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The Cavendish Association

In the years leading up to the the First World War, the rising social tensions and unrest in Britain, and the persistent deep gulf between the lives of the bulk of the population and the wealthy minority, had led to profound unease and even bad conscience among many of the ruling class.

Several initiatives were taken in consequence, all of them now largely forgotten.

In Coronation week, in June 1911, a massive public meeting was held in Queen's Hall, London, with 1700 men in attendance, presided over by the Lord Chancellor alongside influential and wealthy supporters from politics, the law and the church, as well as from the aristocracy, notably Victor Cavendish, ninth Duke of Devonshire.

It was reported that the Archbishop of York drew attention to the spiritual significance of the Coronation, and urged that at such a time they should resolve to co-operate with the King in his dedication of himself to the service of the Nation. Great and far-reaching social changes were looming ahead. It was impossible not to be appalled by the present contrast between great wealth and great poverty. As a result of education the eyes of the poor were being opened to their position. It was not, he believed, so much the inequality of work or wealth which they resented as inequality of opportunity in the things that made up the worth of human life. He urged the well-to-do classes to help to direct in good channels the movement in favour of change which they could not resist. They could render great and manifold service in these times. (Cheers).

The rapid practical outcome was the Cavendish Club, launched in September 1911 by the Duke of Devonshire with the support of the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and a number of political figures. It was to have a fine club house in Piccadilly, equipped with not just the usual club rooms, including a squash court, but also a non-denominational chapel with a resident chaplain holding services twice daily.

One of the club's chief objects was stated as "to bring national and social service naturally into the perspective of the University and public school man, and to direct, if required, such service as members of the club are able to give to the quarter where it may be welcomed and encouraged."

In a letter to The Times, the Duke wrote "There are national and social evils which we cannot but think are capable of amelioration if they were allowed to make a larger demand on our sympathies and our service."

The Cavendish Club opened its doors in Jan 1912 and was an immediate success, attracting 1400 members within 18 months. Its success led its many country members to press for a united effort to be made throughout the country, to bring home to all university and public school men the claims which the districts in which they lived had upon their services.

So it was that on 05 Nov 1913 an appeal was launched to all such men by means of simultaneous meetings held in cities throughout England, as well as in the universities and public schools. The object was stated as "impressing upon them their duties and responsibilities as citizens in the matter of national, civic and social service." The outcome of the meetings was to be practical and definite, and "of such a nature that every individual, of whatever shade of thought in religion or politics, would have an opportunity of offering himself for some form of service".

The nationwide meetings were remarkably successful. The one held in London was addressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, the Prime Minister, H H Asquith, and, most inspiringly of all, by the Rev H R L "Dick" Sheppard, future Dean of Canterbury and in the 1930s the founder of the Peace Pledge Union.

The outcome was the launch of the Cavendish Association, with centres throughout the kingdom, its purpose being "to interest and educate men of the public school and university type in some active form of national, municipal, and social service, and to bear witness to the Christian spirit as the motive force and object of all such service."

The launch went well and the Cavendish Association grew rapidly; 12 local centres were established in the first 6 months, as well as in all the major public schools and every one of the Cambridge colleges, with Oxford not far behind.

On 16 May 1914 The Times carried a leading article reporting on the successes already achieved, and commenting: "We need say little in support of this admirably thorough and comprehensive scheme. It carries with it its own recommendation."

What all this would have led to is impossible to say. Just ten weeks later Britain was at war. The Cavendish Association, its ideals, structures and networks, could have little relevance to the war effort.

A shadow of the organisation carried on through the war, organising parties of public schoolboys to assist farmers to gather fruit and other crops, and help with felling trees, but that was all.

After the war, attempts were made to revive the Cavendish Association, but the social and economic world had changed, and the interest and motivation were no longer there. In 1921 it was quietly merged with Toc H and its separate existence came to an end.

Today the Cavendish Association, along with other well-meaning social initiatives launched in those troubled years just before 1914, lies almost totally forgotten.

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That Geoffrey Bulmer Tatham was a committed supporter of the Cavendish Association is entirely consistent with all that we know of his character, but rests on just one piece of evidence: the letters and diaries of his younger friend and admirer at Trinity, Archibald Don. These were used in a short biography that his family commissioned after his death at Salonika in 1916.

Archibald Don was another of the "Lost Generation" of outstandingly talented young men who perished in the Great War. After a first class degree in Natural Sciences, specialising in Geology, he decided to abandon the offer of a Trinity fellowship and turn to medicine, beginning his new studies at once.

It was this point that he became caught up with Geoffrey Tatham's enthusiasm for the Cavendish Association, its ideals and the practical changes that it hoped to achieve.

The story is best told as appears in his biography, starting with a passage written by Sir Walter Fletcher. Although its direct reference is to Archibald Don, it is equally applicable to Geoffrey Tatham himself.

There seems reason for saying something further here about a particular direction of his vision of the proper use of life. He had a keen and growing sense of the gross disparities in numbers, in opportunities, and in material conditions between the poorer working classes and the well-to-do. He was one of a remarkable number of Public School boys coming to the Universities in the few years just before the war who felt something of the challenge made to the chivalry at least, if not to the religion, of the so-called "governing classes," not to shelter themselves in the comfortable and dignified life only made possible for most of them by the unfairly conditioned work of those below, and from the shelter so provided to be content with looking out upon the far-reaching results of the neglect or mismanagement of the problems of the industrial revolution, by former generations of their class.

I mention this here because in my view this new movement and unrest among the most favoured youth of the country will hereafter take a high place in historical interest, and perhaps in good time in historical importance. It was another and a finer " Young England " movement which had begun and was waiting to be led, or perhaps preparing to lead. Youths desiring to live like Charles Buxton, or thinking like Charles Lister, were not isolated enthusiasts, but could be numbered in dozens at both Oxford and Cambridge, and these were drawn from the best stocks of mind and breeding in the country.

There was little or no open and heady talk upon these subjects, but the current was none the weaker because it ran in large part underground. Of the various outward signs of this movement, among the most recent were the Agenda Club propaganda, and the succeeding Cavendish Club and Cavendish Association. I believe myself that the remarkable and early success of these was due not to the creation of a new current but to their supplying an outlet for forces already at work.

In these Archie Don took a strong interest from the first, and he joined with Geoffrey Tatham and Lord Doune in issuing at Cambridge the invitation for the meeting to be held at the Queen's Hall on 5 November 1913.

He, and others like him, had begun to see that the School and College Missions and Settlements noble as their work had been could do little but reveal some parts of the social ill-health, and give opportunities (generally used vicariously) for some palliation of small fractions of it here and there. For cure and for prevention the service of the lifetime of a whole generation could hardly suffice, but with this larger view lie and many others thought it greatly worth while to work, and to fit themselves with knowledge. Of these, many with him have already given their lives not as they had dreamed, to the future work of remaking England, but instead to save her now.

In a letter to his mother Archibald Don described the Queen's Hall meeting that he and Geoffrey Tatham attended:

University Pitt Club, Cambridge, 9th Nov 1913:
On Wednesday afternoon Tatham, Fletcher, Pym, Doune, and I went up to town for the Cavendish meeting. I won't tell you about the speeches, you have no doubt read the Times report. But it was a very remarkable meeting, I thought, as indeed it was without a question.

The whole floor and first gallery of the Hall was full, men only of course, and all of them of the Public School type, i.e. respectably dressed, short-haired, bespatted, and unemotional. The meeting started with 'O God, our help in ages past,' a little too long, as everything was timed to the minute.

The Duke of Devonshire spoke clearly and well. Then the Archbishop in a reminiscent and prophetic vein. After him Asquith, whom I thought quite admirable. Extraordinarily sane.

Then finally Dick Sheppard. The newspapers do not report him in full, and I am rather glad. In print it might have given a wrong impression. As it was, he did a very difficult task well. He said quite plainly that if the Public School and University men will not do things, will not use their eyes, and will not see that things cannot remain as they are, then they cannot expect to be considered so important. They must make their bow, elegantly but once for all, and retire into the obscurity of extinction. At the same time, if they will respond, if for instance they avail themselves of the chances which the Cavendish Association can offer them of making themselves useful, and of fulfilling their duty to the State and to the Churches, then the Public Schools will be able to show that they are governors, and are enlightened, and will justify their inheritance of what Asquith called an unearned increment of opportunity and education. Then he said it would be unfair to himself and unfair to his hearers to conceal what is the driving power behind all this scheme and 'all such endeavour Christianity and my beloved Master, Jesus Christ.' That ended the meeting.

Nine months later the Great War had begun. The rest of the story can be briefly told in the words of Archibald Don's diary.

August 4. I long to join some medical unit, but John says my duty is to be here.

September 7. Once more I feel hopelessly at sea with regard to my duty. Am I justified in continuing at Bart's ?

September 16. I have quite decided that it is impossible for me to stay in this country doing nothing.

September 18. Signed my name on to the register of probationer surgeons at the Admiralty.

September 22. Wrote to the War Office and submitted our case through G. B. Tatham.
[Then still Junior Bursar of Trinity.].

Archie Don left Barts on 21 Oct and joined the Red Cross in Boulogne as a dresser in response to an appeal. But the work turned out to be frustrating and boring. After 3 months he decided to apply for a commission.

December 23. I went to Geoffrey Tatham at the War Office, and filled up my form.

Christmas Day, Tealing [the family home]. I am temporary Second Lieutenant on probation, commissioned to the Black Watch, 10th Battalion.

Archie Don served for some months in northern France and then in Nov 1915 was posted with his unit to Salonika, serving alongside his elder brother.

It was at Salonika that he died, of dysentery brought on by malaria, on 11 Sep 1916. His brother Robin was killed nearby eight months later, on 08 May 1917. Geoffrey Tatham was killed in France the following year, on or about 30 Mar 1918.

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After so many of its members had perished in the Great War, it was hardly surprising that the Cavendish Association did not survive.