One of the literary set who frequented the George pub in St Briavels in the 1970s and very early 1980s was Philip Toynbee, a journalist, author and political activist, who lived on St Briavels Common at the time.

Philip was from a distinguished literary and academic family, and had been a controversial figure in the 1930s. In that time of political turbulence, he had been one of the literary personalities who were alarmed by the rise of Nazi Germany. A natural rebel, he joined the communist party, which at the time was a signal of opposition to Naziism, and earlier he got himself expelled from his public school as he showed contempt for public school education.

Later in the 1930s, he visited Spain to report on the civil war, and exposed himself to physical violence when he heckled British Union of Fascists meetings. During and after the war he led a sort of bohemian life, while becoming a highly influential book reviewer, left wing political commentator and intellectual journalist.

During and after the war he led a sort of bohemian life, while becoming a highly influential book reviewer and intellectual journalist. Sadly, alcoholism and fragile mental health dominated his later years. But in the 1970s, he became perhaps the first green political activist before the Green party had been created.  He moved to St Briavels Common and set up a self-sufficient farming community, which became a sort of hippie commune, which flourished briefly at that time. 

The last time I met him was in the George when we were on leave, back in England from our work in Papua New Guinea. As there were so many influential and distinguished members of his family, I was not at all surprised when he told me that, Hubert Murray, his grandfather’s brother, had been colonial governor of Papua and New Guinea in the early half of the 20th Century. Until then I had no idea that Hubert Murray  had a link to a resident of St Briavels Common. 

Philip was a sort of revolutionary who had many connections with influential literary and political relatives, including Arnold Toynbee (author, philosopher and professor of international politics), Gilbert Murray (classical scholar), Rosalind Murray (author) and Basil Murray (political journalist).

During Philip’s last years he wrote a couple of books, ‘Part of a Journey’, covering his life 1977-1979, and ‘End of a Journey’ (1979-1981) which described, in a gentle, brave and self-mocking way, the last years of his life. The end of his journey was indeed in 1981, as he died at St Briavels Common in that year.