMCA.

In July 1940 the Chief of the General Staff of the Union Defence Forces (The combined armed forces of South Africa from 1912-1957) asked the two organisations to visit East Africa  – where the majority of South African troops were deployed against Mussolini’s Italian Fascists at that time – and explore ways and means they could extend their work to the troops in that theatre of war. The decision was that both organisations should be banded together to form a military unit known as the Union Defence Force Institutes (UDFI).

UDFI Cap badge

The first club opened in Nairobi on Christmas Day 1940. It was initially planned to open three Talbot Houses in towns, seven huts in camps, and several mobile canteens and cinemas. This latter solution was particularly suited to the conditions in East Africa. When the troops moved forward to Egypt there were twenty fixed establishments in Kenya, Somaliland, and Abyssinia along with fourteen mobile canteens, and nine mobiles.

UDFI mobile cinema

Although most things were badged UDFI (YMCA – Toc H) as a simple rule of thumb Toc H provided the Talbot Houses in towns close to camps, the YMCA provided huts within camps, and the LWH provided clubs for women of the army and airforce. The mobile units tended to be mostly, but by no means wholly, YMCA. The nature of the cooperation makes it very difficult to accurately ascertain just who provided which facilities.

Mersah Mutrah UDFI for convoys crossing the desert

Over 1941 and 1942 the UDF front spread through North Africa and further, stretching from Tunisia in the west to Aleppo in the east. By 1943 the UDFI had 58 fixed establishments and 54 mobile units.

There were some South African clubs that fell outside the remit of the UDFI and were simply started by local Toc H branches. The club at Potchefstroom was one of these and it laid claim to being the first Toc H War Services Club outside Europe. Given that it opened on February 9th 1940, this might well be a valid claim. In Salisbury, after the branch failed to secure premises for a club, Mr & Mrs Barbour of Baines Avenue offered their house to Toc H for the duration. It became a Talbot House.

Wynberg, South Africa

And on the North African and Middle Eastern front Toc H also served many of these areas independently. Their clubs in the Middle East, particularly in that area bordering the Mediterranean, were especially well known.

Non European Club in Alexandria

We have of course already mentioned Alexandria because of the Fleet Club but that prestigious place was not the only Toc H club in the city. A second club with 80 beds opened 18 Rue Samboul in December 1940. Alan Cowling arrived on New Year’s Day 1941 to run it but shortly afterwards set off with Dicky Dines to Cairo to open a Talbot House at 27 Shaira Solomon Pacha (aka Soliman Pasha Street). Like Plymouth it was part funded by British War Relief Society of America and opened in February 1941 with Cowling in charge.

The housekeeper in Cairo was Mrs Gould. Under her guidance the house was perfectly run, the dining room described as “a special joy with its snow-white table cloths, serviettes, flowers, and glistening cutlery”. In a letter home one RAMC Corporal wrote:

In Cairo there is the most elaborate Talbot House I have met yet. I spent three wonderful evenings there just before Christmas. The dinners were excellent, with real roses on the tables – it was so like a bit of England amidst all this turmoil

From Cairo Services’ Guide

One regular visitor was RAF Flight Sergeant, Clifford Harker, who set up the Music For All club in Cairo, an Egyptian organisation that promoted concerts. He founded a male voice choir, directed a choral society, conducted the Egyptian premiere of Messiah in the old Cairo Cathedral and toured the Palestine Symphony Orchestra around the region. He said: “I was one of the few people to be disappointed when the war ended.” Unsurprisingly, Harker had a very successful music career after the war.

In 1943 with Rommel halted and the frontline pushed further north, Cairo became a busy leave town. So much so that the canteen at Talbot House could only cope with the hostel residents. For the itinerant troops on New Year’s Day 1944 the local branch opened a new canteen, the Hole In The Wall, in the cellar. It was an immediate hit and quite legendary. Talbot House in Cairo closed in 1947 but it’s fittings and furnishings including the chapel were moved to the Canal Zone and a new club at Fanara (See below).

Meanwhile back in Alexandria, in Passage Cherif in 1941 a special club for young naval ratings opened. Called the Under 20 Club – as that was whom it catered for – it was reputed to have the best chef in Egypt. Despite this, its unofficial motto was “You don’t pay for the food, you pay for the service”. It was run by Padre David Booth in late 1941 but Howard and Mrs Dunnett were wardens between 1943 and 1945.

Also in Alexandria was the Springbok Club run by the UDFI. Cairo too had a UDFI club called Smuts House where the Friday night Toc H meeting was always well attended.

The Springbok Club in Alexandria

There was a club in Jerusalem from 1941 until it closed on the 10th April 1948. The World Chain of Light began there in 1942. Arthur Savante (See below) was Warden there for some time but moved to run the club at Fanara.


Outside Talbot House Jerusalem on VE Day

Another club in what was then Palestine opened in Tel Aviv in 1941. It was almost certainly the only Christian house loaned by a Jewish resident, run by an English padre with an American and two Polish refugees! A worker in the house at Tel a Viv reported:

 “There seems no end to the groups, circles, wings, call them what you will which have sprung up in the name of Toc H all over the Middle East. Wherever Toc H members find themselves they have kept alive a desire to meet together, bring in their pals and keep alive the fellowship.”

A news sheet, Tales from Talbot Houses in the Middle East 1939-? made at least one issue. I have no idea if copies survive.

In North Africa, west of the cluster of Talbot Houses in the Middle East, the best known club was probably Reading House in Algiers. So named because it was largely funded by the Services Club in Reading, England, it was set up by Jimmy Allen before he went off to Malta to run one of the clubs there. John Boyle was a Warden but the secretary was John Mallet, a very well-known Toc H man. Arthur Savante also had a spell as Warden before heading to India. Primarily serving RAF Maison Blanche, the chapel of Reading House acted as the camp chapel. When it closed the fixtures and fittings were transferred to Gradisca.

Reading House, Algiers

The entrance to Talbot House in Addis Ababa

The Eight Army also spread to Italy and Sicily. The first club on this front was in Bari which started after a visit by Tubby in August 1944. It set up a special Toc H Tanker Hospitality Service to provide for the personnel of oil tankers and other merchant vessels entering the port.

Later in the war, Toc H started to open clubs in the Far East, South East and East Asia. Not just Service Clubs but rest and leave camps. There were also many mobile units in this theatre. A leave camp on the beach at Elephant Point in Arakan was particularly appreciated by troops who could not go back to the UK on leave this far from home.  At one point it was also used for treating men with malaria. The club closed just before the monsoon season began in May 1944 but reopened when the dry season returned.

There was another camp at Chiringa in Arakan which opened in early 1944 and was initially just a canteen for West Indian troops with the British section of the club opening later. Captain Ronald Littlewood wardened this club.

Staff quarters Meiktela (Photo courtesy Andrew Wilson)

Heather Bell was a South African Toc H member who went to work in the Clubs in Burma. She gives this account of one place – Meiktila – that she worked:

“The club I ran in conjunction with the Warden was ideally situated on the tree-fringed shores of a lake which stretched for some three or four miles and afforded excellent boating and swimming. Legend has it that this artificial lake was built over 2,000 years ago by the grandfather of Gautama Buddha. The story maybe a myth but the lake is reality and an absolute godsend in a place where the temperature hovers between 1090F and 1120F! Into this lake flow the waters of Mount Popa which the Burmese believe is inhabited by gnats or evil spirits. They are superstitious people, and I remember once, while on a visit to the southern Shan State, coming upon a procession marching through the village to the accompaniment of gongs, bells and cymbals. Climbing out of the jeep, we joined the procession which finally assembled at the base of two huge wooden towers, some squatting on the ground, others standing around in small groups and all wearing the lovely Shan hats with their conical crowns and wide brims. As we watched, fascinated, a sudden shout arose from the crowd while a series of rockets went soaring through the air leaving a trail of grey smoke in their wake. It was fortunate that our visit should have coincided with that of the British Resident, the only European in the village apart from ourselves, who acted as interpreter and explained that as the chief and his family were ill, the rockets had been fired to ward off the evil spirits which were said to have assailed the village with sickness and misery.”

George Measures and Heather Bell, Welfare Officer (Photo courtesy Andrew Wilson)

One of the more notable Indian clubs was Deolali. Rupert Bliss (Formerly of Portsmouth and Woking) was its first Warden. He arrived expecting to find a ready-made club but instead found a plot of land. A well-equipped bungalow was eventually built with a hall at the centre along with the usual reading and writing room, a games room, and the canteen. The canteen was deliberately equipped to look like an English café rather than an army canteen. There was no need for accommodation given it was on a camp.

It must be noted at this point that there appeared to be some very un-Toc H like segregation in this arena, with separate camps for officers, other ranks, and British and Indian troops!

Ipoh, Malaya

It’s difficult to single out Wardens as so many made amazing contributions during the war years but Uncle Arthur deserves a special mention. Arthur Servante was considered a fixture of the 25th Division. From India he went with them to the Arakan Coast, where ran the rest camp at Elephant Point, then the Club at Maungdaw, both nearer the fighting line than any clubs had gone before. As the Division advanced through the Burma jungle, Servante became mobile taking his equipment with him across the Irawaddy and, at the end, in the Malay landing. The 25th Division is disbanded and Servante move to the Middle East becoming a Commissioner in Palestine post war. He was awarded an MBE for his work.

A camp in Burma

As mentioned earlier, an appeal film entitled When I Was In Burma narrated by Commander A.B. Campbell was shown in cinemas to raise funds. Toc H members with collecting tins stood outside the cinemas where it was shown.

We have mentioned mobile units a few times and I’ll be honest here – trying to accurately and comprehensively write the history of the mobile units would take more time and access to more detailed records than I have, assuming those records even still exist. This next section is little more than overview. The list accompanying this blog contains a number of the mobile units.

In short they were trucks and vans converted into mobile canteens that either operated within a certain area or travelled alongside troops on particular fronts. In the latter case they would normally be attached to a particular brigade or other military unit.

One of the mobile units designed for the Western Front

One of the first – possibly the very first – mobile Toc H canteen was in Alexandria and comprised of two three-ton trucks which carried supplies but also four marquees which could be erected to create a temporary Services Club.  They worked with the 7th Armoured Brigade in Egypt (aka The Desert Rats) and went with them when they transferred to Italy in April 1944.

Later, special units were designed to work on Western Front and the mobile canteen concept was carried through to Toc H’s work with BAOR which will be covered in another blog.

Miss Bourhill, the first woman driver to cross the channel after D-Day

Now, in this partially geographical, partially chronological look at the Toc H War Services Cubs, let us return to Continental Europe and the period following D-Day. As we learned earlier, Toc H left the Continent after the German Blitzkrieg of May 1940, those captured as POWs or forced to live under occupation in Poperinge excepted.  They returned a few weeks after the D-Day landings as the allied troops advanced through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and into Germany.

Talbot House back in service

Talbot House itself was liberated when the Polish troops rolled into Poperinge on 6th September 1944. As soon as was possible Toc H staff came out to check on the house and start to restore it. It was used briefly as billets but reopened as a club for troops on the 8th December. If you want to know more about this period then I highly recommend Jan Louagie’s book Talbot House in the Second World War, which was published earlier this year.

Outside the Leave Centre in Brussels

The first Toc H club to open in liberated Europe was actually the Leave Centre at 28-30 Boulevard Waterloo, Brussels which opened in September 1944. A three-storey building with well-proportioned rooms, it was actually three houses knocked into one and originally used to house Belgian Officers. During the occupation it was used by German NCOs. Toc H took it on and installed H Molland, formerly of Bicester and Wrotham, as Warden.

Next was the club at Mechelen (Malines as it was known in French at the time) in Belgium which was also the first to close when it was no longer needed in mid-1945. These were followed by Belgian clubs in Antwerp – an ornate building on a cobbled street, with a balcony and steep roof ; Uccle in Brussels – a former communal school on Avenue Houzeau with 300 beds where J Pett was installed as Warden; Roulers – the nearest to Poperinge where Shaun Herron was Warden; and De Hanne – which was described as a seaside convalescence home.


There was also a club in France at St Omer but with the allies advancing east, the need was greater in the interior, thus Germany was next. By June 1945 – one year after the D-Day landings – there were eight Toc H Clubs in Germany. In November 1945 Toc H War Services work was superseded by Toc H Services work which would continue for several decades. Toc H with the British Army of the Rhine is to be a separate blog, probably very early next year so let us just look briefly at those first clubs.

Spandau (Berlin)

The first Toc H Club in occupied Germany opened at Suchteln in the spring of 1945. Formerly a tavern called the Krefelderhof on Hindenburgstrasse, Harry Ashton was installed as Warden. Interestingly a special token was created to spend in the Club, something that would be continued later. It didn’t last very long – the army was advancing rapidly – and was soon moved to Bad Salzuflen.  

Tokens were introduced for the troops

A second club opened at Nienburg near Hanover but by July 1945 had moved to Hanover itself. Gottingen opened mid-1945. The others were at Fallingbostel, Herne, Lubeck, Soest, and Berlin (Spandau)


Finally, we’ll take a brief look at a few clubs that opened either at the very tail-end of the war or during the post war period. The most interesting of these was Kowloon – in Hong Kong which was of course still British, but on the Chinese mainland. Opening on the 19th October 1945, the building they planned to use had been badly damaged by Japanese troops. When sorting through the rubble the Services Team found a piece of stone with a Toc H lamp on it. It turned out to be part of memorial carved in honour of Toc H member Terence Ellacott, a civil engineer responsible for getting a road built to the local orphanage the local branch supported. Hong Kong fell before it could be completed and Ellacott sadly died. The Services Team were able to finish constructing a memorial to him.

In 1947, under the wardenship of Jim and Jeanne Stevens, moved from Kowloon to a house at 50 McDonnell Road on the island itself. This Talbot House was finally handed over for the branch to run in 1950 and it closed in 1954.

In Egypt, British troops were withdrawn from the cities and garrisoned around the Suez Canal. The UK was desperately trying to protect its economic interests and were faced with constant attacks from nationalists. It was, by all accounts, a very unpopular posting. A club opened at Fayid in March 1947 and as we saw above, the Cairo club moved to Fanara. Arthur Savante became Warden but the real prime mover in this area was Frank Coleman Cross. The club closed in 1954 so was gone before the Suez crisis really broke out in 1956. There was also a canteen at Adabiya near the southern end of the canal.

Frank Coleman Cross

There was a Talbot House in Nicosia, Cyprus.

And we are almost at the end of our journey now. The majority of UK clubs were closed by late 1945 although some kept going into 1946 and Chichester pushed on until 1949. Many staff from the UK clubs were released to serve at clubs in Germany or other theatres where troops were still active. That part of Toc H’s work was done and now they had a role to play in rebuilding the country.

Earlier we mentioned a revival of the Services Club tradition at Bedford, and there is one final club that needs to be listed. At Wendover in Buckinghamshire Toc H built and opened a special club to primarily serve the men of nearby RAF Halton. Its need was identified and an appeal was launched in 1946. The Foundation Stone was laid in 1947 by Lord Cottesloe and the completed club was opened on Saturday the 19th June 1948 by Lord Tedder Marshall of the RAF. Decorative gardens were added in 1950 and opened with a Garden Party on the 22nd June. The first Wardens were Cecil and Nancy Starbuck who had been running a Club in Palestine. The canteen was adopted by Reading Services Club who provided equipment.

Apart from the fact it was a rare post-war Services Club, it would later become significant to the movement. The Club closed on 31st May 1959 and was leased out as offices but in the early 1970s when Toc H sold their headquarters on Tower Hill the Wendover building became first the Administrative HQ and then the main headquarters of the entire Movement. It remained as such until Toc H needed to downsize at the beginning of the 21st century.

Men from the Wendover Club

So that’s pretty much the story of the Toc H War Services Clubs. This link opens a PDF document containing a list of all the clubs I could identify with a few details about them. It is not comprehensive and as always I welcome any additions, corrections, or amplifications.

Register of Toc H Service Clubs compiled by Steve Smith Sept 2022


Talbot House in the Second World War by Jan Louagie MBE (Talbot House)

War Record of Union Defence Forces Institute 1936-1946 by T.R. Ponsford

Bishop Pat Leonard DSO – A Memoir by Philip Leonard Johnson (This privately published memoir was made available online here by Moonbrand Publications with the kind permission of Philip Leonard Johnson.

The Toc H Journal

With the 12th Army in Burma by Heather Bell


Thanks are particularly due to Jan Louagie, Mark Eccleston and the Cadbury Research Library, and to Andrew Wilson

Monsieur le Majeur – the story of Paul Slessor

By Steve Smith

Out of everything he did in his life, Paul Slessor will always be remembered for the work he put it in to ensure Talbot House became a jewel in Toc H’s crown. When Lord Wakefield agreed to fund its purchase in 1929, Slessor was the man who went out to Belgium to carry out the negotiations. He was an inaugural member of the Talbot House Association and was President at the time of his death.  He helped get the house to its initial readiness for a new wave of pilgrims when it officially opened in 1931 and was responsible for the washhouse that bears his name in the gardens. Slessor was one of the first out after Poperinge was liberated in 1944 to check, not just on the House, but also on his Belgian friends.  And he turned the largest room in the house, the garden that he doted on, into the work of art it is today.

Slessor in his beloved garden at Talbot House (Photo: Talbot House archives)

Paul Slessor was actually born Paul Schloesser, son of the German born Carl Schloesser and his wife Marian Salomans; both were Jewish. Carl was generally known as Adolph Schloesser, probably to avoid confusion with the artist Carl Schloesser. An accomplished musician in his native Germany, Adolph’s own father Louis was a talented violinist and composer and a friend of Beethoven and Liszt. Schloesser came to England in 1853 and settled here as a Professor of Music, eventually becoming a Naturalised British Citizen when he married in 1960. He taught piano at the Royal Academy for 22 years.

Our Slessor was born on the 6th June 1871 whilst the family were living at Devonshire Terrace by Hyde Park. They were still there in 1881 but by 1888 had moved to Maida Vale on the large, leafy Sutherland Avenue half a mile south west of Lord’s Cricket Ground. By now, the nineteen-year-old Slessor was a Stock Exchange clerk. The family later moved to the Paddocks at Bookham in Surrey. Slessor inherited some of his father’s musical prowess and was a reasonably accomplished violinist.

They were not a particularly conservative middle-class family though. In 1888 Slessor’s mother was a member of The Women’s Protective and Provident League, a Friendly Society who sought to unionise women and ensure that women in the workforce had a fund on which they could draw if they were unable to work.

Her son meanwhile, was finding his own feet in the Stock Exchange and in his spare time had joined that great City of London volunteer force, the London Rifle Brigade, as a cadet. By 1892, aged 21, Slessor (still Schloesser at this point) was a Private in the brigade but was also showing off his creative talents as he acted in a farce the regiment put on at a Ladies’ Concert. He would also play violin at various musical events.

Recruitment poster for the London Rifle Brigade

In July 1894 he qualified as a trainer in Army Signalling and – showing the first signs of a lifetime propensity for administrative roles – became secretary of the brigade’s music society.

Meanwhile in his day job, clerking at the Stock Exchange had clearly given him a taste and in 1895 he was admitted into the Exchange as a stockbroker. So now the boy clerk was a fully-fledged broker and then on the 14th December 1898 the boy soldier was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant (Supernumerary) and posted to Q Company. Signalling remained his strong point and he continued to lead training classes and drills. The following March he was appointed Signalling Instructor to the entire Regiment.

In 1900 he made full Lieutenant and the following year was made up to temporary Captain whilst seconded to the East London Brigade Signalling Company (which comprised various other regiments). When this secondment concluded in the spring of 1903 he reverted to Lieutenant but on the 4th July 1903 he resigned his commission though he remained close to the regiment and continued to attend annual dinners.

Much had changed in his life over those last few years. In particular in 1899, on the 14th June, Slessor married Eveline Birnbaum at the West London Synagogue in Upper Berkeley Street near Marble Arch. Miss Birnbaum was the daughter of Bernard Birnbaum of Devonshire Place. Robert Kennerly Rumford, a well-known Baritone singer (married to very famous Contralto Clara Butt), was the best man. The married couple honeymooned in Switzerland.

Paul and Eveline would go on to have three sons: Evelyn Henry Paul Slessor born 1902; Hugh Andrew Paul Slessor born 1906; and Phillip Bernard Paul Slessor born 1910.

A further change had come the following year when Slessor entered into a business partnership with Charles Englebert, a Swiss Jew, and they became hugely successful and wealthy stockbrokers with premises at 11 Copthall Court in the heart of the City and stand no.14 in the Stock Exchange.

In 1901 Slessor and his family were living on Gloucester Terrace, Paddington but by 1906 they had moved out of town to the stockbroker belt of Kent and were living at Fieldhead, a large house in the private Leafy Lane, Keston. Evelyn must have been away at school but the two youngest boys lived with their parents and no less than five domestics as well as a coachman (Chauffeur) in George Henry Kimble. Slessor was clearly a successful man.

Fieldhead at Keston today

On the 4th May 1909 Slessor applied, successfully, to become a Freeman of the City of London when he joined the Livery of Musicians. Though a City businessman in his own right, his admission to this particular Guild was probably through the route of Patrimony, the fact that his father was a member of the Guild. He was admitted at a dinner at Manor House along with his business partner Charles Englebert.

Slessor’s application to become a Freeman

At the time of his admission he was still using the surname Schloesser but the following year, when their third and final son was born, his name was listed on the registration as Slessor. That birth was something of an anniversary present to Slessor’s parents who celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1910.

Additionally, in May 1912, Slessor was initiated into the United Grand Lodge of England (though he resigned in March 1915). So in these years when war was not quite on the horizon Slessor and his family were living a stable and satisfactory life but in 1913 all this changed in the most dramatic fashion. The year didn’t start particularly well when in January Slessor’s brother Frank died suddenly of pneumonia. Frank, who made a fortune on the Kimberley diamond rush and lost it all during the South African wars, was well known about town and wrote books and articles about cookery. However, a greater disaster would befall the Slessors in the early summer.

On the 6th June 1913 – which happened to be Slessor’s 42nd birthday – his business partner Charles Englebert, in full evening dress, left his home in Meopham Park, Hildenborough, Kent to drive some 3 or 4 miles to Tonbridge station to pick up a friend over from Germany. He never arrived. The friend, having waited some time, eventually made his own way to Englebert’s home. The police were notified and all night Englebert’s wife, three young children, and the friend fretted. Next morning when it was light a search began.  A damaged fence and buttress was soon discovered at Ensfield bridge over the River Medway at Leigh, just outside Tonbridge. Englebert was found still in his car at the bottom of the river. The inquest would conclude that Englebert was near-sighted, an inexperienced driver and the rain that evening would have contributed to him running off the road. A verdict of accidental death was returned.

Charles Englebert’s tragic death as reported by the Daily Mirror

On the Monday afterwards, Slessor, on his own as his partner was deceased, faced the ignominy of being ‘hammered out’ of the Stock Exchange. Hammering is process by which a member of the London Stock Exchange who is unable to meet his liabilities is publicly declared a defaulter. It is so called from the fact that before the announcement is made, a hammer is used to attract the attention of the members present. 

There was speculation that the firm hammered themselves for self-protection in the light of one partner’s death but more likely it was a coincidence. The firm were probably in trouble due to the recent fall in prices. Regardless of how it came about this must have been a dreadful time for Slessor and, to make matters worse, he lost his father on the 10th November 1913.

He had little time though to rebuild his life because the following year tension was building around the world. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 put a spark to an already volatile situation and on the 28th July 1914 the First World War officially began. Slessor, now 43, re-joined his old unit being commissioned on the 10th August 1914 (Gazetted 22 Sep 1914). He joined the First Battalion of what was now renamed the 5th City of London Battalion, London Regiment though was still more commonly known as the London Rifle Brigade.

The first Battalion assembled at Crowburgh and embarked for France on 4th November disembarking at Le Havre and joining the British Expeditionary Force the following day. Slessor was one of eight lieutenants with the battalion.

One of the riflemen in Slessor’s Brigade was Henry Williamson, the writer. I have previously published extracts from one of his books where he talks about visiting Poperinge after the war. On the 19th October 1914 Williamson wrote a letter home which included the following insinuated slur:

We have a German officer as an officer in the LRB: naturalized it is true: but nevertheless a German. Incidentally he spends two months every year in the Fatherland I wonder?

The office in question was of course Slessor. Interestingly, Williamson refrains from making any remarks about Slessor being Jewish, which given Williamson’s later support for Oswald Mosely and the British Union of Fascists, suggest only that he held his tongue on the matter.

Slessor’s service on the front line was short-lived and he left the BEF on the 22nd December 1914 being seconded to the General Staff. Most likely his fluency in several languages and his proven adeptness at administration and business matters ear-marked him for such a role. One source claims that he worked as an Intelligence officer but officially he was just listed as a Staff officer. Given this military career it was unlikely he knew the Old House during the war.

On the 9th Aug 1915 he was promoted to temporary Captain and was to remain seconded to headquarters’ staff. And on the 1st June 1916 the temporary promotion was made full though sadly this moment was doubtless marred by the death of his mother just three days earlier.

He was made a Brevet Major in December 1918 and then on the 20th September 1919 General Staff Officer 3rd Brevet Major P A Slessor of the 5th London Rifles relinquished his temporary appointment. However, his military service was not over. From the 20th January 1920  – around the time the Treaty of Versailles came into force – until the summer of 1922 Slessor was on a Special Appointment in unoccupied Germany (Dusseldorf). This included him making frequent visits to occupied Germany. In July 1922, shortly after his return home, he wrote to the Times endorsing the Lord Chancellor’s position that it was time to stop being moralists and to become business men and economists. Slessor clearly felt that an ongoing repression of Germany was detrimental to long-term peace and that new relationships had to be built.

And so, free of the army but using the title of Major, Slessor settled into early retirement. Though he often gave his address as 40 Dover Street, Piccadilly this was the address of the Arts Club and hotel that he used as his London pied-a-terre . The family were by now living at Oakwood in Keston. This was still a very nice property if not quite so desirable as Fieldhead so his business failure had not reduced the family to poverty.

Slessor settled down to rural village life. In 1924 he was the secretary of the Scenery Preservation Society, a national campaign with local groups. It was somewhat superseded by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England which was formed in 1926. However it was in this capacity that on the 9th October 1924 Slessor gave a talk at the United Services Hall to the Keston Toc H group. Three months later, on the 1st January 1925, he was elected into Toc H. In late 1926 he was appointed branch secretary and he later became Honorary District Secretary of Bromley District.

The boys from Neukoelln school visiting London

His fluency in French and German proved useful for Toc H and in March 1928 he assisted Barclay Baron when the Quakers asked for Toc H’s assistance in billeting a party of German boys visiting London. Baron, in a rare rash moment, offered to take over the entire programme of the students from the Kaiser Friedrich Real gymnasium from the working class Neukoelln district of Hamburg. This was a good example of Toc H trying to build bridges with Germany, a passion that Baron and Slessor both shared and doubtless a good reason why they became firm friends.

In 1929 Peter Monie recognised Slessor’s worth and appointed him to the Toc H staff team in a paid role. In February he want on a mission to Malta and later in the year he went to Paris to talk to English men living there about establishing a branch.

Slessor in Malta (On right leaning against the wall)

He continued to be involved in village life and was chairman of the Keston Village Hall Fund organising – with the help of local Toc H members – a huge fete in June 1929 to raise funds to complete the hall. The branch also began to meet there.

Slessor (and Baron) tending the green at a staff conference

He was also appointed Pilgrimage secretary and organised trips of Toc H men to the battlefields of Flanders. This was important to Slessor and he felt that memories of the war needed to be preserved. He even wrote to the Times asking that pillboxes be saved from demolition. It was during a pilgrimage in 1927 when he, Tubby and the rest of the group came across the St Eloi Crater, a remnant of the mines exploded along Messines Ridge in June 1917. The crater was filled with water and reflected the sunset inspiring Tubby to write to The Times himself urging its preservation. Lord Wakefield agreed to buy it and since Slessor spoke fluent French it was he who was sent to make negotiations for its purchase.

The Imperial War Graves Commission advised against St Eloi and instead Lone Tree Crater (now known to us as the Pool of Peace) was bought.  When Slessor reported his success to Wakefield, Wakefield was pleased and asked if there was more he could do. Slessor, inspired, suggested buying Talbot House. Tubby says that Slessor handed Lord Wakefield a copy of the recently published Plain Tales from Flanders which mentioned that Talbot House was up for sale and asked if any British friend would care to endow it to Toc H and to the nation as a whole. Lord Wakefield immediately agreed to take up the challenge and Slessor was once again despatched to Belgium to commence negotiations. Slessor signed deeds of sale and for a short time Talbot House was owned by Slessor on behalf of Lord Wakefield then in 1930 Le Association de Talbot House de Poperinghe (Later the Talbot House Association) was formed to take ownership with Slessor as Chairman (Later President) and the Burgomasters of Ypres and Poperinghe on the committee which had to be two thirds Belgian. Along with the purchase price, Wakefield had included an endowment of £10,000 for the upkeep of the House and from the interest on this Slessor was allowed to draw a small salary.

At the same time as this appointment, Slessor was also appointed Secretary of Old House Committee for Toc H UK. He and the committee would have responsibility for all repairs and alterations to house and garden.  They first focussed on urgent repairs to the building but in 1931 Slessor turned his hands to the garden. He claimed to have inherited creativity from his father and a love of nature from his mother, so the garden of Talbot House became his pride and joy.  He tells the story in Gardens of Flanders, a Journal supplement from July 1935. As Overseas Secretary he suggested each Dominion send seeds from their countries. This happened and they were sent to Royal Horticultural Society & Kew to be cultivated. I wonder which made it to the garden and have survived?

Paul did much to get it fit for its first official function – when Tubby, Neville and 30 padres attended a conference that began 20 Apr 1930 – though it was not yet officially open. The last job he did – with Pettifer’s help – before Tubby and company arrived was unpack and arrange to chapel furnishings which, having been held in different places in the UK since the war were now returned to their rightful place in the Upper Room.

As part of making the House fit for a new wave of pilgrims, and at the suggestion of the IWGC, Slessor had a bathhouse built in the garden, paid for largely from his own pocket. The project involved the digging of 300 feet deep artesian well to supply water. The finished building that allowed visitors to carry out their ablutions before bathrooms were installed in the House remains to this day. It bears the name the Slessorium in honour of the man who had it installed and is used for exhibitions and events.

An early photograph of the Slessorium

What most people will notice about the building is its unusual proportions; it is somewhat larger than you might expect. The story goes that the plans were drawn up in England using feet and inches and interpreted by the Belgian builders as metres. The issue was apparently not noticed until some unusually large bore plumbing was requested. The normally reliable Barclay Baron tells this story and and I always assumed there was at least some truth in it. However, extensive research by Jan Louagie at Talbot House reveals a different story. The Slessorium was designed by a Belgian architect – Gabriel Gits – and built by Belgian contractors entirely in metric measurements. Slessor asked Alec Smithers, a Foundation member and architect for advice and he came up with some alternate ideas which he sketched out. He said that though the building in his sketch might look bigger than Gits’ original, he had in fact kept the same measurements. In the end though the building turned out bigger than Slessor had anticipated which may have caused the story of mismatched measurements to arise.

Paul Slessor at Talbot House

So Talbot House and Poperinge – where he was known as Monsieur le Majeur – were central to Slessor during the 1930s but were not his only roles in Toc H. He was appointed Special Assistant to the Administrator and then General Secretary. In November 1930 he was back in Paris talking to the fledgling branch and the following month was one of the party at Talbot House – still not yet officially open – to start the 1930 World Chain of Light (See here for my blog on that trip which Slessor largely organised)  

The 1930 World Chain of Light (Slessor third from right)

In January 1931 Slessor along with Barclay Baron introduced the concept of school visits to Talbot House, something that makes up much of the House’s work to this day. The first training trips for leaders were arranged for the 12th-15th April, days after the House opened, and the trips themselves began soon afterwards. He also represented Toc H on The Last Post Association.

Photo: Talbot House Archives

And he was of course at the official opening of the House though he played a surprisingly low-key role in the event; an event that might not have happened without his diligence, energy, and passion.

The official opening of Talbot House at Easter 1931. Slessor in the extreme front left corner

The Old House aside, Slessor regularly gave talks to branches and to external organisations and, outside of Toc H, was still involved in village life. In October 1931 he was elected Chairman of new Management Committee for Keston Village Hall, being just one example.

A 1932 Poperinge trip (Slessor in the centre of the seated row)

Early in 1932 became Secretary of the Overseas Office and in the summer set up a conference at Talbot House to encourage more continental branches of Toc H. He then visited Amsterdam where a group was being established and also Rotterdam, Charleroi and Antwerp. Later that same year went to Naples to meet first Italian group of Toc H also called in on Gibraltar and Malta on same trip.

Early in 1934 Slessor left the Overseas Office and became Assistant Schools Secretary (to G K Tattershall) but remained as Overseas Correspondent. He also acted as Secretary to the Lone Units Committee. Late in 1937, along with Dallas Ralph, he became Secretary for the Services and helped form the initial Toc H reaction to how they could carry out wartime service when conflict looked inevitable.

HQ staff when Slessor (centre) was Assistant Schools Secretary

In March 1939 Slessor introduced Baron Friedrich Von Der Ropp from Grunhelde, Germany to Toc H. A geologist and mining engineer in South Africa, Ropp was also connected to the school in Berlin which Slessor and Baron worked with in the 1920s and also the German Christian Stormtroopers of whom Von Der Ropp was their leader. A founder of the Anglo German Brotherhood, he spoke at a Toc H guest night in Tunbridge Wells discussing Christianity in Germany.  Slessor said Von Der Ropp had been one of his greatest friends for many years.

On 11th June 1939 Slessor welcome the Fraternelle du 13th Belgian Field Artillery (Old Comrades Association) to Talbot House and later joined them in Ypres for a dinner. It was a special meeting requested by the regiment who were placed at the disposal of the Fifth Army in 1915 by King Albert and fought alongside the British in Flanders.

In the summer of 1939 Slessor took a small group of men to Talbot House to be trained in the post of Honorary Warden, one of whom was Arthur Denver. Denver was at the House in late August 1939 when, with war looming fast, Slessor recalled him to London.

At the time of the 1939 register Paul and Eveline are living at Dutch Cottage in Linden Road, Leatherhead with Paul’s sister Alice. He would shortly move to Swindon with some of the Toc H headquarters staff who relocated to Mark XVI (Redville) but when the expected bombing of London didn’t take place he returned to the main headquarters at Francis Street, Westminster.

Of course, by the spring of 1940 the phoney war was coming to an end and things were getting decidedly heated especially on the continent. In April 1940, a few weeks before the German invasion, Slessor visited Talbot House and ordered that the Carpenter’s bench and other items be stored in the cellar. When it was later thought the House had been destroyed, they hoped that they might later be dug from under the rubble. What they didn’t know for some time was that everything had actually been spirited away by the citizens of Poperinge to be returned safely after liberation.

In Feb 1940 the Central Executive appointed John Hawkey as Bursar – a post not previously in existence. His responsibility was to raise fund for the ‘war chest’, money to carry out special war service. Slessor  – unable to travel to his beloved House and garden – was soon appointed his assistant and this became his main wartime role as he stepped aside from Secretary for the Services

Slessor fundraising letter

War brought personal tragedy to the Slessors. Their eldest son Evelyn had enjoyed a tremendous career in the Royal Navy since 1926 as a naval pilot and in 1940 was a Lieutenant-Commander with the air staff on board the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious. In June 1940 she was taking part in the evacuation of Norway whilst the bigger operation at Dunkirk was also underway. For reasons that are still not totally clear, the Glorious and her two-destroyer escort were separated from the rest of the convoy and picked off by German submarines. Hundreds lost their lives that day including Evelyn Slessor and the incident caused great controversy as the ship should not have been separated from the convoy and her captain was known to be something of a maverick. Evelyn died just two days after his father’s 69th birthday.

Evelyn Slessor RN

Later in the war Slessor relocated to Cheltenham for a time to try and set up a new Mark though this never happened.

And then Poperinge was liberated and Talbot House was returned to the Movement. In November 1944 Slessor and Barkis travelled out to join Charles Young in the clean-up operation. They remained there for 10 days and were joined by Tubby and others to start the World Chain of Light on the 11th December. They returned again on the 16th December for a further short spell.

Slessor (centre) outside Talbot House after liberation

1944 also saw a member of the Slessor family start what would become another institution. On New Year’s Day 1944, their youngest son Philip, a BBC presenter, opened the broadcasting – from Algiers – of the British Forces Broadcasting Service. He was one of three BBC staff involved in its formation. BFBS of course became a great favourite with forces families and civilians alike; Family Favourites filled many a home with music each and every Sunday.

Immediately after the war Slessor continued as Secretary of the Old House Committee and Assistant Bursar of Toc H. He retired from the staff in April 1947 but remained President of the Talbot House Association and Secretary of the Old House Committee.

Phillip took part in the 1948 festival when he announced some variety acts (including the well-known radio personality Sam Costa) during the celebrations.

Philip Slessor

In March 1949 Slessor and his wife were delighted when their middle son Hugh – who had long been established in New Zealand – came home to see his parents. On the 14th of June they celebrated their Golden Wedding and life was good. But then, quite suddenly on the 15th September 1949, whilst living at their home at Cliffway Cottage, Rottingdean, Paul Slessor died. At the time of his death he was planning and due to travel on another pilgrimage to the House.

The trip took place as planned on the first weekend of October 1949 and its first act was a Service of Holy Communion in the chapel to commemorate Slessor. A few years later a further commemoration took place at the House when on September 24th 1955 a brass memorial plaque was unveiled in the entrance hall. There was an event at the Town Hall afterwards. Philip Slessor spoke at it in perfect Flemish.

I want to close this biography by talking a bit more about Slessor’s incredible family. We have already seen how his father and grandfather were well-known in the musical world but Slessor had a brother Robert, who emigrated to Australia as a mining engineer. Robert’s son Kenneth Slessor became one of Australia’s best known poets as well as a journalist and war correspondent during World War II.

Kenneth Slessor

Slessor also had two sisters, neither of whom (Alice and Maud) married. Maud wrote occasionally for the Sussex County magazine and had several books of poetry published and also painted at her Rottingdean studio.

Slessor’s widow Eveline was herself a professional producer for a number of amateur dramatic companies. In 1957 her production of Hamlet, conceived for a group in Chelsea where she was then living, was even scheduled to be performed in Poperinge for Toc H.

Perhaps the most incredible story though is that of Slessor’s grandson Tim (Evelyn’s son). In 1955 he was one of six young men set out to make history by being the first to drive 19,000 miles overland from London to Singapore. After six months they finally made it, and a young BBC producer, David Attenborough, commissioned a TV series to share their incredible adventure.

Tim Slessor with one of the original Landrovers used in 1955 and again in 2019

Then in 2019, an 87 year-old Tim Slessor decided to do it all again and assembled a new team. At the eleventh hour Tim decided not to go himself but his team of youngsters, including his own grandson (Paul Slessor’s great-great grandson) did it again. Tim is still active today aged 91 and I was delighted to make contact with him during the research of this blog.

The Slessor family, it seems, were blessed with an enviable gene for success.


Thanks to Jan Louagie for his assistance with this blog

The Journal online

By Steve Smith

This short blog is to accompany the launch of a special project I have been working on for some while. What I have unveiled today is the online availability of decades of The Journal to assist fellow researchers and all those with an interest in Toc H. This blog will explain the basic story of the Journal and other Toc H magazines but is by no means an in-depth study.

Firstly though, why did the project come about. I have collected together a large set of Journal volumes over many years, as well as its successor Point 3. I constantly refer to these during the course of my research but until a couple of years ago this meant leafing through them page by page each time I had a new topic to research. So in March 2021 I bit the bullet and treated myself to a book scanner. I then began the lengthy task of scanning all the Journals I possessed. Subsequent to the scanning the magazines are processed by OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software which converts the scanned image into searchable text (With some errors inevitably). Once they are scanned and OCRd in this way, it is much easier to search them for subject matter. Although the scanning process is slow and laborious, the time saved when researching is massive and there is much less chance of me missing anything.

Originally I intended only to use the scanned volumes for my own research. However, I thought it might encourage others to work on Toc H research and historical projects if they were more widely available. Since I didn’t own the copyright to these volumes, releasing them ‘in the wild’ was not my initial intention but I spoke to Mark Eccleston – the archivist at the Cadbury Centre at Birmingham University where the Toc H archive resides – and we made copies available internally at the centre.

Then a few weeks ago I approached Paul Hackwood, CEO of Toc H, and put forward a proposal which the trustees of Toc H approved last month.  So now with their kind consent I have been able to make the project – as far as it goes to date – available via the Internet Archive. The volumes are freely available at the Internet Archive (See below for link) in a variety of formats for people to use and even download. They are published under the terms of a Creative Commons licence (CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0). This allows people to view and share material but not to modify it or use it for commercial gain. Copyright remains with Toc H. See here for details

So far I have scanned The Journal from its first issue in June 1922 until the end of 1959. The series is complete from 1922-41 inclusive then I am missing some volumes after that but it’s about 80% complete after 1941. I will be continuing to scan The Journal, Point 3 and a few other related items later in the year and will upload them as I go.

You may find errors – particularly skewed pages – and I will be delighted to know about them as it is relatively straight-forward to rescan and upload corrected volumes.

The material is brought together in what the Internet Archive terms a Collection and if you want to just dive in and start browsing then just use this link.

The Toc H Collection at the Internet Archive

If you want to search the Collection for something specific then you should see a Search box to the left of the screen. Make sure the radio button is set to Text as the default setting (Metadata) only searches the titles.

Make sure you set the radio button to Text contents to search the content of the magazines

So what of the magazines themselves. The first newsletter was a typed newssheet duplicated on a Gestetner machine (Known to all as Lady Gestetner). There were 11 issues beginning in May 1921 with the final copy being May 1922. They ranged from 4-8 quarto pages in length. Most of the work was done by William Musters, the Toc H Registrar but ‘Siddy’ Hoare also edited it for a bit. It was simply known as the Toc H News sheet. I’ll be posting these online later this year.

It was replaced by the professionally printed The Journal in June 1922. This was edited by Lionel Bradgate until April 1924 when Barclay Baron took over. He held the reins until March 1954 when Ches (Frederick Chesworth) took over. As well as monthly magazines (In the early years August was omitted as it was a ‘holiday’ month) The Journal was often augmented by various supplements and every April with the annual report. The magazine was not issued automatically to members but they were asked to subscribe to copies. Usually branches would take a handful of copies which would be passed around its members. Often copies were bound together into annual books and these have survived much more than individual copies.

In the late sixties, to mark the forthcoming merging of the men’s and women’s movements, both their respective magazines (The Journal and The Log) were relaunched as a single title, Point 3. This was edited by many different people over the years but most notably perhaps by Ken Prideaux-Brune.

In the noughties a regional magazine, In Touch, was made national to replace Point 3 and this has been superseded today by Toc H News.

A list of international magazines, regional magazines, branch offerings, staff mags and specialist publications would be too much for this quick blog – perhaps one day I will attempt to capture them.

Barclay Baron emerging from The Journal

Tower Hill People

By Steve Smith

This blog is the final part of the recently published blog telling the story of Toc H on Tower Hill. It complements it by looking at the biographies of a few of the major Toc H characters – and All Hallows since the two are virtually inseparable at times – who played a part in life on the Hill.

It is inspired by, and shares its name with, a small booklet Alison Macfie produced in 1955. Her chosen characters included the Peanut Lady, Matron (Emily Jane Ambler), the lady in mauve (‘Suggie’), and the General (Arthur Pettifer). The last named was to be the only time her booklet and this blog crossed paths though in the end I decided Pettifer required his own blog and that a was published here a few weeks ago.

Macfie’s inclusion of the Peanut Lady is an important reminder of who the real Tower Hill People were. By all accounts this lady was homeless and lived on the same patch on Tower Hill for many years. She kept a tray of peanuts beside so she looked like a vendor and not a vagrant but by night she slept on the Hill. Her pitch could be seen from New June and her well-being was often recorded in the hostel log book by ladies of the LWH who watched over her and took her food. They sometimes helped find her lodgings but she never stayed, preferring to be under the stars. She was, says Macfie, swept away by the war, leaving only a memory behind.

The Peanut Lady and others like her, whose memories haunt the Hill, are some of the real Tower Hill People but their histories and biographies are lost to us. I should be writing about the policemen who Tubby and George Moore nearly got sacked by offering him a warm drink when he was supposed to be on duty; I should be telling you more about the Billingsgate Porters who Tubby stopped to talk to every day; the soap box orators; the traders and pavement photographers; escapologists and other entertainers; even the horses who Tubby went out to find with handfuls of sugar every morning have their story to tell. Instead I am focussing on those people who, through All Hallows, Toc H, the Tower Hill Improvement Trust, or all three, played a key role in how the Hill developed during the years we knew it. And, of course, it is not everyone, just a select few who stood out when I was writing the original blog. Some are missing because I forgot them briefly, some because I could find out little about them. Others, like the aforementioned Pettifer are missing from this blog by virtue of the fact they have already had their stories told in their own posts. These are George Moore, Lancelot Prideaux-Brune, and Geoffrey Batchelar all of whom were part of life on Tower Hill in one way or another. Also absent are Peter East, who is to get his own tribute next year, and Lord Wakefield, who whilst not yet scheduled into my programme is most deserving of his own blog, which will happen in due course.

Who then are we featuring? Well, let me begin with Sir Ion Hamilton Benn for no other reason than he is first alphabetically by surname in my little list.

Sir Ion Hamilton Benn

Ion Hamilton Benn came to my attention several years ago when I first laid eyes on Great Yarmouth branch’s Lamp of Maintenance, The Drifter Lamp. Dedicated in memory of the men of the Drifter Patrol who gave their lives for their country in the Great War, the Lamp was donated by Colonel Ion Hamilton Benn. A little research back then – some twenty years ago – showed me he had a Baronetcy for Rollesby, just outside Yarmouth, and his family seat in the hall in the adjoining Ormesby. I thought little more of it until my Toc H history research began in earnest and his name cropped up time and time again.

So just who was Ion Hamilton Benn? Born on the 31st March 1863. the son of an Irish pastor, Benn grew up on an island on the River Lee, Cork. Hamilton was his mother’s maiden name. Educated at Merchant Taylor’s, he later joined Price and Pierce Ltd, a City timber firm for whom he became a director and later chairman. On 3rd February 1885, not quite 21, he married Frances Charlotte Bridges, with whom he would have two children, Marion and Ion.

Commander Ion Hamilton Benn 1916

A businessman with a keen eye for finances, he turned to politics around 1900, when he was elected to Greenwich Borough Council and served as mayor from 1901 to 1902. He was a Municipal Reform Party member of London County Council representing Greenwich from 1907 to 1910 and from 1910 was MP for the borough. He had a social conscience too and was Treasurer for the Miller General Hospital for South East London.

A keen yachtsman, Benn served with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve for many years. Though he was in his fifties when the Great War broke out he still saw active service and for three years he was the commander of a flotilla of motor launches in the Dover Patrol, taking part in the Zeebrugge Raid and the first and second Ostend Raids. This of course, explains the dedication the Yarmouth Lamp. His war record was an illustrious one being mentioned in despatches three times, appointed a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order, a Companion of the Order of the Bath (Military Division), and awarded the Croix de Guerre by France.

Benn was created a baronet in the June 1920 Birthday Honours for his political services and knighted in 1925. He stood down as Greenwich MP at the November 1922 general election to take up office with the Port of London Authority of which he was a founder member. His office was in their brand new headquarters on Trinity Square thus Benn and Tubby took up residence on Tower Hill at almost exactly the same time.

Benn painted by Francis Whitmore courtesy Thurrock Museum

Benn was introduced to Toc H by Herbert Fleming that same year and his wife also joined the League of Women Helpers. Benn travelled a lot and always tried to incorporate Toc H visits into his itinerary but when in London he took committee roles too. He was a member of the Central Executive from 1925-29 and was on the Finance Committee. When he stood down from this post he was appointed a Vice President and then became a President in 1958. He also represented Toc H on the executive committee of the National Playing Fields Association from its inaugural meeting at the Royal Albert Hall in July 1925. Benn was the first Honorary Treasurer of the Tower Hill Improvement Trust and later became its Chairman. Additionally he was a churchwarden at All Hallows from 1929 until his death and is commemorated  with a stained glass window.

Perhaps inspired by his work with the Tower Hill Improvement Trust, Benn returned to politics and was once again a member of the London County Council from 1937 to 1946. He served on the Thames Conservancy Board from 1937 to 1946. His first wife died on St George’s Day 1948 after more than sixty years of marriage. He married Katharine Winifred Grier of Montreal, Canada in 1950, when he was aged 87. In 1959 Tubby credited Benn (along with Olaf Hambro and Ian Hooper) as being the three men who most enabled his life-long dream of acquiring a headquarters on Tower Hill.

Benn never slowed down and never stopped working in some or other capacity. He only stood down from his post with the Port of London Authority in February 1961 at the age of 97 and after more than 50 years’ service. He was 98 years old when he died at his Kensington home on the 12th August 1961. His ashes are in the Columbarium in the All Hallows crypt along with both his wives.

Benn in later life

Marguerite Joyce Coulson

The name of Couly is spoken of, almost with reverence by those Toc H friends of mine who had the pleasure of knowing her. She was, in the 1960s when the likes of John Burgess and Ken Prideaux-Brune first arrived on the Hill, Tubby’s formidable night secretary who took dictation from the workaholic padre in the evening and typed up his correspondence overnight. She was among Tubby’s most faithful staff having been with him since 1926. This is her story.

Couly was born Margaret Joyce Coulson in Hertford on the 10th March 1898. The family had a large grocery and bakery shop in Hertfordshire’s county town but when Couly’s father Thomas died in 1899 – when Couly was just one – her mother Caroline moved them to a smaller shop on Welwyn High Street.

She was schooled as a boarder at the Royal Masonic School for Girls, then near Wandsworth Common. Her brother Harry Samuel Coulson died in the war on the 13th May 1915 whilst serving with the London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade) No. 2 Company of the 1st/5th Battalion, and is commemorated on the Menin Gate. Her other brother Harold had died on the 27th January 1915 in Wandsworth but is buried in Welwyn.

Couly (far left) on the roof of New June

At the time of the 1921 census, Couly was living with her mother on the High Street in Welwyn, Hertfordshire and working as a secretary to Miss Harrison Bell, a poultry farmer at Sisserverne Farm also in Welwyn.

She later went to work at the Time and Talent Settlement for young women in Bermondsey where she must surely have known Rachel Baron, Barclay Baron’s wife who also worked there. Perhaps this was her connection to Tubby and Toc H as in 1926 she took up a post at All Hallows as Tubby’s secretary. She was sometimes described as Porch Secretary and later All Hallows Secretary though Wag (William Arthur Goff -see below) was often called this too and I suspect they worked hand in hand. Couly later became Tubby’s night secretary taking dictation about eight in the evening and could often be there until midnight.

John Burgess recalled that she would quite often nod off and he thinks there were times when they both fell asleep but Couly had been with Tubby so long that she knew what he would want to say and how he would want to say it and I doubt that Tubby ever realised that the letters he signed the next day were not quite as he had dictated them. 

In the early thirties Tubby placed in her one of the properties owned by the Tower Hill Improvement Trust at 20 Tower Hill. A narrow house just nine feet wide that actually adjoined the wall, it was said to make Miss Coulson the first resident of East London (Though the house appeared to be on the inside of the wall) and apparently also made her some sort of anchoress which at the time of her eviction, the press reported was how she was known locally. This story of course has Tubby’s thumbprints all over it. Nonetheless she was evicted in 1937 when the Trust planned to pull the building down along with the Myers Ivory Warehouse. In fact only the warehouse was pulled down at the time but the house was badly damaged during the war and finally demolished soon afterwards. Couly meanwhile went to live at 6 The Crescent which the Trust had also purchased. That building had 3 or 4 independent flats.  She was there in 1939 along with the Pettifers and a couple of others.

She and Wag ran the lunch club during the war and Couly generally acted as House Mother at no. 42 whilst Tubby was away in Orkney. The Blitz never forced her from the Hill.

Couly with Tubby and Chippie

She retired in August 1965 after almost 40 years working for Tubby though at the time she was expected to still travel in from her new home in Tunbridge Wells one or two days a week to sort out Tubby’s papers and writings.

She spent her twilight years – from 1984 – at Greenacre retirement home in Barrowby near Grantham, Lincolnshire, dying on 7th June 1999 aged 101, outliving her long-time employer by more than 25 years. Loyal to the last she asked that donations in lieu of flowers be sent to Toc H.

Colin Cuttell

During the Tower Hill saga we have spoken often of Toc H members, All Hallows staff, and the Tower Hill Trust folks but the other group that feature strongly are Scouts. We covered the 1st City of London Scouts quite a bit in this George Moore blog so I won’t go deep into it again but suffice to say our next subject was yet another person with Scout connections to Tower Hill where he was a Scoutmaster.

Colin Cuttell was born on the 24th September 1908 to Maurice and Blanche. Maurice was a Fellmonger (a dealer in hides and pelts) and the family were living in Alford in Lincolnshire. By 1911 they had moved to Carlow in Ireland but a decade later, at the 1921 census, they had moved into Abbey Buildings in Bermondsey, the tenement block where Barclay Baron had lived ten years before. Maurice was now a fellmonger’s manager with Strong, Rawle and Strong Ltd, Bermondsey (Fellmongers and leather merchants). Leather was a huge product in Bermondsey and they say the smell of tanning was constantly in the air. Colin, aged just 12, was also working at this point as a butcher’s boy.

Young Colin was a choirboy at All Hallows, just across the river from Bermondsey, and was confirmed there by Tubby in 1923. We are fortunate to have a sheet that Tubby kept of confirmations in his first few months as vicar and Colin features along with several other familiar names including Henry Bowen Smith (See below).

Just four years later Colin was listed as the Secretary of the Toc H branch on Tower Hill and his address given as 7 Tower Hill, which you should be familiar with from the last blog. He also took on a staff role as an Assistant Secretary in the Toc H office for four years.

Wanderlust took hold in 1931 and Colin became a deck-hand on cross-Atlantic steamers and a cattleman on cattle boats, ending up in Canada where he travelled across the country as a hobo before taking up a post in 1931 as Parish Worker in Alberta, Edmonton in the foothills of the Rockies. He said of his time here that he was missionary, catechist, undertaker, gravedigger, midwife, fire fighter, as well as doctor of a kind.

It was in Canada too that he met George Whalley – who featured in our George Moore blog. In the summer of 1935 Whalley and Colin Cuttell participated in a scout camp at Lake Memphremagog, Quebec. At this camp Whalley organised a surprise attack on another camp that led to a reprimand. The scouts knew Cuttell as “Skipper” and Whalley as “Uncle George”. They had a deep affection for both. It was Colin who introduced George Whalley to George Moore.

It was also in Canada where Colin was ordained in 1937 and returned to Europe as a Chaplain with the Canadian forces.  He was back in London in May 1944 and after a locum tenens position at Haselton with Compton Abdale, Colin joined the staff  at Southwark cathedral as an Industrial Missioner at the suggestion of Cuthbert Bardsley, then Provost at Southwark. The South London Industrial Mission was established during the war and this would be Colin’s work for almost two decades though it was interrupted by spell as Vicar of Elmdon in 1946.

Returning to Southwark by 1947 Colin was known as the Padre to his ‘parishioners’ many of whom had never set foot in his church. Instead he met them in the pub and in their places of work. In January 1948 he made newspaper headlines when he climbed through the wreckage of the Hastings train that had crashed in to the back of a stationary train at London Bridge station. He managed to reach the wrecked cab and stayed with the two drivers comforting them as they died.

Colin in an office in 15 Trinity Square

During this period he made numerous return trips to his beloved Canada. Musically minded he was an old friend of Oscar Hammerstein and gave the address at his Memorial Service in Westminster Abbey. He was made a Canon by 1956 and in 1961 he was Acting Provost of Southwark. He was also a Field Missioner for Toc H and his brother Maurice was a Toc H padre. Then on the 7th February 1963 the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed him as Tubby’s replacement at All Hallows.

Colin retired in 1976 and moved to Withyholt Court, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham where he died on the 15th August 1992. There was a Thanksgiving Eucharist at Southwark on the 1st November 1992. Surprisingly his ashes are not in the Columbarium though those of his parents are.

Colin in later life

Arthur Follett Holt

If you approach All Hallows’ garden from the terrace created when Myer’s warehouse was demolished, you will pass through a set of gates which memorialise one of the key figures in the campaign to rid the Hill of that very repository. Sir Arthur Follett Holt was the first chairman of the Tower Hill Improvement Trust and a great supporter of Tubby. Born in Paddington on the 4th December 1865 to solicitor Robert Hallett Holt, Arthur became a railway engineer and was also manager and director of  several railway companies, notably in South America. In particular he was chairman of chairman of the Rosario and Entre Ríos Railway in Argentina. Like Ion Hamilton Benn, Holt was educated at Merchant Taylors School and then, from January 1882 until July 1884 at the City and Guilds of London Technical Institute where he earned a Mechanical Engineering Certificate.

Articled to William Adams, locomotive superintendent to the London and South-Western Railway, for three years from August 1884 Holt then spent time in their Drawing Office at Nine Elms until Apr 1888 when he joined Sir Alexander Rendel, consulting engineer to the Indian State Railways as an assistant for two years.

He then spent six years at the Buenos Aires and Rosario Railway, in Feb 1891 becoming District Locomotive Superintendent of the Northern Section. He would remain working for various railway companies in South America until his retirement in 1910. Like many ex-pats in the Argentine, he was a keen polo player.

Holt married Eliza Robertson Leitch 1897 and they had two sons. Frank would become a stockbroker and later served on the Tower Hill Improvement Trust with his father. Follett Hallett Holt knew Talbot House well during the war but was killed on the 2nd September 1918.

L-R Lord Wakefield, Tubby, and Follett Holt

After his retirement Holt maintained several business links including becoming chair of the London Executive of the Buenos Aires Western Railway. From 1931-1934 he was a member of the advisory council to the Board of Trade.

I’m not clear how he came to Toc H initially. He may have met them in South America where they were very strong at that time, or perhaps he met Tubby in the city. Regardless, he was elected to the General Branch on the 3rd July 1928. It was inevitable that Tubby would call on his skills for the Tower Hill Improvement Trust.

Knighted in 1934, he lived with his wife at Riffhams, a great estate in Essex where he died on the 20th March 1944. In 1965 a set of gates were erected at the east end of All Hallows in his memory. On the plinths are sculptures called ‘The Sea’ and designed by Cecil Thomas. A plaque reads

“In memory of Sir Follett Holt, KBE, First Chairman of the Tower Hill Improvement Trust, died 20th March 1944”.

Thomas’ sculpture

Another commemorative plaque also stood on the octagon building on the terrace which was built as an emergency escape from the vaults that were left when Myer’s monstrosity was demolished.

William Arthur Goff

There were many men who helped keep Tubby running by doing their best to manage his affairs and follow up the trail of orders and ideas strewn behind him as he ran through life. Pettifer of course attended to his personal needs for many years; a string of ADCs tried to keep pace; there were various secretaries; and back at All Hallows the solid and dependable Wag, was taking care of business.

William Arthur Goff was born in Kensington on the 17th February 1901. His father, also William, was a furniture salesman married to Florence. Three younger sisters completed the Goff family. They lived in West London for many years and by 1921 Wag was a clerk with the National Foreman’s Association. However, by 1926 he was found by William Musters [Link] Toc H’s Registrar and employed by All Hallows as a business manager working from the Porch Room.

On the 26th August 1928 Wag married Violet Dorothy Wadkin at St Simon’s, Hammersmith and they moved into Wag’s family home on Shepherds Bush Road. They had a son John, followed by twins David and Jean, and then a second daughter, Ann, in the early 1930s.

During the war Violet and the children were evacuated to Buckinghamshire whilst Wag helped Couly run the lunch club at 42 Trinity Square for the duration. After the war he returned to his All Hallows duties and was known as Porch Room or All Hallows secretary.

Wag at 1948 staff conference

Wag died on the 14th September 1969. He and Violet were living in South Ruislip at the time and Wag was described as a Retired Company Secretary. His ashes are in the Columbarium. Ivy outlived him by more than 30 years and only died in 2006 at the age of 102.

Catherine Frances Matilda Johnson

Aunt Bess deserves her place in this round-up if only because John Burgess tells me she was the spitting image of Giles’ Grandma in the cartoons he famously drew for the Sunday Express. Having only found one poor quality photo of her, I cannot say quite how accurate this is but John seldom exaggerates.

Not Aunt Bess but close

Although known to one and all as Aunt Bess, she was Catherine Frances Matilda Johnson when she was born on the 13th February 1894 to John and Matilda. John was a clerk for a Coal and Shipping Factor. When she was baptised some two years later she was living at 33 Seething Lane though by 1901 had moved out to Kingsland Road. However by 1911 she was back at the same house in Seething lane but now living only with her aunt, her mother having died in 1901..

From 33 Seething Lane she could probably see All Hallows at the end of the road and her association there started with Sunday School as a child and continued for 75 years. She was Parish Secretary throughout Tubby’s time at All Hallows. Shortly after Tubby retired as vicar in late 1962, Aunt Bess rather fell down on the job and soon afterwards had to be moved to a nursing home. Henry Bowen Smith (See below) moved her and by all accounts she was went most unwillingly. A young John Burgess was given the job of sorting through her papers and discovered uncashed cheques stretching back years amongst piles of neglected paperwork.

The only photo I found of Aunt Bess

She died on the 22nd August 1977 and was cremated four days later. There was a memorial service at All Hallows in November 1977 and her ashes are in the Columbarium

Henry Bowen Smith

Now the last of my main biographies – before I pull together a few others in brief summaries – is also perhaps the most interesting. The accounts I had heard of this man fascinated me to begin with but as I tried to unwind his life, I got dragged deeper into his character. I confess that sometimes when I start to uncover the stories of such people, I wonder if I should be doing it; digging into their personal lives, though the sources I use are all public and I research them with no ill intent. Far from it, as interesting people, well……., interest me! And Henry Bowen Smith, is an interesting person.

He was born in Kilburn on the 1st August 1899 to Robert Bowen Smith, a bank official, and Elizabeth, nee Sturt. The Bowen part of their names is not double-barrelled but rather an older family surname adopted by some of the men as a middle name. When Henry was on Tower Hill, he was generally known to all as Bowen which is how I shall refer to him here.

When Bowen was born the family lived at 20 Cambridge Avenue, an attractive three-storey Georgian house close to the London and North West railway (Now the West Coast mainline). He would be followed by two sisters, May Cynthia on the 10th May 1901, and Norah Elizabeth on the 8th Feb 1905. Bowen and May would be baptised together at Holy Trinity, Kilburn on the 6th October 1901.

Thus far the Smith family appeared to be living the comfortable life of a middle-class London family.  By 1911 they had moved to Avenue Road, Acton, a smaller house but still on a nice suburban street. However in July 1912 tragedy struck when Bowen’s father Robert died at the age of 44. We cannot be certain what economic effect this had on the family but we do know that Norah, the youngest daughter was only baptised in 1914 at the age of nine and that her baptism took place in the St Raphael’s Chapel, Grafton House, Hammersmith. Grafton House, along with the adjacent Linden House, formed the St Catherine’s College for Girls. This was an Industrial School for Girls run by the Sisters of St Michael and All Saints which suggests the family may have fallen on hard times.

The Du Cros garage where a young Bowen worked

We also know that no later than 1919 the family had moved into rooms in a boarding house at 28 Weltje Road, almost next door to Grafton House, and were now sharing with several other families. Of course, in the meantime war had broken out and in 1917 Bowen, who was working as a fitter’s improver at W&G Du Cros’ garage in Acton – William and Charles Du Cros were the sons of Harvey Du Cros who founded the Dunlop tyre company – joined the army.

He signed up in July 1917 and was sent for basic training with the 97th Training Reserve battalion at Aldershot in September. Afterwards he joined the 52nd (Graduated) Battalion of the Royal Sussex at Colchester, a training unit. On the 1st April 1918 he was transferred to the regular battalion of the Royal Sussex and posted to France as a Private but soon after was transferred to the Royal Fusiliers 11th Battalion. His war ended when on the 29th September 1918 he was injured, receiving a gunshot wound to his right elbow, something that would affect him all his life. After a spell in the 3rd Australian General Hospital in Abbeville, Bowen was returned to England and discharged as no longer fit for military service.

He returned to Weltje Road to live with his widowed mother. In 1919 he underwent six month’s treatment on his arm at the Alder Hey Special Military Surgical Hospital in Liverpool. By 1921 he had followed in his father’s footsteps and was working for the National Provincial and Union Bank of England (Later Natwest) in North Audley Street.

I’m not sure how a Hammersmith lad came to Tower Hill but we do know that in 1923 Bowen was confirmed by Tubby at All Hallows (Tubby notes in the margin ‘one arm’. No full date is given but he appears on same confirmation sheet as many other Toc H notables including Pettifer’s sons.

I imagine that he attended All Hallows regularly – despite still living in Weltje Road – which was perhaps how he came to meet Kathleen Adelaide (Adele) Johnstone. She was living in New June (50 Great Tower Street) when they married on the 21st April 1928. A member of the LWH, Kathleen was well entangled in the Toc H scene as her sister married George Roff Tamplin, a Marksman at Mark I who was later ordained and went on to become a Toc H padre. His brother was Lew Ross Tamplin, the very first warden at Mark VII.

After they married, they lived at Orchard End, Shortway, Amersham for three years but by 1933 they had moved to Limpsfield and were living on Grub’s (Sometimes Grubb’s) farm where they kept chickens. We know this because there was a well-covered theft of birds from their farm in 1933. Bowen was also prosecuted several times for driving his car and motorcycle without lights!

Bowen was only 40 when the next war broke out but with his First World War injuries he was considered to be a man “of lower medical category”. This and his banking background made him an ideal candidate to be commissioned into a desk role with the Royal Army Pay Corps as a Lieutenant and as a Paymaster which happened on the 22nd September 1939, less than three weeks after hostilities began.

The RAPC had a Pay Office in Leicester which is where I suspect Henry was posted because of what happens shortly. On the 4th Jun 1945 he relinquished the role of Paymaster but remained a Lieutenant finally being discharged a few months later.

Walking on Tower Hill

After the war Bowen returned to living at Weltje Road with his mum (and sometimes his unmarried sister Cynthia). Kathleen is no longer on the scene and I suspect they separated and divorced. She died in 1965. Then in early 1948 Bowen married Margery Peberdy – daughter of Leicestershire shoe-maker – in Hammersmith. I can only think they met when Bowen was stationed at the Leicester Pay Office.

In 1955 the couple are living together at 28 Redstone Manor, Redhill as Henry and Margery Bowen-Smith but in 1956 Henry is listed with Selina Peberdy, Margery’s mum. And then by 1957 Bowen is sharing 28 Redstone Manor with his cousin Reg Wilson and Reg’s wife Nora. Bowen and Margery’s marriage was dissolved and on the 26th November 1959 she married Harold Vincent Jackson, a Lutterworth solicitor.

In 1959 Bowen retired to his country home in Suffolk, a wooden framed medieval cottage, that he rebuilt. After just three months Bowen complained to his friend Tubby that he was bored. Tubby suggested he come to Toc H on Tower Hill which he did. His main job was to take all the bomb sites on and around the Hill, and turn them into gardens. By 1962 he had converted three bomb sites including a rockery in the Sailor’s Garden opposite the Tower. In July 1962 Bowen (Along with Tubby) appeared in The Tatler in an article about people who lived in the City of London.

Tubby installed Bowen in the old Dutch Sailors Home on Tower Hill. This was a tin hut that replaced the bomb-damaged hotel in The Circus that had been established as a Dutch Seaman’s home in 1930. Tubby purloined the hut as a Parish Hall but was clearly happy to house his staff there too.

Tending one of his Tower Hill gardens

I believe Bowen did a little driving for Tubby too and in 1966 accompanied him to Chatham to spend Whitsuntide with the Reverend John Davies, chaplain to the Royal Marines. I hope Tubby wasn’t a nervous passenger because John Burgess recalls,

“Bowen had a damaged elbow from WW1 and he drove an old style ‘shooting brake’ car where the handbrake was down by his right thigh. His right elbow was the damaged one so letting off, or pulling it on meant he had to stretch over his own lap.  Difficult when you were in traffic or on hill starts.”

The twice married Bowen hadn’t quite finished yet. On the 9th June 1970, at a Registry Office in Westminster, Bowen married Marjory Joyce Pearson. Born as Marjory Joyce Smith, daughter of a Baptist minister, she was married to Charles Pearson from 1947 until 1969. At the time she married Bowen her address was given as Washmere Cottage in Washmere Green near Lavenham so I wonder if she knew Bowen from when he lived in his Suffolk cottage. His address at the time of the wedding was Mark II, the Toc H hostel in St George’s Square.

Leading the 1961 Roman Pageant

Bowen and Marjory later moved down to Somerset to be near his sister May, who had never married. May died in Bishops Hull, Somerset in 1992; Marjory died in 2002, outliving her husband by almost twenty years as Henry Bowen Smith died on the 2nd Nov 1993 at The Linhay, a cottage in the hamlet of Kingswood, Somerset. The end of a colourful life.

Some others

We’ll close with a quick look at some of the other characters from Tower Hill during the Toc H years. Let’s begin with a triumvirate of Vergers and Parish Clerks.

Charles George Misselbrook

The first was Charles Misselbrook, who was born in London on the 27th January 1872 to Charles and Charlotte. Charles senior was a warehouseman, however his father – Misselbrook’s grandfather – Benjamin, was the son of a Hampshire Gamekeeper, and became a gardener who worked in Regent’s Park Zoological Gardens shortly after they opened in 1828. He quickly took charge of the birds (Pheasant, Quail and Partridge) in the gardens and by 1869 rose to the position of Head Keeper. He worked there for 60 years before retiring in 1889.

Misselbrook grew up on Great Tower Street very close to All Hallows and became a Sacristan (A sacristan is an officer charged with care of the sacristy, the church, and their contents). He married Florence Thompson from Cumberland in Kendal in 1913 and they moved to Brockley. By 1921 Misselbrook was already the Parish Clerk at All Hallows so Tubby would have inherited him when he arrived the following year.

Charles Misselbrook with Tubby

He and Florence had one son but sadly Florence died in 1938. Misselbrook was later living in Deptford with his sister and was listed as Sacristan and Verger. In 1953 he wrote a book on the Monumental Brasses of All Hallows. He died on the 14th October 1967, aged 95 and was cremated a few days later. His ashes are in the Columbarium along with wife Florence and sister Alice who died a month after he did.

Charles William Tisshaw

Misselbrook was succeeded by Charles Tisshaw, known as Chas or within Toc H as Tish. Born in Romford on 7th May 1904, Tish’s father was – like Misselbrook’s – a warehouseman. He worked for the Port of London Authority as a tea blender. Tish though, decided to join the navy and on his 18th birthday in 1922 he signed on for 12 years. In 1925 he married Jane Elizabeth Burrell at St Margaret’s, Barking.

On the first January 1929 Tish joined the Nore Division of the Reserve and signed on for another 12 years (or perhaps an additional seven to his first 12). He served on HMS Cleopatra, HMS Birmingham, and HMS Kent but was mostly on UK Shore establishments. He must have met Toc H by 1938 as he was on the Kent and was visiting Toc H folk in the Far East that year. He retired from the navy in 1941 with the rank of Chief Petty Officer although two years later he was given a wartime commission.

Tish in 1958

By 1946 Tish was Assistant Verger to Misselbrook at All Hallows and took over from him when he retired. He retired himself in 1966 and died in Kent in 1982.

Sid Higbee

The third of our trio of Parish Clerks and Vergers during the years we are looking at was former milk salesman Sid Higbee. From South East London, Sid met his future wife Gladys whilst still young. They married and had four children and through their sons’ involvement with the Scout Movement met Colin Cuttell and the South London Industrial Mission.

Sid was a Co-op milkman in London who went on to become a departmental manager in Cardiff after the war before returning to London to run his own dairy. He eventually gave this up due to Gladys’ poor health. In 1962 he joined Toc H and in February 1964 both he and Gladys were appointed caretakers of the new Toc H headquarters at15 Trinity Square and had a flat there. In May 1966 Sid resigned from Toc H and was appointed by Colin Cuttell to All Hallows on the retirement of Tish. He remained in the role until his death in 1980.

Daisy May

Daisy May was the housekeeper at Talbot House during the war and was still around in the sixties. John Burgess recalls her as a most kind and sweet lady who wore her hair in a French roll. John her on his first couple of visits to stay with Tubby, in the early sixties but doesn’t know what happened to her after that. She was quite riddled with rheumatoid arthritis that had badly affected her hands so she probably had to retire.

Group Captain George Robert Oliver

Born around1897 in Lochwinnoch, Scotland to George and Florence, George Oliver was a Flying Officer in the RAF by 1921. A decade later as Flight Lieutenant he was posted to No.1 Armoured Car Company in Iraq. In 1936 he was promoted to Squadron Leader and later that year was posted to the Directorate of Personnel Services.

After leaving the RAF he became the Warden of Talbot House and lived at 6 The Crescent with his wife Alice. He retired in 1963 and died in December 1978

Fred Tuckett

Replacing Arthur Pettifer as Tubby’s batman meant filling some huge (albeit also quite small) shoes but one character who did just that was Fred Tuckett.

Born in Plymouth in 1913 to a naval family, Fred went to sea himself aged 14 and met Tubby when he was a stoker on HMS Beagle in the Mediterranean in the 1930s. He was with Tubby when they opened the Claridges’ Fleet Club at Alexandria (You will have to wait for the forthcoming blog on Service Clubs for more info on that). He married Alfreda Carter in Oct 1938 and they had four children.

Fred was Tubby’s batman from about 1957 until at least 1970 (Possibly until Tubby’s death). According to one source he laughed like a drain and,

“watered down Tubby’s guest Sherry, having first made absolutely sure it was fit for drinking”.

His family had continued to live in Plymouth whilst Fred was on the Hill and he returned there after Tubby’s death where he died in January 1985.

Fred walking Chippie with Tubby

So there we are. A round up of a just a few of the characters who made life on Tower Hill interesting and who gave up some or much of their lives to Toc H, All Hallows, the Tower Hill Improvement Trust or the Scouts – often several of them.

Toc H on Tower Hill

By Steve Smith


Some years ago a party of friends from Poperinge Toc H came to visit London and I agreed to show them around Tower Hill. I was ably supported by John Burgess and Ken Prideaux-Brune who know more about Toc H than I can ever hope to know given that between them they have served the Movement for well over a century (Not to mention that all four of their parents were involved before them). Anyway, the long and short of it is that for the visiting Flemings, I did some research and created a short booklet to accompany that tour. Now some 15 years later I have expanded massively on the pamphlet to prepare this blog about Toc H on Tower Hill. Except this blog will, I fear, wander off the focus if Toc H and I touch on the history of the Hill itself. I won’t apologise for this; I rather think that keen historian as he was, Tubby might have done so himself. It will feature the work of the Tower Hill Improvement Trust which was driven by Tubby with the same passion he put into Toc H and look at how the Hill fared after Toc H had more or less departed bar the Mother church.

The story is told in vaguely chronological order but – like the City itself – expect to detour up tiny alley-ways and winding lanes.

First we need to understand why Tower Hill was so important to Toc H and the most obvious answer is because it was so important to Tubby. In The Pageant of Tower Hill (1933) he recalls how his father took him there when he just a nine year old boy. He had long been entranced by the precincts of the area and as an occasional errand boy for his father – a merchant in Bishopsgate – he already knew the streets of the city well. This though, was to be his first actual sighting of Tower Hill itself; a dock strike was underway and they went to witness a lunchtime meeting led by John Burns, the trade unionist. There was, he says,

“a dense and determined multitude of men, not without sticks and stones – or so a small boy thought – stood ripe for trouble.”  

John Burns addressing a meeting of dockers on Tower Hill

For Tower Hill was, and would continue to be a platform for men of words but also a rallying place for men of action. It is perhaps quite fitting then, that Toc H would be scattered across the Hill and its immediate surrounds for much of the 20th Century.

The Locality

It was, of course, a most famous part of ancient London. On the border of the higher parts of the area and the flatlands leading to the east, and overlooking the river, it was a natural place for the Romans to settle – though there had been a Bronze Age settlement here before. But here the Romans built their wall around what we now call the City of London. It is the eastern end of the city that concerns us and that wall will play a prominent part in what is to come.

Wyaengarde panorama from the period 1543-1550

The Tower of London of course begins with the Norman invaders, and we shan’t bother too much with its long and bloody history. Its liberties – the area around the Tower that fell within its jurisdiction – will of course feature, and the Tower does have supporting roles in our tale but we shall see those as we go along.

Loosely, it is the area to the west and north of the Tower that features most prominently. It was of course largely unpopulated for centuries. Indeed, it was a law that nothing could be built within bowshot of the Tower so for centuries there was a swathe of open land around the outside though over the years the population swelled and the city grew more overcrowded. The hills around the Tower (Great Tower Hill to the north west and Little Tower Hill to the north east remained stubbornly clear but the northern edge crept south until only a narrow alley known as Postern Row separated warehouses, shops, and houses from the Tower ditch.

The church of All Hallows Berkyncherche enjoyed an uninterrupted vista of the Tower from its site to the west; a site on which a church had stood from at least Saxon times.

North of Great Tower Hill, the priory of the Crutched Friars was founded in 1249 and survived there until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538.

Historical figures walked the streets. William Penn was born – or at least grew up –  in an alley off of what is now Trinity Square in 1644 and Samuel Pepys lived nearby and wrote his diaries here. He even climbed the tower of All Hallows to watch the Great Fire in 1666, which miraculously spared this quarter of the City almost entirely. He would also have watched executions on Tower Hill, for that was what it was most infamous for.

South of All Hallows, running west to east was Great Tower Street – a road renowned for being where the Lloyds insurance giant started as a humble coffee shop. Ship captains seeking information about sea conditions congregated at a coffee house on Tower Street owned by Edward Lloyd. It is also perhaps known for the Czar’s Head where Peter the Great relaxed after learning the shipbuilding trade across the river in Deptford in the late 17th century, although I guess it had a different name then. This street certainly has a role to play in our story.

The landscape that Toc H would come to know so well really began in 1796 when the Trinity House Corporation moved their headquarters from nearby Water Lane to the present location. The following year the gardens of Trinity Square were laid out over the old Tower Hill transforming the rundown area into a beautiful garden. They were originally to have been called Tower Royal New Square according to some newspaper reports.

Trinity House engraving from the Saturday magazine

Trinity House lay west of Cooper’s Row (formerly Woodruff, or Woodroffe Lane) which ran north to south just inside the City wall. Development began early here and the whole block was known as Nine Gardens as there were a handful of large houses with big gardens. I have written a separate blog about this area which I’ll get to in a bit. However the landscape as Toc H knew it really evolved in the 17th century when large houses with gardens stretching back to the wall were built along Woodruff Lane and further down on the east side of what would become Trinity Square.

Later, when the warehouses began to appear alongside the Georgian Houses and the coopers moved in to Woodruff Lane, they stacked their barrels against the old wall and the road took on its new name in the middle of the 18th century.

Despite the iconic Tower, the magnificent Trinity House and the beautiful gardens in front, the wider area was reflecting the growing importance of commerce in the City and through the trade from the river. The Hill overlooked the Pool of London, and from the early 19th century, was adjacent to the main docks being built in East London.

The Port of London’s Custom and Excise service had been established in the parish of All Hallows as far back as Chaucer’s day and Custom House still sits by the river. It was no surprise then that acres of bonded warehouses and wine vaults should be built in the vicinity. Wine and spirits accounted for the majority of goods but tea was plentiful as were more exotic goods such as ivory and pearl. All these play a part in our story.

The railways first arrived in the area when the London and Blackwall line cut through the north of the Hill in 1841, the line bringing commuters in from Essex to Minories (and eventually Fenchurch Street) and shipping goods out from the docks.

Now we start to get to some specifics in our story. In 1864 George Myers, a speculative builder, raised a huge warehouse, at the eastern end of All Hallows. Commonly known as the Mazawattee Warehouse, I’ll tell its story later. Part of it remains today as the underground vaults that were built beneath it are now a shopping precinct.

And whilst we are peeking below the surface, the line of the Metropolitan Railway Inner Circle underground line carves through Trinity Square. The story of the underground railway’s appearance in the area is relevant as it very much shapes and affects the area in which Toc H settled. The first section of the Metropolitan line opened in 1863 and it was recommended to the government that it be extended to form a circular route around London. This included an extension from the east down as far as Trinity Square. A separate company would extend it westwards from there. Without going into all the political details, the rivalries and lack of funding turned the whole thing into a bit of mess but in 1882 a cutting was dug from Aldgate to Trinity Square in which the line was laid before being covered again. This meant that several properties in The Crescent were demolished. The tunnel was left open between Trinity Place and Trinity Square and here – in an incredible 60 hours – a new station was built. Originally recorded in the plans as Trinity Square station, by the time it opened on 25th September 1982, it was known as Tower of London station. Entirely made of wood, the platforms were accessed from a low building on the corner of Trinity Square and Trinity Place.

The rear of (the long closed at time of photo) Tower of London station with the cutting underneath

It was at this cutting where the body of Cadogan West was found in Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holme’s story The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, as Tubby pointed out on at least one occasion

“The body was found at six on Tuesday morning.  It was lying wide of the metals upon the left hand of the track as one goes eastward, at a point close to the station, where the line emerges from the tunnel in which it runs.”

A contemporaneous plan to run a railway branch line off to Billingsgate market and so remove the railway vans from the streets never came off.

Meanwhile the line was coming in from the west, from Mansion House. Great Tower Street was widened and just west of All Hallows a new fork was created running toward Trinity Square north of All Hallows. This was to allow the railway to be inserted before being covered as a new street. Opened in August 1884 and keeping the name Great Tower Street for a while, it would be renamed Byward Street by 1907.

The creation of Byward street was an important step in the post-Great Fire dream of a broad road stretching from St Paul’s eastward to the Tower and beyond. Thus in September 1886, shortly after Byward Street opened, Postern Row was demolished leaving a broader through road across the north of the Tower. Now the dividing line between commerce and crown was now a row of properties built in second half of the 19th century along the northern edge of what used to be George Street and before that George’s Yard. This row of properties included a number which were, for several years, used as a pearl, mica, and ivory warehouse by Victor Myers, who was nothing to do with the Myers who built the warehouse by All Hallows. These buildings will soon play a role in our story.

Byward Street in the 1930s

This thoroughfare became ever more important with the opening of Tower Bridge on 30th June 1894.

Meanwhile, back at the underground, and Trinity Square was cut open to lay the tunnels.  The restoration of Trinity Square is described in Lizzie Alldridge’s 1882 novel The Tower Gardens. A ventilation shaft was installed in the gardens where it remains to this day.

A new station – by a rival railway company – was opened at Mark Lane, just opposite All Hallows. For one short week both stations operated simultaneously but there simply wasn’t the traffic to sustain both. Mark Lane, being a more substantial building and also marginally nearer the City offices won out and Tower of London Station closed in October 1884. The wooden station building remained in situ for many years though as we shall see.

The original Mark Lane station

In 1911 the Metropolitan District railway company rebuilt Mark Lane station. Previously a small, low building on the corner of Mark Lane, it was replaced by the large office building – designed by architect Delissa Joseph – that remains to this day with the station (now disused) incorporated into the building. At the same time a small building was erected to cover the exit outside All Hallows. Although an ugly little building, Toc H would utilise it briefly in 1937 (See 18 Byward Street). Also in 1911 George Street was renamed Tower Hill – which really confuses things!

Maybe it’s time for a couple of maps

An 1870 Ordnance Survey map of the All Hallows before Byward Street built (C) National Library of Scotland
A 1914 Ordnance Survey map showing the area cleared for the PLA building (C) National Library of Scotland

Now as we approach the time period that really concerns us, you’ll notice on the second map a vast open space just left of centre. Here used to lie a labyrinth of old houses and warehouses including the Clergy House of All Hallows (See below). In 1912 these buildings were torn down to make way for a headquarters for a new organisation. The Port of London Authority was established in 1909 to govern the Port of London. The site was chosen partly because the PLA inherited an old East India Company warehouse in Crutched Friars. The stately Edwin Cooper designed HQ was opened by David Lloyd George, in one of his last acts as Prime Minister, on the 17th October 1922.  Days later a trickle of Toc H folk arrived on the Hill. Tubby was about to take over the reins at All Hallows, which lacked a true vicarage – and so he and a few Toc H folks found a vacant flat at the easterly end of Great Tower Street.

Trucks on Tower Hill

Toc H Arrive

In July 1922, the Archbishop of Canterbury – Randall Davidson – summoned Tubby to Lambeth Palace. Davidson was prone in bed with a flare up of lumbago and had clearly been thinking about Toc H. He wanted to know how he could help Tubby with his mission and then told him that earlier that day he had been to Tower Hill to give a blessing to the Port of London Authority’s new building. (Actually the PLA building didn’t open until October. County Hall opened 17 Jul 1922 and the Archbishop said a prayer but it seems strange that he would he have gone near Tower Hill on his way back to Lambeth Palace which is virtually next door to County Hall). Anyway, whilst he was on the Hill he called in on All Hallows which he found neglected and almost in disuse. Tubby’s predecessor Charles Lambert had been appointed Archdeacon of Hampstead in late 1920 although still Rector of All Hallows but he lived at the Vicarage in Fitzroy Square and seemed to only be Rector of AH in name. On 5th March some bell-ringers from Ealing rang the bells at AH and it was the first time they had been rung that year! He broached the subject of Tubby taking on the Church and made an official nomination in a letter to Tubby dated 11th August. It was hoped that Tubby would focus on the ordination of young priests and make it a training centre for the clergy, continuing what he had begun at Knutsford but also the mission of All Hallows College in the late 19th century. .

At first Tubby was dead set against the appointment as he felt it would interfere with his plans for Toc H but on a retreat he met with Peter Monie – a friend of his brother Hugh in the Indian Civil Service home on leave – and persuaded him to retire early and become the Honorary Administrator of Toc H. This freed Tubby from a massive role and the Central Executive happily supported the move. In late August Tubby accepted his nomination as vicar of All Hallows-by-the-Tower. To sweeten the deal Davidson offered All Hallows as the Guild Church of the fledgling movement. Toc H were coming to Tower Hill.

50 Great Tower Street (Nov 1922-1932)

“In November 1922 Tubby and a team of members (including the Honorary Secretary of the LWH) took up their residence on Tower Hill. A flat at the top of No. 50 Great Tower Street had been found, and there some few folks lived, presided over by Miss Belle Clayton, the Vicar’s sister.”

The Curious History of the Toc H Women’s Association – ABS MacFie

50 Great Tower Street stood right on the corner of that road and Tower Hill (The Tower Dock end). The ground floor had been a pub -the Old Kings Head – until at least 1915. The General Steam Navigation Company also had offices there and the upper floors were occupied by the Public Ledger who had both offices and their press there. Already the longest running commercial journal in London then, it is still running today focussing on business and the price of commodities. It was owned at the time by the printers Skipper and East who were based next door. For the Toc H folk in the flat at the top, there were ninety steps to ascend or descend each time they came in or out but at least they benefitted from a roof garden.

So the first guests kept in order by Tubby’s sister Belle included Tubby himself, and Alison Macfie now establishing the League of Women Helpers. It would soon become central to the flourishing LWH. All Hallows Curates George Moore and Tom Savage (Moore appears frequently in this text and I recently dedicated a blog to him) were also accommodated there in its first days. The flat was also used to put up visiting padres and many others. All this in rooms in which the proverbial cat could barely be swung. They named it New June after a great house of that name that stood nearby (and was written about in Henry Newbolt’s 1909 novel, set in the area including a central character visiting All Hallows).

Although Tubby was an early resident at 50 after his appointment mostly he flitted between Marks I, II & III but eventually moved into the Porch Room at All Hallows. Then he transferred his accommodation to 7 Tower Hill and finally 42 Trinity Square in 1930.

In June 1923 the Journal reported that on the skyline was “a substantial tenement for the Chaplain’s college in the upper regions of a public house over against All Hallows where the Porch Room and a series of sardine boxes (Interpreter’s House, 7 Tower Hill) are proving daily, and nightly, inadequate for the feast of reason and the flow of soul as the old church gathers life”.

Of course, it was not just accommodation for Toc H and All Hallows. A men-only lunch club was started at No. 50 by Belle inspiring Barbara Sutherland to set up a tea and bun lunch for ladies at No. 7 (See below) which later moved to No. 50.

In May 1924 The Times reported a City Girls’ Lunch Club and Rest Room at 7 Tower Hill; the Men’s Lunch Club, 4th floor, 50 Great Tower Street; and the Scouts’ Lunch Club, 2nd floor, 50 Great Tower Street

In 1924 it was announced that it was to be transformed into a hostel. The hostel at New June opened 4th October 1924 with a house-warming on 4th November. The hostel slept nine normally. It was affectionately if not officially known as Marquise I. In between the opening and the house-warming – on 15th October – the London EC branch of the LWH met at New June for the first time.

Pat Leonard ironing on the roof garden of No. 50

The LWH HQ moved out of New June in February 1927 when the Movement took a place in Notting Hill (The short-lived Second June) and thence to Chandos House in Palmer Street, Westminster before going back to the Hill at 28 Great Tower Street (See below).

So some Toc H pioneers were already settled on the Hill when, at 6pm on the night of 15th December 1922 – three days after Tubby’s 37th birthday – a ceremony began in All Hallows that would firmly establish Tubby Clayton at the place he so loved. A group processed from the West Vestry led by a member of Toc H bearing the cross and followed by the choir, the Clergy (including the Bishops of Winchester and Pretoria: Edward and Neville Talbot respectively), and several Toc H Padres. Then came Tubby himself followed by the Archdeacon of London, the Bishop’s Chaplain, and the Bishop of London (Arthur Winnington-Ingram). There were also present many dignitaries including the Lord Mayor of London and the Burgomasters of Poperinge and Ieper, both also over for the Toc H Birthday celebrations.  Tubby was duly installed as Vicar of All Hallows. After this service there was a Family Thanksgiving Service during which the Prince of Wales slipped unobtrusively into the church. Tubby later showed him the place on John Croke’s tomb where the lamp the Prince was gifting to the Movement would sit.

All Hallows from the south east 1926

All Hallows (1922-now)

Now as we have heard, All Hallows lacked a proper vicarage when Tubby arrived. It had for many years had a Clergy House at 7 & 8 Trinity Square, in the north east corner overlooking the place in the gardens where the executions once took place. A Reverend Boyd Carpenter also lived at no 9. These properties though, and many more around them, were all swept away in 1912 to prepare for the coming of the new PLA building. All Hallows then lacked a true vicarage or clergy house of any kind for some years though a lease had been obtained on 15 Fitzroy Square by 1914 but this was a good distance from the parish. In fact before he was even installed as vicar, Tubby had sold the tail of the lease of 15 Fitzroy Square on to Toc H who opened Mark VII here. 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).

And what of All Hallows itself? Well the church has a long and most interesting history which I won’t recount in full here but recommend you read up about it sometime. However, since we will be talking a lot about archaeology in this blog, let me mention a few things that must have made Tubby’s heart race.

Several excavations took place from 1928-1933 during work to underpin the nave and amongst the discoveries were part of a Roman tesserae pavement beneath the tower and three medieval walls under the chancel. A Saxon arch and a wheel-head cross were discovered when the church was badly damaged during the Blitz and in the subsequent repair work afterwards.

However, we have talked a lot about buildings and it’s time to start looking at the work that went on in and around them. And like most things in Toc H, we’ll start with Tubby.

Like most City churches, All Hallows didn’t have a large local congregation to fill it at the weekends though it was filled with city workers during the week especially at lunch time. Thus the weekend – Sunday in particular – became a day when Toc H members would head for their Guild church.

A Toc H Birthday Festival Service at All Hallows

Compared to most parishes there were few resident parishioners. Most who lived in the area were caretakers of the various buildings and warehouse, who lived on the premises with their families. Later Toc H residents would bolster their numbers as we shall see. However, during the week there was no shortage of ‘temporary’ parishioners. Beginning with the early morning market workers (Billingsgate and Spitalfields in particular); then the street cleaners, carmen, traders, and policemen. Next came the city workers coming in from their suburban homes to the banks and shipping agencies. Then as the day progressed, the sightseers and tourists joined the proselytisers and their audience on the Hill. Tubby had no shortage of people to see. These few extracts from Harcourt’s biography paint a very vivid picture.

those who were fortunate enough to be apprenticed to the staff of All Hallows received each afternoon that Tubby was in residence a lesson in parochialia that was masterly. Only one hundred and eighty-three people lived in the quarter of a square mile of the City which comprised All Hallows parish, but some twenty thousand worked in it every day of the week and it was upon these that he determined to concentrate. They lived, he said, in dormitory suburbs and arrived home too late at night for the local parson to get to know them; it was therefore the duty of the clergy of All Hallows to visit the offices regularly, but two rules had to be observed. He, the priest or parish visitor, must never ask for money and he must never stay when a man was obviously busy.

Tubby in later life still greeting the Billingsgate porters, as is Chippie

The first thing they noticed about the Vicar was that he worked as hard and twice as long as any of them. Draymen carting barrels offish to the markets through the dampness of early winter mornings would see his ample frame disappearing into All Hallows and on their way back, about nine o’clock, he would hail them and talk about the kids, the football prospects, or even fish if they liked it that way. It was not long before Eastcheap conferred its most coveted accolade “he’s a decent bloke,” which, after all, was not so far removed from the opinion of the Salient.

Between 7 and 8 a.m. he would make his way to the church, rarely omitting the ritual of feeding sugar to the cart horses he passed in Trinity Square. Leaving the church at about nine-fifteen he would distribute more sugar and, heedless of breakfast, chat cheerfully with drivers and fish porters from whom he picked up an enormous amount of useful information about the East End and its habits. After a hurried cup of tea came the morning’s correspondence which sometimes ran into hundreds of letters, all of which had to be read and, in many cases, answered. Then came luncheon with a half a dozen assorted men to be shown a new scheme or helped to run an old one; the guests having departed, office visiting began. The technique was simple. The visitor took a bundle of pamphlets, probably describing the lunch-time activities of the old church, and dived into an office, a procedure, many a young aide discovered, requiring a high degree of fearlessness. Visiting ended by 5 p.m., when the City emptied, and Tubby met with his curates and aides for Evensong at 5.40 p.m. to be followed by the signing of letters before the secretaries left and supper at six-thirty. This over he seldom noticed what he ate or remembered it afterwards there would be time for a talk with one of his clergy or staff, and then dictation for four or five hours to his night secretary.

Melville Harcourt – The Impudent Dreamer

Ron Taylor’s early working life was spent around Billingsgate retrieving empty fish boxes for various firms. At one stage just after the Second World War he worked for Charlie Murphy whose stand was right outside All Hallows. Whilst working here Ron, or Fingers as he was known, became friendly with Tubby. It started on Tubby’s daily walk between his flat and the church with Chippie tucked under his arm. He would sometimes stop at Charlie Murphy’s stand and talk to Ron, sometimes pressing sweets or an apple into his hand. He also gave the young lad permission to stand in the porch when it was raining – much to the Verger’s chagrin apparently.

Fingers made model boats for a hobby and Tubby once asked him to make one to pair up with one he had over the fireplace in his flat – a rare survivor of the collection from All Hallows destroyed during the war. Fingers arrived at a prearranged time, dressed in his motorcycle clothes, to measure the existing model and was bustled by Tubby into the room. Here he was met with a roomful of city business men drinking coffee and reading newspapers. Tubby insisted on introducing Fingers to each and every one. Fingers, somewhat embarrassed, declined coffee, measured the boat and fled.

Ascension Day parade in Byward Street.

A few words need to be spoken about some of Tubby’s co-conspirators at All Hallows though many will be covered in detail in the Tower Hill People blog which I will publish shortly.

It was one of Tubby’s intentions to make All Hallows a training ground for clergy so he took on as many Curates as he could; he had after all been a Curate at Portsea under Garbett with a plethora of Curates. Tubby’s first were Ronnie Royle and Ernest Raymond (From Brighton Feb/March 1923 and already known for his novel Tell England) then George Moore (when ordained in 1923) and Tom Savage. Although I have already written about Moore, the others you will have to wait until another underway project – a biographical catalogue of Tubby’s aide de camps – is completed. This is because many of the curates were also enrolled for a spell as Tubby’s ADCs.

Tubby with Charles Misselbrook

Clergy aside, Tubby benefitted gratefully from the long service of verger Charles Misselbrook. He was eventually succeeded by Charles Tisshaw and then by Sid Higbee, who both feature again further in this blog. Misselbrook also acted as Parish Clerk and so did Aunt Bess, who….well read about Aunt Bess in the Tower Hill People blog. Churchwardens would later include Lancelot Prideaux-Brune and Ion Hamilton Benn.

So Tubby would remain as Vicar here until 1962 and live on the Hill until his death in 1972 but we are getting way ahead of ourselves here. There is still one more building from the very earliest of days on the Hill that we have yet to cover.

7 Tower Hill (Nov 1923-Dec 1940?)

We have seen already that Tubby’s ministry was not going to be an ordinary one. What he really wanted was a House of Charity on the Hill and No 7 would become his first attempt to achieve this.

Next door (round the corner) to 50 Great Tower Street and wedged between two printing houses – Skipper and East (who printed money) and The Public Ledger magazine (At 50) – the property must already have been in the hands of the church as Toc H took over from the Revd Ernest Raymond and his wife. Raymond was Tubby’s first curate at All Hallows but after leaving no. 7 he also left the church and became a well-known novelist.

The view from 7 Tower Hill

No. 7 faced the Tower of London and had an unrivalled view from its many and wide windows. Tubby called it The Interpreter’s House as it was the house that Goodwill direct Christian to in the Pilgrim’s Progress – one of Tubby’s best loved books. Instead it would become – as well as ad hoc accommodation for All Hallows’ curates and Toc H migrants – the HQ of the LWH.

 “It had one room on each floor connected by a rather steep stair. Our portion consisted of (1) the use of a kitchen on the first floor; (2) a big room on the second floor as a kind of a club room, with a corner partitioned off for a guest bedroom; (3) the use of a bathroom on the fourth floor. The General Secretary took a room at the top of the house and moved in from no. 50 Great Tower Street”

The Curious History of The Toc H Women’s Association – A.B.S. MacFie

A women’s lunch club started here by Barbara Sutherland inspired by Isobel’s lunch club for men at New June.

The original caretaker was an Irishman by the name of Connor. His favoured phrase was “If you have nothing to do, don’t do it here”. He also called Tubby ‘His Riverance’. When he died, he was replaced by Emily Jane Ambler, or Matron who looked after things until Tubby moved across the square to 42 in 1930. She was devoted to him. There was also Mrs Harrison, cleaner at All-Hallows, “a lady well on in the winter of her life”, who helped at No. 7.

Some floors on the top of no. 50 fell vacant and New June was enlarged so in October 1924, having taken over the top two floors at no. 50, no. 7 was abandoned by the LWH and on Saturday 4th October – assisted by Scouts and Guides – everything in it was walked down 50 steps, round the corner and up 92 steps to the expanded New June. No. 7 remained in Tubby’s hands until the war and of those who lived there Alison Macfie and Michael Coleman are the most memorable. The ubiquitous George Moore also resided here.

In 1934 the Lunch Club returned briefly to no. 7 whilst other moves were taking place.

I should also mention Tower Hill group of Toc H which formed around 1925. Originally the secretary was A E E Shields and it’s address given as 7 Tower Hill. By 1927 Colin Cuttell had assumed the post. They were endowed The Archbishop Davidson Lamp in September 1932 by the Revd Harry Ellison and Mrs Ellison. It was dedicated In memory of Randall Thomas, Lord Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury, trusted friend of Toc H. 25.5.1930 and first lit at the Birthday Festival in Birmingham Town Hall by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales on the 3rd December 1932. The branch survived for many years and will crop up again in our story.

42 Trinity Square (Talbot House) 1929-1982

So Tubby’s search for a House of Charity on the Hill continued – a permanent vicarage would also have been nice. And in 1928 another part of Tubby’s dream came to life thanks to Charlotte Tetley.

Charlotte Tetley

Charlotte Tetley was the second wife of Henry Greenwood Tetley, the millionaire Yorkshire industrialist who was Chairman of Courtaulds (The major manmade fabric manufacturers). From a working class background Charlotte met Tetley when she was nursing his sick first wife. They married in 1917. He was a peculiar man in that he appeared to have no outside interests, took no part in public life, and little of his private life was known, certainly not during his lifetime. Interestingly his weekend house supervisor in Surrey was Elsie Knocker, who with Mairi Chisolm, was one of the two most famous women on the Western Front (See here for why that was). When he died in 1921 he received no obituary in The Times. He made few philanthropic gestures whilst living though he did leave land in Henley on Thames to the Officer’s Association to build a home for disabled officers, and one fifth of the residue of his property was left to such patriotic purposes or objects and such charitable institutions or charitable objects in the British Empire as his trustees might select absolutely. Charlotte Tetley had just become a very wealthy woman.

As early as 1923 Charlotte donated furniture and fittings to the LWH HQ at no. 7 Tower Hill.

The family contributed more than just money to Tubby’s cause though. Her daughter Constance was involved in the LWH early on and in 1926 Constance would marry Lancelot Prideaux-Brune and together they would contribute much to Toc H, not least a future Director. I have written extensively about the Prideaux-Brunes here.

Henry’s son Geoffrey Tetley became Tubby’s ADC in 1925; Leonard Tetley, another son, was Joint Hon. Secretary of the Tower Hill Improvement Trust

It was in October 1926 when Charlotte made a donation of £20,000 to support All Hallows padres primarily but also to extend the aims of Toc H. This led to a Trust  – the Toc H and All Hallows Trust – being established (See below).

Then in December 1928 the newspapers reported that “A City freehold withdrawn at £13,000, has been sold by Mr J. Trevor” (Auctioneers of Coleman Street). The purchaser was the Trust and the city freehold was 42 Trinity Square. It was provided as a residence for the clergy of All Hallows and for various other charitable purposes although Tubby didn’t move in until 1930.

So where was this house that Charlotte bought? Number 42 was on Trinity Square in a small detached part of All Hallows parish. It was the eastern edge of the square laid out after Trinity House was built in 1796 and since the house dates from around 1780, it is likely they were in Coopers Row at first. As we noted earlier Coopers Row (Sometimes Cowper’s Row) was called Woodruffe, Woodroff, or even Woedrove Lane until the first half of the 18th century when the coopers moved into the area. It runs parallel with the City Wall (on the inside) and emerges on to Great Tower Hill. The entire block on which no. 42 stands was once known as Nine Gardens because, well, there were nine houses with long gardens stretching back to the wall.

“Nine gardens were first made, then fenced, then walled. Houses sprang up on the garden sites, in defiance of the old City law that nothing must be built within sixteen feet of the Town Wall. This wall, remaining intact, was stifled in a series of small houses periodically re-erected and enlarged; until in 1818 a revealing fire swept them away, exposing to the astonished view of passers-by the Town Wall in its old integrity.”

The Pageant of Tower Hill (1934)
Goad’s Insurance map of 1927

The southern plot in the All Hallows area was recorded in 1803 as being occupied by the workhouse of the parish of All Hallows Barking. This appears to have been a relatively small institution and would have closed down on the formation of the City of London Poor Law Union in 1837

To be honest, the development of this area has fascinated me; so much so I have turned my research into a separate article which you can read here (It opens in a new tab). It doesn’t much to do with Toc H but for anyone interested in the development of the area around Talbot House (42 Trinity Square) then please go have a look. There are some great photos of the area too. Otherwise, keep reading for the continuing Toc H on Tower Hill story.

Let us turn our attention to the House that Charlotte Tetley endowed. It did, after all, become the centre of all things Toc H on Tower Hill, and achieved Tubby’s dream of having a House of Charity in this historic quarter of the City.

Looking down Cooper’s Row toward Talbot House 1940.
Photo Courtesy: Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections (47737)

When Charlotte Tetley purchased 42 it was as much for All Hallows as it was for Toc H, perhaps more so. It was her wish to provide accommodation for the curates and others; to create a Parish House. To be honest Tubby probably hijacked her good intention slightly for Toc H purposes though it managed serve both church and movement well.

As we have seen, the first examples of Service we saw on the Hill came with the lunch clubs run by the LWH at 50 Great Tower Street and the early projects at the Interpreter’s House (7 Tower Hill). Then in 1924 Tubby turned the Vestry of All Hallows into a social club and at the same time called for condemned city churches – of which there were several – to be used as social rest houses for City Workers especially young lads.

Tubby’s house on the Hill was always meant to be more than just another Mark. The Marks were, at the end of the day, glorified hostels. This house was to be closer to the original model than ever. A house of charity; a welfare house for the workers on the hill.

One early plan was to make social work amongst the troops stationed in the Tower but in time it became a centre for workers particularly from the City and for overseas members.

So what of the building itself. Well it’s all a bit confusing as what we know as 42 Trinity Square is now numbered 43 and the new building out the back – that replaced the old warehouse in the eighties, is now 42 or Trinity Court.

42 fronted Trinity Square and was built around 1780, just before Trinity House was built and the gardens developed. It is the last house numbered in Trinity Square as its neighbour to the north is 8 Cooper’s Row though it is highly likely that it was originally part of Cooper’s Row – or possibly Great Tower Hill – though not for very long. Richard Horwood’s plan – which survey the area c.1795-1798 – clearly shows it as 42 Trinity Square. It is the most northerly house of a detached part of All Hallows parish; 8 Cooper’s Row, its northern neighbour, lies in the parish of St Olave Hart Street whilst a few doors south began St Botolph without Aldgate, though All Hallows parish has more recently been extended to cover that area. The city wards break here too with 42 being in Tower Ward and 8 Cooper’s Row being in Aldgate. More pertinently, 42 is these days in the borough of Tower Hamlets along with the Tower itself whilst 8 Cooper’s Row remains in the City. The boundary changes over the years have been complex!

In terms of occupants we can track 42 from the 1861 census onwards.

In 1861 it appears to be in the hands of the Hughingtons whose head, John, was a wine merchant. A decade later and the Fardells who own a removals and transport business – quite possibly with contracts for the London and Blackwall railway company whose station, depot and offices are close by– live at 42.

It seems that even then, other businesses may have been using parts of the buildings – the warehouse – as a vanilla company, a tea merchant, and several wine merchants all give 42 Trinity Square as their address at various times.

A decade later and it is back in the hands of a drinks merchant with the head off the household being George Martin Brice, a spirit warehouseman with a warehouse on Postern Row. As was George Clark whose family lived there in 1891

1901 saw a slight change when 42 was the home of Inspector Charles Moody of the City of London police Moody was still there in 1911 though now retired. At this time his wife and daughter are listed as a housekeepers for the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway. This railway company had taken over the London and Blackwall railway – that ran into Fenchurch Street – and occupied 41 Trinity Square as their headquarters from at least 1903. This would only last until 1912 when they would be swallowed up by another company in the never ending trail of railway takeovers and mergers. By 1921 however, 42 had been broken up into smaller offices. In point of fact, when Toc H were given the freehold in trust in 1929, all the floors above were occupied by other companies with varying leases expiring 1930-1932.

Previous and existing occupants were mostly wine and tea companies spread amongst many small offices on all floors. However one interesting leaseholder was Cole Transport, a removals firm. Captain Awdry Valentine Cole styled himself as a ship-owner and transport contractor yet his newspaper adverts screamed “Half Price Removals”, suggesting something far less glamorous. In fact Cole was – at best – a very poor business man or – more likely – a con man – getting investors to put money into a business that was going downhill fast. Bankruptcy followed as did Cole’s escape to Cannes and the story was a scandal in the newspapers of the time – at pretty much the same time Toc H were moving into the building where it all happened!

The front house was built around 1780 but the rear building was added later and the courtyard between the two was roofed over before Toc H’s time.

When Toc H moved in it still had the original ironwork, staircases and plasterwork but broken into offices as it was, it wasn’t in its original grand state. The front door opened on to the pavement and a flight of steps beside it led down to the cellar where a skittle alley was installed in early 1930. To the right of the front door was a large doorway which led past the Counting House to the warehouse or garage which had been built out the back. The warehouse, with its timbered roof, was dilapidated and only the Counting House and cellars were available to use immediately. At the far end of the warehouse was part of the Roman wall, a great feature that Tubby was immensely happy about. Another historical artefact that stood in one corner was the barrel that had served as the Crow’s Nest of The Quest, Shackleton’s ill-fated ship. It was bought by Toc H for £3 and now used as a giant collection bucket

Lord Wakefield trying out the skittle alley

.The buildings had different layouts but many of the people who helped with this blog remember how it was in the 60s and 70s. The warden’s office was now in the old counting house. Above the office the rooms were used as bedrooms with two or three beds in each. There were further bedrooms in the back building overlooking The Crescent. The hall between the two buildings was dark and low-ceilinged and used for the lunch club.

Back to 42 itself.  On the first floor, the room alongside the kitchen, was Tubby’s dining room.  This was known as the Penn Room.  A notice informed you that “in this room, or near it, William Penn was born”.  At the window end a door led on to the flat roof of the lunch club , which was a kind of roof garden with a few tubs of flowers.  At the other end was a door into 6 The Crescent (I write about the Crescent a little later). The large room where the Trust meetings used to be held and front room next to it were offices for Toc H in London during the 50s and 60s.  I’m not sure what they were used for later.  The rooms above first floor level were bedrooms for hostellers.

Tubby with others outside Talbot House

Toc H member and volunteer David Gibson described in Point 3 in 1981

“A maze of dark, twisted corridors snaking their way between subterranean offices, Victorian studies, a roof garden, and even a genuine Roman Wall”

Ken Prideaux-Brune recalls

“The upper floors were flats.  The Warden had a flat there.  Miss Coulson (known as Couly) Tubby’s night secretary (she took dictation from around 8pm to midnight) had a flat there.  Sir Alexander Giles (my predecessor as director of Toc H) and his wife had the top flat during his time with Toc H.  In the 1950s a deputy vicar of All Hallows, ‘Barnacle’ Brown (I’ve no idea where he got that nickname) had one of the flats and in, I guess, the early 70s another priest on the staff of All Hallows, whose name I’m afraid escapes me, lived there.  At another point one of the flats was occupied by Mrs Culwick, the parish secretary of All Hallows.  She was not particularly tall but was quite broad and stately and was known to us, rather irreverently, as HMS Culwick.  I believe also that the retired Bishop of Korea (I think his name was John Daly*) who filled in during the interregnum between Tubby’s retirement and Colin Cuttell’s arrival, lived in one of the flats.”

*It was John Daly, who was formerly a curate at All Hallows and one of Tubby’s ADCs

Meanwhile back in 1930 it was rechristened Talbot House (though Charles Spon, in his booklet about Tower Hill, says it was also known as Everyman’s House) it was generally referred to as 42 or number 42 to minimise confusion with the original Talbot House.

Early plans were to use the downstairs during the day for Toc H work and work with Scouts, Guides and Troops from the Tower in the evening. The Lunch Club transferred to Counting House – a small kitchen was installed. The warehouse was to be used as gym and drill hall and also for concerts; Fortnightly concerts were held from the outset. Every Thursday there was a lunch-hour talk. By late 1929 Toc H Overseas Commission occupied a room on first floor and in December 1930 Tubby finally moved in. All Hallows had an official vicarage once again.

The Tate and Lyle Room in 41 connected by doors to 42. This was a splendid room, used for South East Regional Councils, Committees, and Project Volunteers Socials etc. Training Days etc.

Ken again:

“About half-way along the south side of the lunch club was a door leading to a large square room at the back of 41.  This was the Tate & Lyle Room.  It was basically a passageway between the two buildings but it was where Trust meetings were held when I first joined.  I’m not sure what the connection with Tate & Lyle was but Tony Tate chaired the Trust when I joined.  Presumably. they had made a significant donation, perhaps towards the building of the lunch club and the Plumer Wing”.

The kitchen for the lunch club and the hostel was the ground floor of number 6.  In the basement was the Roman Wall Room, so called because one wall of the room was the Roman wall of London (now visible in the open air).  Toc H members who wished to eat at the lunch club could eat down there – there was somebody there to take your order and a dumb-waiter to convey the food down to you.  In the evening the Roman Wall room was the hostel television room.

On Ascension Day on May 9th 1929 the house was officially opened. Sir Ion Hamilton Benn, Vice President of Toc H and recently elected as Chairman of the Port of London Authority, his new office in the grand Trinity Square headquarters more or less overlooking Talbot House, made the opening speech.

As this House of Charity at 42 Trinity Square got up and running the world was suffering a great depression. It was no less worse around the Hill where many dockers had lost their jobs. A tea bar was set up in the skittle alley primarily for the unemployed and was complemented by a coffee stand on Dingley Dell (See below). Some 40 men a day were given vouchers that could be exchanged for a meal at the stand. Toc H also paid for the men to lodge at Downing’s hostel rather than be forced into the workhouse.

It would be the lunch club that became the first established service at 42; in fact the need was seen as so great it was up and running several weeks before the house officially opened. The concept had been tried and tested by the LWH and now they had a large enough space in the Counting House to expand it. It’s true that it was aimed at City workers rather than the unemployed but Toc H saw a great need. Remember this was long before Pret A Manger and supermarkets on every corner; there weren’t even Luncheon Vouchers yet. So Toc H could provide a solid meal for the young lads and ladies working in the City at a very reasonable price. Mus and Mrs Mus (William J. Musters – see here for his story) undertook to manage it at the outset and get it organised. Ken Matthews (See below) assisted. It was so successful that after just eight months they had to rehouse it in the garage.

Other early helpers included Professor Richard Kaikushru Sorabji, a well-known Indian born philosopher, who took charge of the gymnasium and early fitness schemes. Harry Ellison and his team of Commissioners were set to move the Overseas Commission on to the first floor as soon as the short term tenants could be removed. The house would be the first port of call for overseas Toc H members visiting the UK for many years.

Of course, it was also intended to be a hostel like the Marks. Tubby was set to move in on the top floor as soon as possible as were Arthur and Susan Pettifer- the Gen and his wife. The General was already established as handyman, or Clerk of the Works as Tubby designated him. His story can be found here.

This was the first time All Hallows had had a true vicarage since Great Tower Street was widened in 1864 and the College in Trinity Square was pulled down to make way for the PLA building in 1911. Thus by 1935 residents of the bedrooms – the upper floors all now in Toc H’s hands –  included Tubby, Geoffrey Batchelar, George Moore, Tom Savage, and Harry Chappell.

Batchelar became Provost of Talbot House though quite what his role entailed is not clear. See here for Batchelar’s story in a previous blog.

The honour of the first warden though went to Kenneth Matthews who was on the staff at All Hallows and was also described as Tubby’s secretary. In the early days he worked with Professor Sorabji and Colonel Ronald Campbell to get the gymnasium running (Campbell was a physical education proponent shortly to be appointed Director of Physical Education at Edinburgh University). Matthews left after a few months to tour Canada, Australia and New Zealand and later became Chaplain and Welfare Officer to an oil tanker fleet.

During the war William A. Goff took over as warden and was assisted ably by Couly. We look at the war on Tower Hill a little later.

“I remember a wonderful old boy called Sid Thresher, who came with us on one of the very early projects at Talbot House and shared his memories of the house in WW1.  He had entertained young German lads every summer right up to August 1939, when he had to Luftwaffe pilots staying with him.  Apparently the German embassy rang him up and said ‘There’s about to be a war.  Can we have our pilots back, please’.”

Kenneth Prideaux-Brune

Key characters over the the next few years included the post war warden Group Captain George Oliver, Henry Bowen Smith (often drove for Tubby), Fred Tuckett (Tubby’s batman) and the last warden, the near legendary Peter East who took over that role in 1967, after a spell for Toc H in Germany. Peter later started the East End’s first Asian Youth Club in a hut at the back of Talbot House with Ashok Basudev. I hope to cover Peter’s career and legacy more thoroughly next spring to coincide with the centenary of his birth. Some of the other characters appear in the Tower Hill People blog.

During the Summer, so many Winant Volunteers came and went while passing though London.

Another much loved character was Flo Russell, the wife of a serving soldier stationed at the Tower. Flo was originally from Devon and cooked for the hostel residents.

Speaking of food as we were, Tubby’s own meals were quite a thing right from the early days of 1930.  The kitchen produced meals for Tubby’s dining room on the first floor on 42.  Tubby was not apparently much bothered by food but having guests was important to him as a way of finding out about life. There were usually around eight guests for lunch and supper and they could include city men, Toc H members, or Billingsgate porters. Often Tubby would just collar someone as he walked across Trinity Square from All Hallows and persuade them to join him for a meal.

“After I had served him at a mid-week Eucharist, Tubby would often invite me back for breakfast……I remember one occasion where I sat next to a recently-retired governor-general of Australia; on my other side was the local postman, who had just called to deliver the mail and had been asked by the vicar to sit down for a cup of tea”

Kenneth Jarvis – Memoirs of a Celibate Priest
Tubby, Alison Macfie and others in the dining room

There was much rebuilding work post-war as though not destroyed, 42 had suffered a lot of damage. At some point Tubby moved across into 41 and the flat he would remain in for the rest of his life. In August 1961 planning permission was applied for to demolish the back part of the complex – the old four storey warehouse – and replace it with a purpose built two storey Scout Hut. Ultimately this didn’t happen.

Whatever else was going on, 42 remained a hostel at heart. Frank Gomez was a resident there from Pakistan. He said:

“..what is important to me as a foreigner is that the house offers the chance to make friends easily and gives one a sense of belonging.”

Martin Rivett lived there for a year  in 1981 when Peter East was warden. Flo the cook was the wife of a Beefeater. The bathroom was two floors up from Martin and probably past its prime. He recalls

“I remember a very well built but gentle South African resident coming into the dining room at breakfast time one day, dressed only in a towel and plaster dust – he had leant against the wall of the shower cubicle and it had fallen over, with him still inside it!”

“A group of us used to go to the London Hospital in Whitechapel on Sunday mornings to push patients in wheelchairs and even in beds to the church service in a lecture theatre, and I also sometimes drove the house minibus for the Elderly Mentally Infirm group, being ‘trained’ in minibus-driving at 5pm London rush-hour! And, of course, the Tower Hill branch of Toc H met at No 42 – I had been a member of the branch in my time at college in London, which is how I came to be a resident. I enjoyed my time there, and did some of my revising for final exams on the roof in the hot summer – a fire escape connected with Wakefield House next door so it was safer than it sounds.”

Martin Rivett

In the early 70s two major events meant the attention on 42 (and Crutched Friars round the corner) diminished. Firstly the HQ moved off Tower Hill to Wendover and though Sandy Giles – the director – remained on the Hill but when his replacement Ken Prideaux-Brune was appointed in 1974 he would be based out in Buckinghamshire, Then, of course, in December 1972, Tubby, the founder padre and for so long the centre point of Tower Hill, joined the Elder Brethren.

42 would survive another decade, mostly as a hostel but its days were numbered. Although some administrative functions were still run from there (The National Projects office moved round from Crutched Friars for instance), there was not so much activity by Toc H. The British Red Cross even moved in to part of the building for a time in the 70s.

By the eighties the building was run down and the Wakefield Trust decided to close and sell it. As part of the deal the Trust promised to find Toc H another building within the square mile of Tower Hill. This turned out to be the community house at 38 Newark Street which was renovated in 1984 and opened for Toc H the following year. That though is probably a story for another day.

Closure planned by Oct 1982

In the article (Published in the October 1982 Point 3) Peter stated that Talbot House was closed but still open at Christmas as Peter organised Xmas Party for Asian children. Peter retired April 1983. He wasn’t at all happy about the way the closure had been carried out; he had after all spent the last 15 years of his life working there. The problem was the age old conflict between business-heads and community ones. Peter of course fell in to the latter category. In the article he listed some of what had gone on at the house during his tenure. I cherry pick just a few: Meetings of BAOR volunteers, Winants, Claytons, and branches; tenants meetings; the London Settlements Committee; the Asian Artists Association & c. Activities included a refugee club (for mainly Vietnamese refugees); old people’s parties; discos for people with disabilities; skittles for the community; and so much more. Peter’s list is ten times as long as the above and I bet he left twice as much again out. Through forgetfulness or modesty. His own work with the Bangladeshi community is touched on in this blog but you really should seek out Brick Lane……Talbot House truly had been the heart of Toc H on Tower Hill.

By the time the Trust was ready to undertake its big refurbishment project everything had changed.  Much of 41 was I think empty (the two commercial leases had not been renewed) and the hostel in 42 had been closed.  People were no longer interested in sleeping three or four to a room and didn’t want evening meals provided at a set time.  Toc H moved to a smaller property in Newark Street, behind the London Hospital.  The lunch club restaurant had ceased to be viable and had been closed around 1970.  The young Bangladeshis living in Number Seven were also ready to move into flats.  I’m not sure that any of the flats in 6 The Crescent were still occupied.  An era had come to an end and it was time for both the Trust and Toc H to move on. 

The new building at the back of 42. Photo Steve Smith

Once Toc H had left the building, the developers moved in and in the late 80s the building at the back was rebuilt as the current six storey office L-shaped office block across the back of 42 and 41. In doing so some of the mismatched warehouse at the back was demolished exposing the city wall and it is now possible to visit this section behind the hotels. The works also included 6&7 The Crescent. The reconstruction won the architects and builders a City Heritage Award from Master Company Painter Stainers. There is a plaque on back side wall to this effect. Work done at 43 included turning the vaulted cellar into a wine library which it remains to this day.

At this point the (or by this point) the front building had been renumbered 43 and the building at the back retained 42. The complex was now known as Trinity Court. At the same time nos 8-11 The Crescent were demolished and rebuilt. 42 was then extensively refurbished on the 2010s

42 (and 43) in the 21st century. Photo Steve Smith

Today, above the wine library, 43 is now the Parish House so as Ken Prideaux-Brune remarked, in many ways the resurrection of 42 as the Parish House at 43 Trinity Square is a return to Charlotte Tetley’s original intention.

This 3d view cutaway view from Google earth shows the back of Wakefield House and 42 and the city wall

41 Trinity Square (Wakefield House)

Whilst 42 is the most widely known Toc H property in the row, its neighbour at 41 more than played a part in the story. Once the Thames Conservancy Office, 41 was the original home of the Wakefield Trust (See below) and the legal centre of the mile radius within which its work could be carried out. Toc H utilised it for many things over the years including the editorial address of The Journal/Point 3 in late sixties and early seventies and the South East Regional Office in the eighties.

Owned by the Wakefield Trust, who had an office on the ground floor where Wag, now Clerk to the Wakefield Trust as well as looking after Tubby’s finances worked. Couly had her own small office and there was a large front office where Tubby’s other two secretaries worked along with John Durham, the deputy vicar of All Hallows.  Behind that was a small office for WAG.  ‘Wag’ was Clerk to the Wakefield Trust and also looked after Tubby’s personal finances. 

Wakefield House

As stated earlier, Tubby’s flat was now in 41 on the top floor – virtually the attic. A door half-way down the stairs from Tubby’s flat led through to 42, so Tubby could go through there and down the stairs in 42 to reach his dining room.  On the floor below was a room where the current ADC or ADCs slept.

Kenneth Prideaux-Brune recalls:

“In front the small room was my bedroom until Barbara and I married in 1966.  The larger front room was my office (I held the world record for the shortest commute!).  That was the Winant Clayton office and the office for the three of us who launched the Toc H work camp programme.  The same year I got married I became editor of the Toc H magazine as well as Winant Clayton administrator, still working from the same office and I then took over the secretary who had been working for the previous editor and she worked in what had been my bedroom. When Tubby died the flat was lived in by Judy Broomfield (who succeeded me running Winant Clayton) and her husband Rodney, a high-flyer in the City and treasurer of Toc H.  They moved out when they started a family and by that time I had become director of Toc H and moved to Wendover. ”

It wasn’t exclusively used by Toc H though by any means. The middle two floors were let commercially: the 3rd floor to John Jameson’s Irish Whisky, and Joseph Barber – who owned or had owned so many of the warehouses around the city – had offices there as late as 1950.

Wakefield House in the 21st century. Photo Steve Smith

So let’s take a break from the material aspects of Toc H on Tower Hill and take a look at what was being achieved there by Tubby and Toc H.

Getting Things Done Part 1

The first big drive was less about Toc H and more about Tubby the historian and parishioner. One of his passions when he arrived on the Hill was the need to preserve its history and clear it off the monstrous warehouses and industrial premises that lined the Hill and littered the streets around it.

Despite its historic importance and the presence of the magnificent Tower of London, the entire area had long ago fallen into disrepair. In the 17th century parts of the Hill were used as a rubbish dump and there was even a small quarry there.

The first attempt at improving it came when Trinity House chose to move their HQ there from the winding Water Lane closer to the river. An Act of Parliament was passed in 1797 and included construction of a highway and the enclosure and laying out of Trinity Square Gardens. The Act led to the formation of the Tower Hill Trust to oversee Great Tower Hill and the Gardens. The Trust was entitled to levy a rate from all residents of the Square to pay for the works and ongoing maintenance. The gardens were completed around 1797-8 and were laid out very simply in the form of an oval, and consisted of a central grassed area with small flowerbeds surrounded by a footpath, shrubbery and iron railings on stone plinths.

Nonetheless, during the 19th century many of the great houses on the square were subdivided into business premises or replaced with warehouses and the area declined again.

The coming of the Port of London Authority HQ swept away many of the streets in the North West corner of the Hill shortly before Tubby’s arrival in 1922.

Watercolour of the PLA building by Sir Edwin Cooper

The first significant improvement after Tubby got there was the opening of the Merchant Navy Memorial by Queen Mary (deputising for her husband King George) in 1928. Interestingly, the opening was first time that Queen Mary’s voice was heard on radio.  Despite it being unveiled on Tubby’s birthday – 12th December – he had little to do with its creation. And, jumping ahead a few years, when the World War II Memorial was proposed, Tubby was vehemently opposed to it. He referred to it dismissively as “a sunken garden for sunken sailors”!  His campaign obviously got nowhere but his argument was that what the East End most needed was more open space and the proposed memorial would take away a large chunk of open space on the edge of Tower Hamlets.

So what was Tubby’s first contribution to the improvement of the Hill?  Well, once established in Talbot House, Tubby turned to the area around it. In a newspaper article in Feb 1931, he announced that he has become the tenant of a grin, dank patch of ground behind a hoarding (Which he names Hangman’s Hoarding) next to the wooden surface building of the long closed Tower Of London station (By then a spirits warehouse). It was owned the Metropolitan District Railway Company and Tubby had to persuade them he would be a fit tenant.

“at last the authorities said that if Clayton would promise not to keep pigs in it, and not to bring there any gunpowder or spirits or petroleum, he could have the plot at a certain rent. This the parliamentary group of Toc H promised to pay”

He had plans to make a new Postmen’s Park by turning the plot into a little grass site bordered by flowers. He also wanted it to be a playground. For a long time the boys who live near the Tower have been thinking they would like to play on an old, disused plot of ground lying between two tall buildings in Trinity Square. It was not very big, about 60 feet by 15, but “there are not many places to play in in that world of shipping offices and warehouses.

Tubby set to work on his new garden. Built on a tiny plot of vacant land allegedly the birthplace of William Penn. All the mud and stones and refuse were cleared away and a good floor made of gravel and concrete. The lower stages of the walls were distempered cream, and a ledge left with a stone slab on it where coats and bats and tackle can be put. At the rear a stout, high fence was built, to catch unwary balls, and the front of the plot boarded up with a very nice double gate in open ironwork. Next were brought in six little cypress and five box trees, in tubs, and set round the western end of the enclosure. A board was painted saying in clear letters ‘This is Dingley Dell’, and fastened on the outer boards for all to see.

Tubby had a shelter built using 300 year old wood and old church glass. It was to be primarily for Scouts who worked in the city firms but also a coffee bar for the unemployed. The timber was gifted to Tubby by Messrs White from their old warehouse in Love Lane (Where Ramsey MacDonald – himself a Toc H President) had worked as a boy. The new courtyard was described thus:

You go along Tower Hill, following the big garden railings round. In the distance you see a sudden picture of a happy-looking house, clean and shining, with flowerboxes at every window and the Toc H sign over the door. Looking that way you spy a wooden boarding not far from Toc H House, and you see the board: This is Dingley Dell

The name Dingley Dell is taken from the name of the camp outside Poperinge where Tubby briefly set up shop when the shelling of Talbot House was too dangerous from him to remain. In turn, the name was taken from Dicken’s Pickwick papers, where it was the village where Mr Wardle’s farm lay.

Dingley Dell was opened on 23rd April 1931 though there was a separate opening by Sir Alfred Pickford, Development Commissioner of the Boy Scouts Association in July.

Britain from Above 1923

At this point we should perhaps take a look at how this work on Tower Hill was being financed. Toc H subsisted on membership fees and donations but there was no spare cash to pay for Tubby’s bolder dreams. He could, of course, charm the birds out of the trees and had many wealthy friends from business and the upper classes who would happily produce a cheque for him from time to time. In the late 1920s two of the most generous of those donors emerged. Lord Wakefield we will deal with shortly but the other was the aforementioned Charlotte Tetley. By and large the donations from these two philanthropic supporters were wrapped in a number of trusts which we will briefly describe here.

The first trust to be established, through a donation of £20,000 from Charlotte Tetley in October 1926 (The deed was established on 31st December 1927) was the All Hallows’ Toc H Trust (aka the Toc H and All Hallows Trust). The trust deed was held jointly by the patron, Randall Davidson, the Archbishop of Canterbury (who dedicated at All Hallows in November 1928 a few days before his retirement), and the Corporation of Toc H. It marked the first official connection between the church and All Hallows.

The purpose of this fund was specifically to assist the training and ordination of more priests. This was Tubby’s big passion that had started in Poperinge, continued at Knutsford, and was now one of the main focusses of All Hallows where a College was established. When 42 was acquired the following year, this became the Collegiate House.

This work was supplemented with memorial chaplaincies specifically to pay the salaries of Toc H Padres. Charlotte herself endowed the Henry Tetley Memorial Chaplaincy and the Herbert Fleming Memorial Chaplaincy. The Trust itself paid for the Toc H All Hallows Chaplaincy. At some point I will be writing an article on Tubby’s ADCs, most of whom in the early days were also Curates at All Hallows. This will demonstrate just how many of these young men – most also in Toc H – went on to have lengthy and often lofty careers in the church.

A part of the Trust was used in 1927 to rent Pierhead House in Wapping as a training centre and retreat for All Hallows. This was soon taken over by Toc H as their training centre until the war. It was also this Trust that originally allowed the purchase of Talbot House (42 Trinity Square)

The Toc H and All Hallows Trust is still in existence.

To safeguard the property the Tetley Trust was founded by a trust deed dated 27 April 1931. This is one reason why it was never seen as a Mark like the other Toc H hostels, as it was not solely owned or leased by the Movement and had a diverse purpose.

On 6 December 1933 Charlotte made another gift of £2,500 for a House of Charity or Benevolence on Tower Hill in c.1963 this gift, the House of Benevolence Fund, was transferred from the Tower Hill Improvement Trust to the Wakefield Trust and was thereafter known as the Lady Wakefield Benevolence Charity.

The Tetley trust was administered by the Wakefield Trust from 1966 and the two merged in 2008.

Wakefield by Sirra

Lord Wakefield joins my long list of those who deserve their own blog but meantime let me summarise how he came to meet Tubby and get involved with him. In 1926, a group of men from the Corn Exchange in Mark Lane wished to commemorate men of the London (Division) the 10th Anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. They approached Tubby who agreed to hold services at All Hallows on 1st July. Many of the heads of City firms were invited and a telegram was sent to Lord Wakefield, the head of Castrol (At that time?) and a former Lord Mayor of the City of London. Early services were held at 7am and 8am but the main one began at 1.05pm. After the service Tubby met with Lord Wakefield and discussed his plans for the Tower; Wakefield was engaged and promised to help. Thus began a beautiful thing and – as we shall see very shortly – set about improving Tower Hill together. Wakefield also supported Toc H in many ways but will always being remembered for buying the original Talbot House from its owner and returning it to the Movement.

At first his generous donations were made directly or through other trusts but in 1937 the Wakefield Trust was established. Wakefield gave a number of houses in the vicinity of Tower Hill “for such charitable purposes as will be most conducive to the development of Tower Hill and Trinity Square as a centre of welfare work or as a centre from which welfare work can be conducted”. The deed spelt out the following specific uses: a headquarters for Toc H or another suitable charity; a hostel for young men engaged in welfare work; clubs for young men and women; educational or recreational use in connection with any of the above.

In the early 21st century the properties owned by the Wakefield Trust are 6-7 The Crescent; 8-11 The Crescent; 41 Trinity Square; 42 Trinity Square; and 42 Crutched Friars which are let as investment properties, and 43 Trinity Square which is let to All Hallows at a peppercorn  rent (Except the basement which is let commercially)

There is now one more Trust to consider and for the purposes of this blog it is one of the most interesting. Tubby, as we have seen, was keen to rid Tower Hill of its hideous carbuncles (to borrow a phrase form another aesthetic architecture aspirant). Tubby’s was not an idle dream either; he had plans. In October 1933 Tubby”) Clayton and Dr Bertram Ralph Leftwich published The Pageant of Tower Hill, which included the outline of a scheme to improve the Hill. In December 1933 the inaugural meeting of the Tower Hill Improvement Fund was held. Lord Wakefield was elected President and launched an appeal at the Guildhall in January 1934. Earlier, on 28th April 1933 the Tower Hill Improvement Company had been incorporated gaining a certificate of entitlement to commence business on 27 June 1933

Leftwich was the librarian at Custom House.

Wakefield, Tubby and Follett Holt

Despite his ‘day job’ at All Hallows and his ‘hobby’ of Toc H, Tubby worked diligently for the Tower Hill Improvement Trust and much of what will be unravelled in the next several paragraphs was down to him. But he was supported by a team of big hitters. The first General Secretary was the journalist William Singer Barclay, later replaced by R F Gingell who worked for the PLA. The Committee in 1934 was:

Lord Wakefield (President); Sir Follett Holt (Chairman), Tubby (Chaplain); Sir Ion Hamilton Benn and Viscount Goschen of Hawkhurst (Honorary Treasurers); Michael Lubbock and Leonard Tetley (Honorary Secretaries). The Councillors were: Frederick Robert Stephen Balfour, Lance Prideaux-Brune, F Ashley Cooper, Cecil Ellis, Sir George Herbert Duckworth, Frank Follett Holt, Montague Ellis, Michael Lubbock, George William Reynolds, Leonard Tetley

 Sir Arthur Follett Holt was a retired railway engineer, very influential in Argentina where he was Chairman of many railway companies.

Frank Follett Holt – was his stockbroker son, Balfour was a horticulturist, Lance Prideaux-Brune we already know, F Ashley Cooper was probably Frederick Ashley-Cooper the renowned cricket historian, Sir George Duckworth was secretary to the Royal Commission on Public Monuments amongst many other public service roles. If you have read my previous blogs you will know that Montague and Cecil Ellis were the father and son solicitors who looked after Toc H’s affairs. Leonard Tetley was Charlotte’s son whom we have mentioned earlier.

Reynolds was the General manager and a Director of the Guardian Assurance company. Tubby had first approached him in 1928 to ask for his help in opening up an old city churchyard whose church had long since gone. He wanted it to be a park for city workers. Having grabbed Reynolds attention he then told him of his further plans for Tower Hill and recruited another supporter. He also took Toc H to heart and visited branches overseas and became a trustee of the Wakefield Trust

Viscount Goschen was a former MP, Governor of Madras and a member of the Privy Council whilst Michael Lubbock probably the merchant banker who later had a military career. His uncle Percy was Pepys’ librarian at Magdelene College. Lubbock’s paternal grandmother was a Gurney and one of his aunts, a Bonham-Carter, both families having strong Toc H connections.

The Trust was well supported by Lord Wakefield and others but it still had to make huge fundraising efforts. In 1935 alone these included a film premiere, a pageant at the Tower, and Lord Wakefield’s lunch at Claridges.


There were eight key targets in their initial plan as the map below shows. These included the demolition of the Nightmare on Tower Hill (1), the demolition of the eyesore building on the pavement by All Hallows (2), new fencing at the bottom of Tower Dock (3), and the demolition of the ugly warehouses on the northern edge of Tower Hill (7).

The following sketch gives a more detailed view of how they hoped the area to the north of the Tower would look.

In 1965 a set of gates were erected at the east end of All Hallows in memory of Sir Follett Holt. On the plinths are sculptures, The figures, called ‘The Sea’ designed by Cecil Thomas. A plaque reads

In memory of Sir Follett Holt, KBE, First Chairman of the Tower Hill Improvement Trust, died 20th March 1944.

The Trust’s purpose in remodelling the hill was more or less usurped after the war when the City Corporation and the LCC (later the GLC) took on this role but it continues as a charity giving grants to local organisations that meet its criteria. To facilitate this, new Schemes for the Trust were approved by the Charity Commission in October 1973, and then in April 1987. The 1987 Scheme defined the Trust’s area as Great Tower Hill, Tower Hill, and St Katharine’s Ward in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The Tower Hill Trust’s only remaining freehold property are the Wine vaults under the terrace.

The Children’s Beach

On of Tubby’s first projects with the Trust responsible for getting the Children’s Beach opened in July 1934 at a time when trips to the seaside were a luxury for many families from the East End. Families had used the Thames foreshore as beaches in the past both here, at Greenwich and elsewhere but these were not maintained in anyway and subject to the erosion of the tides. Here on Crown land in front of the Tower and in the shadow of Tower Bridge a beach was specifically created. More than 1,500 barge-loads of sand were brought in and heaped on the foreshore between St Katherine’s Steps and the Tower.

The Children’s Beach

As well as the existing steps to get down a gangway was installed – a gift from the P&O Steam Navigation Company and R & H Green and Silley, Weir & Co Ltd. Work on the beach itself was done by Mowlem for free.

The beach was opened to the public by the Lieutenant Governor of the Tower on 23 July 1934, the king, George V declaring that it was to be used by the children of London who should have “free access forever”. A waterman patrolled in a rowboat during play hours.

The beach was a huge success – even though it was always closed at high tide, between 1934 and the outbreak of war in 1939, over half a million people used it, most of them coming from the East End, particularly Stepney and Poplar. During the Second World War, the beach was closed. It was re-opened in 1946 by the Governor of the Tower, Col Edward Hamilton Carkeet-James.

The trust also installed a new fence and gates on Tower Dock and Tower Pier which Tubby blessed.

However, the beaches use declined, and because the river was considered polluted and unsafe for bathing, it was finally closed in 1971.

One little known fact about the Children’s Beach is that Tubby initially envisaged the Winant volunteers as coming over to be lifeguards for the beach. In the summer of 1948 ten of the first seventeen Winants did just that!

A family on the Children’s Beach

Dec 1937 it was announced that a bust of Wakefield by Cecil Thomas is to be set in the wall of Wakefield House to commemorate his work for the Tower Improvement Trust. It is topped by a Toc H Lamp of maintenance.

A magazine was launched in March 1939 with the title of The Tower Hill Review. It encapsulated Toc H, All Hallows , and the Tower Hill Improvement in one place. Cyril Pearson was editor with Michel Coleman as his assistant and WAG as Business Manager. I find no evidence of a second edition and I suspect the war probably put paid to it.

As Tower Hill was for Toc H in the late 1930s

The Vine Street Playground

The Trust next managed to acquire some land on the northern section of Tower Hill to make room for a small park in 1937 but we discuss that a little later. The next big installation was the Children’s Playground which was constructed following the purchase of 3-5 Vine Street in 1937 and later 1-2 The Crescent, Minories. It was opened in May 1938 and taken over by the City of London Corporation in December 1939. Reputed to be only Children’s Playground in the City at the time it opened, it later fell under the King George’s Field project and was relocated to Portsoken in the seventies where it remains today albeit a park, rather than a Children’s playground. It was visited by the Queen in 1938 (See Royal Visits section at end of blog)

Before we go much further in the achievements of Tubby, Toc H and the Tower Hill Improvement Trust, our winding journey needs to go back and look at some more buildings acquired by Toc H before the war.

28 Great Tower Street

50 Great Tower Street closed in 1932 but in December 1933 the LWH moved in just up the road at 28 Great Tower Street (On corner of Water Lane). It was officially opened on the 21st February 1934 by the Duchess of York. The New June hostel was re-established here and the LWH headquarters returned to Great Tower Street having flitted around a number of other premises in London.

A former coffee shop and eating house – the LWH found piles of cutlery in the cellar of 28 – it also must have served as a barber or hairdresser as the mosaic tiles on the doorstep proclaimed “C.C.C Shaving”. Marratt and Ellis opticians, retained the shop on the ground floor and the women had to climb the narrow, curved staircase to reach their club room and bedrooms on the upper four floors. The bedrooms were named as memorials for departed women such as Isabel Clayton (Tubby’s sister), Patsy Leonard (Pat Leonard’s sister who died after a car accident in May 1926) and Constance Colt-Williams (A First World War nurse captured by the Germans and who died in 1920). The kitchen was well-appointed, apparently with the latest in gas cookers which was useful as the lunch club moved here, though the larder was a cage hung outside on the window sill.

Duchess of York visit 1934

18 Byward Street

In January 1937 LWH moved their headquarters from New June to 18 Byward Street and stayed there until they moved to Crutched Friars House in November 1938

This ‘ugly little building’ on the pavement outside the north wall of All Hallows was essentially a cover over an extra exit for Mark Lane with an office slapped on top. It was purchased by the Wakefield Trust so it could be demolished but – in what we will shortly see was a common move – Tubby utilised it whilst it awaited its fate. A couple of years after the LWH moved out the Luftwaffe actually began the demolition and the Trust later completed it leaving only the entrance to the underground station (and later the subway) that remains today..

The ugly little building on the pavement by All Hallows

Crutched Friars House

In 1938 Charlotte Tetley (via the Wakefield Trust) once again intervened and the League of Women Helpers were finally gifted a building to use as their headquarters for the rest of their days. Crutched Friars House at 42 Crutched Friars – a two minute walk from Talbot House – was reputedly the home of the Spanish Embassy in Pepys day. A wood framed-structure that went down two cellars deep it features a famous staircase – the John Adams staircase – dating from 1720: seventy-two steps from the ground floor to the top flat. The LWH had it restored by stripping layers of paint from it and the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire performed the opening ceremony of the new headquarters from those stairs in November 1938. In later years John Burgess recalls admitting many people to the building so they could see and photograph or sketch the staircase.

Sketch of Crutched Friars House by Hugh Verral

The opening in 1938

The building was a mix of flats or bedrooms and office space primarily for the Women’s Association (as it became). In 1959 Women Freemasons adopted one of the rooms and paid for it to be refurbished. Room names include The Rookery and Cheltenham Corner (Furnished by Cheltenham Ladies College)

Crutched Friars with the LWH HQ on the left. Photo Courtesy: Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections (25848)

The lunch club was of course held in the basement for some thirty years and there were meeting rooms on the ground floor. Alison Macfie lived in a flat on the top floor until her death in 1963. She was known as Spiritual Warden. John and Marolyn Burgess moved into her flat in 1970 and John acted as warden for a while.

The Women’s Association outside Crutched Friars House

After the merger of the Movements around 1971 Crutched Friars House took on more general usage. The South East Regional Office was based there as was the International Office and the National Projects office. Sir Alexander Giles – Toc H Director – was based at Crutched Friars after headquarters moved to Wendover. He and his wife Meg lived round the corner at 6 The Crescent (See below). After the lunch club closed in 1968 a coffee business took over the basement. Below the basement were further cellars where wine had once been stored. The Tower Hill Mobile Action Group held a Halloween Party down there. It was cobwebby and spooky and old and dusty, quite perfect for such a party.   

The entrance to Crutched Friars House

Getting Things Done Part 2

OK, after that brief interlude