The Bard of Totham

July 29, 2014

The Totham 1821 Symposium, organised by James Bettley, will take place this November. We will contribute to it (sadly from afar), and it has already got us thinking about the reputation of Charles Clark in his own time and his status as a literary figure as well as a printer and collector. Its easy at times to forget that Clark – who achieved renown for his printing specimens and his book-collecting activities and whom we associate so much with letter-writing – was an active poet who was called upon to produce second and sometimes even third editions of his works to satisfy the local and the London market. He was very definitely a part of what was undoubtedly a very active and important local literary and cultural circle that included the artist Miss Ann Hayter, the Rev. Thomas Foote Gower and others, and Clark liked to circulate his poems, ballads, and broadsides amongst his literary friends at the same time as he was selling his works through the shop of his friend John Russell Smith in Soho. And though his works are of dubious literary quality (Clark’s interest in punning and in dialect sometimes make for tedious reading), they seem to have sold well. His ballad “John Noakes and Mary Styles” was especially popular, and it was advertised in John Russell Smith’s circular and sold in his shop.

His works also attracted some extremely positive reviews and some acclaim from admirers. Clark himself printed the following poem written in praise of his work by John Hollamby (the so-called “Unlettered Muse”), a Sussex poet much admired in turn by Clark and with whom Clark corresponded. Clark also printed some of Hollamby’s works and he certainly liked to collect his verse. Clark apparently could not resist printing the poem which Hollamby had written in 1842:

The Bard of Totham

FAIN would my humble muse attempt to sing

The Totham Bard ; for – unlike Byron – he

Does not despisre the humbler “sons of song;” –

While to his pen old Tiptree owes its fame,

And Epsom is indebted for renown.

“John Noakes and Mary Styles” will long be read, -

And will to ages yet unborn transmit,

In purity, the Essex Dialect. –

Though he, at pleasure, can his page adorn

With mirth-inspiring puns, and sparkling wit, -

And though his playful muse can well describe,

In the quaint phrase of drollery and fun,

The Horse-Race or the Fair, – yet is his mind

Attuned to feeling and to serious thought ;

For he will often pay the tribute due

To worth departed, or sing of “Sylvan Shades.”


J[ohn] H[ollamby]

Hailsham, Sussex, December, 1842.

Though none of their letters survive, Hollamby and Clark seem to have been regular correspondents, and Clark continued to write to and receive letters from John’s son Edward after his death; some of those letters, as well as a praise-poem by Edward, are preserved at East Sussex Record Office.


Clark's print of Hollamby's poem in his honour

Clark’s print of Hollamby’s poem in his honour

Originally posted on totham1821:


Two paintings in St Peter’s Church, Great Totham, are to be conserved and redisplayed in the church, thanks to grants from Heritage Lottery Fund, the Essex Heritage Trust, and the Church Buildings Council, as well as private donations.

Both the oil paintings have been in St Peter’s since at least 1831. This was the year of publication of G. W. Johnson’s History of the Parish of Great Totham, and one of the paintings – ‘Great Totham Church’ by Miss Hayter – was engraved for the frontispiece. The original has not been seen properly for a long time; until last year it was hidden behind a cupboard in the vestry, where it had suffered badly from damp and dirt. It shows the church as it was before changes to the building later in the 19th century, and so is an important historical record as well as a charming work of…

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Given Charles Clark’s love of comic poetry, satire, and controversy, we should not be surprised to find that Byron was one of his favourite writers.


While Clark considered Thomas Hood and John Clare his literary heroes, his frequent quotations from Byron’s poetry and letters indicate an easy familiarity with the author of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan. Don Juan was certainly one of Clark’s preferred works; he makes countless references to Byron’s masterpiece throughout his correspondence with John Russell Smith.Image

Clark owned a copy of Thomas Medwin’s controversial Conversations with Lord Byron, and several other Byron-related works – he was especially interested in supposed ‘suppressed stanzas’ from Don Juan.

When Byron sent the manuscript of Don Juan to John Murray, the publisher showed it to the poet’s friends who thought the poem was far too scandalous to publish. John Cam Hobhouse sent Byron a letter acknowledging the genius of the work but outlining the reasons why it should never see the light of day, including references to Byron’s wife as well as several living poets, the frank eroticism, and the ‘immoral turn’ of the opening cantos. John Murray decided to publish the poem in an expensive quarto edition; it was agreed that Byron’s name should not appear on the title page. When the poem was finally published it had neither author nor publisher’s name, several pages were left blank, and stanzas were suppressed by being printed as rows of asterisks. 


Contemporary reviewers seized on the absence of the publisher’s name in order to categorise Don Juan as a monstrous birth. The British Critic talked of a poem ‘spawned in filth and darkness’:

A thousand low and portentous murmurs preceded his birth…it was stated to be of a complexion so blasphemous, as even in these days of liberality, to endanger the personal security of the bookseller…Paternoster-row was paralysed…Fearful indeed was the prodigy – a book without a bookseller: an advertisement without an advertiser – a “deed without a name.” After all this portentous parturition, out creeps DON JUAN.

Of course, the reaction, and the supposed immorality of the poem were utterly exaggerated – fuelled by disapproval of Byron himself. Eventually, Byron’s ten year association with John Murray broke down and he transferred publication of the later cantos to the radical publisher John Hunt. A first edition of Don Juan would contain the first five cantos published by Murray, and the remaining eleven by John Hunt (Byron died in Greece in 1824, leaving the poem unfinished). Charles Clark owned such an edition, bought for over two pounds, and sold to John Russell Smith as ‘a scarce edition’, on 29 May 1838.

            By publishing the poem anonymously and without his name, John Murray facilitated wholesale piracy, not to mention countless imitations and spin-off titles. Clark owned several of these, including the bizarrely titled Don Juan Junior: A Poem by Byron’s Ghost by G.R.W. Baxter. In 1838 Clark tried to contact Frederick William Naylor Bayley regarding supposed rejected stanzas of Don Juan. Bayley wrote miscellaneous verse and was the first editor of the Illustrated London News. On 29 May 1838 Clark wrote to Smith:

What a strange being that “F.W.N. Bayley, Esq.” must be! By-the-bye, I have written to him (thro’ his publisher) no less than four times respecting those suppressed stanzas of “Don Juan” which I once troubled you about; offering him no less than three guineas for a transcript only of them, promising never to publish them; and though I am quite sure all my letters duly reached him, he has, as yet, never taken the least notice of any of them! – is he not a polite gentleman? In a late No. of the Torch, he stated that he possesses 150 of these stanzas, all curiously written in double rhyme, but my opinion now is, that he has no such a number.

We do not know whether Clark finally managed to make contact with Bayley, but it is certain that he acquired a copy of the stanzas. In 1845 he printed and circulated ‘Some Rejected Stanzas of Don Juan’. The publication was evidently popular as it appears in several lists of books that Clark sent to Smith, and Smith appears to have asked Clark for copies on numerous occasions. Although he feared it was inappropriate for female readers, Clark delighted in Byron’s Don Juan, especially a stanza from Canto Seven which he liked to send to his friend John Russell Smith of Old Compton Street:

One of the valorous ‘Smiths’ whom we shall miss

Out of those nineteen who late rhymed to ‘pith;’

But ‘t is a name so spread o’er ‘Sir’ and ‘Madam,’

That one would think the first who bore it ‘Adam.’



A Christmas Carol

December 17, 2013

A Christmas Carol

Charles Clark lived through the invention and solidification of the festive season as we know it today.  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert would popularize the Christmas tree in the late 1840s, while the earliest greeting cards were in production in the middle of that decade. Gift giving also became popular, and though he does not record his habits in his letters to his bookseller, Clark certainly acknowledges the increased association with the exchange of presents when he remarks to Russell Smith on 14 January 1839: “As you guessed, your last letter was one after our heart – it was the most acceptable Christmas-box I received ‘to-year!’ and I heartily thank you for your laborious production”. It is perhaps the traditional Christmas carol, however, that found a special place in the hearts of the Victorians. They revived older carols and were fond of importing new ones. It should not surprise us that Clark particularly engages with books that are dedicated to older, traditional seasonal songs, and that his mentions of Christmas in this batch of letters are almost exclusively connected to, well, books!


Victorian Carollers

Victorian Carollers


We know by now that Clark had a fondness for antiquarian texts and volumes, and that he had a sort of hire-purchase arrangement with his bookseller, John Russell Smith of 4 Old Compton Street in Soho. This enabled him to buy books at full price and then return them used to the shop. He received a percentage of the original price for the used book, and he then used these funds of off-set his (sometimes considerable) account with Russell Smith. Clark ordered a volume that he calls ‘Christmas Carols’ on 1 February 1842, paying 3/- (or, in today’s money, about £6.60, calculated using the National Archives Currency Converter). This volume was Specimens of Old Christmas Carols
Selected from Manuscripts and Printed Books
, compiled by Thomas Wright for  The Percy Society in 1841 (see




The letters that survive from Clark to Russell Smith frequently preserve the hand of the latter in the margins of booklists where he calculates the price that he will let Clark have for each returned volume. Its tempting to imagine him as a Scrooge-like figure, taking an oily pencil to the immaculate letters of Clark and reckoning the best outcome for himself.  But we know that the men were on the best of terms and that the bookseller often sent surprise items as gifts to Clark, and worked tirelessly to search for books that Clark desired. Thus when the volume of carols was returned to London on 14 December 1842, Russell Smith gave Clark a generous price of 1/6 for it. Clark was also interested in Wright’s 1847 publication Songs and Carols Now First Printed, From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century (The Percy Society). On 2 February 1848 he declared himself to be ‘very pleased with the contents of Mr. Wright’s “Songs and Carols”, but by 6 April that same year he returned it “by rail”, earning 2/ for the used copy.

Clark and his acquaintances may not have celebrated Christmas quite like we do today. We tend to go on holiday proper, suspending work and sometimes trade. It was altogether a more simple affair for the Clarks, characterized perhaps by attendance at Church services, visits to the homes of neighbours, and some few little indulgences to brighten up the dull midwinter period. Life, trade and work went on, even in the depths of the darkest season. On Christmas Eve Clark writes to Russell Smith to withdraw an order of the Monthly Review citing financial concerns: “What wintery weather it has become! – I can add that I wish you a merry Christmas – I fear trade is not calculated to make you exactly so” (24 December 1849). But it was still a hugely important, symbolic time. We like to imagine Clark and his family gathered over a cheery glass of wine, perhaps at the home of their good friend and neighbour Rev. Gower. And we imagine, too, that Clark would have delighted the gathering with several renditions of those beautiful carols.

Merry Christmas, from us at Finding Charles Clark, to all our readers and friends!  holly

Charles, like many men and women in Victorian England, was a great fan of ballooning and aerostatics. He orders several books on the subject from John Russell Smith over the course of the 1830s and 1840s, and maintains a keen interest in experimenting with his own inventions. In a letter dated 1 August 1838 he writes excitedly of his mini-gas balloons:

… I am very fond of experimenting with small Balloons made of paper & filled with hydrogen gas […] Several of mine have been picked up at a distance of 50 or 60 miles – the very last at Saxmundham in Suffolk, another at Farningham in Kent … another at Holy Wells, Ipswich.

Clark would frequently set off balloons with his own printed address labels attached so that the finders would contact him and he could discern how far the balloons had travelled. This note to John Russell Smith also records a descent made by the Great Nassau Balloon of Charles Green in late July of 1838. Clark saw the balloon several times at later dates, but the record of missing this particular incident captures something of his excitement and the impact such a moment must have had on a local community. Charles Green himself was on board:

To turn from books to balloons!!! – The Great Nassau balloon descended a short distance from us on Tuesday evening last, with Mr Green & a party of eight – I unluckily did not see it but it was seen in the air by a great many persons at Totham and in the neighbourhood – the Maldon coach passengers, I hear, had a nine miles view of it. Quentin Dick Esq., the MP for Maldon & a son of Mr Round, the other MP, were witnesses of the descent with upwards of 400 other persons from Chelmsford, &c &c. It descended in a meadow of Landon, an adjoining parish to Danbury.

Charles Green's Nassau balloon

Charles Green’s Nassau balloon

Clark links here his passion for books and ballooning, and we have long suspected that there must have been books on balloons that Clark retained in his library and that were not swapped or sold for other volumes. Our suspicions were recently confirmed by an email from Mr Stephen Ferguson, the Rare Books librarian at Princeton University Library. Stephen confirmed that among the holdings at Princeton is a scrapbook on aerostation that was certainly owned and very probably compiled by Charles Clark. A version of his bookplate, dated 1866, is pasted on the inside coverboard:


The volume is a compilation of about 46 pages of engravings, newspaper clippings, broadsides, songs and handbills on ballooning, dating from 1769 to the late 1820s, and including material on the activities of Green as well as the Montgolfiers, James Sadler and John Wilkes. Some of the songs and poems that celebrate ballooning appear to have been composed by Clark himself. The volume is testament to a lifelong interest in this very 19th century phenomenon, and we will be surprised if this is the very last word from Clark on ballooning …

Outside cover of Clark's ballooning scrapbook

Outside cover of Clark’s ballooning scrapbook

We foresee a trip to Princeton University Library sometime in the future. We won’t, however, be travelling by balloon.

Charles Clark, Seamus Heaney, and Strawberries.

The letters of Charles Clark are deeply concerned with his sense of place. His letters mention his favourite place, Tiptree, almost four hundred times. Clark’s ‘favourite old Tiptree’, a village in Essex about 5 miles from Clark’s home in Great Totham was the subject of several songs and poems – most famously ‘Tiptree Races’. Clark’s poem celebrated the races on the heath which took place in the summer – it was a day that Clark looked forward to with great excitement every year. An extract from his work gives a sense of his enthusiasm:

Come, all alive-O! haste away
Ere light of day the darkness chases,
Remember, ‘tis Saint James’s day,
So up and off to Tiptree Races!
Should haughty Squires still complaining
And Barristers present their cases; [!]
Yet all their efforts are in vain
To stay the sports of Tiptree Races!
Dealers in porter – and Blue – ruin,
To pitch their tents, and fix their places –
All busily are up and doing,
To please the folk at Tiptree Races.

Tiptree Heath

Tiptree Heath

Clark chastises John Russell Smith for ‘libellously’ referring to ‘the dreary Heath’ – it was a place central to Clark’s imagination. He wrote about it, he visited it constantly, and often occupied himself in research relating to the antiquity of the Heath.

In April this year we paid a visit to the place which, more than even Great Totham, we associate with Clark. Tiptree Heath is the largest area of lowland in Essex (the common was first recorded in 1401) and is now a 61 acre nature reserve. Three species of Heather grow there and there is an abundance of wildlife. It is an extraordinarily peaceful place, registered as public common land in 1947. The present tranquillity and solitude to be found in the Heath is in sharp contrast with what Clark would have been familiar with – in the 19th century the land was (aside from being the site of the races) associated with ‘ne’er do wells’ and allegedly used for hiding contraband goods.

For us, the word Tiptree immediately connotes Clark, and to our great surprise we recently discovered a connection between Clark’s favourite place and the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney. On 6th September 2013, the Maldon Daily Gazette reported on the friendship between Brenda Johnson-Dennehy, a teacher, and Seamus Heaney’s wife Marie. Marie Heaney revealed that shortly after meeting her future husband, they spent time in Tiptree in the summer of 1963 where they picked strawberries: ‘I picked strawberries in Tiptree near Colchester at a student camp in 1963 – I had just met Seamus and he came to Tiptree to see me that summer – we both have happy memories of the place.’

One of the best things about working on Clark is the variety of places he was associated with, which lets us discover all sorts of connections,– this has to be our favourite one so far.

News … and New Connections

September 12, 2013

Its always such a pleasure when people get in touch, and when we find that our research on Clark can dovetail with theirs.

A few months ago we received some correspondence from Sally Woodcock, who had been commissioned (with May Berkouwer) to assess a painting that is in the possession of St Peter’s Church, the parish church of Great Totham, just down the road from Great Totham Hall. The current resident of the Vicarage is architectural historian Dr James Bettley (who incidentally wrote the entry on Clark for the ODNB and is the author of A Guide to the Parish Church of St Peter’s, Great Totham) asked Sally and May to write a conservation report on Great Totham Church – a painting depicting a view of the parish church at Great Totham from the front room of the Vicarage. The painting had been hidden behind a cupboard in the vestry of St Peter’s for some time and was rediscovered during the restoration of the church in 2012. It is of historical importance because it depicts the church of St Peter’s before major restoration took place in 1877–79, restoration which altered the appearance of the church.

The painting was produced by a Miss Hayter and several prints of the painting exist, one having been in the possession of Clark and another owned by his friend and neighbour the Rev. Thomas F. Gower. Sally wrote to us asking us to check Clark’s correspondence for any mention of this lady or of the painting. We found this reference in a letter of 1842:

“By-the-bye, while you were packing up for me on Monday evening I was most comfortably dining & tossing down my wine at our worthy Vicar’s tithe dinner, according to annual custom, in the very room from which Miss Hayter took her sketch of our Church that was engraved for our History … it was suspended against the wall just behind me.”

This letter confirms that Miss Hayter[1] took the sketch on which she based her painting from the sitting room of the Vicarage, and that Gower’s print was displayed on the wall of that same room. Sally’s report was able to tell us that Clark’s print of the History of the Parish of Great Totham, Essex, written by George William Johnson, has as a frontispiece “a view of Great Totham Church, on wood; from a drawing by Miss Hayter”. It seems that the engraving was done particularly for this publication. The report also suggests that Clark may have at one time owned the painting.

St Peter's Church, Great Totham, as it is today

St Peter’s Church, Great Totham, as it is today

Unfortunately, the painting is in poor condition and is need of repair. Dr Bettley has been in touch to inform us that plans are in place to restore the painting and to display it in the church; however, this is dependent on funding, and the Great Totham Parochial Church Council is actively seeking financial support to make this happen. The report makes clear that the painting is a unique survival, recording a history of St Peter’s that is largely unknown; however, the work of art is far too fragile to be displayed in its current state. Any readers interested in assisting the restoration programme should contact Great Totham Parochial Church Council; we at the Clark project are also happy to pass on any correspondence. Anyone with further information on the artist, Miss Hayter, is also encouraged to get in touch.

The painting and the circumstances surrounding its production are fascinating: they clearly had great local importance and were culturally important to Clark and to his milieu. The prints also travelled: there is one currently held at the British Library, and Clark’s imprint would have helped to disseminate the drawing more widely. We hope for an excellent response to the Council’s search for funds for this worthy restoration project, and we look forward seeing the painting restored to its former glory on a future visit to Great Totham!

[1] The identity of Miss Hayter has not been determined, but she may have belonged to the Hayter family of artists; see 

Charles Clark was a great fan of innovation of any kind. He was highly excited by the Victorian fad for ballooning, writing several letters in which are detailed the visits of balloons to the Essex skies. He was delighted by the new railway and postal systems, and by menageries, firework displays and circuses. He enjoyed reading about advances in farming technology, and of course he remained up to date with the latest inventions pertaining to his own particular interest in the printing press. Clark scoured the London periodicals and newspapers for notices of anything ‘new’ and trendy. Its no surprise, then, that Clark should have been eager to make a trip to London to visit The Great Exhibition of 1851, which was held at The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in 1851.

Clark writes a short letter to John Russell Smith on 24 May 1851, which he closes by saying: “I have not visited the Exhibition – shall soon”. As far as we know, Clark made very few trips to London (in his letters to John Russell Smith he frequently refers it as “your little village”), and expeditions to the capital were, for Essex folk, just that: long, punishing journeys, hard on the pocket-book, and because of that quite rare. Clark registers this in his letters; on 2 June Clark (again in a short note to Russell Smith) remarks, in an excited tone, that his housekeeper has spotted a party of neighbours, led by local auctioneer Mr May from Totham, start out that morning on a visit to the Exhibition. Clark describes the company in the way that one might group of adventurers or explorers. By 28 June, his neighbours have presumably reported back from London, and Clark seems both annoyed and impatient at his lack of opportunity to make the trip: “Have not visited the Exhibition even yet!”.

The Crystal Palace from the northeast from Dickinson's Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, published 1854

The Crystal Palace from the northeast from Dickinson’s Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851, published 1854

By 1 September, Clark is remarking on matters such as the hot weather that has characterized of the summer of 1851; still, one can easily discern his continued impatience to experience for himself what surely must have been the talking point for the entire year. He was such a voracious consumer of the press that he, almost daily, would have read reports of and responses to the spectacle at Crystal Palace, and the exasperation in his letters is discernible, predictable, perhaps weary: “Even now, I have not yet visited the Exhibition!”

He does make it to London, eventually. It seems that plans to pay a visit to his erstwhile bookseller in Soho fell through because the lure of the Great Exhibition was too great. On 24 November the letter to Russell Smith is full of business: remarks about the latest catalogue and a payment of £5 to settle some of his account. Only then does he say that he has been to London: “Altogether, I made Three visits to the Exhibition, returning each time the same day – so had no time to reach 4, ‘O[ld].C[ompton].S[treet].’!” He must have travelled to London before 11 October, when the Exhibition ended, and clearly spent a lot of time there.

Clark records no more than this in his letters to his London friend. But we are certain that his excitement at this palace of glass, in which were housed the wonders of the Victorian age, would have delighted Clark. The spectacle of the enormous glass structure filled with curiosities and innovation would have been too much for to him to pass unrecorded in his prolific correspondence. Perhaps we will at some point recover his thoughts (in a letter, perhaps?!) on what must have been, for him, the adventure of a lifetime.


The award of an Irish Research Council New Foundations grant was an important achievement for the Charles Clark project. We had previously won the Antiquarian Booksellers Award from the Bibliographical Society which enabled us to travel to the Essex Public Records Office in Chelmsford. We’re planning a larger project on Clark and saw this grant as an opportunity to further our work – we were determined to make the most out of it. We bought a decent camera and organised a week-long research trip to Essex. Budgetary constraints and the lack of availability ensured we ended up staying at the Miami Hotel again. The last trip was ‘memorable’ – overpriced train tickets obliterated our subsistence money and a week of pot noodles, 2-for-1 specials, and 15 hour work days ensured we were so tired that we derived a certain level of amusement from the Fawlty Towers like accommodation. This time round, it was pretty grim…..

exterior miami

We had left Cork at 3 (stupidly refusing Aer Lingus’ offer of 250 euros each to take a later flight) and by the time we arrived in Chelmsford it was approaching 8. We hadn’t eaten anything and were exhausted. The staff at the Miami asked if we needed to eat, we said we did, and stated they could, perhaps, maybe find a sandwich, sighing as if we had asked for beef wellington made from scratch. It was quickly decided we would be better off walking into town to find a restaurant. We got our room keys to drop off our bags, decided against a sauna,


and were greeted by rooms which were far worse than the last time we stayed there. They reeked of old crisps and there was a large reddish stain on the wallpaper which we chose to believe was wine. After a curry (and a particularly nice pinot grigio) we decided on an early night to prepare for our first day at the Records office.

Breakfast at the Miami is an interesting affair, suffice it to say we would most likely have received a warmer welcome if we had broken into a stranger’s kitchen and poured ourselves a bowl of cereal. The room was as dingy as the rest of the hotel, but with a bizarre 70’s style dance floor in the centre…

breakfast miami

Bad as it was last time, there had at least been a decent choice including fresh fruit, pastries and yoghurts. This time it was eggs, sausages and bacon, all served with an air of hostility that would make Basil Fawlty look like Francis Brennan. We didn’t take too long to get out of there and make our way back to the Public Records Office.

The walk from the hotel to the PRO is about 30 minutes, and is quite pleasant in the sunshine. The staff were friendly and remembered us from our last visit. Once we got the hang of the camera we started photographing the archive and collecting more information on Clark. The Senior Searchroom Archivist, Katharine Schofield, was very helpful in this regard and with her help we tracked down a few references to Clark in back issues of the Essex Review.

On the second morning, as we were photographing a set of letters we were approached by a woman who was part of a group engaged in a tour of the Public Records Office. She asked what we were doing and we showed her some letters and explained who Charles Clark was and our interest in him. We were used to people asking what we were doing in Chelmsford (!) but not to the reaction we got from this woman which was ‘Oh, he lived in Great Totham Hall? I know who lives there now. A nice man named Tom. Ye should visit, tell him Christine sent ye’. Cue stunned silence, followed by disbelief and excitement. There were at least forty people on that tour, what were the odds of this meeting?!We had already planned to take a day trip to explore Clark’s locale, now we had an introduction to the man who lives in his house.

Because we were taking Thursday off to explore Maldon and Tiptree (and go to Great Totham Hall) we spent all day, every day, until then in the Records office. We gathered well over 1,000 images, and to our great surprise discovered a new set of letter that we hadn’t realised were there. We took new images of Clark’s commonplace book and detailed images of an engraving of his portrait. The atmosphere at the Miami deteriorated rapidly throughout the week (we were witness to fights in the reception area and were racially abused in the bar) so we spent most of our evenings in the convivial atmosphere of an all-you-can eat Chinese restaurant. Our road trip couldn’t come fast enough.

The county of Essex beckoned to us in a serious way, then, on the Thursday. Since Clark engaged physically and imaginatively with his region of Essex, peppering his letters with hand-drawn maps, directions to and from Great Totham, and details of his walks to and from The Bull tavern, to Tiptree Races and Heath, to Maldon, the post office and his bookseller’s Phillp Youngman, and his rambles more generally, we wanted to get a greater sense of place and follow (in trendy pyschogeographical-style) Clark’s footsteps. So we hired a car.

Carrie was distinctly unimpressed with the Chevrolet Chevy Spark which made her feel like she was driving a Matchbox.


But we digress; Clarkson and Hammond we are not. Once we had navigated Chelmsford’s bizarre and numerous roundabouts we took the A12 making for Colchester (Clark was fascinated by Roman ruins, and at one stage contemplated excavating his garden in the hope of finding some), taking the exit for Maldon about 20 minutes later.

Maldon is probably more famous for the battle that took place there in 991, but Clark frequented the town, almost weekly, to visit his bookseller, send and collect parcels, and meet his neighbours and friends, collecting from them the local gossip and news. He was born in Heybridge, which is down the hill, as it were, from Maldon, nearer the basin and sea. We have always been convinced of the value of serendipity in research; after all, that is how we first found our man. Innate curiosity is also of value, and at Maldon we stuck our noses into the town hall which was hosting the weekly Women’s Institute market. The ladies of the WI could not have been kinder and more welcoming: they listened with great interest to our demented ramblings about Clark, gave us free tea and advice, and gave us the details of a local historian (who has since been in touch – more anon!) From there we went to Heybridge. We know Clark was born and died here, and St Andrew’s Church seemed to be a good place to begin on Clark’s trail. The graveyard is terribly overgrown, and is the final resting place to many Clarks, but not ours it would seem. Many of the headstones are weather-damaged and illegible, and we spent some time pulling briars and weeds away, but to no avail.

The next signpost we followed was that for Great Totham. Christine, whom we had met in the PRO on Tuesday, had given us impeccable directions, though were surprised to find how close Heybridge and Maldon are to GT. We had looked at Great Totham Hall on Google Maps, but we discovered that it had been wrongly labelled; driving on a country lane through immaculate fields towards Clark’s house was quite something, since we knew that the landscape would have changed little from his time. It felt very special when we came across a gatepost with the sign “Great Totham Hall”. We have always been very fond of Clark’s own drawing of his house from a letter dated 1842, and it was the highlight of the trip to drive towards that house knowing that Clark had lived, written, printed and read here for so many years. The house and outhouses are untouched, and the very kind gentleman who now lives there showed us the hall, the kitchen, and the two reception rooms at the front of the house from which Clark could see the sea. The house is built on the site of a medieval hall and is, for us at least, living history. We felt very privileged (and, it must be said, a little emotional) to be granted access, if only for a little while, to the space in which Clark spent much of his time.

clark housr

We decided that it would be supremely apt to have lunch at the coaching inn, The Bull, at Great Totham Green, which was Clark’s local watering-hole; in fact he even entertained John Russell Smith there when he visited the area. The Bull is now a gastropub that thankfully serves brilliant food (we recommend The Bull Burger with handcut fries) and also retains many of its original features: low beams, wood panelling and a fine collection of pewter tankards. Restored and recovered, we took the road to Tiptree.

Tiptree is one of Clark’s obsessions; he loved the Heath (now a nature reserve) and he anticipated the annual Tiptree race meeting with great excitement. We paused at the crossroads between Tiptree and Great Totham where Clark waited for John Russell Smith on their first meeting, and took some time to walk around the Heath (avoiding the adders and other alarming fauna)

Beware adders

and, feeling sure that if the Tiptree Jam Factory had been established in Clark’s time he would have loved that too, we took some time out to visit the shop. There is always a time to go astray, and our plan was to round off the day by visiting Witham, the village in which Clark attended the Rev. Dunn’s school. Alas, the main road to Witham was closed, and we found ourselves not unpleasantly lost, travelling in the wrong direction through beautiful countryside, and eventually resigning ourselves to consultation of the map for the first time that day.

Admittedly, we could have made lots of progress with another day in the RO, but by taking the time to follow Clark’s footsteps for a day we found that we developed a much better sense of him and could read and recall parts of his letters and poems from a position of great privilege. And, serendipitously, we met some fantastic people.

-CG and MOC