Charles Clark (1806-1880) was a farmer, an amateur printer, an antiquarian and a book collector who was synonymous with Essex, particularly his local area of Great Totham.
Clark was born in 1806 to Robert Clark and Mary Ann Pond and was raised in Heybridge. He was an only child and attended the Reverend J.S. Dunn’s school in Witham. In the 1820s Clark invented a portable printing press. Clark’s press was designed to be affordable, 30 shillings in comparison to £25 for a press of a similar size. Clark hoped that the press would be useful to people who wished to print ‘little trifles for their own convenience or amusement’. He eventually acquired a larger press in 1846. He was a prodigious contributor to local newspapers and periodicals, a collector of medieval manuscripts, early printed books, periodicals and new newspaper extracts and cuttings, which are preserved along with his extensive correspondence, at the Essex Record Office.
Clark is best remembered for his prolific production of pamphlets, and a series of poems in imitation of Thomas Hood. His most successful work was ‘John Noakes and Mary Styles, or An Essex Calf’s Visit to Tiptree Races’ which was published by John Russell Smith in 1839. Smith was interested in topography and local dialect and Clark’s work was a descriptive poem in the Essex dialect. The publication marked a period of intensive correspondence and collaboration between Clark and Smith where the two exchanged large volumes of books and manuscripts.
Following the death of his father in 1850 Clark moved to Heybridge and the tenancy of Great Totham Hall was taken over by John Pond. Information on the latter part of his life is scant; he is mentioned a few times in Notes and Queries as a ‘zealous antiquary’ and as the author of the curious bookplate poem. Clark died on 21 March 1880 and was buried in Heybridge. He did not leave a will and his estate, including his press, type, and substantial library, was sold by auction. In his history of 19th century private presses, Henry Plomer stated that Clark’s press ‘has received more notice than it deserves’, categorises his output as ‘scraps of doggerel’ and declared that Clark’s work would only be ‘creditable to an amateur’. This contradicts the earlier judgement of Charles Timperley, who admired Clark’s ‘curious tracts’ which are ‘very well executed and do great credit to his typographical skill, as well as to his judgement and learning’.