Climbing almost heavenwards up a flight of steep and narrow wooden stairs you reach the upper room at Talbot House. This was used as a chapel by the founder and chaplain Reverend Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton.
This is where Anglican services would be held for the troops during World War One.
There was a prayerful and reverent atmosphere amidst all the reminders that this is where soldiers would have gone for some spiritual comfort during the long days of conflict in the battles in Flanders.
Mark K. Smith (2004) has written about the founder of TOC-H, Army padre Reverend Philip Clayton. See: Smith, M. K. (2004) ‘Philip “Tubby” Clayton and TocH’, the encyclopedia of informal education.
Army Chaplains Neville Talbot (left) and Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton opened a club for soldiers in the heart of Poperinge in December 1915. For more than three years, Talbot House provided rest and recreation to all soldiers entering, regardless of rank.
Remembering those souls who have died
Philip Thomas Byard Clayton (1885-1972), Philip Thomas Byard Clayton (1885-1972) was known to his friends as Tubby. He was born on December 12th 1885 in Queensland. At the age of two his parents returned to England. Educated at St Paul’s School in London and then at Exeter College, Oxford, he gained a First Class Degree in Theology. While reading for orders under the Dean of Westminster he became involved with the boys’ club work of the Oxford Medical Mission in Bermondsey.
John Stansfeld (‘The Doctor’), the founder of the Mission, had, according to Philip Clayton, ‘passed like the Pied Piper, through the ‘Varsity and bidden us to the boys’ clubs at Dockhead, Gordon and Decima’ (quoted by Baron 1952: 206). He worked there one night a week, joining a remarkable group of workers that included Alec Paterson and Barclay ‘Barkis’ Baron (who was later to join the central staff of Toc H and edit the Toc H magazine).
A soldiers’ rest and recreation centre named Talbot House was founded in December 1915 at Poperinge in Belgium. It aimed to promote Christianity and was named in memory of Gilbert Talbot, son of Edward Talbot, then Bishop of Winchester, who had been killed at Hooge in July 1915.
The founders were Gilbert’s elder brother, Neville Talbot, then a senior army chaplain, and the Reverend Philip Thomas Byard (Tubby) Clayton.
Talbot House was styled as an “Every Man’s Club”, where all soldiers were welcome, regardless of rank. It was “an alternative for the ‘debauched’ recreational life of the town”.
The original building at Poperinghe has been maintained and redeveloped as a museum and tourist venue.
Branches of Toc H were established in many countries around the world. An Australian branch was formed in Victoria in 1925 by the heretical Reverend Herbert Hayes. Another was formed in Adelaide the same year.