Tower Hill People

By Steve Smith

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

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

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

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

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

Sir Ion Hamilton Benn

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

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

Commander Ion Hamilton Benn 1916

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

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

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

Benn painted by Francis Whitmore courtesy Thurrock Museum

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

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

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

Benn in later life

Marguerite Joyce Coulson

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

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

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

Couly (far left) on the roof of New June

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

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

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

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

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

Couly with Tubby and Chippie

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

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

Colin Cuttell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colin in an office in 15 Trinity Square

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

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

Colin in later life

Arthur Follett Holt

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

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

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

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

L-R Lord Wakefield, Tubby, and Follett Holt

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

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

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

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

Thomas’ sculpture

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

William Arthur Goff

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

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

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

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

Wag at 1948 staff conference

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

Catherine Frances Matilda Johnson

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

Not Aunt Bess but close

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

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

The only photo I found of Aunt Bess

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

Henry Bowen Smith

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

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

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

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

The Du Cros garage where a young Bowen worked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking on Tower Hill

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

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

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

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

Tending one of his Tower Hill gardens

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

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

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

Leading the 1961 Roman Pageant

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

Some others

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

Charles George Misselbrook

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

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

Charles Misselbrook with Tubby

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

Charles William Tisshaw

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

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

Tish in 1958

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

Sid Higbee

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

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

Daisy May

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

Group Captain George Robert Oliver

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

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

Fred Tuckett

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

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

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

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

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

Fred walking Chippie with Tubby

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

2 thoughts on “Tower Hill People

  1. Fond memories of Sid Higbee and his dear wife Gladys with whom as a teenager I stayed in their flat on Tower Hill. Colin Cuttell would go up on the roof and sing Canadian folk songs at the top of his voice. Meanwhile Gladys would send me to Billingsgate Fish market to buy fresh herrings which she would “souce” to her own Cornish recipe. Sid was also an ambulance driver as well as being Colin’s verger. Her flat was like a Cornish cottage in the middle of London.


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