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Toc H in Yarmouth

Steve Smith

This is a dramatically revised and extended version of a piece that first appeared in Do Different, Build Bravely – Toc H in Norfolk 1920-2007. It recounts the facts about the Toc H Branch in Great Yarmouth, reflects on some of the work they did, and gives brief biographical sketches of some of the key characters in the story.

Title pic

Although this article will be cross-posted on my Toc H Centenary site, it was primarily written for this Great Yarmouth blog which has a different audience. Therefore I need to take a paragraph to explain what Toc H is and the easiest way to do this is to look back to its beginnings during the First World War.

In late 1915, an army chaplain, Phillip ‘Tubby’ Clayton, not long arrived in France from his curacy in Portsea, was commanded, alongside the Reverend Neville Talbot, to open a rest club for soldiers in the troop-staging town of Poperinghe, Belgium. The club they opened in an old merchant’s house on Rue de l’Hopital was named Talbot House in memory of Neville’s brother Gilbert, killed near Hooge earlier in the year. It was to be an Everyman’s Club where entrance was not limited to any one Regiment, Division, or Brigade and all rank was to be left outside. More often than not abbreviated to TH by the soldiers, or, in the signallers’ language of the time Toc H (The modern equivalent would be Tango Hotel) it became legendary in Flanders for its home from home atmosphere. Of particular import was the chapel in the old hop loft at the top of the house where many men (And a very few women) received communion. Equally important was the walled garden where soldiers could lounge and forget about the war for a while. For four years the house was a ‘haven from hell’ and was so loved that after the war Tubby wanted to continue its fellowship. Thus in 1919 Toc H – the organisation – was born and soon spread across the United Kingdom and the entire Dominion. Norfolk was not immune to its lure!

Talbot House, Poperinge, Belgium

Although this blog tells the story of Great Yarmouth branch of Toc H, it will also refer to other branches in the immediate locality especially Gorleston but also mentioning Caister, Bradwell, Ormesby and Filby. There were of course many more further afield in the county; by my reckoning there were some 65 Norfolk branches in total at various times. Initially Toc H branches were men only but by 1922 there was an auxiliary women’s organisation, known initially as the League of Women Helpers (LWH), who formed their own groups. They first existed primarily as domestic help and support to the men! They later became Toc H (Women’s Section) – a reward largely for their stepping up to take on many of the absent men’s roles when war broke out again – and then the Toc H Women’s Association before merging with the men officially in 1971. Thus some or all of the above places boasted a Men’s branch, a Women’s branch and/or a Joint branch at various times. Later on, as the organisation adapted to changing times, there were also Action Groups and various other branch spin-offs.

Unless I specify Women’s or Joint I am generally referring to the Men’s branch. However, just to complicate things further, the term Branch developed a very specific meaning in Toc H terms. A more generic term for a number of people gathered together in the name of Toc H would be a unit.  Before 1922 any unit was automatically called a Branch but with the introduction of Lamps as a Branch emblem the rules changed. Now a unit of Toc H men would come together first as a Group and be granted a Rushlight as their badge. Only when both they and the Guard of the Lamp committee felt they were ready to serve Toc H fully could they petition for Branch status. If granted they would be endowed with a Lamp of Maintenance which would be lit and officially bestowed on the Branch at a national or regional festival. Branch status was monitored and if it was felt that the unit was not doing enough community work, for example, they could be reduced to Group status and their Lamp taken away. Some struggling branches even gave their Lamps up voluntarily if their numbers were dwindling.

And I haven’t quite finished yet. For a while in the 20s and 30s, a pre Group status was informally introduced – initially by the US units – for when a few people were first getting together to try and start a Toc H unit. They usually just had a candle as their emblem and since these men were fumbling around trying to get things off the ground, this unit was known as a Grope. It was never an official status but it was very popular for a while. Ironically, despite much Groping in the States over the years Toc H never established itself in the US. So now you know!

Lamp and Rushlight

Where does the life of the Great Yarmouth unit of Toc H begin? Well like most branches, the seed was sown at Talbot House. We can probably be more specific though as we know it was October 1916 when Albert Victor ‘Inky’ Bean, gunner with the 141st Heavy Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery, took communion in its hop loft chapel. We know this both from Inky’s own diaries and because after receiving Communion from Tubby he completed the Communicant’s Roll  as requested – giving his address as 18 Tottenham Street, Great Yarmouth. About half of these slips survived the war including Inky’s thus he became a recipient of one of Tubby’s letters of June 1920 urging him to start a branch in Yarmouth. The other Norfolk recipient was Major Quintin Gurney, who set about forming Toc H in East Dereham some 40 miles away.

Tubbys Letter
The June 1920 letter sent to some who knew Talbot House asking them to start a local group

But let’s let Tubby tell the next bit of the story himself. Please keep in mind that Tubby never liked to let the facts get in the way of a good tale. (The following appeared in the April 1934 issue of The Journal)

In an East Anglian Town, famous for bloaters, a Gunner sat, his head between his hands. It was 1920, and early spring. The Gunner was no longer in the Army. He had come Home, and had been re-established as a compositor upon the sea-port’s Daily Mercury. The high tide of return had landed him in the domestic circle of his Flanders dreams. His wise wife understood him thoroughly; his children were the cynosure of all eyes in the street for tidy turn-out and docile behaviour. What then, was there to weigh on his mind?

 In truth, he blamed himself for certain moods of discontent, which evidenced themselves of late, when the sheer joy of home, of being free, of being once again a citizen, began to fade. It lasted for six months; and then returned a yearning for the rough and tumble of Battery life, for men who had become (with all their foibles) strangely dear to him, yes, and for the big sense of self-surrender to a great cause. All these things he had known; and now the day of small things had reclaimed him.

 These men had been his pals, his working partners, mates in the bivvies, teams in the gun-pits, brothers in their rough way. Friends had been killed, apparently to very little purpose. He still could hear their moans and imprecations; but pain makes anyone say anything. “A stomach-wound is worst,” so his thoughts ran, as if it might occur that afternoon. But he had come through whole. Why was he chosen to survive so many, who might have done much more to help their fellows? Before him, lay a letter from a Padre he had known. In it the Padre told him that he was to regard himself as the Keyman in that whole district of East Anglia for the revival of old Talbot House. What could he do? He would, in the first case, take counsel with his brother over it.

 His brother was not prone to Churchmanship, and war had had an adverse effect on him. Yet, for the sake consanguinity, he acquiesced, limiting his liability to the considerable outlay of 7s 6d. That was one half of the hire price of the hall in which the inaugural meeting of this new Society was to take place. An announcement to this effect was inserted by the compositor’s employer in the Town paper; and the two brothers, turned out to welcome all and sundry at the doors of the hall at 8pm. At the announced time, no one had come. At 8.15 the same was the result. At 8.30 there had been no addition. At 9pm the meeting still consisted of the two brothers, waiting at the door. At 9.30 the brother, who had joined reluctantly in the adventure, solemnly passed over his three half-crowns, and left to get a drink before closing time. At 10.15 the Gunner, now alone, put out the lights and locked up the hired hall.

 When he reached home, his wise wife comforted him; and to her comfort Toc H in East Anglia, in eighteen units prior to the Second World War, owes its foundation.

The story then goes that the following Sunday, Inky was kneeling at communion next to a school master whom he barely knew. After the service and buoyed up by his wife’s support he spoke to the man about his aims to start Toc H in Yarmouth. Though the school master had recently returned from the war, he didn’t know Talbot House but was nevertheless interested. He asked Inky if he could join him. Thus they were two (Inky’s brother took a while to be convinced after that poor start – in fact another of Tubby’s versions of the story says that it wasn’t Inky’s brother at that first meeting but his brother’s friend!!).

Tubby then says that a padre called on Inky whilst he was at work in Jarrold’s printing department but Inky couldn’t or didn’t go to meet him. Once he had recruited the school master, (who I believe was either Arthur William Rouse, a former RAF Pilot Officer or Charles Colegrave Scott, a Lieutenant in the 9th Russian Labour Battalion) they tracked down the padre who had apparently heard of Toc H at Cambridge. This was almost certainly the Reverend D.C. Tibbenham (See below) although he doesn’t arrive in Yarmouth until 1923 so again, Tubby may be twisting the facts to fit his tale.

Anyway eventually Inky’s determination paid off and a small band of Yarmouth men gathered together. The official start date of Yarmouth group was December 1920.

So who was ‘Inky’ Bean?

Tubby’s Gunner was indeed from that East Anglian town famous for bloaters, not to mention kippers. Albert Victor Bean was born in Great Yarmouth in 1897 and became a printer’s compositor for Jarrold.  A renowned shop that started in Woodbridge, Suffolk but moved to Norwich in 1823 and expanded its business in the area. Printing was a major arm of Jarrold by the time Albert joined (his nickname, of course, was only acquired after he went into the trade.). Incidentally, should it not become obvious, nicknames were almost de rigeur in Toc H.

Married to Eleanor Pumphrey, she waved him away to war where he served in 141st Heavy Battery of Royal Garrison Artillery, and as we have heard, visited Talbot House and met Tubby. He attended a service in the barn (A hop store) next to the house.

 “That barn seemed like a little haven out of the mud and the shelling that was all around us……I was only a youngster and I remember how very moved I was.”

After the war he returned to his wife and his job and received his ‘orders’ from Tubby which he carried out with great gusto. Inky and Eleanor had a son, John, who later became one of Tubby’s ADCs (Aide de Camp) and a member of Central Council. He joined the church and is, or at least still was up to a few years ago, a priest on the Isle of Wight.

We shall follow Inky’s career in Toc H in Yarmouth over the next few paragraphs so let us focus on what happened after he left the town. Unemployed because the Luftwaffe destroyed the premises he worked at, Toc H employed Inky as a paid Toc H Warden for their Service Clubs (See below). He was firstly assigned to North Shields in 1941 then later that year returned to Cambridge where he ran the club on Park Terrace. His fellow staff on this venture were Area Padre the Revd. Murray Gawne, and Area Secretary Howard Dunnett. Known widely as the Cambridge Trinity, they were also colloquially known as Bean, and Gawn and Dunnet!

In 1944 he was posted to Talbot House Club for Seafaring Boys in Southampton. As warden, with Eleanor as his housekeeper, they were responsible for looking after many young lads who were ‘between ships’ in a career in the Merchant Navy. The local Toc H also used the house as a bit of a base and one of the things they ran from there, which Inky got heartily involved with, was broadcasting football commentaries for hospital radio in Southampton.

Always a close friend of Tubby, Inky was a guest on his appearance on This Is Your Life in 1958. Three years later, at the age of just 64, Inky died quite suddenly of a heart attack. There was a memorial service to celebrate his life at the Toc H Guild Church, All Hallows near the Tower of London, and his ashes are in the Columbarium Crypt under the church, along with Eleanor’s (She died in 1975), Tubby’s and many other Toc H stalwarts.

Inky Bean picture

So, how are the unit started by Inky doing? They are listed as a Group in the January 1922 list though the rules around of Toc H units changed about now and they may have been downgraded to a Grope. Inky later says they attained Group status in 1924.

Either way they started to expand more rapidly when Revd. Tibbenham joined them in the summer of 1923. Unaware of Toc H previously, Tibbenham saw the potential of such an organisation and encouraged their growth. He clearly became a driving force..

Other members include sportswear salesman Leonard Cushing (Whose premises at 37 Hall Plain were often used as the branch meeting room); the Rev Arthur Milton Whitehead (Curate in charge of St James); Mr Alfred Ernest Clayton (Sold waterproofs and described himself as the Rubber Specialist!); Mr Burton; Mr Charles Colegrave Scott; Ernest Augustus Bean (Inky’s older brother and a former Guardsman); and Inky still very much there as Secretary.

Donald Claude Sydney Tibbenham
1900 born Norwich; Trained at Ridley Hall & Christ’s College, Cambridge
1923 ordained as Priest on Trinity Sunday (27th May)
1923 posted to Great Yarmouth as Curate at St Nicholas
1928 joined Church Missionary Society in Chelmsford
1930 appointed to the Living of St Mary’s, Plaistow
1944 died Easter Sunday (9th April) at Wallsgrove House, High Beach


Charles Colegrave Scott
1897 born Northumberland; Educated Royal Grammar School, Newcastle;
1917 matriculated
1917 War Service with 9th Russian Labour Battalion
1920 resumed studies
1921 received BA
1923 Assistant Master Great Yarmouth Grammar School
1925 Master at Carlisle Grammar School for many years
1953 died, Cumberland

In the spring of 1924 a report of the Group’s activities was sent to HQ and published in the April edition of The Journal, the monthly periodical of Toc H. The report states that they have been waiting for the necessary impetus and are now moving in the right direction which again, indicates the new purpose brought to them by Tibbenham. They say they had their first debate recently, “Is Socialism as expounded today a Spiritual Movement?” It was held at Purdy’s Café on Regent Road in late March, and chaired by the Reverend J. R. Mitchell with Mr D. Drummond, a member of the National Labour Party, speaking for the motion and Mr A. E. Clayton (No relation to Tubby) opposing. Debates or speakers at Toc H Guest Nights were open to all and often used as a way of gaining new recruits. Forty-five men attended the debate and the Jobmaster –Colegrave Scott explained the objects of Toc H with the view to gathering some more members.

The Groups biggest impact came in November 1924 when, led by Tibbenham and Cushing, Toc H were responsible for founding the United Council of Christian Witness in Great Yarmouth. It was formed to “combat the various social and moral evils at present existing in the town, such as those of bad housing conditions, gambling, and betting, and the sale of obscene postcards, so on.” The vicar of Great Yarmouth, Canon Robert Aitken was elected president.

The Rev. Canon Robert Aubrey Aitken was the vicar of St Nicholas 1920-1942 and was formerly from North Walsham. Many of his curates were involved with Toc H as Padres. Incidentally Yarmouth was beaten in the number of Curacies it held only by Portsea, where Tubby Clayton had been a Curate. Aitken’s son William Aubrey Aitken would later play a major part in Toc H in Norfolk.

In 1925 some meetings were held at Mr Cushing’s premises at 37 Hall Plain but increasingly the Group were meeting at Alpha House, Northgate Street aka the Johnson Rooms aka the Northgate Rooms. Belonging to Harry Beale Johnson a former baker who became a noted chronicler of Yarmouth, the rooms were an old laundry which he restored and converted. Johnson also refronted Sewell House in 1932 and was physically involved in the labour which partly led to his death a few weeks later aged just 43. His collection of papers and books was left to the library.

Johnson Rooms Northgate st being repaired 1982 Toc H met here
Alpha House undergoing repairs. In earlier times the Branch met there

At Alpha House, Toc H spent time discussing the issues of the day: Inky’s brother presented a paper on his experiences working in hospitals; The Revd. A.M. Whitehead spoke on the East End of London; C. F. H. Crawshaw on The Future of Wireless; Tibbenham about George Bernard Shaw’s St Joan; and Inky himself about the print trade.

Thus far we have talked a lot about the Fellowship of Toc H and some of the more social aspects of joining. It is important to realise that one of the key aspects of Toc H was Service; working in and for the community. Indeed, although the Movement has often spoken about Fellowship and Service, in the early days Tubby urged for Fellowship through Service. Each unit was expected to identify a pressing need locally and do something to address it. Amongst its several officials, each unit had a Jobmaster whose role was to find and allocate the jobs that the branch as a whole or its individual members could tackle.

At Yarmouth the early forms of Service included working with the Church of England Scouts and the Congregational Boys Club; playing gramophone records – loaned by Messrs Carr and Carr of Regent Street – and distributing fruit and fags at the infirmary (The infirmary was the old workhouse on Northgate Street which became Northgate Hospital with the foundation of the NHS); teaching First Aid to blind boys; and soon they would begin what would become long-term work with the Deaf and Dumb Mission in Albion Road. They also held annual parties for underprivileged children providing a feast for around 160 local kids receiving relief from Social Services. Seasonal work included contact with the fishing fleet and the coopers.

Yarmouth Independent 16 Jan 1932 Childrens Party
Terrible quality but a rare photo of one of the Toc H Children’s Parties

Another pre-war favourite was Great Yarmouth Hospital Day where they joined other organisations raising funds for the local hospitals. Toc H normally pitched their stall on the front near the Empire. The branch would dress up as convicts and have a dart game where you threw darts into playing cards to win a prize. Prizes were usually a pack of ten fags courtesy of one of the two members who ran tobacconists in the town!

In December 1926 their first annual dinner was held at Alpha House with Mr Arthur William Rouse in chair. Two Foundation members – Toc H members who had visited Talbot House during the war were entitled to call themselves this – from Beccles group visited. A rousing rendition of Rogerum, which Toc H had adopted as their signature tune, was sung after a dinner provided by Harry Beale Johnson. Mr Ducker was elected Jobmaster, Mr Lewis offered to assist. Mr Wallace Edmonds – a well-known local amateur thespian – was elected Treasurer and Assistant Secretary

On the 1st February 1927 they held their first Annual Carnival Dance at the Minor Hall, at the Royal Aquarium. Messrs Ducker and Ives acted as MCs. The evening included a Charleston Competition. Matthes catered and the Mayor and Mayoress attended.

Later that month they held an annual tea for the Deaf and Dumb Institute and also in February the Revd. Tibbenham was elected Honorary (CoE) Padre whilst A. E. Bowyer became Free Church Padre.

Alfred Ernest Bowyer
1870 born London.
1898 married Edith Bramerton
A Methodist Minister he entered the Ministry through the Herne Hill Circuit before being appointed to  Horwich, Colne, Lincoln, Lower Darwen (where his son Cyril was born – see below) then back to Colne all before the Great War..
He served in Gallipoli and Mesoptamia as Chaplain.
1925 appointed as Minister in Yarmouth, joined the Toc H Group soon afterwards.
1930 left for Tamworth
1934 returned to Gorleston
1940 died in October

In March 1927 the Group reported that they were “steadily increasing in numbers and our fortnightly meetings are well attended” That month they travelled across to Norwich to attend the Annual General Meeting of the Branch there (Norwich attained Branch status in 1924 being the first unit in Norfolk to do so).

At their own meeting on Thursday 31st March a discussion was held about a permanent headquarters for the Yarmouth group and the problem was given to a committee to resolve. By the autumn they would be holding their meetings weekly in Alpha House but this was still not what they really wanted.

Tubby expected to visit Yarmouth Group on the 21st Apr 1927. I haven’t actually found absolute confirmation that he did although he was at Norwich the night before and on a later visit in 1936 Inky spoke of Tubby’s previous visit about 10 years ago, so I’m guessing he did.

A major step forward came on 2nd November 1927 when their petition to become a Branch was accepted by the Guard of the Lamp and they became the 126th Branch founded. They were endowed a lamp (See below).

Around the same time they found themselves a dilapidated house which they took over and made habitable. Later they would describe its location thus

“more or less sandwiched on the North Quay in a condemned house with the mortuary on one side and the Girls’ home on the other”

The dilapidated house they found was no. 57 North Quay on the site of the old Carmelite Friary. It was an eighteenth century property that had had a third floor added in the nineteenth century, and was originally a single property along with no. 56. Built around 1756 for the brewer William Browne, it went, through marriage, to the Fisher family and by the late 1800s was split into two houses. From 1883 no. 56 was Breydon House, home to the ‘H.E. Buxton training school for servant girls’ whilst 57 was Hannah Woollsey’s school. By 1891 it was the Clergy House for St Andrew’s, the nearby Wherryman’s Church, and was home to the Revd. Richard Phipps (Later Archdeacon of Halifax), Curate in Charge. Tucked behind it, with its entrance in Row 45 was the mortuary. By 1911 no. 57 was the place where the social work of St Andrew’s was carried out and was also known as St Andrew’s Institute (Sharing its name with the men’s group run by the church). From 1919 until the early 20s it was the clubhouse for St Andrews Ex-Service Men’s Club but in 1927 it fell into the hands of Toc H who shared it with the St Andrew’s Scout Troop.

The next momentous occasion in this annus mirabilis was the official lighting of their lamp. In the early days the new lamps were lit at the Toc H Birthday Party held around the 11th December anniversary of Talbot House opening (Later with so many new Branches forming each year, new lamps would be lit at Area festivals). Yarmouth were officially bestowed their lamp at the Royal Albert Hall on 3rd December 1927, it being lit by His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, patron of Toc H.

Lamp Lighting 3 Dec 1927 RAH GY lamb First Lit 2
Lamp Lighting at the 1927 Birthday Festival – the year Yarmouth’s lamp was lit

The lamp was gifted to the branch by Ion Hamilton Benn, a businessman and former MP. A long-time member of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Benn saw active service in the First World War, being commissioned with the temporary rank of lieutenant-commander on the 12th October 1914 and receiving promotion to temporary commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on the 10th April 1915. For three years he was the commander of a flotilla of motor launches in the Dover Patrol, taking part in the Zeebrugge Raid and the First and Second Ostend Raids.

Benn was created Baronet of Rollesby in 1920 and had a family seat there. It was traditional for lamps to be paid for by a donor in memory of somebody. In this case the Drifter Patrol, the fishermen who were seconded into the Navy along with their boats to patrol the North Sea. The Dover Patrol are incredibly well-known but the Yarmouth and Lowestoft Drifter patrols are somewhat neglected. The Drifter Lamp – the official name this Toc H lamp bears – remains one of the few memorials to their bravery.

The lamp is kept in an Oak casket, in common with all Toc H lamps, that has a sliding panel to allow it to be stowed away. The casket is lozenge shaped and there is a brass plaque on each of the four panels. They read:

  1. The Drifter Lamp
  2. Great Yarmouth Branch
  3. First lit by HRH the Prince of Wales 3-12-27
  4. In memory of the men of the Drifter Patrol who gave their lives for their country in the Great War
The Drifter Lamp, Great Yarmouth Branch’s Lamp of Maintenance

The casket is then kept inside another box built by one of the branch members – believed to be Tom Bircham (See below). The box has a note on the lid that explains its origins.

 A few days after first being lit, the Drifter Lamp was dedicated on the 12th December 1927 at St Nicholas’ church by Canon Aubrey Aitken and was rededicated annually afterwards with a church service at St Andrews or St Nicholas. Around the same time would be a Branch birthday party – which in the early days was the only time women could attend Toc H – and they must have still been in high spirits on Christmas Day when they visited the infirmary to cheer up the patients.

By now some of the key figures were ‘Kodak’ Brown, ‘Chummy’ James, and Tom Bircham who was Jobmaster. Around February 1928 James E.E. Tunstall became the Branch padre when the Revd. Tibbenham moved on.

Thomas James Bircham
1883 born 22nd August in Row 27
1908 married Martha Agnes George
1915 served in the Royal Artillery. Promoted to Sergeant ‘in the field’
    Worked in fish houses then became the yardman at the cattle market.
1919 son Wilf born (See below)
1939 Special Constable during WWII.
1969 died in Northgate hospital and buried in Gorleston Old Cemetery

Tom Bircham 1915
Sergeant Tom Bircham in 1915

James Edward Edmund Tunstall
1899 born 4th January. Educated Durham University
Served Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment
1925 Ordained
1928 became Great Yarmouth Branch Padre
1935 North London Area Padre for Toc H and Vicar at New Barnet
1938 Vicar at High Littleton, Somerset
1939 married Christine Bold
1950 Vicar at Doulting
1966 died Somerset

There were also changes happening at a national level. Toc H was growing rapidly and the branches needed organising into areas and districts. The former was reasonably straightforward as a loose East Anglian area had been formed but for some reason trying to put Yarmouth into a District seemed difficult. Initially in 1929 they were stuck in Colchester District along with Chelmsford, Colchester, Clacton, Dovercourt and Walton! All this when there was Norwich District containing only Norwich and Lowestoft branches. Still, Yarmouth said that they felt less isolated being in a District now. The East Anglian area was soon changed to the Eastern Area and stretched from Reading and Oxford across to Norfolk and Suffolk. However East Anglia continued to exist as a Division within the area and Yarmouth was soon shifted into the Norwich District.

Although Norfolk was growing a little slower than some parts of the country, there were new branches springing up in the county. Yarmouth were partly responsible for getting a Grope going in Bradwell in the spring of 1930 and in 1931 also encouraged the birth of a Grope in East Dereham. In between these, in the autumn of 1930, the Revd. Bowyer left for a new post in Tamworth.

Bradwell the original 5 members with a padre
Bradwell – the original five plus Padre
Bradwell Group March 1932 outside the windmill where they met
Bradwell in 1932

Finally in late 1931, the first buds of the other key unit we are concerning ourselves with, appeared in Gorleston. Formed by Bradwell with the assistance of Yarmouth, a Gorleston Grope was born. Their jobs included gramophone concerts at the hospital and wheeling out patients from the orthopaedic ward for some fresh air. They were present at a weekend training camp at Bradwell in June 1932, along with Yarmouth and several other Norfolk groups. By November 1932 the new Grope were meeting at the Mariner’s Refuge on Gorleston Quay (At the foot of the pier) – a purpose built premises for shipwrecked sailors funded by private donation and built by Cockrill in the early 1890s (It was later taken over by the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen). Gorleston were officially sanctioned as a Group in February 1934 with 11 members and 2 probationers.

Meanwhile, back across the river, in May 1933 the Revd. Tunstall was nominated to be Area Executive by the Central Executive Council, the Eastern Area now being just East Anglia and Beds and Herts having divested Thames Valley to the Southern Area. This was the first time a Yarmouth man had reached the lofty heights of the Area Team.

And down at District level, in late 1934 the Broads District was founded. Yarmouth were the only Branch with Gorleston, Bradwell, Happisburgh and Lowestoft as Groups. Gropes are not listed. There are separate Districts for Norwich and West Norfolk.

It was for good reason that Yarmouth Branch gained a reputation as being a ‘distribution centre for padres’ as it seemed to get through a lot. This was largely to do with the huge pool of Curates at St Nicholas who would give time to the branch and eventually get moved on to their own parish. Which is why, in February 1935 the branch bade farewell to the Revd. Tunstall although on this occasion it was Toc H who were responsible and not the church. Tunstall was appointed Area Padre for North London and moved south to take up his new position. At the farewell which Inky presided over, he was presented with a stole. There were representatives from branches at Norwich, Gorleston, Happisburgh etc., as well as H.W. Weddell chairman of Broads District.

GY Branch Farewell Supper tp Padre Tunstall 8 Apr 1935
Farewell Dinner to the Revd. Tunstall at Hill’s restaurant

The Revd. H T Yeomans took over as new branch padre with Rev G.C. Ashbee (Vicar of St Paul’s) as his assistant.

Herbert Thomas Yeomans
1907 born 19th July, the son of the Headmaster of Scarcliffe School
Educated Scarcliffe, Chesterfield Grammar. Matriculated Selwyn College, Cambridge
1932 Appoint to a Curacy at Bulwell, Nottingham
1935 posted to Yarmouth. As well as Toc H Padre was a Boys Brigade Troupe Leader
1937 posted to St Peter Mancroft, Norwich in November
1938 to Pinchbeck, Lincs
1940-44 Chaplain in the RAF Volunteer Reserve where he was badly injured in Malta
1945 to Morton by Gainsborough
1948 to St Mary-le-Wigford in the diocese of Lincoln
1949 his twin brother E.H. Yeomans was instituted in the living of Ancaster with Honington in the same Diocese
1950s  to Brixham, Devon then Long Buckby with Brington in Northants and All Saints With St Mary Chitterne, Salisbury
1984 died;  Buried 16 Feb 84 Market Lavington, Wiltshire

H T Yeomans

Meanwhile across at Gorleston in November 1935 some of the Group members attend the British Legion’s Remembrance Service. These include the Revd. A.E. Bowyer who had returned from Tamworth and his son Cyril ‘Cabby’ Bowyer; Percy James Thrower and Bernard ‘BB’ Bothams. Bothams and Cyril Bowyer will both be long-time members of Gorleston Toc H.

Cyril Bowyer
1910 born near Blackburn on 14th November to the Rev A.E. Bowyer
1925 came to Yarmouth when  is father was appointed as a Methodist Minister there
1928 joined Toc H Great Yarmouth Branch. Cabby worked with Inky Bean at Jarrolds
1931 Cabby and others joined with Bradwell to start Gorleston Group.
1935 married Phyllis Ames
1939 working as clerk at Matthes (Bakers and Confectioners) and a Special Constable
1939 spent six years on war service then returned to Gorleston branch.
1945 after the war he was a rep on Norfolk Division and helped set up Loddon, Beccles, Bungay, Filby and Ormesby. He was on the CEC for three stints
1998 died in March

The Bowyers AE Phyllis and Cabby
The Bowyers (Clockwise from top) Alfred, Cyril and Phyllis. Toc H members one and all

Bernard Bothams
1890 born London
1914 enlisted in the Suffolk regiment
1916 posted to France
1917 transferred to Labour Corps
1919 discharged in April due to deafness in his right ear; in his opinion the deafness was sustained through trench mortar explosions at Achicourt in Sept 1916
1922 working for Norton’s Tobacconists (window dresser) at 132 High St, Gorleston
1939 living there as manager with his wife; He was a Special Constable
BB also in Gorleston and Southtown British Legion, and Gorleston Choral Society
1987 he died aged 97

By February the following year BB is chair of Gorleston Group whilst the Revd. Bowyer and the Revd C. M. Jenkins are its Padres. They are primarily working with blind people. Meetings are on Mondays and are held on Feathers Plain.

By 1936 Inky’s dedication was rewarded when he was elected as Chairman of Broads District.

On Tuesday 10th March 1936, there was an interesting Branch meeting at Yarmouth when member Mr B. Careful was hauled up in front of the branch charged with careless, reckless and dangerous driving and manslaughter. Thankfully it was a mock trial. Despite a stalwart defence from Mr Percy James Thrower, the prosecuting attorney Revd H.T. Yeomans prevailed and the judge – local Probation Officer Mr L. Richards – sentenced Mr B. Careful to “four years of complete adoration of his wife”

Tubby returned to the town in October 1936 and gave a sermon on leprosy at St Nicholas’ recruiting for volunteers to work with LEPRA (Formerly BELRA), whom Toc H provided a great deal of workers. This followed by a reception in Priory Hall presided over by Inky.

Tubby at Priory Hall
Tubby’s visit to Yarmouth

The following year Great Yarmouth Branch found themselves a new headquarters after ten years in St Andrew’s Institute on North Quay. On the 1st February 1937 they held a grand opening ceremony at the premises on King Street. It was opened by the mayor (H.T. Greenacre).

“A vote of thanks was accorded Mr F.A. Johnson for the use of the new premises”

146a King Street sat on one of the main North-South thoroughfares of Yarmouth just opposite St George’s Chapel. It was a tall building sandwiched between 147 (Once the first home of Great Yarmouth High School for Girls and by 1937 George Longfield’s menswear shop) and 145 (St George’s Church Rooms completed in 1891 to serve the 1714 chapel across the street). Row 105 ran down its northern edge. The ground floor (146) had long housed Doughty the Grocers and in recent years, Jacob Portnoi, a Norwich Dyer, had held the upstairs rooms (146a). The entrance was in Row 105. The whole building, and others in the Row were owned by Frank Arthur Johnson, of the famous Johnson and sons clothier family. According to the 1936 Row survey Row 105 contains ‘part of Johnson’s factory’ and ‘There is a good plastered house on the south side of the Row. This house belongs to Johnson’s factory’. Harry Johnson also owned the Church Rooms. 145/146 (inc. 146a) were demolished in 1953 to make way for Yarmouth Way though the Church Rooms escaped the demolition ball and after a little rebuilding, survive to this day.

146(a) King Street tryptych

The King Street HQ of Toc H

It contained several rooms with a view to expanding to a hostel (Mark) if necessary. The hostels, named army fashion as Talbot House Mark I, Talbot House Mark II etc, and thus known as Marks, had been one of the earliest strands of work in the reborn Toc H. There were four in London by 1922 and others around the country but none in East Anglia. It would have been quite a coup to open a Mark in Yarmouth but world events stopped that from happening.

Nevertheless, it would be a useful base for the branch. The Ypres coat of arms was painted above the fireplace! We shall return to the story of 146a King Street in a short while.

“This is not just another old club room being opened but a factory for building brothers”

Another big win for Toc H locally in the spring of 1937 was the establishment of a group at Ormesby. And then later that year, somewhat belatedly, a Group of the League of Women Helpers began in Yarmouth. I say belatedly because this sister organisation had been founded by Alison Macfie in 1922 and there were many Groups and Branches across the country. Very much established to support Toc H, by the time this Yarmouth branch opened the LWH was about to undergo a radical change. It’s those world events once more.

Although already working with the fishing fleet, Yarmouth men started a new line of Service in the autumn of 1937 when they began to visit ‘Scotch’ girls at the Rest Room on St Peter’s Road.

They were also attending weekly Deaf and Dumb meetings in Albion Road and took the children on a trip to Sheringham; they created friendships with pupils at Home Office Approved Schools (an alternative to Borstal); and collected periodicals to redistribute to hospitals and institutions.

In November yet another padre departed when the Revd. Yeomans was off after for three years as padre. The Branch send-off was once again at Hills restaurant. The Revd G.C. Ashbee took over his role but only for a few months as in May 1938 he left for a new living in Yorkshire. On this occasion the Revd R. Bethel (Methodist) previously the Branch’s Free Church padre took over until they could find a suitable Church of England man.

Early in 1938 Bradwell are promoted to a Branch and on the 1st October the Eastern Area is divided so East Anglia becomes an Area in its own right. Then on the 10th December the opening of a new Gorleston Group meeting room at the Mariners’ Institute in the High Street took place. The unit had earlier met in the Mariner’s Refuge by the pier which was also run the Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen.

And now we need to look at the beginning of the Gorleston ladies? They are an important piece of our jigsaw as they will become the biggest part of Toc H in the locality eventually. However, their origins are a little muddy at present. The following was related to me by Celia Ebbage (nee Styles) back in 2007.

The Gorleston Ladies branch of Toc H was formed shortly before the war by Phyllis Bowyer (Cyril ‘Cabby’ Bowyer’s wife). Dr Young on Church Road – an Edwardian house and outbuildings – gave us the use of the loft over his garage for our meetings. I think we numbered about 15 but the record books would show the date of our first meeting. I believe it could have been in early 1939.

The minute books I have access to start on 8th May 1940 and suggest the Group is starting anew (See below) so I wonder if there was an earlier attempt to get the branch going that stalled. We’ll pick up their story in due course. Meanwhile though, those world events I referred to earlier are about to massively influence the work of Toc H both locally and across the world. So firstly let’s let Celia relate this tale about one piece of work the embryonic branch did with evacuees.

On Friday Sept 1st 1939 we were asked to help at the Floral Hall (Now the Ocean Room) when that afternoon children from London and the south of England would be arriving by sea on the Queen Pleasure Boats and would be accommodated overnight at the Floral Hall. The next morning they would leave by coaches for their evacuees’ homes in Norfolk and parts of Suffolk.

 In the middle of the afternoon the children arrived seeming quite bewildered as one would expect – some tearful and unhappy; some interested in the surroundings and wanting to go to the beach. I believe that some thought that this is where they would be staying, at the seaside.

 We helped with making them as comfortable as possible and then gave them a meal. I believe most of the food was provided by Matthes the bakers. Most of them cheered up by 6-7pm. Very sleepy! The centre of the Floral Hall was much bigger than it is today (The dance area) and straw mattresses had been placed there, I believe the men’s branch had arranged this. We had a good supply of blankets and I believe there was one sheet for each mattress.

 There were a few mothers accompanying the children – several expecting a baby.

 Of course, as one would expect, we had to be on the alert. I believe we rested on the gallery but able to keep an eye on the children who would want the lavatory, or a little cheering up with a cuddle if they were frightened and wondering what had happened.

 Children can be adaptable and the next morning most ate a good breakfast after which they had to be marshalled outside to catch the coaches to the various villages and their foster parents. Eventually they were away. I remember the mixed feelings we had – apprehensive for them especially after the boat trip and their sudden realisation that they were far from home.

In Yarmouth, the men’s branch had also come to a decision about what to do for the war. In 1939, Toc H units across the world were encouraged to go back to basics and open Service Clubs, to provide rest and recuperation for service men and women. The Yarmouth Branch decided to turn their HQ at 146a King Street into one.  It opened in October 1939 and was initially run by Inky. The club was centred round a canteen but also had two quiet rooms (for reading), a games room, and a chapel and was soon much used, not least by the older soldiers of the Pioneer Corps who found their billets in the summer chalets of the local holiday camps

In 1940 a journalist from the Yarmouth Mercury visited the Club. This is their report.

Thus I could see, almost right away after I had turned in through the doorway in Row 105 and had mounted the stairs that the house had that indefinable quality known as the “Toc H atmosphere”.

 For one thing when I pushed through the canteen door-bearing the famous superscription, “Abandon all rank ye who enter here” – nobody stared at me inquisitively, and for another, someone came forward to talk with me straight away. Not curiously, for not for a moment did his manner imply that I was a stranger there, but rather as though I had been there many times before and was looking in again after a long absence. In truth I had not been in the building in my life, though from that instant I felt that I had known it for a great while. Now this is a great feat to achieve.

After he had shown me round the premises-a canteen, two reading rooms “quiet” rooms as they are called, a games room and a chapel, he told me how Toc H had been born and had grown up here.

He was a member of the original Toc H and remembered the Rev. ‘Tubby’ Clayton taking Communion [in] the loft of a farm.

Since those days Toc H had spread to many countries, Germany and France included, and recently its 300th branch started work in Iceland.

 After the war, Clayton wrote to Inky and one or two other men in Yarmouth and in 1920 they held their first meeting in a room in a warehouse. They were a small group to begin with.

“We have never gone in for much publicity,” he said, “and it is surprising how many people think we are a boys club. They don’t realise we are a movement for men, and that we have a women’s organisation, the League of Women Helpers as well.”

Toc H now has a house for its headquarters. This is important, because the idea of a house – one of the earliest needs of mankind is essential in Toc H, and one which outsiders must grasp [to] understand the movement. will be seen how important it is to have a house. Yarmouth Toc H, then, found itself a house; originally it was a condemned building. Paper was hanging from the walls in moist and musty festoons. The floors were unsound, the paint bad, and overall was [a] coating of dirt and decay. Upon this unpromising material the members hastened with the enthusiasm only possessed by those who are working for an ideal. Day by day, week-end by week-end, the house changed. First came the cleaning, then the alteration and decoration, then the furnishing. The women helpers, for instance, painted and papered the quiet room, other members converted other rooms to new uses.

 “Where did you get the pews?” I asked as we stood in the chapel. “Well, I don’t really know,” Inky replied, “We needed them. Someone said, “I think I can get some.’ They came. Most of Toc H happened that way.”

Just about a year ago Toc H decided to open a Forces Club in Yarmouth. The peace-time activities of the branch had been hit by the war and so in October 1939, the branch took the step of returning to the original Toc H conception. It was to be a house where members of the Services could do as they pleased; there would be food; there would be companionship; both human and spiritual. It is an arduous undertaking and could scarcely have been the success it is had it not been for the help of a small group of members, and the League of Women Helper, who with relays of voluntary workers run the canteen. They serve 3000 cups of tea and coffee a week. Often there are 300 visitors at the week-end. Then, too, the club has compiled a list of friends who are willing to provide a bed for a man who may have a day or two of leave. The notice board is a reflection of Toc H activities as well; it bears the addresses and little street plans showing where a score of branches are in the British Isles. The board reveals too, the desire for human companionship “C Mathieson of Aberdeen would like to meet someone from the same place’ ran a postcard that was pinned up.

Someone is in the club – “on duty” is the wrong word to describe such a presence – to talk with men who come in and make them feel at home. Sometimes it is Inky, who comes in his overalls straight from his work, at other times it is his brother, an ex-Guardsman, or maybe another member; but the point is that there is always someone.

An incident that happened a little while ago illustrates the Toc H spirit at work.

 Up at one end of the canteen was a group of four or five young soldiers, aged eighteen or thereabouts, in very obviously new uniforms. They all looked thoroughly miserable and rather scared.

 “What’s the matter?” asked Inky.

 “Oh, we’re fed up.”

 “Fed up. What’s the trouble?”

“We don’t know what to do. We’ve never been away from home before; we hate the army.” Was the plaintive and rather pitiful reply.

 “I know, I know” says Inky “I was 18 when I was in the Army. I know what it is like. I’ve had the feelings too. But you want to see things straight.”

 He began to talk to them-fatherly, friendly gradually drawing them out.

 “See those fellows over there,” he said, pointing, “they were new three months ago, just like you, but they have shaken down well enough.”

Inky took them into another room, one of the reading rooms, brought them cups of tea, nursed them almost, and began to get them to talk. By the end of the evening they were getting on well with other men in the room and had lost their shyness. They came nearly every night after that for weeks.

 “As you know,” he said to me, “the basis of Toc H is religious. We do not ram the religion down men’s throats. We don’t urge them to go to church. We hold services and if they want to stay away they do; if not they come. We try to interest men in their spiritual welfare, but we go to work gradually.”

 “I remember there was a group I was talking with one night. I said that we were having a service in an hour and if they cared to come they would be welcome. ‘Oh no’ they said, we are going. They had not much use for church or parsons anyway. ‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘Still, don’t you think it’s good to a little thought now and then to more serious matters in life. Isn’t it perhaps because we haven’t done so that the old world is now in such a mess?’

 “That started a bit of a discussion. Anyway, an hour later they were still there, so I mentioned that the service was going to begin and went out. Some of them attended; it was quite informal, and afterwards they came back into the room arguing and talking with the padre. Afterwards, some of them came quite regularly.”

The difficulty, Inky told me, was partly that men on the whole are a little suspicious and think that a parson is going to put a fast one over on them, but an even greater difficulty is to find a good padre. Too often a strain of patronage creeps in; it may be quite unknown to the parson concerned, but its effect shows immediately, for he finds that he is avoided by all but a few.

Needless to say there is no class distinction within the walls of Toc H. The degree to which this bugbear spirit can be exorcised was shown one day when the house was undergoing transformation at the hands of a working party. Those who were there included a bank clerk, a printer, a cattle market attendant– all on an equal and friendly footing.

As Inky said “there’s nothing like papering a room together to break down class distinction!”

As I went downstairs, past the smaller quiet room much used as a study by N.C.Os., and past the chapel where a sailor comes time and again to play the organ in the darkness, I reflected that the papering process, seemed to be working well within these walls.

I remarked as much to Jack, my companion who had been with me at the beginning of the evening, but had slipped off to talk to people while I was chatting with Inky.

 “Yes, you’re right,” he replied. “I found that out when I was talking with some of these fellows. It’s a pity more paper-hanging isn’t done outside Toc H.”

The same year that the Mercury published this report, Gorleston Men were promoted to a Branch. They also ran a Service Club on Pier Plain but when, in April 1941, they lost the use of those premises, they reopened the canteen in the Minor Hall over the Coliseum where it remained until the end of the war.

It was run by BB and Cabby along with Len ‘Lovey’ Loveday. Servicemen could get tea, coffee, sandwiches or a fry up by Mrs Nichols. Members of the League of Women Helpers – soon to be renamed Toc H (Women’s Section) – served at the counter and were assisted by the partially sighted Cyril. Ruritanian Mountain scenes were painted on the walls by a soldier who had been a scene painter for Ivor Novello productions (and remained on the walls until the Coliseum was demolished) There was a piano there that was often played. Local lad Arthur Bensley later recalled:

The Coliseum owned by Mr Attree. During the war the floor above the picture theatre was occupied by Toc H. I used to climb the stairs with other lads to have a jam roll and a mug of tea for threepence, when we were working on war damage. Here they served both civilians and service personnel stationed in the area. The entrance was on Palmers Road.

Later a house in Palmer Road was used for baths (Looked after by Walter) and upstairs was a small library and rest room where Cecil would sometimes lead gramophone recitals on a Sunday. Toc H Gorleston also provided distinctively painted (In Toc H’s black and orange colour scheme) bicycles at the railway stations for the use of troops; they were always returned. At the end of the war in Europe surplus furniture was sold off and the proceeds helped provide a canteen in Malaya for the men still fighting the war in the Far East.

Coffee Pot Presented to BB
Coffe jug presented to Bernard ‘BB’ Bothams for his work in the Service Club

During the course of the war Toc H would run 400 Service Clubs, 1800 Mobile canteens and employ 358,000 workers. Their work was often coordinated with other organisations like the YMCA by the newly formed Council of Voluntary Welfare Work.

Meanwhile on the 8th May 1940, a Wednesday, at 7.45pm, Gorleston League of Women Helpers tried to get going with a meeting at the Kitbag (I’m not certain but this may have been the name given to the original Gorleston Service Club on Pier Plain). It was started by ‘Mumsie’, Win Brinded and Cissie with ten probationers. As introductions are made and officers appointed it indicates a fresh start though the Group were already in possession of a Rushlight which suggests the unit had been in existence previously. Though the minutes do say at the end that the ‘first’ meeting of Gorleston LWH closed. Phyllis Bowyer is not at the first meeting but appears at the next a week later. I’m really not clear if Gorleston LWH had tried an earlier start or the old hands were involved with Yarmouth LWH. Nonetheless, they were under starter’s orders now. Officers were chosen, information on Toc H was given out and Light was taken with the Rushlight before the first meeting closed at 10pm

At the second meeting Mr Pegg, secretary with Gorleston branch was on duty in the Kit Bag and he gave a talk on the origins of Toc H. However, membership took a dive in early June when several women were evacuated with their babies to different parts of the country. On Wednesday 19th June “in light of the new European events” it was decided to suspend meetings for the duration. They arranged to meet the following week to discuss this decision more fully but there are no further minutes in that book.

Winifred Brinded
1915 Winifred Mary Harbord born in West Ham
1925 was living in Yarmouth when her mother died
1938 married Basil Brinded. Winifred worked at Johnsons. Basil was a Print Machine Hand at Jarrold (So knew Inky)
1939 lived 285 Beccles Road
1994 died 17th October whilst still living at 285 Beccles Road

 And then the war was over. In January 1946 the Yarmouth Service Club still open but Gorleston had closed. Yarmouth soon lost their King Street HQ, presumably because plans to redevelop that area were underway, and were offered use of the Vicarage Rooms as a stopgap. Standing on the site of the old Priory gatehouse, parts of the Vicarage dated back to the 17th century although most of the building was built in 1718. The Vicarage Rooms were added on the north side – nearest St Nicholas – in 1781.

Otherwise it was business as usual for the Yarmouth branch and by the late forties the branch had taken a lead in organising Welfare and Social Activities for the Deaf and Dumb – a job which they had been carrying out for many years – under the auspices of the new National Health Service.

There were organisational changes too. The Broads District was gone and Yarmouth and Gorleston now fell into the Norwich District, and there were now sufficient Branches and Groups in the county to justify a Norfolk Division!

In February 1947 Gorleston Ladies reformed, and this time it would stick. Original members includes Irene Dane and Margaret Lewis (who was still a member when I became Regional Development Officer for the East of England in 2006). Another member was Lydia Eva Eastick (later Parsons then Cox) for whom the famous steam drifter Lydia Eva was named; her dad Harry had her built.

Elsewhere in 1947, Ormesby were promoted to Branch and in 1949, a neighbouring group at Filby began.

1950s Festival in Norwich the Yarmouth and Bradwell banners clearly displayed
A 1950s Festival in Norwich. The Yarmouth (and Bradwell) banners proudly displayed amongst their county kin.

After briefly using the using the Deaf and Dumb Institute in Albion Road as an HQ, Yarmouth moved into more permanent premises in December 1950. After extensive repairs (by Mr T. Fennel), Sewell House, the birthplace of Anna Sewell, author of Black Beauty, was opened as Yarmouth’s headquarters. Inky was back for the night. Humphrey Lynde – a local solicitor and a Toc H member – performed the opening. He seemed to be responsible for arranging the lease. Light was taken by Stanley Bircham (one of Thomas’s sons)

As well as their branch rooms, hospitality at Sewell House was offered by Great Yarmouth to branches organising outings.

Anna Sewell House with Toc H notice on door
Sewell House at the time the Branch met here
Sewell House 1970 -it's a miracle even one of the painted Lamps survived
Decaying in 1970
Close up Lamp in Anna Sewell House
However one painted Lamp still survives to this day

Evidence of its use as branch rooms survives to this day with a painted Toc H lamp (originally one of a pair) in the latticed window in what is now a tea-rooms.

The branch tried to expand their service repertoire in the 1950s by conducting tours of Old Yarmouth for tourists. Branch members took parties of visitors round the historic buildings and parts of the town during the holiday season.

In that decade they also became involved in another major piece of work in collaboration with the Red Cross, St John Ambulance and others. In 1953 the Norfolk Association for the Handicapped introduced a scheme for holidays for the disabled and found an ideal place at Gorleston Super Holiday Camp. It had the space, the facilities and few steps. Managing Director at the time was Lin Thrower whose widow Grace explained why they supported the project:

‘I think it was because the handicapped had never had a holiday and didn’t think they could go on holiday and didn’t think the people would have them. It hadn’t been done before. We certainly did start it, and that was why Lin thought it was a good idea and felt quite proud!’

The whole camp was put at their disposal for the last two weeks of the summer season. They had the same sort of holiday as the summer visitor, all inclusive of meals and entertainment. It was such a good cause that celebrities appearing in the seaside shows in Yarmouth would lend their support. There is a fantastic piece of film about these holidays online (Link at end of article). Sadly, the holiday camp complete with its Art Deco reception, was pulled down and replaced with a housing estate. On a much smaller scale, yet equally valuable, three Yarmouth branch members invited elderly couples from Midlands into their own homes for a holiday in 1959.

By that year the branch were no longer meeting in Sewell House but had found a home in Runham Mission Rooms by Runham Bridge on Fridays at 8.00. I believe they remained here until 1979 when they merged with Gorleston branch, although they occasionally still met at the Deaf and Dumb rooms in Albion Road.

Floral Display Pops Meadow 1960
A floral display on Pop’s Meadow, Gorleston in 1960

However, that’s in the future. Back in 1961 Toc H locally was still doing well and Caister Men’s group came into being that year. And in October 1961 Gorleston Women’s Association (This name was adopted by Toc H (Women’s Section) in March 1952.) branch came third with their float in the RAF’s Carnival for Battle of Britain Week. By later in that decade the Gorleston Ladies were meeting regularly on Tuesdays at Shrublands but occasionally at other places such as Ferryside, or the Floral Hall (Usually when there were bigger meetings with other branches invited). Yarmouth Ladies met at the library.

The Gorleston Ladies main activity now was a Singing group which entertained at old folk’s homes and also held concerts to raise funds. This group would prevail for years to come. They also had occasional stalls on market to raise funds and at the charity Petticoat Lane Fair.

In November 1967 they held a Fashion Show in to raise money towards a Kidney Machine for Norwich Hospital which was a big Toc H effort at the time. This was so successful that a regular Fashion Show also became part of their repertoire for many years. They also continued local connections with the blind by writing letter son their behalf.

GY and Gorleston Women on Market Stall 1962 L-R Bunny Blount, Marger Palmer, Margaret Lewis, Betty White, Joan Gates, Olive Tennant
Ladies from Yarmouth & Gorleston groups run a stall to raise funds in 1962 (L-R: Bunny Blount, Margery Palmer, Margaret Lewis, Betty White, Joan Gates, and Olive Tennant)

In November 1967 they held a Fashion Show in to raise money towards a Kidney Machine for Norwich Hospital which was a big Toc H effort at the time. This was so successful that a regular Fashion Show also became part of their repertoire for many years. They also continued local connections with the blind by writing letter son their behalf.

In 1967 there were still men’s branches in Yarmouth, Gorleston, Caister, and Bradwell, and they were trying to establish a new group in Martham (It never took off). However, Toc H was starting to flag nationally. Although the flourishing Project scene – various residential and short-term activities across all parts – attracted young volunteers to Toc H, few wanted to stay beyond the project itself. Branch meetings and all that that went with them was not attractive to the youngsters. Membership was starting to decline.

The last significant event of the decade was when Gorleston Ladies celebrated their 21st birthday party on Tuesday 20th February 1968. Key members in attendance included Betty Brooks, Phyllis Bowyer, Irene Dane, Margery Palmer, and Betty White. Some of these were there when the Branch restarted after the war, others like Betty Brooks and Margery Palmer would be there pretty much at its demise!

Gorleston Ladies 21st Birthday 20 Feb 1968

The early seventies were a turbulent time for the Movement. In December 1972 it lost its founder and inspiration when Tubby Clayton joined the Elder Brethren. It continued to shed members and Branches despite the reasonable success of the burgeoning project scene. It became hugely wealthy when it sold its Tower Hill HQ for some £2m (£28m in today’s terms) but that seemed to slip through its fingers over the next decade. However, for some, the most controversial change was the coming together of the Men’s and Women’s Movements. This had been experimented with for some time but a change to the Royal Charter – Toc H’s governing document – made it official (though not quite compulsory) in 1971.

Gorleston remained as two separate branches in the seventies but had regular joint meetings. Caister Men and Women’s branches merged in 1978. I’m not clear as to the status of Yarmouth’s Ladies at this time but if it still existed it was separate from the Men who, in 1979, merged with Gorleston. Although it was meant to be a joining, the meetings took place across the river and whilst known as Great Yarmouth and Gorleston for a while, the Yarmouth was soon dropped.

Then in 1983 that combined Men’s branch merged with Gorleston Ladies to become Gorleston Joint. They met on Mondays at Shrublands and although the branch featured many staunch Toc H Men from Yarmouth, it was increasingly dominated by the ladies.

Elsewhere several Broadland district branches were closing due to lack of support. In 1984 Lowestoft & Caister survived. The following year Gorleston Joint decided to promote themselves to holiday-makers by getting Dowcra to make 1400 sticks of rock with Toc H through the middle!

But time crept on regardless and despite their best efforts, older members of the branches started to join the Elder Brethren. In the summer of 1987, ‘BB’ Bothams died at the age of 97 and ‘Pops’ Baldwin at 98 later that same year.

Pop Baldwin
‘Pops’ Baldwin

Leonard ‘Pops’ Baldwin
1889 Leonard MacDonald Baldwin was born in Woodton on the 16th March
1915 married Ida Beatrice Skinley, Yarmouth
1916 was living in Frederick Road, Gorleston when signed up to the Royal Sussex Regiment, later transferred to the East Surreys. Described himself as a Commercial Clerk. He was posted to France in July.
1918 received the Military Medal for 36 hours continuous stretcher bearing during the Third Battle of Ypres (1917)
1919 discharged
1939 was living in Royal Leamington Spa
Worked for Pickfords for over 50 years
1987 died on the 20th October

The following spring, Gorleston seemed challenged by problems with their meeting place and come April were now meeting on Fridays at the 21 Room. They were still quite active if a little set in their ways. The singing group continued to entertain others and the Fashion Show and Market stall raised funds each year.

Gorleston Joint branch Old Time Music Hall Party c 1990
Gorleston Joint Branch Singing Group hold an Old Tyme Music Hall fundraiser c.1990

And so they carried on through the eighties then in the 90s it was the pioneering women of Gorleston Toc H who started to depart. Founder Irene Dane died on the 4th Feb 1992 and a month and a day later it was time to say goodbye to Betty White who originally joined in the fifties and was a stalwart of the singing group. She was also the Branch and District Pilot.

And on the 17th October 1994, another Gorleston original died. Winifred Brinded was originally in Yarmouth’s League of Women Helpers before helping start the group across the river. She later helped establish Bradwell branch where she remained until it closed.

The same month Sidney ‘Smudger’ Smith died. One of the Yarmouth men who transferred to Gorleston, Smudger was also something big in the Scouts. Then in March 1998 it was the turn of the legendary Cyril ‘Cabby’ Bowyer to depart when he died suddenly and just over a year later his wife Phyllis of Gorleston Joint also passed on.

Yet despite all these deaths, by 2002 Gorleston Joint were the last branch standing in area, Caister having closed in May 2001 after pulling down their hut behind the Council Hall and creating a seating area for the community. In 2004 Gorleston had to leave the 21 Room which was subsequently demolished and they moved into the Macey Room. There was a short spell in the Surestart building but they returned to the Macey Room which is where they spent their final days, most Fridays and where I met them in 2006 after I became Regional Development Officer for Toc H in the East of England. Living in Aylsham, they were my ‘local’ group (Next nearest Ipswich) and very much the last Toc H Branch in Norfolk. I organised a Rally at the Pleasaunce in Overstrand, home of many Toc H training weekend in the sixties, to celebrate Toc H in Norfolk, in 2007. It was really the swansong of the Movement in these parts, it was still moving but somewhat sluggish.

Gorleston Joint Branch 2007 – the last unit of Toc H in Norfolk

Gorleston had a regular Friday night attendance of around 18 members each week – mostly in their 80s and 90s – but it was difficult to persuade the members to hold office, an important requirement for the Branch to carry on. At each AGM Fred Palmer, Wilf Bircham and the delightful Betty Brooks played musical chairs with the positions of Chair, Secretary and Pilot. Thankfully Janet Westbrook was on hand to be Padre and a treasurer could usually be coerced.

Wilf’s dad Tom had been one of the earliest members of the branch and Wilf recalled going into St Andrew’s Institute with him to set the fire before meetings.

Gorleston Joint Branch at a Voluntary Sector Service at Norwich Cathedral

Then over 2009 and 2010 I was at the funerals of all three of the plucky trio. Wilf was still there at what proved to be their last AGM in April 2010 but by July he had joined his father at the great branch in the sky. Gorleston Joint officially closed shortly afterwards though some members continued to meet in their houses in friendship. The last of the Yarmouth branches, indeed the last of the Norfolk branches had closed.

The wonderful Betty Brooks


The following link is to a marvellous piece of film about the holidays for disabled people held at Gorleston Super Holiday Camp. Although Toc H are not specifically identified they one of three key organisations along with St John and the Red Cross to assist so I believe they are represented here.

My sources for this article are wide and go back many years but I am particularly indebted to the Toc H house magazine, The Journal and it’s women’s counterpart, The  Log. Also the Yarmouth Independent and Yarmouth Mercury and a variety of online sources. I would particularly like to thank the following people. So few of them are still with us and I was grateful to know them when I had the chance:

Wilf Bircham
Betty Brooks
Celia Ebbage
Marjorie Scarlett
Fred Palmer
Alan Brooke
John Burgess
Janet Westgate
Sue Austin (Inky’s grandaughter)

And ‘Tubby’ Clayton, whom I never met, but without him………………..


10 thoughts on “Toc H in Yarmouth

  1. This is a wonderful piece Steve. I was to let you know about Wilfred Burcham but have been poorly over Jan, feb and March. Wilf was one of 12 children. Do you still need details.? I remember going with my mum to the room over the garage in Gorleston along church lane. I was only a small child but the memory sticks in my mind. She was a member.


    1. Beryl, I’m so sorry – for some reason this comment has only just shown up. I think that room over the garage was in a doctor’s house (Dr Brown??). I remember Celia Ebbage talking to me about it. I think I have Wilf’s family details. I knew him well for the last five years of his life. He was a charming and incredibly interesting man


  2. Cabby and Phylis were my eldest sons God parents. I knew them through my parents Reg and Betty White. Both of them were in Toc H, and as you wrote, Mum was branch and district Pilot and took on the role very seriously. I was also a member until i married in 1964. I still have all Mum and Dads original music for the singing groups, with notes and names of the show. Thank you for all your reserch. Do you mind if i copy the artical ?
    Gail Allaby nee White.


    1. Gail. Thank you. I’m glad you saw the article. Please feel free to copy and share it. If you have any corrections or additions I’m always willing to update my knowledge. I never knew your mum but she was still talked about a lot when I visited the the Gorleston branch.


      1. Good luck. If you were the same person I commented for on facebook, be sure to track down the New Perlustrations of Great Yarmouth. Wilf recorded some interviews for it. Much of what he said was used in the magazine but probably not all. The audio used to be available too.
        The website is a bit confusing but you might be able to make sense of it


      2. Hi back yes I did ask on Facebook really is some journey I will sit and read thank you once again regards Linda


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