During World War I, Poperinge was part of a small piece of unoccupied territory in Belgium. Far away from the turmoil of the Ypres’ front, the city became the nervous system of the British war industry.In the centre of this busy city, chaplains Neville Talbot and Philip "Tubby" Clayton opened a club house on December 1915 where no distinction in rank or status was made. For three years all soldiers could enjoy rare moments of peace and entertainment at Talbot House. Like during the old days, the House still represents a peaceful stop along the course of the "Great War" in Flanders Fields.
Philip "Tubby" Clayton
Philip Thomas Byard Clayton, nicknamed “Little Tubby” after an overweight uncle, was born in Queensland, Australia in 1885. At the age of 2 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. Tubby started working as a curate at St Mary’s Church in Portsea in 1910 but after seeing a ship full of soldiers sink before his eyes, he felt the desire to become more involved in the war and moved to France in early 1915, where he became an army chaplain in Le Tréport.
At the request of Rev. Neville Talbot, Tubby was soon transferred to the peaceful, unoccupied town of Poperinge, in Flanders, where, on 11th December 1915, the two chaplains inaugurated Talbot House (also known as Toc H), a Christian rest and recreation centre for all of the war’s soldiers, regardless of their rank. Members of Talbot House would gather there for dinner, religious ceremonies, conversation, reading, music, etc. - in fact, anything that would take their minds off the war. Despite the tumultuous times, Talbot House, Poperinge stayed open until the end of 1918. The Toc H movement still continues today, at various centres in the UK and around the world, as a unique place of fellowship and sanctuary.
After the war ended, Tubby returned to England, where he published “Tales of Talbot House” and opened several other Toc H houses. Using his experiences in Flanders to promote the philosophy of the Toc H movement, Clayton also devised the notion of the four cardinal points of the compass to represent the aims of the organisation as Friendship (“To Love Widely” – To welcome all in friendship); Service (“To Build Bravely”– To give personal service); Fair-mindedness (“To Think Fairly” – To always listen to the views of others) and, finally, The Kingdom of God (“To Witness Humbly” – To acknowledge the spiritual nature of all people).
In 1922, Tubby became vicar of All Saints by the Tower, an Anglican church in London and in 1965 he was named as an honorary citizen of Poperinge. Tubby Clayton died in 1972, at the age of 87.
The original Talbot House, in Poperinge, is used both as a residential and conference house and as a museum. Several rooms were recently renovated, including the chapel, the kitchen and the hall, as well as the garden. Brand new story tablets lead the way, shedding light on some of the events that took place there. Keen visitors can even spend the night.