Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Paul Brannen Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Paul Brannen Columnist

Article excerpt

MY first job after leaving Leeds University was for a charity with the somewhat unusual name of Toc H. Unless you are over 60 my guess is you will never have heard of Toc H yet in the 1930s they were Britain's largest charity, the King was their patron and they held their annual general meetings in a packed Albert Hall.

The existence of Toc H also coined a phrase which your parents or grandparents may have used, 'As dim as a Toc H lamp'.

Toc H was founded, somewhat unintentionally, by an Anglican clergyman by the name of Philip 'Tubby' Clayton. The Reverend Clayton had been a chaplain to the army in the First World War stationed in the town of Popperinge in Belgium.

He operated out of a house that acted as a meeting place for soldiers on their way to and from the section of the front line known as the Ypres Salient.

On the top floor was a chapel, a place for quiet reflection away from the horrors that lay only a few miles away. A notice was hung by the front door bearing the message, 'All rank abandon, ye who enter here', so no saluting was necessary, which was bordering on revolutionary for the times.

Clayton named the house Talbot House in memory of a friend's son who had been killed earlier in the war. Talbot House soon became known to soldiers in the shortened form of Toc H given Toc was the British Army signaller's code for 'T', and H was 'H'.

After the carnage was over, Clayton ended up at Tower Hill in London where outside his house he placed a sign saying anyone who had passed through Toc H should feel free to call in for a cup of tea. He was inundated.

Unemployment amongst demobbed soldiers was high and many carried physical and mental injuries, and they were in need of a great deal more than a hot drink.

Clayton was well connected in the upper echelons of society and he set to work. Before long he had acquired a range of properties across the country and these became places where young men could stay, recover and learn a trade. In this rather accidental way one of Britain's first large publically supported charities was born.

As we now know the Great War failed to bring Europe to its senses and it took a second and even more deadly war for this to happen. …

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