Monday, 1 August 2016

Talbot House - Every Man's Club

Peter first visited Talbot House on a private battlefields tour about 13 years ago and volunteered as a Warden for 2 weeks four years ago. Duties included welcoming visitors and offering them tea or coffee and checking people in who wanted to stay in the B&B/hostel accommodation. He enjoyed the experience then but it was hard work. However last year he asked me if I'd like to do it with him. Only in warmer weather I replied. So here we are on the last day of our volunteer duty in the European summer, and yes, it has been hard work but also most enjoyable. The paid staff  take care of the cleaning, gardening and cooking the optional English breakfast, so we're left with the pleasure of welcoming hundreds of visitors through the museum and Talbot House itself. We've had great conversations with people from England, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, South Africa, America and Australians, too, of course. Peter says it is interesting to note that more and more Dutch and Belgium people are coming through, too.

We've had groups of English schoolchildren and cadet groups visiting, and in some cases, staying several nights in the rooms in the house which are set up as accommodation. The rooms are nicely decorated with two single beds - sometimes bunks - with their own wash basin. There are shared showers and toilets on each floor. A continental breakfast is included in the price - 47 Euros for a single room or 72 Euros for a double. Included in this is a Continental breakfast (assortment of cereals, breads, rolls, cheeses, cold meats, yoghurts, fruit, etc. and tea/coffee and juice). Good value!

The interior of the house is just beautiful (it is about 150 years old). It had been leased by England during World War 1 and then returned to it's former owner afterwards. However the family were continually pestered by ex-soldiers and their families wanting to see the place that offered so much comfort during the war and were very happy when eventually Lord Wakefield purchased the house as an ongoing hostel/museum. During World War 2, it was cleared out when the Germans invaded Belgium and it was taken over by them and, so the story goes, used as a brothel. We've had quite a few people who mention that their gt.grandfather had visited Talbot House during the war. Also had quite a few Belgium people who had family who had fled to England when Germany invaded, and lived out the war at Birtley in England - their purpose-built 'Belgium' town was called Elisabethville (after the Belgium queen) and many worked in a factory there making bombs.

The lovely kitchen with a massive AGA.

Some of the interior rooms.
Cuppas for all.
Large entry hall.
The Chapel - high up on the third floor. A special place with a special feeling.
As you can see it is a beautiful house. As honorary Wardens we are fairly much house-bound though with only Mondays off. We can take short trips out to the small Spar supermarket (where they are beginning to know me!) on the corner, or to the gorgeous bakery opposite. But with tour groups coming through from the Museum building (an old Hop Storage brick building), school groups, cadet groups - some of which stay overnight - and of course, small groups of people from many countries all wanting to see through the house and climb all the way up to the Upper Room (chapel), we are kept busy welcoming and making lots and lots of tea and coffee.

The first few days we were here it was quite hot but when the weather cooled a little I baked Anzac Biscuits, Banana Biscuits and an old fashioned Boiled Fruit Cake - all Aussie favourites. All went down well with the complimentary cuppa.

The Banana biscuits were such a hit that I printed out some pages with the recipe and handed them out - for a small donation to Talbot House. Winner!!

We also have next door's cat, Benjou, who  regards Talbot House as part of his territory and makes hmself at home wherever he likes.

Each Friday there is a market in the nearby square so we take turns to go for an hour's browse. Lots of clothing stalls, plus food stalls and small entertaining groups around. The local church bells chime a pretty tune on the hour before the usual dong, dong. Poperinge is very nice and we almost feel like locals now.

In spite of leaving tomorrow to continue our trip, we shall be quite sorry to leave Talbot House.

We've had quite a bit of work from early morning to early evening but the experience we've had has just been wonderful. Loved the feel of almost being a local - shopping at the local shops and talking to Belgium people - all wonderfully welcoming. Tomorrow we're off to Malta.

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