In 1915 army chaplain Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton established Talbot House in the small town of Poperinge, a few miles from the front line in Ypres. Here rank was irrelevant, orders were prohibited, and all soldiers were encouraged to forget about the war. As part of the commemorations to mark its centenary, Guildhall Library is currently staging an exhibition about this ‘oasis’ for soldiers.
The exhibition reflects the interiors of Talbot House, inspired by contemporary photographs. The house was established by Tubby and Neville Talbot to provide recreation, respite and relaxation for the troops. It was a home away from home, with a friendly welcoming atmosphere, and offered something for everyone, whether you wanted to relax, talk or have a good time. The most important room was the chapel, set up in the loft and reached by a steep staircase. Tubby estimated 100,000 men had probably used this room by the end of the war.
The heart of the house was undoubtedly Tubby Clayton. He created an atmosphere of fun and took a genuine interest in soldiers’ welfare, regularly leaving Talbot House to journey to all parts of the front to perform Communion. He thought his work at the house was ‘too safe.’
Right in the centre of the exhibition is the hut, now owned by Talbot House, in which Tubby wrote his memoirs after fleeing the Germans in 1918. He erected four of these huts in a field north-west of Poperinge. His memoirs, intended to be a short history of the house, are held at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) and are currently on display in the exhibition. Tubby writes that ‘this queer little book…began in a field near Poperinghe in May, 1918, with a hostile Kemmel in full view. It went on fitfully during the summer, and was rewritten at Samer after the Armistice.’ It was published in 1919. This is the first time the hut and the memoirs have been brought together since 1918.
The hut is displayed alongside ‘The Pressed Flower’, an installation by artist Rebecca Louise Law. It first went on show as part of a First World War exhibition at the Garden Museum. Rebecca was inspired by their collection of pressed flowers, preserved in journals and letters from the front. Also exhibited with the hut is a large image of a landscape between Poperinge and Ypres, taken by Simon Gregor. This is part of ‘The Remembrance Image Project’, for which Simon has photographed key sites associated with the war, on the anniversary of when they saw conflict.
A range of other items in the exhibition tell us more about the life of both Tubby and soldiers in the First World War. There are objects from Talbot House’s collections, which belonged to soldiers stationed in the area. The LMA holds material from Tubby’s life including from when Tubby was vicar of All Hallows and a few items from Tubby’s time in Poperinge are on display in the exhibition. We hope visitors will be inspired to learn more about this ‘oasis’ and its founder.
The exhibition at Guildhall Library is free and open until 8 January.
Events and Exhibitions Officer