The Lost Gardens Of Orkney, 5, Pilgrim House

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.” – Claude Monet

Image credit Bell

The original House at Woodwick, Evie, is long gone. The one we see today was built in about 1912 by the skilled Orcadian mason Samuel Firth. (More about that in a future article). Over time the House has had different uses and one (if not its most important one) was during World War 2.

During the years of World War 2 Woodwick House, Evie with its wonderful garden was put to valuable use as a rest home for servicemen – Toc H, Pilgrim House.

Pilgrim House, Orkney, was established by Rev. ‘Tubby’ Clayton, the founder of Toc H and funded by The Pilgrim Trust. Running the home in Evie was Matron Alison MacFie. Both Alison MacFie and Tubby Clayton had experienced the horrors of World War 1. Alison as a nurse and Tubby establishing a rest house for servicemen. Tubby’s incredible story is told here: The Toc H Story Tubby Clayton understood the importance of having a place where men and officers (unusual for those times) could come for some respite. He even set up a lending library so men could take out a book leaving their cap as a receipt.

During the inter war years Alison MacFie was part of a team ‘The League of Women Helpers’. These were women who after nursing in World War 1 continued to serve and work in the growing Toc H movement.

Toc H grew quickly and attracted the patronage of many well known thinkers and socialists of the time (Alexander Paterson, Henry Willink, G. K. Chesterton etc) . 

Toc H Our Story

In March 1940 Woodwick House, Evie opened its doors – and gardens – as Toc H Pilgrim House. On the 14th of November 1939 the sinking of the Royal Oak sheltering in Scapa Flow resulted in 835 men killed. This tragedy inspired Tubby to set up Toc H in Orkney and Mrs Traill donated Woodwick House for the purpose.

The Pilgrim Trust funded the project. It had been established in 1930 by American philanthropist with familial ties to Dumfriesshire, in 1930.

Over the 5 years that Pilgrim House was a rest home for all branches of the services it had helped 3,400 men in their recovery process. Queen Mary gifted ‘Billy’ a cocker spaniel to Toc H Orkney.

The gardens were a crucial part in supporting the men to recover and rest.

Woodwick House Evie. Image credit Bell

Matron MacFie was often asked to give talks to interested groups about the work of Toc H but she also made sure that others could access the wonderful garden. For their annual summer outing Alison MacFie would invite the children and staff of the Evie School to visit. The picnic would not just include lovely home bakes but games and walks in the garden. Those servicemen who were able helped out with the activities. For everyone concerned this annual picnic left the war far behind.

Gardens have a wonderful way of healing and providing an escape from the stresses of everyday life.

“The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives.” Gertrude Jekll

Image credit Bell

Also in this series:

Fiona Grahame

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