In 1915 a young army chaplain, Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton (1885-1972) opened the Everyman’s Club at Talbot House, in the small Belgian town of Poperinge. The club was situated close to Ypres but was a world away from the horrors of the front line. Instead, soldiers found an oasis of peace and tranquillity, where they could, for a short time, forget about the war.
Talbot House was named in memory of Lt. Gilbert Talbot, the brother of Padre Neville Talbot. Soldiers called it Toc H, the army signallers’ code for TH. Formally owned by a brewer who had fled the war, it needed complete refurnishing. Gifts, including 2 pianos, hundreds of books - even soft furnishings - were donated by people in England.
If a soldier wished to borrow a book they had to leave their cap badge as a deposit - a sure-fire way of ensuring the book would be returned. Talbot House welcomed all soldiers; indeed, above the entrance was a sign saying: ‘All rank abandon, ye who enter here’. A private could chat to a general, a sergeant pray with a major.
Upstairs, the attic was converted to a chapel and was called the ‘Upper Room’. The altar was made from a carpenter’s bench found in the garden, the candlesticks from old bedposts.
Several services were held a day and it is thought by the end of the war attendances had totalled 100,000. After the war Clayton became vicar of All Hallows-by-the-Tower, a post he held for 40 years. He’s buried there.