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Coevoet-Camerlynck had bought the house in 1911 but it took a hit from a German shell earlier in 1915. The banker decided, like many locals, to take his family somewhere safer and he offered it for rent at a reasonable rate. Tubby Clayton said that they ‘accepted the tenancy joyfully.’

Tubby Clayton

‘Tubby’ Clayton’s portrait on the wall of Talbot House
(Photo: R. Cherrington, November 2014)

It was situated a stone’s throw from the main square where the local estaminets (bar/cafes) were frequented by soldiers with a bit of time off. The  estaminets may have had their vices but who could blame men for seeking some brief pleasures when the following day might have been their last?

Neville Talbot and Tubby Clayton had the job of turning the old house into something like healthy competition to these hostelries, to attract the men and offer some religious comfort alongside of friendship, tea, books and other simple pastimes.

For those of you familiar with Club Historians and the history of the CIU club movement, some parallels have probably already popped into your head!

The Reverend Henry Solly, who established the Working Men’s Club and Institute Union (WMCIU) in 1852, was a religious man as was Tubby Clayton. Solly also believed that working men would benefit from leisure places where ‘social discourse’ and wholesome activities rather than drinking were the key activities. He saw the need for an alternative to the pub, hoping to lure men away from the habit of spending too much on beer. The WW1 army chiefs also wanted healthier options to the estaminets but realized they could not force anything onto the men. Solly also believed that men should use clubs because they were welcoming places, not through any threat or compulsion.

I’d like to think that if the Reverend Solly and Pastor Clayton had ever met, they would have found a lot in common! They shared the desire to offer a rest place that was convivial, where people could feel at ease and that didn’t leave them out of pocket.

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