George Moore – the Scout on the Hill

By Steve Smith

Whilst researching my next major blog – the story of Toc H on Tower Hill – one man kept cropping up time and time again. I had seen his name in passing during my Toc H research travels but had not really registered quite what a role he had to play. So, whilst you await the Tower Hill essay I’ve taken some time to give you a quick biography on a certain George Moore.

The Reverend George Moore

I knew of him because he was one of Tubby’s first assistant priests at All Hallows and remained on the Hill with Tubby for some twenty years, and a friend until Tubby died. What I discovered was that I knew next to nothing of this extraordinary man. This is his story.

George James Moore was born in Cranbrook on the 6th February 1889. Cranbrook is a small Kent town roughly midway between Maidstone and Hastings. In the mid-nineteenth century it was home to the Cranbrook Colony, a college of artists inspired by seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish painters. It also boasted a fine school, founded in 1576 by Simon Lynche, a local clothier. Moore’s father Frederick too was a local businessman running a barber and tobacconist shop on Cranbrook High Street. Frederick and his wife Jane later gave George a sister, Margaret, and a brother, Albert. They must have worked hard and saved for they were able to send both boys to Cranbrook school when they turned 11. By 1911 a 22 year old George had joined his father in the shop and was listed as a hairdresser in the census.

However, it was outside of work where George’s story starts to get interesting. Firstly, he had learned to play the organ and was a hugely competent musician. He was known as ‘the talented young organist of Horsmonden’ (Horsmonden being a village some five miles from Cranbrook, where George played the church organ). Secondly George became involved with the nascent Scouting movement and was one of the first Scouts in Cranbrook. By 1914 he was Assistant Scoutmaster and his brother Albert, a King’s Scout.

On top of this, George, a true country boy, had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the countryside and was as skilled at identifying birds as he was naming stars and constellations. He could also wield an axe with some precision and would later train Scouts in outdoor pursuits.

But then war came and everything changed. George enlisted in the East Kent Regiment (The Buffs) and was soon promoted to be an NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer). In this post he specialised in training recruits which marked him as a man suitable to be commissioned and he duly was. He served on the Somme and then the Ypres Salient. Seconded to the Royal Engineers he became a Gas Brigade Officer, a role that left him with asthma for the rest of his life.

Whilst still in the Buffs he made his first visit to Talbot House in Poperinge where he met Tubby. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. He returned to Talbot House on several occasions and I’m guessing there is a fair chance he turned his musical prowess to the wheezing and groaning harmonium in the attic chapel.

The harmonium in the Talbot House chapel

He was persuaded to take the path of ordination after the war and followed Tubby to the Test School at Knutsford. He then went on to Queen’s College, Oxford as an undergraduate and organ scholar. Scouting continued to be an important part of his life and Baden-Powell had installed him at Gilwell Park to organise training matters. He was also involved with Toc H from very early on and combined both passions when he interviewed Baden-Powell for the Toc H issue of The Challenger in 1922.

When Tubby was installed in All Hallows in December of that same year he wanted George at his side. Thus began a negotiation with Baden-Powell who wanted to keep George at Gilwell Park. He considered George the best Scout in England. In the end an agreement was reached where George would give at least half his time to the Scouting movement and in February 1923 he became a curate at All Hallows, later becoming Tubby’s first Deacon. He moved into the Porch Room with Tubby. George later recounted a story from those days to Melville Harcourt, Tubby’s first biographer. It involved Tubby inviting a beat policeman into All Hallows for a cup of cocoa at 4am on a November morning (Tubby and George were both up working!) The policeman knew it was a dereliction of duty but the chance to warm his frozen body and soul was too good to pass so he accepted. Soon after there was a loud knocking on the church door and seeing it was the local Inspector looking of his missing bobby, Tubby sent George out the back door with said policeman. Unfortunately, whilst Tubby was keeping the Inspector chatting on the door, George and the constable appeared at the top of Seething Lane and were spotted. The officer was in big trouble but Tubby also received a severe dressing down from the Inspector for aiding and abetting.

George and Tubby also lived across the street at 7 Tower Hill, where All Hallows/Toc H leased flats at the top of an old office building. 

Known as Father or Skipper Moore, George became Toc H’s leading scouter. Working with the Scouts – in particular setting up Rover Scout units within branches – was a big part of early Toc H. Together those bodies of men were critical in providing donors for the fledgling blood transfusion service in Britain.  Back then this was not a case of donating a pint of blood when you could but rather answering a telephone call then running, cycling, or catching a tram at top speed to the hospital to lie side by side next to the patient whilst your precious life fluid was pumped into them.

Toc H Rover Scout logo

George helped run the Lord Mayor’s Own (1st City of London Scouts) alongside and later taking over from Arthur Poyser, the organist of All Hallows who had founded the troop in 1909. George would become the District Commissioner for the City of London and Assistant Commissioner for Training in Kent. He organised and ran courses at Seal in Kent for the Wood Badge. He was very involved with activities in the district for instance in July 1931 he was celebrant at a memorial service for Roland Phillips, the well-known Scout who lost his life during World War I. The service took place at the chapel in Roland House, Stepney.

Although George was employed by the church, by December 1923 Toc H took on half his salary as he ended up doing so much work for them. With Toc H he was appointed Jobmaster at Mark I and was to live there but Kensington was too far from the Hill so instead George moved in to 50 Great Tower Street by November 1923. This was literally just around the corner from 7 Tower Hill and was used mostly by the League of Women Helpers who had their first hostel there. George shared a flat with Tom Savage, another curate at All Hallows and Tubby’s first ADC. Savage was later Bishop of Zululand.

By late 1924 George was an Associate Padre with Toc H. He would be one of the Toc H Padres present when Toc H first returned to Talbot House, Poperinge in April 1930. He was also involved with music for both Toc H and All Hallows. In the church he would give lunch-hour recitals on the organ for business people, as well as performances to raise money for organisations such as the RNIB. The All Hallows organ was well-known; Albert Schweitzer chose it to record his famous Bach recordings on. George was said to have been involved in its design when it was revamped in 1928.  He also played at Festivals for Toc H and put music to Tubby’s words from some Toc H hymns.

All Hallows organ 1927. Photo J. W. Bloe

As well as the Scouts George worked a lot with East End children, something that Toc H would be associated with on the Hill for many years. As a priest George was considered a wise and humble man. He took many confessions in the crypt chapel of St Francis. According to one of his penitents and friends Kenneth Jarvis, who visited him often whilst George was training him for confirmation, and who later joined the All Hallows clergy, George was the Curé d’Ars of the Anglican church (After John Vianney, the French Catholic Patron Saint of Parish priests). He was used by many for confession and counselling and bearing in mind that that auricular confession was uncommon in the Church of England outside of Anglo-Catholics, this showed how sought after George’s wisdom was.

The entrance to 22 Tower Hill on the right. © London Metropolitan Archives

George’s living arrangements remained quite fluid living variously with Tubby or Rex Calkin (later Toc H’s general secretary) at All Hallows (in the Porch Room). When not involved in mischief with Tubby in the Porch Room, George also lived at 7 Tower Hill; 50 Great Tower Street; sometimes at Talbot House (42 Trinity Square); finally ending up in rooms at 22 Tower Hill. This was an old building used mostly as offices which had been purchased – along with most of the row it stood in – by the Tower Hill Improvement Trust who wished to demolish it. The Trust was of course the brainchild of Tubby and largely funded by Lord Wakefield. Its mission was to clear up Tower Hill, rid it of myriad warehouses and ‘ugly’ blocks of offices and turn in once again into an open public space for the citizens of London. They were achieving this by buying up buildings when they could and earmarking them for demolition. The problem was that many of these buildings had tenants with leases that still had a few years to run. Often these businesses only had premises on the ground floor so there were vacant rooms above them. Tubby used these rooms to house his numerous curates or Toc H staff members. 22 Tower Hill was one such building. Big enough to become the HQ of the Lord Mayor’s Own (1st City of London), it was also known as St Nicholas House. Immediately adjoining the old city wall, the building’s western face was actually the wall itself. Though a Roman wall originally, the upper layers were medieval, and it was this that formed the fascia of George’s study and near to it an attic space large enough to make a wonderful den for the Lord Mayor’s Own. Between study and den was a small chapel. All the Scout ceremonies though took place in All Hallows in the chapel of Richard Coer de Lion.

Toc H Padre Pat Leonard (and Tubby’s former round the world travelling companion) had stayed there with his wife around 1935 when he was based on Tower Hill in his roles as Chief Overseas Commissioner and Honorary Commissioner Toc H Rovers. He was of course also a keen Scouter and a Silver Wolf. We know Moore was living there by 1936 (Leonard having left to take on a church in Hatfield). We know this partly from Electoral registers but also thanks to the letters of George Whalley. Whalley was a Canadian who came to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar to study the Greats and Theology for a second BA. He was introduced to Moore by Colin Cuttell, a Scout trained by Moore, who had met Whalley in 1932 whilst studying theology at Bishop’s University, Canada where Whalley was also a student. Cuttell of course would later take over as vicar of All Hallows when Tubby retired. In October 1936 Whalley came to Tower Hill where he met Moore and was introduced to 22. He described it as a “funny little house on the top of Tower Hill with a large room at the back, one wall of which was London Wall”. 

Whalley wrote of his first impressions of Moore in a letter home in October 1936.

George Moore welcomed me and treated me as though he had always known me. He is an amazing man of whom I cannot write yet because I do not know him – it is an indication of his character to say that as soon as school is out the Scouts start coming in, settle down to do their home-work as though in their own homes – even if he is not there – and there are young men and women in and out all day long. He is a man of great gentleness, deep understanding, profound wisdom, physically worn to shadow with unsparing work yet transfigured as it were with a bright spiritual fire.

Whalley, who stayed with Moore several times during holidays and helped out with the Scouts, also said that on the wall in the Roman Wall Room (By which he means the den) had the phrase “Courage, gaiety and the Quiet mind” spelled out in rope – it was actually along a beam (See picture). A trapeze hung from the beam and on it the boys practiced circus skills. There was a gramophone with a large horn and a library of some 1000 recordings. Music was of course of great importance to both George and his troop.

The Scouts Den in 22 Tower Hill © The Scouter

Whalley also noted that on the back wall was a backdrop painted on cloth by George’s brother Albert. Albert, George’s younger brother by some 7½ years was also staying at 22. Not really surprising since he was also a keen Scouter. Certainly in 1937 Albert was advertising in the small ads for a house in Kent – this because 22 was under threat of demolition.

Albert, like his brother, was an interesting character. His initials A.A. led him to being known as Ack, from the phonetic alphabet but also with a nod to the infamous anti-aircraft Ack-Ack guns. His name, preceded by those initials, adorned the corner of many a sketch of All Hallows or other aspects of Tower Hill, several of which appeared in Toc H’s monthly magazine, The Journal. For Albert was a talented commercial artist and his paintings and drawings were used by such illustrious organisations as the Empire Marketing Board. Most impressively, from 1926-1934, Albert did eleven posters and twelve panel posters for London Underground. He married Winifred Baker in 1927, his brother carrying out the matrimony service at All Hallows. Theologically trained at the Philadelphia Divinity School, Albert spent some time as a priest at St James the Lesser in Upper Garden Street, SW1.

The October 1937 edition of The Scouter carried an article on the Lord Mayor’s Own troop. Its opening sentence declared,

There are few troops and their Scouter as well known as the Lord Mayor’s Own, 1st City of London, and their ‘Father’ George Moore.

The same article closed with the line,

..for the years have revealed that an investment and an investiture in the LMO, through which these many years ‘Father’ George Moore has devoted his life and whole-hearted enthusiasm, produce results and those rich in the character the Troop and its church would desire to achieve.

George continued to live at 22 until 1940 (Though he may also have stayed at Talbot House at times), its demolition delayed by its business tenants on the ground floor and perhaps by the outbreak of war. And in the end it was war that did for the building, and in many ways, for George himself but first the building.

On the night of the 8th December 1940, Tower Hill was devastated in one of the heaviest nights of the Blitz it had yet suffered. All Hallows was badly damaged and 200 metres away 22 was also all but destroyed. Like All Hallows, it took two separate blows from the Luftwaffe to finish it off, but the front was demolished. Amazingly the warehouse at the back appeared to survive and miraculously the old London Wall still stood.

George Whalley described the devastation:

I went up to the city to see what remained of 22 Tower Hill. Nothing recognizable except that the large 5-part Turk’s head was still on the iron post that stood where the stairs used to be. It was scorched & blackened but still intact. Among the rubble I found part of a printed notice made by George Moore’s brother, a familiar object in the study.

Sophie Tiark, a friend of George and also involved with the Scouting movement apparently managed to salvage the piano from the wreckage but George’s record library and most of his personal papers were lost to the fire that consumed the site.

22 Tower Hill after it was mostly destroyed in December 1940

After the war Tubby found the Scouts premises in Water Lane but later they were housed in Talbot House at 42 Trinity Square. Plans to demolish part of this building (the old warehouse at the back) and rebuild a dedicated Scout Hut in 1961, never came to fruition. One of the group’s leaders in the forties and fifties was the actor and Toc H stalwart Stephen Jack who I talked about in my recent presentation Tubby Talking.

But what of George. First let us backtrack a little to the spring of 1939. In April he was presented with the Silver Wolf, the highest award in Scouting. Soon after he left the Hill for Valois in Switzerland to take on a Mission. However it didn’t last long – presumably because of the outbreak of war – and by August at least he was back in Britain (Attending a Scout camp at Buckhurst with the Lord Mayor’s Own). It is said that our talented organist learned to play the piano-accordion in Switzerland and certainly this more portable instrument became his trademark.

Moore, left, watches George Whalley on the accordion c.1935. Photo courtesy

With the outbreak of war, George joined a small team of All Hallows Clerics who roamed the Hill, providing entertainment to those who toiled relentlessly during the Blitz, and also to those few dozen people who continued to live on the Hill; mostly All Hallows and Toc H people or building caretakers with their families. The patrolling priests took sustenance and entertainment around ARP posts, fire stations, fire-watching stands and elsewhere. The emergency hospital under the P&O headquarters in Leadenhall Street were always pleased to see them. George was particularly popular with his accordion. On the 7th November 1939 The Times reported:

A rather small priest with a very big piano accordion slung from his back hurries through narrow streets and across narrower courts as only one who knows the area well can hurry in this puzzling City of the blackout. At last he reaches his destination, exchanges smiling greetings with the policemen who open to door to him, crosses one more dark courtyard, dashes up some stairs and emerges blinking because of the sudden light into a room where men in brown overalls and gumboots are resting on camp beds, writing at small tables, or chatting together.

‘Hullo, hullo, hullo, it’s Father George’.

He takes off his cassock, rolls up his shirt sleeves and makes ready his accordion. Michael Coleman and others then arrive with songbooks and the entertainment for the ‘troops’ begins. In this case the ’troops’ are those protecting the City, from fire mostly.

Kenneth Jarvis was another of the All Hallows team that toured the Hill in the Blitz, and according to him George’s repertoire included Down Mexico Way, Lily of Laguna, and Roll out the Barrel. Despite his love of classical music he could perform a vast array of First World War songs, music hall ditties and other popular numbers.

But George’s health was suffering, a result of the asthma he had contracted following his work in the Gas Brigade during the First World War. So in early 1940 he returned to Switzerland for treatment by Auguste Rollier, the eminent doctor who used climate, fresh air, and light therapy to treat his patients, particularly those with TB.

Unfortunately, despite Switzerland’s neutrality, George became marooned in the country. Although he probably wasn’t actually interned – that was normally the fate of military personnel only – he was prevented from travelling back to Britain. Initially he was living in Blonay by Lake Geneva which was close to Rollier’s practice but by October 1943 he was British Chaplain in Berne, attached to a church and school. His congregation included many down RAF pilots and escaped prisoners of war interned in Switzerland for the duration. He also taught himself to play guitar whilst in Switzerland adding yet another talent to his repertoire.

So he was of course, in Switzerland when All Hallows and 22 Tower Hill were destroyed. George lost his papers to those bombing raids. However, he was philosophical about the loss of the buildings saying

The church and the house with the green door [22] were only workshops. It isn’t so much the shop that matters as the kind of work that goes out from the Carpenter’s Bench within.

The first picture in the above slide show shows Tower Hill still intact in 1934. 22 Tower Hill is immediately to right of the white fronted narrow building just right of centre. The second photo from 1947 shows a low brick building replacing the destroyed original. This remained, as the offices of a cork manufacturer, until the road was widened in the late seventies.

At the end of the war George returned to Britain but he never again felt like he had a place or a Mission on the Hill. With All Hallows destroyed he struggled to find his niche. He was attached to St Ethelburga in Bishopsgate during 1945/6 but around 1946 he made a dramatic change. He was appointed Chaplain of St Helen’s and St Katherine’s School, Abingdon, marking a move to Oxfordshire which became permanent.

George lived in St Francis, the chaplain’s house on the school site where he had his own workshop. Home and workshop were open to the girls and there George helped them fix lacrosse sticks, pencil-boxes and other items. He made slides and swings for the juniors and turned out dozens of toys for missionary sales, so we can add woodworking to his multifarious skill set.

Music, of course, remained an important part of his life and most Saturdays he gave an organ recital to the girls. He would get his accordion out at the first sign of a camp-fire and would loan the girls instruments from his impressive stock. He also loaned out books from his library caring little whether they were returned promptly or not.

George also retained his connections to the Scouts and in 1953 went back to his birthplace top open a new Scout hut at Cranbrook.

In 1954 George left the school and took on a curacy at St Michael at the North Gate in the heart of Oxford. At first he lived in lodgings – an old stone house – provided by the church but later, using a small legacy, George bought a little terraced house at 16 Wytham Street where he had a workshop and a garden running down to the reservoir. He had retained contact with Tubby and on 24th June 1956 was present when Tubby oversaw the placing a time capsule comprising seven bottles filled with coins, stamps and other contemporary items, into a wall in the basement of St Michael’s Vicarage. George led the prayers.

George also used to return on occasion to All Hallows to take a service but Oxford was his city now. An Honorary priest at St Mary’s, he was well-known locally and shared his skills by teaching local youngsters woodwork or music. However as the sixties moved on, his health – which had long troubled him – took its toll. As well as his asthma, George became increasingly deaf and according to a 1971 letter by George Whalley, was now passed 80 and very old and ill.

And though now old and decrepit George had lived a full and worthy life and used his multitudinous talents to their best advantage. He followed the Four Points, obeyed the Scout Oath, and was faithful to his church to the end. He died in 1976 and his ashes are in the Columbarium under All Hallows among many of his great friends.

Passages from George Whalley’s letters reproduced with permission of the Whalley Estate and reproduced by permission of Katharine Clark

As always I couldn’t have written this blog without the generous assistance of others. On this occasion I would especially like to thank:

Professor Michael John DiSanto and his team whose research fuels a website dedicated to George Whalley

Jeremy Racher who helped me with information regarding the Lord Mayor’s Own Scout troop

Georgina Blackmore of St Helen and St Katherine School, and

Bill Sandalls from the facebook group Nostalgic Oxford and Surrounding Area

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