Toc H is an international Christian movement which developed from a soldiers' rest and recreation centre named Talbot House founded in Poperinge, near Ypres or Ieper, in Belgium during December 1915. Talbot House was named in memory of Gilbert Talbot, son of Edward Talbot (1844-1934), Bishop of Winchester, who had been killed at Hooge in July 1915. It was founded by Gilbert's elder brother, Neville (1879-1943), who was a senior army chaplain, and Reverend Philip Thomas Byard Clayton (1885-1972), known as 'Tubby'. The name 'Toc H' is an abbreviation for Talbot House: 'Toc' signifying the letter 'T' in the signals spelling alphabet used by the British army during the First World War.
Poperinge was a busy transfer station where troops fighting on the battlefields of Flanders were billeted. Talbot House was designed to be an 'Every Man's Club' where all soldiers, regardless of rank, were welcome. The house was open to men and officers alike and included a library, kitchen and garden. A chapel was created in the attic for religious services and devotions. Clayton organised debates and concerts and men could post messages for missing comrades.
In 1920 Clayton established a Christian youth centre in London which was also named Toc H. After a acquiring a property in Queensgate Place, Knightsbridge, Clayton opened the first Toc H hostel designed as a home for men coming to London for work but having nowhere to stay. The property quickly proved too small and they soon moved to a larger house in Queensgate Gardens - this was named, in army fashion, Mark 1. By 1921 there were three Marks in London. The first outside London was established in Cheltenham. Bands of men were initially awarded a Rushlight before being elevated to Branch status and consequently granted one of the famous Lamps, first introduced in 1922. Further branches of Toc H were also established in other countries across the world, including Australian branches in Victoria and Adelaide, established during 1925.
The earliest statement of the aims of Toc H was designed by Clayton, Rev 'Dick' Sheppard and Sir Alexander Patterson early in 1920. It was subsequently revised in 1936 and 1967 and is known as the 'Four Points of the Compass'. The statement can be summarised as: 'to love widely; to build bravely; to think fairly; to witness humbly'.
Toc H attracted the patronage of Alexander Paterson, Henry Willink and G. K. Chesterton. During these early years, the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII) was an active supporter and appeared at many annual festivals. The movement was granted a Royal Charter in 1922, the same year Clayton became the vicar of All Hallows-by-the-Tower in London. This led to the church becoming Toc H's Guild church.
Toc H was initially only open to men but under the leadership of Alison MacFie, the League of Women Helpers was established to support Toc H work. The League developed an active role in Toc H, especially during the Second World War when many men were away fighting. The League later became known as the Women's Section and merged fully with the men's movement in 1971.
By the 1940s and 1950s the movement was large and powerful although contained few young members. In the late 1950s a Project scheme was established where young people could volunteer with environmental work, manual projects, play schemes and work with the elderly, disabled or disadvantaged.
Although membership has declined during recent decades, Toc H trustees and members accept that a radical rationalisation is required. The movement aims to emerge as a stronger, voluntary movement still guided to the original ethos: attempting to ease the burdens of others through acts of service and promote reconciliation in order to bring disparate sections of society together.
Sources: papers of Toc H; the Toc H website available at http://www.toch-uk.org.uk/History.html viewed 30 March 2012; The Story of Talbot House available at http://www.greatwar.co.uk/ypres-salient/museum-talbot-house-history.htm viewed 30 March 2012