Everyman’s Club at Talbot House
On their Flanders battlefield trip Wenlock U3A visited Talbot House in Poperinge, not far from Ypres in an area of Belgium the Germans never occupied. Talbot House opened in 1915 as a club for soldiers. Everyone was welcomed equally whether officer or private. ‘All rank abandon, ye who enter here’ is one of the signs there. A joke, yes, but genuinely meant. Talbot House was a place where soldiers could meet and relax regardless of status.
Started by two army chaplains, Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton and Neville Talbot set out to create a ‘home from home’ for soldiers with a few days leave from the horrors of the Ypres Salient. This was to be somewhere they could become human again. Rooms had wallpaper like they might have had at home, there was a piano they were encouraged to play, books that could be loaned (leaving their cap as a deposit), beds with sheets on, a peaceful garden to wander in, even animals – a pet cat, Tubby’s dog and Jacko the magpie (who liked bully beef and collar studs).
On the top attic floor, which had once been a hop-drying loft was ‘the Upper Room’ which contains a chapel where the altar was made from a carpenter’s bench they found in the shed and the candlesticks from bedposts. The garden was an oasis of rest and peace, which Tubby called the largest room in the house and one of his notices says Come into the garden and forget the war.
Tubby’s sense of humour pervades everything still. A notice pointing to the front door says ‘To Pessimists Way Out! ‘ In the kitchen it says ‘If you want breakfast in bed, sleep in the kitchen’. At the top of the steep stairs a notice says ‘Down these stairs in signal phial’.
The simple hospitality offered to soldiers in WW1 continues today, pots of tea were waiting for us at the end of our visit and Talbot House still offers accommodation to travellers in the same simple way it did in the worst of times.