An Experiment in Notting Hill

How Mark I reinvented itself

By Steve Smith

In telling the tale of Toc H’s UK Marks, I promised that I would come back and look in more depth at the story of Mark I in its final days as a Toc H hostel, then as an International Centre and after it passed into the hands of others. It hasn’t been an easy task since at times the information available to be was complex and contradictory. On top of that many of the key players are no longer with us so I was restricted in the number of first-hand accounts available to me. There is also some inconsistency about the naming of the house which seems to vary immensely and I fear this spills over into my blog. Technically the house stopped being a Mark in 1968 when it was relaunched and its official title becomes International Centre (The term Special Purposes is also used). However, it was a Mark for decades and that term continues to be used in official internal reports. The term International Centre also sowed confusion as it was allied to the International Office which primarily dealt with Toc H units and members overseas. That is not really the context in which the house was named an International Centre. By Michael Oxer’s day the term Community Centre was being used but elsewhere in Toc H (Croydon, Birmingham etc) similar projects were known as Community Houses. Except they weren’t that similar; nothing was. The house at Notting Hill was really quite unique in Toc H terms. So, with the help of several people for whom I am extremely grateful I have managed to disentangle what I believe is the central story. This is that story and trust me when I tell you it’s quite a tale.

First though, let’s give this chronicle some foundations. 24 Pembridge Gardens is a three storey, three-window wide detached house built around 1858 by William and Francis Radford. It sits in Notting Hill, quite close to the Gate, its back garden opening out onto Pembridge Road. Originally in the Borough of Kensington but since 1965 it has been the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Being in Notting Hill as opposed to North Kensington, it actually sat outside the poorest areas of the Borough which may have acted to its detriment later.

Oh, and it has a basement. Very important to this story, that basement!

The whole area had been rural until the beginning of the 19th century when the westward expansion of London reached Bayswater. G.K. Chesterton, a great friend of Toc H, grew up in the area and set his most famous novel, The Napoleon of Notting Hill there. Mind you, he also once said, after witnessing the Toc H Ceremony of Light, “That’s the jolliest pagan ceremony I’ve ever taken part in!”

So our stuccoed Italianate villa in Pembridge Gardens was built on a new estate centred on Pembridge Square and was first occupied by the well-known physician Sir Alexander Morison in about 1860. It passed through several families and – in 1921 – achieved some little infamy in a libel case brought by Lord Alfred Douglas (Oscar Wilde’s lover) against the Evening News. In February of that year they published a story claiming that a maid had found Douglas dead in a bed at 24 Pembridge Gardens! Being alive and well he was able to dispute the report in court. At that time, indeed since around 1911, the house was in the hands of Nicolas Eumorfopoulos, a well-known physicist. It would seem that it was from him Toc H purchased the house.

Toc H moved Mark I there from its original home in Queen’s Gate Gardens in the summer of 1927. We know precise dates thanks to a house diary that was kept for several years. The stewards took possession in late June and the Storming Party moved in on Monday July 4th to get it ready for the remaining Marksmen.

At the time, the once well-heeled area was already in decline with the big houses being turned into hotels and hostels. The whole area had always been home to various itinerants and migrants whether Romany, Jewish, Polish or of many other origins. Perhaps because of this it was Black Shirt country too with a small Fascist HQ at Pembridge Villas and the Kensington Park Hotel often used by Oswald Moseley himself.

The Blitz accelerated the deterioration of the area and the exploits of John Christie further harmed its reputation. In the fifties, malicious landlords – later exemplified by Peter Rachman – took on large houses already holding three or four families and harassed the occupants until they left. They then split the houses further and offered cheap accommodation for numerous families crammed into single rooms. This led to a new community of migrants, invited to the mother country to work on our infrastructure only to find the streets not paved with gold, then drawn to the only housing they could afford. By the mid-fifties the fascists, aided by members of the new Teddy Boy cult, had made a sport of baiting and assaulting the growing West Indian population. Things were building to an inevitable conclusion and in August 1958 the Notting Hill Riots began.

One outcome of the riots and of the environment that spawned them was that the area suddenly became the centre of attention for many well-intentioned groups. The most prominent of these – at least as far as this blog is concerned – was the Notting Hill Social Council. In 1959 Donald Soper, President of the Methodist Conference and a well-known pacifist and socialist, set up a Methodist group ministry in Notting Hill comprising the Revds. David Mason, Geoffrey Ainger and Norwyn Denny. In November 1960 Mason founded the Notting Hill Social Council. An umbrella organisation it promoted temporary or longer term alliances and helped spawn a host of projects.

The Rev. David Michael Mason was a Methodist minister and Labour Party politician. During World War II, he was influenced by Donald Soper and became a pacifist and conscientious objector, working in University College Hospital. He entered the Methodist ministry in 1950 and, as we shall see, became involved in much community work in North Kensington.

The Rev. David Mason

The membership of the Social Council included Mason as Chairman, Stephen Duckworth, Donald Chesworth, Pansy Jeffrey, Father Ivor Smith-Cameron, Bruce Kenrick, and Bruce Kent. The Council also worked with people and organisations like Mark Bonham-Carter and the Race Relations Board, the Kensington and Chelsea Inter-Racial Council, the Inner London Education Authority, the Citizens Advice Bureau, and the London County Council.

Bonham-Carter in particular was also well-known to Toc H. The first chairman of the Race Relations Board (and Helena’s Uncle) he was also a cousin of Brian Hulbert Bonham-Carter who was taken prisoner in 1940 whilst working for Toc H in France. In 1967 Mark opened the extension of Mark XX in Putney.

Bruce Kent of course, was the Catholic Priest and peace activist famous for his work with CND. I say was, Bruce is still alive and kicking at the grand age of 91. His namesake Bruce Kenrick was a United Reform Church priest who founded Shelter – which will feature again in this story.

It’s also worth noting Pansy Jeffrey. Pansy was originally from Guyana and had initially worked as a nurse and health visitor but began working in race relations in Notting Hill in 1959, a year after the riots. She was employed full-time as a West Indian Social Worker by the Family Welfare Association Department of the Kensington and Chelsea Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

Pansy Jeffrey

Another organisation that began in 1963 was the Notting Hill Housing Trust. It was started by Bruce Kenrick, a member of the Iona Community, and a number of local residents that included Frank Bailey and Pansy Jeffrey. Frank is about to feature heavily in our story and he was a forthright man. In fact, talking about the formation of the Housing Trust he later said:

“I was a member of Notting Hill Social Council. I was at the meeting when this housing trust was created. They tell you now that a man called Kenrick started it, Kenrick didn’t start it, Kenrick was also one of the people who were there.”

Regardless of this, Frank certainly made an impact in the area. He had arrived in London, via New York, in 1955 to join the fire brigade. He became the first post-war black fireman in London working for the West Ham fire brigade at Silvertown. Already something of a left-wing firebrand he became the Fire Brigades Union’s branch rep. But finding himself constantly overlooked for promotion, in 1965 he left for a career in Social Work in Kensington. Homeless himself because he caught his wife in bed with another man, he was very interested in the work of the Social Council hence his involvement with the formation of the Housing Trust.

Frank Bailey

Within a few months of the Trust forming, Marksmen from Mark I were helping with the shifting of furniture and sorting of letters coming in in response to an appeal put out by Kenrick.  They also allied themselves with the Family Services Unit and helped decorate houses for families with difficulties and ran fundraising clothing and jumble sales. And, as John Mitchell reported in The Journal, at Christmas 1963 a few brave Marksmen even took several children of problem families to the circus and lived to tell the tale.

It wasn’t just the Mark either. The Mobile Action unit that met at Tower Hill – in the corrugated tin shed near Talbot House, the Toc H hostel at 42 Trinity Square. The shed was otherwise used by Major Henry Bowen-Smith, Tubby’s occasional driver. The Mobile Action group also did a number of weekend and evening decorating projects and in September 1964 Toc H School’s Section ran a work camp in the area where some fourteen boys lived for a fortnight and helped decorate the outside of what was the second house bought by the Trust . They also delivered appeal letters throughout Kensington and Knightsbridge; helped set up a children’s playground and redecorated a room for an 82 year old lady on whose behalf the Housing Trust were resisting eviction attempts! Toc H repeated these decorating projects at least in 1965.

Gary M. James was a Mark I resident involved in some of these projects. He recalls one occasion when they were doing up the flat of an elderly lady in Paddington. The Project Leader, John Mitchell, offered to give the lady a lift in his car to pick up her pension from the Post Office. When she got in the car she climbed up and sat on the parcel shelf with her feet on the seat. It turned out it was her first ever trip in a car.

One of the most ubiquitous players on the community action landscape in Notting Hill was Donald Chesworth. He has his own Toc H connections although I want to first mention his father, who although not directly involved with this particular story, was a Toc H man through and through and probably the original link between the Toc H Mark and his son.

Frederick Gladstone Chesworth was born in Lambeth on the 6th September 1898 and early on became a manager at a printing works, a job he was still doing in 1939. In the Great War he served in the London Scottish and post-war on 29th August 1920 married Daisy Radmore. Their son Donald Piers Chesworth came along in Birmingham on 31st January 1923. A brother, Martin, followed in 1930.

Ches Snr was one of the first Birmingham Members of Toc H (He and Daisy had moved there from London) and in World War II he looked after the Toc H Services Clubs in Italy. Then in 1954 he took over the role of Editorial Secretary from Barclay Baron and for the next nine years was responsible for producing The Journal, the Toc H periodical. In 1963 he retired to Tunbridge Wells where he volunteered at the Medical Library of the Kent and West Sussex hospital until shortly before his death in January 1975.

Whilst his father was supporting the troops in Italy, young Donald, fresh from an education at the London School of Economics, was a Leading Aircraftman in the RAF but with strong political views. He stood for the Labour party in Warwick and Leamington against Anthony Eden in the 1945 General Election. He lost but made waves by being, at 22, the youngest candidate in the election that brought Clement Attlee a landslide victory.

Donald stood again in the 1950 election for Bromsgrove, this time coming second to Tory Michael Higgs by just 190 votes. He then became a local councillor in North Kensington (1952-1965) inevitably sparking a concern for housing which became one of his life’s driving passions. He was also vehemently active against poverty and was chairman of War on Want for many years and he worked as an adviser to various Commonwealth governments such as Tanzania and Mauritius.

Donald Chesworth

Though he never joined Toc H – possibly because he was an agnostic and Toc H is, of course, a Christian group – he had many connections beginning, I believe, in 1954 at the same time his father became editor of The Journal. Donald sat on the Forward Committee of Toc H in his role as Overseas Secretary of the Union of Socialist Youth, and as a member of the LCC. The committee was literally looking forward at the future work of Toc H.

Donald sat on more committees and held more roles with more organisations than can be listed here. Most relevantly for us he was a Director of Notting Hill Social Council (1968-1977) but we’ll cover this and other relevant work in Kensington in the sixties and early seventies in the main text. Chris Holmes, who we will meet shortly, claimed that it was Chesworth who persuaded Donald Soper to start an initiative in North Kensington, in which case he may have set off the chain reaction that creates this entire story. We’ll learn what happened to Donald after his time in Notting Hill toward the end of the article.

The aforementioned Frank Bailey would be central to another organisation formed in the mid-sixties. Following a meeting at the offices of the Kensington Post in 1965, between people concerned about race-relations in the area, in January 1966 the Kensington and Chelsea Inter-Racial Committee (IRC) was established. Its committee included Bill Carr, Pansy Jeffery along with Anne Bretherick, Anne Evans, Dr June Bean, Clive Thomas, Jonathan Rosenhead, and Ivan Weeks. It was described as having a hesitant start so on Monday 29th January 1968 it held a meeting to explain its aims. The platform held Frank Bailey, James Cummings, Selwyn Baptiste and Mark Bonham-Carter. Cumming had been appointed as Community Relations Officer and we will meet Baptiste a little later.

At the meeting Frank didn’t stick to his script. Rather than explain the aims of the IRC as he was supposed to do, he chose to criticise the police. This would not be the last time that Frank’s outspoken behaviour would upset the apple-cart. During investigations for the Mangrove trial he is described by the police as a West Indian militant, much of whose activity is unhelpful in particular in relations between immigrants and the police.

The IRC’s rebooted Executive Committee featured many familiar names and some new ones who will become familiar to us. Alongside Frank as Chairman were Dora Bullivant (Vice-Chair), James Cummings (Community Relations Officer), the Revd Wilfred Wood (Treasurer), the Revd David Mason, and Pansy Jeffrey. Affiliated organisations included the Notting Hill Social Council and the

Notting Hill Group Ministry, the Notting Hill People’s Association, the Adventure Playground, Universal Coloured People’s Association, the Black People’s Alliance, and Toc H!

Another important organisation begun in 1966 was the Notting Hill Community Workshop. This in turn set up the Notting Hill Summer Project in the summer of 1967. The organisers saw the Project as a community empowerment project, driven by the failures of local democracy. The Summer Project’s principal aim was to compile a register of housing conditions, something which was deemed necessary to know before housing in the area could be improved. Other aims included obtaining evidence dispelling myths about black people jumping the queue for social housing. The Project received one hundred volunteers, most of whom were bussed-in university students. They surveyed over 8000 households and completed nearly 5500 interviews. Unfortunately the survey took two years to collate and analyse which damaged its impetus.

One of the key figures in the Workshop and in this story, was Chris Holmes. Holmes was born in Otley, West Yorkshire in July 1942. His father, Gordon, was an insurance broker and a Methodist lay preacher. His mother, Doris, was the pillar of the local Methodist community. Chris gained an economics degree at Clare College, Cambridge in 1964 and a postgraduate management diploma from Bradford University in 1966. His first job was with John Laing, the construction group, in its personnel department, based in west London. He rented a home in nearby Notting Hill. Chris was soon sucked into the local activism and community work and lived in the Notting Hill Community Workshop house. He was involved with the aforementioned Summer Project in 1967 and, as we shall see, in 1968 was appointed Warden at the Toc H house.

Chris Holmes

One thing we haven’t mentioned so far is the whole sixties counter-culture movement in the area. Home of ‘drop-outs’, activists and most of the most psychedelically enhanced musicians of the era, they have little bearing to this story, well except maybe one thing! It’s long been a mystery inside Toc H why Pink Floyd’s genius ‘madcap’ Syd Barrett wrote a song called Pow R. Toc H. By the time someone at HQ thought to write to his management company and ask in the mid-70s, Syd was living on a planet of his own making and the other members of the band had no idea why he called the song that. It’s an instrumental so I’m afraid the lyrics don’t help. But I just wonder if, as Syd was falling out of a show at All Saint’s Church Hall or popping into the London Free School on Powis Square, he spotted a sign for some or other Toc H activity in the area posted underneath a decayed and damaged street sign for POWis SquaRe. It’s just a theory.

Pretty much all that has been written so far in this blog has been setting the scene for the main drama which is about to unfold. And it begins with an ending. We saw that back in 1963 the Marksmen had been involved in community work but by 1968 the whole concept of the Marks was under threat. People had different expectations of short-term rented accommodation. No longer were small dormitories and shared facilities enough for the students and itinerant workers who had populated Toc H Marks since the twenties. Despite all the additional benefits that Toc H had layered on top of the standard hostel package, the concept was passé.  Some Marks had already closed, others were slated for closure, nearly all were haemorrhaging money and various reviews had taken place. There was no longer a Mark I branch though there were still branches in the area at Hammersmith, Fulham, and at Mark II in Pimlico. Something had to give and it was decided that Mark I was to be earmarked for Special Purposes. In the late spring of 1968 it closed down for a dramatic refurbishment.

The rear of the house

It emerged in July 1968, still catering for hostellers but now on a self-catering basis. It was also directed to take on an international aspect and was renamed an International Centre. It was to be under the auspices of Dora Bullivant who was on Toc H’s paid staff as International Secretary. We have already met Dora as Vice Chair of the IRC.

Born Dora Parry in Cheshire in 1913, she had a theatrical background having run various projects in her native north of England. She ran a production company called Strand Electric in the North and produced shows for Staveley Amateur Dramatic group amongst others. In 1952 she wrote her first play, a religious piece called On the Rock

At Toc H her pièce de résistance was a group of black dancers performing at the Royal Albert Hall for the 1970 Festival. Called Light, it was a collaboration with the actor Keefe West and featured both professional dancers and other young people. It was a contemporary piece aimed at “breaking through the language barrier [and] able to convey eternal truths clearly to an audience of every race and creed”. You knew it was going to be difficult for the rather staid elements of Toc H to handle when the Festival brochure came with the warning

“To enjoy this work, especially created for Festival ’70, it is necessary only to come with an open mind free from all preconceptions and be ready to participate in a fresh and exciting experience.”

Dora Bullivant

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s go back to Dora’s appointment overseeing the new Toc H International Centre. Dora was to be based at the Toc H enclave on Tower Hill so someone was need to run the centre on a day to day basis. In the summer of 1968 Chris Holmes was appointed as Warden. Unlike in the traditional Marks the Warden at the International Centre was neither appointed from within the residents nor expected to live there, and it wasn’t an Honorary position as Chris was actually a paid staff member; more like a Centre Manager than a traditional Warden (This change also happened at some other Marks most notably Mark III at Hackney).

In time a Management Committee was also set up to oversee things with the ubiquitous Donald Chesworth at the helm. The other key figures on this committee were Pansy Jeffrey, and David Mason. It’s no coincidence that all three of these were also on the board of the Notting Hill Social Council and that the IRC committee included Chesworth, Jeffrey, and Dora Bullivant. It would becoming increasingly difficult know which tail was wagging which dog at times.

Sketch by Gary M James (Former Marksman)

The new International Centre aimed to aid community and race relations in Notting Hill by providing a base for 10-12 residents to work in the wider community. As such, it housed an international group of residents (Trinidadian, American, English, and Guyanese) who worked or volunteered in local projects such as the Adventure Playground and the Kensington and Chelsea Inter-Racial Council (IRC). And the opportunity for people of different backgrounds and races to live together in a multi-racial community was another stated aim. The final objective was to provide a resource for community groups. Amenities such as office space and meeting rooms (and as we shall see later, printing facilities) formed part of that purpose.

Occasionally the hostel put up young people who had arrived in London without jobs, contacts or accommodation. This was under the auspices of the Blenheim Project, a Social Council initiative for ‘young drifters’ that still runs today.

The Centre offered rehearsal space for a local steel band, almost certainly this was Selwyn Baptiste’s playground band as he was a resident in the house. He was also one of the people associated with the beginnings of the Notting Hill Carnival.

The Inter-Racial Committee were given office space in part of the basement and soon Frank Bailey was running a club there for black teenagers. They also offered Free Legal Advice on Fridays between 7.30 and 9.30pm.

The IRC Office

It’s worth looking at the basement at this point. It was actually a semi-basement so that the windows gave the occupants a view of the outside at ground level.  It was broken roughly into four (with lots of cupboards, small stores, a toilet, and a coal bunker. One of the cupboards contained drawers lined with green baize where the silver would have been kept in the house’s earlier life. There was also a large extension protruding into the garden which had been added on years before.

Frank’s IRC office was at the front of the house and across the hall from it was an old kitchen. Behind the kitchen was the former laundry used by the Marksmen when the house held twenty plus residents. It had a barred window looking out into the back garden. The fourth room was just used for storage. The basement had its own entrance into the back garden and then out onto Pembridge Road so people using it didn’t have to traipse through the house disturbing the remaining residents. The residents did have access to the kitchen as it was the only one in the house but were rarely about during the day.

Notting Hill Press

In November 1968 Chris cleared the old laundry to make room for the Notting Hill Community Press. The Press was started by Beryl Foster, a student nurse who had arrived from Ireland in early 1966. Drawn to the activities of the Community Workshop in 1967, her fellow nurse, Linda Gane, persuaded her to give up nursing and take a job on the second Summer Programme in 1968. Donald Chesworth and John O’Malley interviewed her and she ran five temporary Play Sites in North Kensington with Barry Persad, later the leader of the Notting Hill Adventure Playground, that summer.

To earn a living after the Summer Playschemes ended the women decided it would be a great idea to start a newspaper despite having no experience in running one whatsoever. However, on talking to some of the community groups they found that rather than a newspaper, they wanted a facility to print their own materials. So Beryl and Linda acquired and set up a press with the help of the Community Workshop and moved into the basement of Toc H. The Press printed various materials for local groups including the report that eventually came out of the 1967 Summer Project survey.

Chris let them use the basement room rent free. At that stage they couldn’t possibly have afforded rent anyway. They even relied on neighbourhood people bringing them food. The press they acquired was sold to another group and leased back from them at a peppercorn rent; the sole purpose to ensure that if they went bankrupt the machinery couldn’t be seized. Beryl dealt only with Chris, not really aware of a Centre Management Committee let alone Dora or Toc H headquarters on Tower Hill.

A 1969 Chris Holmes’ memo in the spring of 1969 gives us a good snapshot of what was happening at the time. It begins by listing the current residents who were Selwyn Baptiste, Joyce Manson, Peter Doble, Roy Phillipps, Maggie Slaughter, Frank Bailey, Susan Stoate, Pamela Stoate, Peter Browne, Keith Gaskin, Gill Long

Selwyn Baptiste

Chris says he believes that all the above people are involved in community activities to some degree: Selwyn with the playground and steel band; Joyce the summer school and involving students (especially overseas ones) in the community; Peter giving legal advice at the Lancaster Neighbourhood Centre; Keith – a West Indian student – giving advice on the Legal Aid panel run by the IRC; Maggie also helping the IRC as a caseworker; Peter teaching religion at a local school but also helping arrange summer camps; Susan, a secretary in a local hospital visits old people in the area; and Roy involved with the Universal Black Organisation who produced a magazine

The memo goes on to say that the IRC have their office in the basement and use the building for many different meetings plus parties and social events; The West Indian Singers (A folk group stemming from the Theatre Workshop), a West Indian Youth group and one or two others use the house. The Notting Hill Press work from the basement publishing The People’s News, The Notting Hill Herald and countless community pamphlets, leaflets and brochures.

Besides the IRC it was used for meetings by Notting Hill Social Council; the Motorway Development Group; the North Kensington Renewal Coalition; North Kensington Fabian Society; Summer Play Programme; Notting Hill Sure Help Association; Eleanor Rathbone Association and others

Twelve volunteers for a pilot planning project for the Summer Play programme used the house as a base for their activities for a week; Chris delivered a training programme to voluntary housing advice workers; they helped find local boys for a Toc H Summer camp in Guildford; they took in a Czech Relief Organisation for six weeks whilst they were in London working with refugees from the 1968 Russian invasion; and they also took in girls as ‘emergency Cases’ during family break-ups.

Of the residents in the house Beryl only really recalls one troublesome tenant; an artist who used to paint his sheets and never paid his rent, although she thinks few did. The other resident she remembers well was Roy Sawh who, unusually, had a room on the ground floor and not the upper storeys where most of the residents’ rooms were. She says Sawh was one of those who did pay his rent as he knew he was on to a good thing.

Roy Sawh

Sawh was a former Communist from Guyana who lived in Russia for a while. From 1967 he was a Black Power leader, described by the police as an opportunist. Sawh was involved in many black organisations, several of which he started. These included the Racial Action Adjustment Society with Michael de Freitas (Michael X) in 1965, the Universal Coloured People’s Association in 1967 (and later a splinter group the Universal Coloured People’s Association and Arab Association), and the Black People’s Alliance in 1968. He spoke regularly about racism at Speakers’ Corner and despite his reputation with the police was credited with dampening down tensions after the Mangrove march in August 1970. In 1967 he was the second black person in Britain to be prosecuted for incitement to racial hatred and was jailed for three months (ironically using the Race Relations Act 1965 that had been brought in to try and protect black people). He moved into the Toc H Centre probably in the summer of 1968 soon after it opened but it was in September 1969 that he started one of his most significant projects when the Free University for Black Studies opened in the centre. On Monday the University taught Asian Studies; on Wednesdays – African; and on Fridays – West Indian. They were invited to use the house by the Toc H Management Committee and it ran mostly from the library of the house. It was seen as a significant piece of work in the field.

But the one constant in life is that things change and in the middle of 1969 Chris Holmes resigned to take up a community development post in Islington. It came as a surprise to Beryl who knew Chris well – they attended the same parties. She said he was friendly but reserved (except when publicly speaking) however his departure came as a complete surprise.

As both a resident and one of the prime users of the house Frank Bailey replaced Chris as acting warden for eight weeks. It was a difficult time for him as the IRC was in turmoil. He was disliked by some of the white liberal crowd and considered an ‘Uncle Tom’ by the black power groups. Community Relations Officer James Cummings quit the IRC in October because of internal tension and the Borough Council, who supported the organisation with a grant, put conditions on the funding. In essence they wanted Frank and David Mason to be replaced on the committee by Borough Council officials.

And then, whilst Acting Warden for Toc H, Frank hit the headlines again. In October 1969 there was a fuss in the Kensington Post about a woman evicted by Frank. A Mrs Marie Bethule – a 23 year old nurse – was invited to stay at the house for a few days around August 1969 with her infant daughter whilst alternative accommodation was sorted out for her. She apparently refused to accept the accommodation offered and wouldn’t leave the house.

Frank Bailey

Discussing the matter Pansy Jeffery said there were certain “personality clashes” at the house because its work was experimental and “very difficult to run”. She added that the NHSC had taken over management of the house from Toc H so they could be better involved in the community but she was concerned the row might cause the house to be withdrawn. This is the first we hear of the bloodless coup that meant that the NHSC were effectively running the centre now.

At the same time, Toc H were recruiting a new Warden. The Rev. Michael Oxer was a Presbyterian minister in Melbourne, Australia. He was present when the Revd. Geoffrey Ainger, from the Notting Hill Ministry, toured Australia and Michael was very interested in working with the London Ministry. This was agreed with David Mason and Geoffrey Ainger but they realised Michael needed somewhere for him and his wife to live. Aware of the Toc H Warden vacancy they saw how they could kill two birds with a single stone and put Michael forward, even though he himself was previously unaware of Toc H. He was accepted and in late July 1969 Sandy Giles, the Director of Toc H, wrote offering him the position on the recommendation of the Toc H Committee at the house.

Michael arrived from Melbourne in October accompanied by his wife Jenny, who proved to be a pillar of the community getting involved with many things despite falling pregnant. Their son Jonathan was born on the 26th July 1970 at St Mary Abbott’s Hospital.

Michael Oxer

After a period of getting to know the Centre and what was happening there, in April 1970 Michael produced his own report on the activities based on his first six months running things. This report reflects that there seems to be a lot of individualistic work going on rather than residents engaging in a common task. It also talks about a benevolent sponsor in the background – referring to the Social Council – and suggests they might have a vested interest in taking over the house.

Michael noted that the various groups that used the house operate quite independently of Toc H. He said that as the groups grew big enough they tended to move on and a new embryonic group replaced them. Thus Toc H is acted as a resource and support for such groups without dominating them.

He noted that several groups used the house regularly and he had developed systems for managing the bookings well. He particularly drew attention to the West Indian Standing Commission Legal Panel which he said provided a real caring service. He was pleased that as well as providing legal advice to clients it acted as a good networking meeting for lawyers from different parts of the West Indies. He went on to single out the work done by Roy Sawh’s Free University of Black Studies. He also liked the exuberant touches the Placenta Workshop theatre group and the Trinidad Singers bring to the house.

He further talked about having to evict two West Indian residents and having a poor relationship with a former West Indian resident. He warned that white people needed to analyse their motivations when trying to work cross-culturally and that simplistic political stances were very dangerous.

Sketch of rear by Gary M James

Then Michael discussed the two businesses operating in the basement. Firstly the IRC, which he noted was having difficulties even before he arrived and said that some members of the house management committee were on the IRC committee in an effort to try and save things. He was more scathing of the Notting Hill Press which he felt had somewhat used the house. He said he was disappointed by the attitude the Press had chosen to adopt and that his then current stand toward the Press was the opposite to his attitude on first coming to the house as Warden.

Beryl said Michael Oxer was opposed to the Press although he was kind enough to give her a room to sleep in for a short while when he discovered that I was sleeping in the Press room, having been evicted from a squat in Clarendon Road. She remembered her room upstairs was very spartan and cold.

Michael recalled that the presence of the Press was discussed at various internal meetings and the decision to ask them leave was made. This news reached the Kensington Post and in April 1970 they reported, with typical journalistic sensationalism, that the Press had been evicted. The official line was that Toc H shouldn’t be allowing a commercial firm to sublet as Toc H were a charity and it went against their rate relief. The Press, originally a simple community group has subsequently become a limited company.

Beryl recalls that Roy Sawh was the only resident she remember supporting them when they were told to leave. According to the Post, the Press complained they were being harassed in an effort to get them out. Donald Chesworth, chairman of the Toc H Management Committee, refused to comment. Whatever the reason by May they had found new premises though it would take 4-6 weeks for them to move as they had to pour new concrete floors to take the weight of the press in the cellar they had found in Ladbroke Grove. This wasn’t the end of the Notting Hill Community Press story but the end of their connection to Toc H.

The IRC also dissolved in the summer of 1971 having been inactive for over a year. Frank remained living at the house and called himself Deputy Warden though how official this was is open to debate.

Meanwhile Michael Oxer got on with the job of trying to bring order to the house and it was proving to be a very difficult task. After identifying problems in his April report things only got worse, through no fault of his. He introduced many systems to make the centre run more smoothly and was promoting its use. In October 1970, in a letter to the Post, Michael Oxer advertised the centre as a rehearsal space for bands and several made use of this.

Michael’s chief contact with Toc H was through Dora Bullivant who he found supportive but otherwise he was out ‘on the fringe’. There was no involvement of branches or the Mobile Action group and though he recalls visiting a couple of other Toc H Houses for meetings there was little contact. He was astonished when visiting the house at Birmingham at how much organised creative work was going on. This highlighted the difference between a project very much still under Toc H’s control, and the experimental community work in Notting Hill. Outside of Toc H, Michael of course was in close touch with David Mason and Geoffrey Ainger at the Methodist Ministry. Michael does recall Tubby making a formal visit to the house for a reception but was most interested in paying a visit to the Chapel. The Toc H Annual Report 1969/70 for the year ending 31 Mar 1970 summed up:

 “The experiment at Notting Hill has made it possible for several interesting cultural projects to start.”

Speaking recently, Michael told me that the biggest problem was really the residents, or at least some of them. Far removed from the traditional Marksmen of old, some of the individuals in the house were difficult, argumentative and selfish and there was a lot of internal friction both between residents, and between residents and the many groups using the centre. This did not bode well for a community project. On more than one occasion it was Michael personally who was at the receiving end of the aggravation. One resident complained in writing that Michael’s “holy-rolling” activities on a Sunday were quite disturbing and asked that people refrained from stamping and jumping. This probably referred to the bands rehearsing in the basement.

Not only was the human element of the project in trouble, the fabric of the building was in constant disarray with works often required. It was clear that the experiment that was the International Centre of Toc H in Notting Hill was circling the drain.

Dora departed Toc H during the second half of 1970. Having created a brilliant – if perhaps unappreciated – performance for Toc H’s June Festival she decided to expand her ideas for using dance as social movement. In the middle of August 1970 she started Workshop 42 on Tower Hill (named of course for the hostel at 42 Trinity Square). As many as 90 young people were working on a show to be performed at UN event at Festival Hall in March 1971 to launch the United Nations International Year to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination. The show was to be repeated on April 10th at the Albert Hall in an event sponsored by War on Want (the Chesworth connection presumably).

It was no surprise then when in early 1971 Michael Oxer resigned and returned to Australia with his wife and new born son. In a letter to the Post he stated that he intended to write about the “incredibly complex experience gained trying to run the house”. In their next Annual Report Toc H said he was returning to Australia after “a hectic spell at Mark I”. Michael says this was a major understatement.

The Pembridge Road back entrance

Michael would prove to be the last Toc H Warden and by February 1971, Toc H had decided to close the community house. The experiment had largely failed though there was much to be taken from it and many lessons to be learned. The one real successful project based there during the 2½  years of its existence as an International Centre was probably Roy Sawh’s Free University. This moved to Gower Street and continued a while longer.

At this point that David Mason and the NHSC became formerly involved by offering to take on the house. So in 1971 the Central Executive agreed to lease the building to Notting Hill Social Council for one year on a full repairing lease at £2000 p.a. This seemed a good solution all round and in their annual report Toc H said this allowed them to carry on the experimental work started there by Toc H since 1968 but for an income rather than a deficit.

NHSC were tardy in signing the lease. Toc H wanted them to take on financial responsibility for the property from 1st July 1971 but this didn’t happen. Discussions already taking place at Toc H about future use of the building after the lease expires. Things were about to get a little messy contractually but more of that later. First though the experimental work of the last two years was however, about to be overshadowed by something quite spectacular.

The problems of East Bengal had been rumbling for many years and erupted in December 1970 at the Pakistani elections.  Then on the evening of the 25th March 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of The Nation, declared the independence of Bangladesh before his arrest by the Pakistani Army.

The 26th March 1971 – fifty years ago today – is considered the official Independence Day of Bangladesh, and the name Bangladesh was in effect henceforth.

The first diplomatic Mission of modern Bangladesh was founded in Kolkata on the 18th April 1971 after M. Hossain Ali, the Pakistani Deputy High Commissioner, and the other Bengali staff at the mission defected to the provisional government which would be headquartered there during the Liberation War.

That summer members of the UK Awami League felt that they should have a Mission or Embassy in London. An action committee was formed with Justice Abu Sayed Choudhury as president. He had recently arrived in London after attending a human rights conference in Geneva. An old friend of Choudhury, Sultan Mahmud Sharif was one of those people and he told me that in June 1971 they were first looking at the business premises of two Bengali jute exporters. These though were in Chancery Lane and near Greek Lane in east London and the League felt the new Mission should be with most other Embassies in Kensington. Luckily one of, what Sharif describes as their “freedom fighters”, knew Donald Chesworth and he offered the group the use of a single room on the ground floor of the Toc H house at a very low rent. Sharif is clear that Chesworth made the offer on behalf of Toc H (and not the Notting Hill Social Council) though whether Toc H at headquarters had any idea how generous they were being is another matter! This, of course, is immediately before the NHSC lease was supposed to commence. Chesworth had made several trips to the region during the year as a Director of War on Want and was incredibly concerned about what was happening in the region.

Sharif says the house at this time was deserted and in a dilapidated state. The group, including their wives and children, had some hard work decorating the room but when they finished Chesworth was so pleased with their efforts he offered them first the rest of the ground floor and then the entire basement for cooking and accommodating families as well.

On the 27th of August 1971 the Bangladesh Mission to London moved in to the redecorated house and the Bangladeshi flag was raised for the first time in the UK. The Mission of course was still unofficial at this point as Bangladesh had not yet been recognised by the British government.  Nevertheless a large crowd were present to bless it, including Bengali members of staff who were still working with the Pakistan High Commission. The inaugural function was presided over by Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury and key speakers included Peter Shore MP, John Stonehouse MP, and journalists Anthony Mascarenhas and Simon Dring.

27th August 1971. The Mission moves in.

After liberation, Chowdhury returned to Dhaka and was elected as President of Bangladesh on 12 January 1972 and on the 4th February 1972, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, announced to the Commons that the British government officially recognised the State of Bangladesh. Later that day, from the Toc H building at 24 Pembridge Gardens, the national flag of the independent Bangladesh was again ceremoniously hoisted. And from that day the first Bangladesh High Commission outside India was officially open.

Whilst this was an amazing piece of history was happening at the house, all was not well!  The NHSC were still avoiding signing the lease or paying any rent. In early 1972 Toc H started steps to regain possession of the building. By July the lease had still not been signed and though a payment of £2000 was received Toc H were trying to repossess the property. The Social Council had expressed an interest in buying the property with Donald Chesworth leading the discussions. One wonders if their failure to pay the rent and sign to lease was a tactic to convince Toc H to sell. If so that’s considerably ironic given what the Council was formed to tackle.

An inspection of the property by Donaldson and sons (Toc H’s property agents at the time) found the condition was better than when the tenant took over and noted that the main occupant at the time was the Bangladesh High Commission.

The Commission moved out around April 1973 (To Queen’s Gate thus almost reversing the Marks original move in 1927) because they were sharing Pembridge Gardens with families and now had some 70 staff to accommodate

The leasing wrangles continued through 1973 with the Council still in possession (though it’s unclear who was in the house after the Commission left) and Toc H still trying to evict them. In the Annual Report 1973/4 (For the year ending 31st March 1974), it was reported that after “protracted and tedious negotiations” a settlement was reached with the previous tenants and Toc received £4750 in payment of rents and other charges. This was final settlement. The Council vacated the premises during the year and negotiations for its sale by tender were started.

During the period it stood empty, Toc H member Rodney Broomfield, later a Central Councillor,  lived in as a sort of a caretaker and there was also one remaining resident whom I believe to be Frank Bailey.

In early 1975 the Scientology based charity Narconon were looking to lease the building as a hostel for the rehabilitation of drug addicts but planning permission for the change of use was refused.

The house now lay empty for several months but the next stage of its journey awaited. It came from Toc H ‘on the Hill’ and would essentially be due to the work of one man, Peter East.

Peter joined Toc H in Skegness as a young man. Later he joined the staff and went to work in the BAOR club in Paderborn, Germany. Whilst he was there he read about the race riots in Notting Hill and in 1967 when he finally returned to the UK to become the Warden of Talbot House at 42 Trinity Square, he was committed to improving race relations. Initially he taught English to young Asians at Toynbee Hall. These were mostly Bengalis from the Sylhet region. Then he set up an Asian Youth Club in the hut at back of Talbot House (it later moved to the crypt of St Botolph’s church, Aldgate). He organised camps to the Christian community Othona, out at Bradwell and in 1973 established a hostel for young Bangladeshis at No. 7 The Crescent (Directly behind 42 Trinity Square). If you want to know more about Peter’s work then track down a copy of Ken Prideaux-Brune’s A Kind Of Love Affair.

When Peter discovered that the old Mark I was standing empty, and knowing of its existing association with Bangladesh, he felt it might make an excellent Bangladeshi community centre. Thus in the annual report 1975/6 presented at the Central Council meeting in November 1976 it announced that in the coming year,

“the empty Notting Hill Mark is to be refurbished and eventually opened as a hostel for young Bengalis working in London. This scheme, which has the blessing of the Central Executive, is an extension of the work which has been carried out so successfully on Tower Hill for some time now. The house will remain the property of Toc H who will be represented on the management committee of this experimental venture.”

And so it became precisely that. The centre was largely run by a marvellous lady called Muni Rahman, whose husband, Shah, worked closely with Peter in the East End.  There were a lot of Bangladeshi cultural events and dance classes.  On one occasion the young Toc H group from Southampton came and taught them some English folk dances.

Essentially a project of the new Inner London District (formed July 1975), members were to work alongside future residents getting the building decorated with Toc H providing a loan for repairs. A number of prominent Bangladeshi community members agreed to serve on the Management Committee.

And it stayed like this for the next six years – a joint Toc H and Bangladeshi Community project until in June 1982 the lease was due to expire. At Central Council it was extended for a year after which Toc H agreed to sell the Mark to Bangladesh Community without putting it on the open market.

Ken Prideaux-Brune recalls:

“When Toc H took the decision to close its remaining Marks and sell the properties we agreed to offer Mark 1 to the Bangladesh community and the High Commission set about raising the money.  There was an extraordinary meeting at the Centre, chaired by the High Commissioner and attended by a number of Bangladeshi businessmen.  Everyone was expected to make public pledge of what they would contribute. After the High Commissioner had spoken and invited pledges there was dead silence for about 10 minutes.  Eventually someone offered a sum.  Then there was silence for several more minutes and then someone else offered.  More Silence. Eventually after a very embarrassing hour or so a considerable sum had been pledged.  I don’t know how much of it was actually paid. I suspect that at the end of the day the Bangladesh government had to put in a considerable sum.  But the building was sold and a committee set up to run it.  It then emerged that there was considerable resentment against Muni.  The Centre had been very much run by Muni.  She made all the decisions but she also did all the work.  If the floor needed scrubbing Muni would be on the floor scrubbing.  The men on the committee (and I think they were all men) talked a great deal about how the centre must be run democratically but they didn’t actually do anything.  But Muni was forced out (and shortly afterwards was killed in a car accident).”

There was time needed to ensure a proper legal footing for the purchase. In fact there was a bit of a battle with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea over planning permissions and perceived change of use. Eventually in March 1985 there was a ceremony to formally hand over the Centre to the Bangladeshi Community in in the presence of the then High Commissioner Mr Fakhruddin Ahmed and led by Harry Brier Chairman of Toc H.

The High Commissioner said “it was from this house that diplomatic notes were first exchanged with HM Government upon the recognition of Bangladesh as an independent state

The General Secretary of the Bangladesh Centre said;

“The Bangladesh Community will remember this momentous evening with gratitude. Toc H is handing over the charge of the premises, located at 24 Pembridge Gardens, to the Bangladeshi community in London.

In 1971, during the Liberation war of Bangladesh, Toc H offered us accommodation in setting up our first High Commission. From thence, we communicated all the Western world for support of our cause for freedom.

Number 24 Pembridge Gardens is used as a symbol of unity and co-operation in the movement for the Independence abroad here in the UK.

The history of the Independence Movement in Britain owes much to Toc H, which has given open support and aid to the Bangladeshi community.”

The sale agreement provided that Toc H would have the right to appoint a member of the Committee so Ken Prideaux-Brune took on that role. He recalls

“that the meetings were chaired by the High Commissioner or his Deputy and they insisted that the meetings should be held in English but every time someone got excited, which was quite often, they lapsed into Bengali. It quickly became clear that there was no point in my attending. So I pulled what I thought was a master stroke.  I appointed Tassaduq Ahmed as the Toc H representative.  Tassaduq was very much an ‘elite’ (I think his brother was Minister of Education) but was a good friend of Peter’s and had been awarded an MBE for his work with the Bangladesh community in the East End.  He obviously spoke Bengali and I knew would stand no nonsense from the talkative do-nothing brigade. 

And after that Toc H more or less stepped back from the Bangladesh Centre in any official way and left it to its own devices. It was, after all, all grown up. It continues to this day.

And that more or less finishes the amazing story of Mark I but I just want to end by finding out what happened to some of the key players.

Frank Bailey

Frank retired in 1990 but continued to follow his interests in African politics and the role of colonialism in shaping the Caribbean diaspora. An avowed communist, he consistently championed equality and the rights of working people, particularly black people. He died on the 2nd December 2015 exactly one year after Chris Holmes, the Warden who preceded him at Toc H.

Dora Bullivant

After her Workshop 42 shows for the UN and War on Want which were about performance based on social issues, Dora developed Worksop 42 into a system she claimed as an alternative to Yoga. Dora also did much to promote dance as a way of improving mental health (Years ahead of today’s well-being initiatives) and in 1975 wrote a Relaxation in Movement. She died on the 19th March 2005 aged 91.

Donald Chesworth

He left the area to work in the East End becoming Warden of Toynbee Hall (1977-1987) and in his later years he campaigned to reopen the Children’s Beach by Tower Bridge, something Tubby Clayton did successfully sixty years earlier. Unfortunately he died before the project came to fruition and after his death it was dropped. He died on the 24th May 1991.

Chris Holmes

He moved from community work in Notting Hill in the late 1960s to community work in Islington, before becoming director of a North Islington housing rights project. He went on to be Deputy Director at Shelter as deputy director (1974-76). After positions with the Society for Co-operative

Buildings, an East London housing association, and CHAR, the housing campaign for single people, he ran London’s largest public housing department at Camden Council. In 1995 he returned to Shelter as Director in his most high profile role. The election of a Labour government in 1997 opened up new doors and Chris was a member of various groups, committees and commissions..

He wrote two books, A New Vision for Housing (2005), and a history of Notting Hill housing trust in 2006. His health began to deteriorate in 2008 and by the following year he was unable to walk. Living in a wheelchair focussed his activism on better access for disabled people.

He died on the 2nd December 2014

Pansy Jeffrey

As well as her involvement seen above, Pansy also belonged to various groups sympathetic to her own passions such as the West Indian Mother Club and she was on the management committee of North Kensington Neighbourhood Law Centre. By the end of the 1970s it became clear to her that an increasing number of elderly people of Caribbean origin were suffering from isolation and loneliness so Pansy opened a drop-in centre in 1980, which evolved into the Pepper Pot Club in Ladbroke Grove. Pansy died in 2017, the Pepper Pot Club continues.

David Mason

He was a member of the Greater London Council representing Ealing North 1973–1977. He also stood for parliament on a number of occasions and was later Chairman of the Electoral Reform Society. Mason died on the 18th May 2017.

Michael Oxer

Michael returned to Australia on returning to Melbourne Michael became a member of a new multi faith team (Presbyterian, Methodist and Anglican) working in the inner SE area of metropolitan Melbourne. In the late seventies Michael ‘hit a wall’, his marriage broke up and he left the church to become a renovations builder. He then became a major player in the Australian and International bicycle industry until his retirement. Remarried with a daughter by his second wife and six grandchildren, Michael lives in Melbourne.

Roy Sawh

Roy continued to talk the talk at Speaker’s Corner and also stood unsuccessfully as an independent candidate in several elections during the 80s. In 1987 he wrote his autobiography, From Where I stand, which was said to be the first Indo-Caribbean autobiography published in the UK. He is currently living in Australia with his Australian partner Jenny Lawther, a specialist in housing for women.

Thanks to Ken Prideaux-Brune, John Mitchell, John Burgess, Michael Oxer, Dr Tank Green, Beryl Foster, Mark Ecclestone, Sultan Mahmud Sharif and Gary M. James.

Dr Green’s thesis Digging at Roots and Tugging at Branches: Christians and ‘Race Relations’ in the Sixties is a detailed study of the work of Christians in the sixties in England, with specific reference to a Methodist church in Notting Hill, London.

Also the Toc H archives @ The Cadbury Collection; The Journal; Point 3; Kensington Post, Find My Past and the beast that is the internet.

The Headquarter Buildings of Toc H

By Steve Smith

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

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

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

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

A rare photo of the flat at Red Lion Square

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

Effingham House

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

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

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

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

A Baron sketch of Queen Anne’s Gate

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

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

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

An old sketch of Francis Street

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

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

Francis Street 2008

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

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

The entrance to 15 Trinity Square

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

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

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

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

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

Tubby approved the scheme but added

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

Architect’s sketch of Wendover

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

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

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

The Stables and the Coach House, WHitchurch

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Houses That Love Built

By Steve Smith

This blog is part of a series of features that look at the history of the Marks and other properties of Toc H. In December 2020 I delivered an online webinar about the Toc H Marks in the UK on behalf of Talbot House, Belgium and this article is essentially a summary of some of the information from that online lecture. It contains details and images of the first 24 Toc H Marks in the UK as well as some of the other hostels. I may update this one frequently as I discover more pertinent facts

Watch the original webinar here

So let’s begin by reminding ourselves how it all began quickly look at how it all began..

When the war ended, Tubby Clayton had a dream. His dream was to recreate the fellowship of Talbot House in peace time. He wanted to open a building, a new Talbot House, in London. In April 1919, writing in The Messenger – the news-sheet of St Martin-in-the-Fields, the church of his good friend Dick Sheppard, Tubby outlined his plans to open a new house. He thought Trafalgar Square would be a good place.

Tubby’s dream

In June Tubby heard that the Guards’ Club was moving from its premises at 70 Pall Mall to a new building in Brook Street. He immediately set his eye on taking the old building for Toc H. However the leaseholders, the London Joint City and Midland Bank, had other ideas and Tubby’s plan was thwarted.

The Guards’ Club, Pall Mall

Looking elsewhere he turned to Red Lion Square. His sister Belle had taken up lodgings there during the war and Tubby often stayed at her flat during his leave. So in late 1919 he rented a five room flat on the top floor of 36 Red Lion Square and opened what was sometimes retrospectively known as Mark 00. It was here that the first Toc H hostellers lived, these being Tubby, Arthur Pettifer, Herbert Shiner, George Spragg and Frank Wilkins.

The only photo of the flat at Red Lion Square I can find. Britain From Above 1927

A constant stream of Foundation Members responding to Tubby’s Whizz-bangs turned up at the building and gained the attention of those in the flat by pulling on a piece of string dangling from the window with a luggage tag attached to the bottom. The tag, which dangled five feet off the pavement, bore the words – in Tubby’s handwriting – “Toc H, Talbot House, once of Poperinghe and Ypres”.

There’s no piece of string anymore; in fact there’s no 36 Red Lion Square at all because on the night of 10/11th May 1941 the Luftwaffe flattened it.

The site of 36 Red Lion Square after the war

The First London Houses

It was clear that Red Lion Square was not going to be big enough for what Tubby had in mind so when it came to light that the war-time organisation – the Anglo-South American Committee – had reached the end of its useful life and held properties in Kensington, a delegation approached the committee’s head – Dame Guthrie-Reid – and she agreed to rent one of those properties – No. 8 Queen’s Gate Place to Toc H.

Mark 0

8 Queen’s Gate Place, Kensington

Author’s photo 2008

Opened March 1920

Leased from Dame Guthrie-Reid’s Anglo-South American Committee

Negotiations started in late 1919 and its acquisition was discussed at a meeting of the newly formed Executive Committee on 23rd December 1919. It was announced as a done-deal in The Times on 12th January 1920. But they had barely occupied the Mark when they realised it was too small.

Closed May 1920

Current Status: Extant. Private apartments

Westminster Gazette May 1920

Mark I

23 Queen’s Gate Gardens, Kensington

Opened May 1920

Leased from Lord William Cecil

Used by William Cecil’s wife, Lady Amherst as her ‘wool depot’ during the war. The Cecils’ eldest  Capt. Hon. William Amherst Cecil died on 16 September 1914 during the First Battle of the Aisne whilst serving with 2nd Bn. Grenadier Guards.

On Ascension Day 1920 (May 13th) Mark I received the Old Carpenter’s Bench and rest of the chapel fittings from Talbot House (via the Ordination Schools at Le Touquet and Knutsford)

The above panels were originally in Queen’s Gate Gardens but transferred to 24 Pembridge gardens (See below) where it is believed they are still in place.

Closed 1927 (Mark relocated)

Building Status: Extant. Private apartments

Mark I

24 Pembridge Gardens, Notting Hill

Opened 4 July 1927

Purchase price donated anonymously

A diary was kept and published that tells the story of the first few years of this Mark’s life

Chapel dedicated 10th October 1927 (By Tubby)

24 Pembridge Gardens Then and Now

Mark I remained happily in Pembridge Gardens for the next 40 years but in the late sixties needed to reinvent itself. In July 1968 after period of closure it reopened as self-catering hostel and with fewer residents. It began working even more closely with the local community. Among the residents in 1969 was Selwyn Baptiste, one of the founders of the Notting Hill Carnival.

Two of the wardens around this time were Chris Holmes who went on to run Shelter and Frank Bailey who had been London’s first post-war black fireman and went on to become a social worker and trade union rep.

However by February 1971 Toc H decided to close the Mark down and leased it to Notting Hill Social Council when this lease expired around 1973 Toc H put the house up for sale. Being unsuccessful they instead ear-marked £12,000 to bring it up to standard and turn into a self-catering hostel for Bangladeshi students. Around 1977 the Bangladesh Centre was established as a joint venture between Toc H and the Bangladeshi Community and remains there to this day though Toc H are no longer involved. They sold the building for £165,000 in 1983.

Later this spring I intend to write the story the House in the years after it closed as a Toc H Mark.

Closed Feb 1971 (finally sold 1983)

Building Status: Extant. Bangladesh Centre

Mark II

123 St George’s Square, Pimlico, London

Opened September 1920

Gifted by the Duke of Westminster in memory of his mother Sibell Mary, Countess Grosvenor.

123 St George’s Square (and it’s neighbour. Note the Toc H logo on the pillar

Formerly the London home of Henry Cubitt, 2nd Baron Ashcombe. Toc H paid a Peppercorn Rent and were eventually – in December 1929 – granted a lease of 999 years. It not only became the second hostel but also Toc H headquarters and remained so until HQ moved to offices at 1 Queen Anne’s Gate in February 1926.

The house next door was also gifted to Toc H but rather than occupy it, Toc H chose to let it and benefit from the rents.

In 1969 it underwent a major refurbishment and had to run for six months with six residents instead of 40 which crippled it financially.

Among the Memorial rooms in Mark II was Bernard’s Room. Bernard was Bernard George Norton who died on 6th April 1917. He was in the choir at Talbot House and painted the sign board which hung outside the Old House. This signboard was transferred to Mark II where it hung before being returned to Poperinge. Another room at Mark II was the Trench Room.

Closed 1977

Building Status: Extant. Offices/flats

Mark III

148 York Road, Waterloo

See  for the full story

Opened 21st May 1921

Formerly the vicarage of St John’s Waterloo, new vicar John Woodhouse arranged for it to be leased to Toc H

Smaller than its brothers and the only one south of the river at the time it was often known as the Cinderella Mark. However it survived nine years in Lambeth until London County Council stuck their oar in. A plan to build an extension to County Hall was in the offing and in early 1930, seeing the writing on the wall, Toc H dispersed it’s Marksmen across the London Mark diaspora and temporarily moved HQ there whilst waiting for their new offices in Francis Street to be ready.

Wrongly captioned photo of Mark III which was 148 York Road

Closed 1930

Current Status: Demolished. The Forum Magnum Square at the County Hall extension now stands on the spot

Mark III

Church Crescent, Hackney

Opened 1930

A Punch magazine appeal raised the funds for Toc H to buy this former rectory in South Hackney.

Renamed Punch House Mark III continued to exist relatively quietly in Hackney through the nineteen thirties but by 1939, in common with the rest of the Marks, it suffered as young men were called to war. In December 1939 the last residents moved out of Mark III and it was moth-balled.

In 1940 it stood empty and was badly bombed. It was initially reopened in 1947 and by April 1949 it was back to full capacity, officially reopening on the 5th April 1950.

However refurbished or not, there was no getting away from the fact the building was still a Victorian Rectory! So a bold plan to replace it with Toc H’s first purpose built Mark began in the late fifties.

The last guest night of the old Mark III was held on the 29th November 1960

Punch House

Closed on the 10th December 1960 with demolition commencing on the 15th.

Building Status: Demolished to make way for Prideaux House

Prideaux House under construction

Mark III

Church Crescent, Hackney

Opened officially by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother at 4.15pm on Friday 1st June 1962.

Built through a special fundraising campaign

Once complete, the new Prideaux House (named for Lancelot Prideaux-Brune) was a much modernised hostel. Many of the rooms were named for contributors to the appeal but perhaps the most poignant was the Our Twelve Room. Endowed by Mrs Alexandra Louise Gray, it is memory of twelve members of her family who gave their lives during the First World War.

It had 12 three-bed rooms along with quarters for the Warden and Padre and a separate suite for the housekeeper and her assistant. Then there was a wide array of rooms, meeting the hostellers every need, from the ubiquitous Chapel to a Dark Room.

Perhaps the most important figure in Mark III’s long life was Gualter de Mello. He joined Toc H in his native Brazil in 1953 and was initiated by Alison Macfie whilst on her travels in South America. In 1957 Gualter spent a year at Mark I whilst acting as Tubby’s weekend ADC and then some time at the Brothers’ House. After doing his theological training at Ely Gualter was ordained at St Paul’s in 1964 after which he took a curacy at St John of Jerusalem Church in South Hackney and became padre for Mark III where he moved to in September 1964. After his curacy finished he became Warden as well as Padre.

To understand the work of Prideaux House under Gualter I can do no better than suggest you seek out a copy of Kenneth Prideaux-Brune’s Any Problem Is No Problem published in 1996. What follows is but a glance.

Under Gualter’s guidance Prideaux House began to turn from a hostel into a community centre. Gualter ran the House successfully but clashed with Toc H Executive over his vision. This led to him leaving the Mark for a time and a succession of wardens running it in his place. Then in 1982, as Toc H disposed of the Marks, Gualter was able to buy it for a new charity he has set up, and to cut a long story short, could run it as the Community House he had always wanted.

Closed 2002 but rebuilt

Building Status: Demolished to make way for a new (current) Prideaux House

The new and current Prideaux House

Mark IV

Upper Park Road, Manchester

Opened April 1922

Baron’s sketch of Mark IV

In 1921 a new appeal was made and in April 1922, largely due to the appeal, the first provincial Mark opened in Manchester. Talbotousian Pat Leonard was shipped up from Cheltenham Ladies’ College to run things. Gartness was a huge old house on Upper Park Road just east of Moss Side. It was a hostel for Theological students before Toc H acquired it and on 19th February 1921 William Temple chaired a meeting at which Tubby outlined the aims of Toc H. A year later the house was Toc H’s. Described as being built by a Christmas Card designer because of its Ivy covered walls, Pat and other hostellers ‘dug out’ the old cellar to create a beautiful chapel.

The house was blessed by Neville Talbot 28th April 1922 and officially open the following day

The chapel at Mark IV

The Dining Room was added to the house as an extension in 1926. It was a memorial to the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division. The following slideshow shows some of the plaques which now survive in the possession of Tameside museums.

Sir Matt Busby opened a further extension on 15 Nov 1969. The proceedings were relayed to local hospitals through the Hospital Radio facilities run by Toc H. Mark IV had a purpose built studio in the new wing. We’ll hear more about Toc H’s involvement with hospital radio shortly.

Closed 1983

Building Status: It was demolished in 2007 when they built a mosque next door. At present the Gartness site is still vacant and used for car parking.

Perhaps one of the most lasting memorials of Mark IV though is a rugby team. In 1924 members of the Mark formed a rugby club which they called Toc H Manchester. After moving to various sites the club arrived in Didsbury and in 1986 the name was changed to Didsbury Toc H. It is still active today

Late 60s with new extension on the right

Mark V

574 Winchester Road, Bassett

Opened January 1923

An advert appeared in the Times in August 1922 stating that the owner of a medium-sized house with six acres of beautiful grounds “might be disposed to give it to a religious or charitable institution if satisfied as to the use to which it would be put. It was essential, the advert continued, that house should be used as a permanent memorial to one who fell, and preferably for the benefit of those hurt in the war”

The house was the Firs; the owner was Walter Southwell Jones; and the man who fell in the war was his son, Second Lt. Louis Jones who was born in the house and died 20th June 1917 in France. Tubby happened to be staying at Little Hatchett, his family’s holiday home nearby, and he shot across to see Southwell-Jones.

Baron’s sketch of Mark V

It was a bit classier than its urban brothers boasting a tennis courts and no less than three bowling greens and a 1.5 acre wood. Some of the bedrooms even had ensuite WCs – virtually unheard of in the UK at the time.

Louis Jones’ old bedroom was turned into the chapel.

During its life the Mark was connected with one particular piece of Toc H work that needs much more research. That is Hospital Radio, in particular football commentaries. Its origins are a little hazy with several branches (and one or two other organisations) claiming its genesis. We believe though that it started through the work with the blind that Toc H was well-known for; a sighted member would take a blind person to a football match and describe the action to them as the game went on. From this came the idea of broadcasting a commentary down GPO telephone lines specifically to local hospitals. In 1966 Southampton Hospital Radio started broadcasting live from the old wine cellar under the Mark. A complete programme service came out of there, including newscasts, children’s programmes. In August 1971, they moved above ground, having raised £9,000 to build a single storey, two studio building in the cabbage patch alongside the Toc H Mark V Youth Hostel.

Closed as a Mark in the early 70s but the house served as a Toc H centre until 1975

A postcard of Mark V

Building Status: Demolished 1978 to make way for new housing

In 1973 the name Talbot Close had been approved by the District council as the name for the approach to the new flats and is the last remaining sign of Toc H as the whole site is now covered in new properties.

Mark VI

71 Newhall Street, Birmingham

Opened 1923

Cathedral House, Birmingham

Leased from the Boys and Girls Union who continued to share part of the House with Toc H.

Known as Cathedral House, the cellar chapel was named Arras because it apparently looked like the Eleventh Division cellar chapel in Arras in 1918. It included the Altar Frontal from Poperinge.

The House was too small for both organisations so Toc H set out to find another Birmingham House.

Closed Toc H moved out 1925

Building Status: Demolished. Unknown date

Mark VI

77 Clifford Street, Birmingham

Opened Spring 1925

A disused pub, The Alhambra, the beer cellar was used to recreate the “Little Cellar Chapel of Arras” which was even more beautiful than before and was considered the powerhouse of Toc H in Birmingham. It opened officially on Friday 13th November and the cellar chapel was dedicated by Bishop Talbot (Neville and Gilbert’s father Edward)

A group of Toc H men outside the old Alhambra pub

I finally manged to find a photo of the second Mark VI. This is taken in Guildford Street, Lozells looking towards Clifford Street. The building on the right is the closed Alhambra pub and now the Toc H Mark so the photo was taken between 1925 and 1937. Note the big metal Toc H sign out the front (Designed and manufactured by Boddy Brothers of Norwich) and the Toc H blazer badge on the chap in front of the car.

Closed 1936

Building Status: Demolished. Unknown date

Mark VI

6 Wake Green Road

Opened 18th January 1937

Gifted to Toc H by Sir Herbert Austin (Founder of Austin Motors) in memory of his son Vernon

Plaque commemorating the assistance of Lord Austin

There were rooms for 14 residents and a Warden but the ground floor of the house was
for community use including Moseley and District Drama Group, who were renowned for their performances of Shakespeare plays in an amphitheatre in the garden. And in many ways Mark VI’s most exciting ‘room’ was the huge garden which included an adventure playground with aerial walkways. There were also outbuildings which contained an office and a ‘bunk room’ with 2 sets of bunk beds for putting up volunteers. The Mark had long gone self-catering and was in fact repurposing itself as a Community House. They sold it in 1973/4 on the understanding that Toc H could continue to use it for two years when they moved again to 24 Grove Avenue but by now they were no longer a Mark but something entirely different and very much of the time.

Rear view of the house showing the sunken garden

Closed 1975?

Building Status: Demolished

Mark VII

15 Fitzroy Square, London

Opened 7th November 1922

It was originally leased as the vicarage for All Hallows but Tubby sublet it to Toc H. In 1923 an anonymous female donor gave £6000 for Toc H to buy the house (almost certainly the Queen (Mary of Teck) but don’t tell everyone.)

Entrance with All Hallows and Toc H signs to the right

In autumn 1929 the House was extended into 15 Richardson’s Mews behind it and they opened a new Club Room 

Closed 1982

Building Status: Extant. Flats/Offices


Christ Church Road, Pitsmoor, Sheffield

Opened July 7th 1923

The House came about when Tubby was wandering around Sheffield with Douglas Leng and six other Foundation members of Sheffield Toc H. Tubby spotted a suitable house and waiting for a nearby policeman to turn his back, hurried over a chalked a cross on the door.

Poor quality pic but the only one I have of the Sheffield Mark

Purchase price (£1275) borrowed from HQ.

The house was Westwood in Christ Church Road and was formerly the residence of Sir William Ellis, the Civil Engineer and steelmaker.

So Mark VIII in Sheffield was opened a little behind schedule on July 7th 1923 – the first birthday of Sheffield branch – by Lord Plumer, a President of Toc H.

Sheffield was a fairly short-lived Mark which closed in 1938 but the house was retained as centre for South Yorks division until at least 1951.

The chapel in the Sheffield Mark

Memorial rooms included the BB Room – no, not the Barclay Baron Room but dedicated to Sheffield Battalion Boys Brigade. Later there was a Douglas Leng Room, named for the aforementioned Branch member who died aged 43. Captain Leng served in the Yorkshire Dragoons and was a Director of the Sheffield Telegraph. He died from gunshot wounds and was presumed to have taken his own life.

Closed 1938

Building Status: ??

Mark IX

29 & 31 St Paul’s Road, Bristol

Opened March 1923 (Officially opened in June)

In May 1922 Bristol was in Toc H’s sights and it was only natural that Barclay Baron would be involved given it was the city of his birth and he had many connections there so he became appeal director. Toc H were led locally by John ‘Nick’ Nicholson (of Poperinghe and Knutsford renown) who was also a Rotarian and that group did much to assist Baron.

Actually two houses knocked together, they were bought by Stanley Gange (Rotarian?) and leased at low rent to Toc H.

The first Warden was a Mr Lewis formerly an officer with the 4th Gloucesters and the Boys’ Brigade

Closed 1944

Building Status: ??

It was almost certainly in relation to this appeal that he and Tubby came to be sat waiting in a Bristol stockbroker’s office for an appointment. Whilst waiting they discussed the idea of a symbol for Toc H. Baron suggested an oil lamp similar to those used by Christians in the catacombs under Rome.

Mark IX

16 Cotham Park, Bristol

Opened 1944

In 1944 Mark IX moved to Ashley Down House. It was formerly Hampton House School but they were evacuated to Stroud.

Ashley Down House today

One of the big activities from here was the Bristol Toc H Film Unit. They took a projector round and showed films in hospitals, youth clubs, care homes etc. Big part of Toc H work. Perhaps it was no surprise that one of the local Toc H members was Frank Gillard a renowned broadcaster who was later part-responsible for getting the BBC’s Bristol based Natural History Fil Unit established. He is also well remembered in Toc H as the broadcaster who reported on the liberation of Poperinge and Talbot House in 1944

By 1955 the Mark was in terrible disrepair and appeal launched to save it but to no avail and it closed before the decade was out.

Closed 1950s

Building Status: Extant. Now listed

Mark X

40 Clarendon Street, Hull

Opened October 1923

The House was organised for Toc H by Colonel W H Carver, later a Conservative MP and leader of the Toc H group in the House of Commons. He personally contributed £250 towards the appeal and about £1000 was raised locally, the remainder being borrowed from Toc H HQ

Clarendon House, Hull

It was officially opened on.  Much was made during the opening ceremony of the East Ridings role in the recovery of Gilbert Talbot’s body by a party from the East Yorks Regiment led by Sergeant Shepherd (Later RSM Shepherd). A member of Toc H, he was present at the opening.

Clarendon House at was a former home for the Church of England Incorporated Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays. This society was later renamed to the less linguistically challenging Church of England Children’s Society and survives today simply as the Children’s Society.

Around 1931 the branch couldn’t maintain it as a Mark and it was delisted though kept for a while.

Closed c.1931

Building Status: Demolished, a playing field

Mark X

Princes Avenue, Hull

Opened 1938

Westbourne House didn’t last long and was closed permanently by the Luftwaffe

Closed 1941

Building Status: Destroyed by enemy bombing WWII

Mark XI

44 Princess Street, Leicester

Opened October 1923

In August 1923 the Central Executive approved Leicester’s request to buy Stonesby House, at for £5000. It belonged to Dr Donald, a friend of Toc H and was in De Montfort Square. Standing on a corner overlooking a garden, it was strongly reminiscent of Mark I at 23 Queen’s Gate Gardens.

Baron’s sketch of Leicester

Leicester opened on the 15th Oct 1923, a week after the storming party took possession

Closed 1973

Building Status: Extant. Now offices

The Leicester Mark today

Mark XII

Sedburgh Road, Halifax

Opened 22nd February 1924

Baron’s sketch of Shaw Royd

Opened in Shaw Royd, a large house on the corner of Sedburgh Road and Shaw Hill Lane lately the home of Colonel Sir Edward Whitley, himself a Toc H member. It was announced that Toc H acquired it in October 1923 and the storming party got it ready so that there could be a huge Housewarming party on New Year’s Eve 1923 though the official opening was not until 22nd February 1924.

Closed December 1934 but may have been downgraded from Mark as early as 1931. The Shaw Royd estate was sold by Toc H in 1939.

Building Status: Demolished

A poor quality photo of the Halifax Mark


119 Kennington Park Road, London

Opened 13th December 1924 by the Prince of Wales on the afternoon of the 1924 Birthday Festival which the Prince later attended.

Gifted by Mrs Dilberoglue in memory of her two sons killed in the war.  The gift was announced at the 1923 Birthday Festival in December 1923

Dick and Gus Dilberoglue were both at Eton; both Captains of their houses and both rowed in the ‘Eights’. Both went to war as well and Dick fell on 15th September 1916 leading his company of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards whilst his brother Gus acting as Adjutant to the 3rd King’s Own Hussars died, near Domart, on 1st April 1918.

The Brothers’ House. Photo Victor Markham

Toc H was looking for a new house south of the river when Tubby’s friend Dr Cyril Garbett, then Bishop of Southwark, pointed him towards a vacant former servicemen’s club on Kennington Park Road. It needed money spending on it and seemed out of Toc H’s reach until Tubby recalled the mother he had corresponded with recently. Mrs Dilberoglue came to look at it and that was that.

The Brothers’ House, as it is always known, tended to have slightly older Marksmen who stayed longer. Amongst them was the highly loved and respected Neville Minas whose story I have told previously. As well as a Marksmen Neville Honorary Warden at the House for several years.

Plans to refurbish it as a Community House in 1982 amounted to little and it was sold for £96,000 in early 1983.

Closed 1983

Building Status: Still standing. Broken into flats

Mark XIV

1 Eccles Old Road, Salford

Opened November 1923?

Oakfield at in Pendleton was presented to Toc H in 1923 by Henry Leigh Groves in memory of his parents. Henry Leigh Groves was for a long time High Sherriff of Westmorland and other acts of generosity including buying the bed of Lake Windermere to give to Windermere Urban District Council. His parents were William and Eliza Ann Grimble Groves. William was part of the wealthy brewing family and one of two brothers who started Salford Lads Club in 1903.

Mark XIV Salford

It was dedicated on 26th November 1924 by the Lord Bishop of Manchester having survived for a year as an ‘experiment’.

One of the leading lights in Salford Toc H was Michael Coleman who later served as Vicar at All Hallows whilst Tubby was in the Orkneys on war work. In 1943 Coleman went to work for Toc H in Canada and was a Canon at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria. He became Bishop of Qu’Appelle in 1950.

Closed and sold in the late sixties – with the donor’s permission – to financially support Mark IV in Manchester.

Building Status: Demolished

Another view of Mark XIV

Mark XV

31 The Common (Kempt Terrace), Woolwich

Date Opened 6 December 1924

As early as March 1924, the Central Executive called for a House in Woolwich as a base for Rev Hutchinson, newly appointed chaplain for S.E. London. By the 9th May Toc H had bought and taken possession of 31 The Common (Kempt Terrace), Woolwich (Now the South Circular)

Almost certainly built for Board of Ordnance Mark XV stood two doors south of General Gordon’s birthplace on the same Terrace. It was officially opened on 6th December 1924 by Sir Acton Blake, master of Trinity House.

Mark XV (under the arrow) Woolwich. General Gordon was born in the end house on the left

Closed 1941

Badly damaged during the war, Mark XX was closed down

Building Status: The House was demolished in 1971 to accommodate the widening of the South Circular

  • A spanner is thrown in the works of Mark numbering when the next house to designated number XXII in honour of the 22nd (Queen’s) London regiment opposite whose barracks it stands


3 Jamaica Road, Bermondsey

Opened ??

Alec Paterson, one of the early drivers of Toc H, served in the Bermondsey Battalion of the regiment and the Mark was named Alexander Paterson House.

Whilst it was very much a Toc H Mark, many of the first hostellers were to be drawn from the ranks of the Oxford and Bermondsey Club which operated in the area. The OBC was, of course, often called the Cradle of Toc. Charlie Thompson who’d previously run a boxing club at Mark III was involved with both Toc H and the OBC so made an obvious choice for Warden. Charlie was also a gents’ outfitter who supplied ties and blazer badges for Toc H for decades.

The Bermondsey Mark shown by the arrow

The building was an old pawn shop right on the junction with Abbey Street, it wasn’t it remarkable condition so in 1927 Toc H were forced to abandon it before it fell down. There was much discussion in the ensuing months about allowing this tatty, decrepit, building to become an eyesore with Toc H signs still attached. Ironically it would remain standing for decades before finally being pulled down

Closed 1927

Building Status: Demolished


95 Denmark Hill, London

Opened 28th May 1930

There was a brief hiatus until October 1928 when it was announced that Mark XXII was to reopen but at some 2½ miles away. In fact it wouldn’t actually open until the 28th May 1930 when it was once again renamed as Alexander Paterson House. It was opened by Lord and Lady Plumer. It contained the first garden of any size in a Toc H Mark.

Denamrk Hill today

Toc H moved out in the late sixties and from 1st April 1971 it was leased for five years to the St Giles Centre re Social Work in Camberwell before being finally sold.

Building Status: Extant

Denmark Hill in the 70s when a shelter for Crisis At Christmas

Mark XVI

Charlotte Row, High Street, Swindon

Opened 10th March 1923

In conjunction with Marlborough College?

Swindon’s house Redville, was opened with some pomp and circumstance on 10th March 1923 by General Hunter-Watson. However it was listed as a hostel and unnumbered as HQ refused to give it Mark status because it lacked a chapel and fewer than half its residents were in Toc H. Finally this changed and it was elevated to Mark status in 1925.

Many of the hostellers were apprentices with the Great Western Railway whose engineering works had dominated the town since 1843.

Swindon today

In September 1939 Mark XVI briefly became the Headquarters of Toc H which is why HQ staff Hubert Secretan, Jack Harrison, William J. Musters, and Robert Shelston can all be found listed there on the 1939 Register. However, once the ‘phoney war’ ended, HQ shipped back to London and remained there during the Blitz and for the duration.

Mark XVI’s next claim to fame came at the end of 1967 when on 30th December Hospital Radio Swindon began broadcasting from the cellar. In 1976 a fire destroyed the studio – and 3000 records – but Toc H stepped in and offered to build a studio on their land and by 1977 the studio was in full use. The Mayor of Thamesdown officially opened it in 1979, at the time Swindon Hospital Broadcasting Society purchased the studio from Toc H for £750,000.

Closed 1977. Taken over by Mental Health After Care Association

Building Status: Extant. Offices?


Hill Street, Itchen

Opened 1925

Somewhat quietly added to the lists in early 1925. I can find little fanfare for it and it didn’t survive all that long – just until 1928 when the lease expired. The forgotten Mark, it was in the Old Parsonage on Hill Street in Itchen. Attached to it was the Guild House, the recently opened HQ of the Sea Scouts dedicated to the Scouts who died in the war. It was with these and the Rover Scouts that the Mark were to do most of their work.

Interestingly a former tenant the old house had painted a little word or phrase over the doorway to each room. These read things such as “Grace and Truth”, Cheer; Sincerity; Joy; Fellowship; Peace; and Love. All very fitting for Toc H.

A rare photo of the Itchen Mark

Mark XVII stood only three miles from Mark V at Bassett and less than a mile across the river from the Talbot House Sea-going Boys’ Club in Southampton. The building has long since gone.

Closed 1928

Building Status: Demolished


34 Grainger Park Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Opened 17th April 1926

Greystoke stood at 34 Grainger Park Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It was opened on 17th April 1926 by Sir Charles ‘Tim’ Harington

Interestingly Grainger Park Road runs up to the course of Hadrian’s Wall which must have pleased Tubby with his love of history

Greystoke today

Small in comparison to many Marks, Greystoke slept eight initially. Its study was a Memorial for Marc Noble. Noble, one of the first ever Boy Scouts who, with his brother Humphrey, attended Baden-Powell’s experimental camp on Brownsea Island in 1907. Noble died 1 Jul 1917 in France and his nephew, also Marc, went on to become a leading light in the Scout movement.

In 1940 it became a Services Club and though it was still a Mark in 1949 Toc H left it soon after needing bigger premises. In the sixties St John Ambulance took it over and renamed it St John House.

Closed 1950?

Building Status: Extant. Now offices of an IT firm?


Jesmond Park West, Newcastle

Opened 1951

Mark XVIII reopened at Glendyn, Jesmond Park West

Closed 1969

Building Status: Demolished and replaced by new housing (Glendyn Close)

Mark XIX

East Street, Leeds

Opened 4th October 1929 (As a Toc H Mark)

The Red House Settlement stood very near the river and opposite some factories. It was founded in in 1913 and by 1924 the local Toc H branch were working with the Boys’ Club there. In January 1927 there was “some prospect of Toc H taking over the Red House Settlement” and in mid-1928 it came on Toc H’s books as a hostel. Then on 4th October 1929 it was opened by Lord Middleton as Mark XIX. The Archbishop later dedicated the new chapel in the old wine Cellar.

A Baron sketch of the Red House, Leeds, originally a Settlement House

In truth the Red House was always more a Hostel than a true Mark which is why it drops off the list again and why another Mark is required in Leeds (See later). There were no residents at the 1939 Register but still operating as a community building, in particular a long-running Poor man’s Lawyer Service. It closed as a Mark officially in the forties and in 1951 was requisitioned by local authorities as a day nursery.

Poor quality newspaper article from when the Settlement House opened

The Chapel had been used as an air raid shelter during the war but was reinstated as a chapel in 1949. Leeds branch were allowed to continue using the House on Monday nights for branch meetings

The chapel in the Red House

In March 1934 a room was dedicated to Leeds branch member George Ironside Brown who was killed in a car crash the previous year. The 22 year old from Newcastle was a hosteller at the Red House.

Closed 1940s

Building Status: Demolished

Aerial shot showing the roof of the Red House to give it’s location by the river

Mark XX

67 Upper Richmond Road, Putney, London

Opened 1930

London’s eighth and final Mark (Chronologically) opened in Putney at in 1930. Marks were so important in those days that they were shown as such on Ordnance Survey maps! Originally called Meaburn House, it was once the home of Sir John Thwaites, the first chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works and the man credited with the development of the Embankment.

In the absence of a good picture of Putney, this shows that the Marks were important enough to be recorded on OS maps

It sustained extensive damage during WWII but survived and on the 10th June 1967 a new extension was opened by Mark Bonham-Carter. The first chairman of the Race Relations Board (and Helena’s Uncle) a he was also a cousin of Brian Hulbert Bonham-Carter who was taken prisoner in 1940 whilst working for Toc H in France

Closed 1983

Building Status: Extant. Now private housing

Some of the house domestic staff on the steps of Putney. Photo Ivan Hurst

Mark XXI

228 Osmaston Road, Derby

Opened 16th May 1931

In February 1930 The Journal announced the purchase of a House in Derby and Toc H took possession in March warning that considerable alterations will be necessary before it can be opened. Graeme House is as 228 Osmaston Road (Also known as Ivy Square) midway between the town and the engineering works where many of the Marksmen will be employed.

Closed 1969. Sold in December 1971 for £9000

Building Status: Demolished. Residential Care Home now on the site


13 North Grange Road, Headingley, Leeds

Opened 19 March 1932

As the Red House in Leeds never really made it as a Mark, in 1929 Lord Brotherton, a former MP made his fortune in the chemicals industry, offered to find and endow another house for Toc H to act as a divisional HQ. The house he found was at 13 North Grange Road, Headingley. Originally called Lyndhurst it was changed to Brotherton House when Toc H took it over.

Brotherton House, Leeds

Brotherton died in October 1930 before the house was handed to Toc H so his executors passed Tubby the title deeds on the 5th December 1931 at a Yorkshire Area Festival. The Storming Party entered on New Year’s Day 1932 and Mark XXIII was officially opened by the Princess Royal on the 19th March. The first occupant was an Australian in Yorkshire to learn wool-dyeing.

Rooms were dedicated to local regiments and battalions as was common including the Green Howards Room. However one room was dedicated to the dead of the Bentley Pit disaster which occurred on the 20th November 1931. A gas explosion caused the mine to collapse killing 45 people.

The chapel received the original cross from Gilbert Talbot’s grave which later went to All Hallows and then to Talbot House.

Closed 1969?

Building Status: Extant. It is now known as Bishop’s House


62 Rodney Street, Liverpool

Opened December 1931

The last of the true Marks – for want of a better expression – was also the most famous building having been the birth place of William Gladstone, four times British Prime Minister. The imposing property at 62 Rodney Street, Liverpool was given to Toc H by Gladstone’s son Henry Neville Gladstone, a cousin of Gilbert Talbot’s mother Lavinia. He had purchased the house from the executors of Dr Glynn (who lived there for many years) and also the freehold from the Corporation to be held in trust in perpetuity by the Diocesan Board.

Gladstone House was officially opened after some refurbishment in December 1931 with both the Mayor and Bishop of Liverpool present. Although always run as a Mark it didn’t receive its number until after the war.

Gladstone House, Liverpool

There are two Memorial Rooms of note. One is the Gladstone Room which is the room the great man was born in in 1809; the other is the Leonard Comer-Wall Room which also pays tribute to Blackie his War Horse.

On the 8 June 1917, a week after his promotion to Lieutenant, Leonard was with the RFA in action near Wytschaete when he was hit by shrapnel from a shell. His groom, Frank Wilkinson was killed by the explosion and his mount ‘Blackie’ was badly injured but survived.  Leonard was taken to a casualty clearing station behind the lines but died later that day. He is buried in Lijssenthoek cemetery. Blackie was bought out of the army by Leonard’s mother and after a period of recovery on a farm, returned to duty at Wellington Barracks in Liverpool. He finally retired to Horses’ rest in Broadgreen where he died peacefully in late 1942.

A close up of the front door

Upgraded around 1974 it was retained by Toc H but went self-catering in January 1976. It remained until the eighties then was finally old.

Closed 1983

Building Status: Extant and listed, it has been converted to flats which still bear the address Flat x, Toc H, 62 Rodney Street.

Another view of Gladstone House

Other Hostels

As well as the official Marks, there were a number of other hostels established by Toc H that were never granted Mark status. This section gives a brief account of these houses.

The Talbot House Sea-Going Boys’ Club was originally based at The Dock House, on the corner of College Street and Orchard Lane. It later moved to Brunswick Square but in 1959 an extension was built and the entrance became Bernard Street. This closed on 2nd April 1982. If you want to know more about this Ray Fabes wrote a paper which is available on the Toc H Centenary Blog here

The original hostel at Dock House
The second Talbot House, Southampton’s original entrance
And the later Bernard Street entrance

1925 Brighton Toc H ran a Boys Hostel for newspaper lads and hawkers. Situated at 60 and 61 John Street, it was just a few doors down from where they ran the local Rover Scout unit. A pub until 1918, the building became known as The John Street Toc H Boys Hostel but it only lasted until the end of March 1926 when it appeared to be taken over by the St. Vincent de Paul organisation.

Haileybury House joined the lists as an unnumbered Hostel in the summer of 1925. Based at Durham Row, Stepney, and originally run by Haileybury College it was most famous as being somewhere Clement Attlee lived and volunteered there when he was first starting out as a Barrister. He was manager from 1907-1909. Toc H took it over and Stepney group used it as their branch rooms but it was gone from the lists by July 1927.

Clement Attlee with the boys when it was a Settlement House

In January 1926 another hostel is added at 16 Rutland Street, Hulme, Manchester. Yet another old pub, – the Bleak House, closed in 1924 – it deliberately set out to attract the working class of the Hulme district. Toc H felt that the standard houses were “too pleasant, too suburban”. Retaining the name Bleak House, it was in fact something of a homeless shelter, working with the “down and outs” although former regulars of the pub used to call in for a chat and found the bar was now a comfortable club room and coffee bar. It was also popular with cabbies, tram-drivers and night worker. Beer was off the menu but they were always offered a cuppa. It was dedicated on 30th April by William Temple

In the autumn of 1927, the Newcastle Mark spawned a little brother at Gibson Street. Populated by Marksmen from Mark VIII on a rota, it was yet another former pub now turned to youth work. There was an additional hostel outside Newcastle at Walker which was aimed at ‘boy’ migrants.

And in early 1929 a hostel at 20 Poole Road Bournemouth is transferred from the Gordon Boys Association to Toc H. It was still being used by Toc H in 1936 – described as a small boarding house – and I haven’t yet discovered when they moved out.

This building became private flats then a Council Welfare Services Home, and finally a care home which has only recently been demolished and rebuilt.

Poole Road shortly before demolition

Probably the most famous was Talbot House at 42 Trinity Square, London but that is going to be featured in a forthcoming blog so I won’t go into any details here.

Tubby outside a modern 42 Trinity Square

I have also found an intriguing reference to another hostel in Manchester but have not yet found out anymore about it:

“Mum and Dad were very active in the international Christian movement Toc H and its work to improve the lives of children. In 1938 Toc H opened a hostel in Manchester called Kersher House. Dad appointed Arthur lsrael, later known as lsdale, to run it.”

So far we haven’t mentioned the League of Women Helpers’ properties and again, they need more time and space but briefly Marquise I, as it was playfully but not officially known, was more properly called New June – named for Henry Newbolt’s novel. It opened on Tower Hill on Saturday 4th October 1924, the ladies decamping from their old HQ at 7 Tower Street. It was in the top floors of 50 Great Tower Street (now covered by the Tower Place shopping centre) and included a roof garden much loved by the hostellers. Tubby’s sister Belle was one of the residents and started a lunch club for men there (Inspiring Barbara Sutherland to start one for women).

In 1927 Second June opened at 10 Stanley Gardens, Notting Hill and this now became the LWH HQ (and a Hostel). It was short-lived and closed in 1932. At about that time New June relocated to a house on the corner of Water Lane and Great Tower Street. This time Belle Clayton – who died in 1925 lent her name to one of the rooms.

And then of course there was Sheldon House, a hostel for girls but more of that anon.

We mentioned the PM Club in our blog about Stuart Greenacre. Catering – pun intended – for boys in the hospitality trade who were only free in the afternoon, by 1973 the Earls Court hostel could accommodate 150 young men. Ray Fabes wrote a paper on this project a few years back. I’ll see if I can get him to dig it out for me.

And that’s that for the UK Marks and Hostels. Look out for more articles in this series about the properties of Toc H.

Also in this series

Earlier I published a detailed history of Mark III

And did an overview of the early days for a Talbot House appeal

This year expect further property based blogs on:

  • The Toc H headquarter buildings
  • Overseas Marks
  • Marksmen and life in the Marks
  • The wartime Services Clubs and clubs with the BEF
  • The clubs with BAOR
  • Toc H on Tower Hill
  • Residential properties, training and conference centres and the rest