One can scarcely trust fame on credit in these days of misrepresentation and deception – John Clare


Compiled by Patti Holloway

John Clare, the “peasant poet” climbed to fame and enjoyed a brief period of stardom in what he called the “dandified” society of early 19th century London, before descending into obscurity and ending his days in a Northampton lunatic asylum. He is remembered for his poems on love and on his beloved English countryside, which he documented in minutest detail, believing it would disappear forever following the enforcement of the Enclosures Act of 1809.

He is also remembered by folk musicians as a “decent” fiddle player who compiled the first major collection of popular songs and fiddle tunes in England.

In this dramatic presentation — running time approximately one hour — Ben Bazell tells John Clare’s story through his poetry, writings and music.

Reviewers have commented: “…superb performance…” (July 2005)
“…captures the many sides of this most alluring and elusive of writers…in this excellent, varied performance by Ben Bazell, the recurrence of both memories and folk tunes offers a unifying motif, a heartwarming record of Clare’s haunted sanity…” (August 2005)
“…exhilarating, inspiring, superb…” (October 2005)

“…a brilliant portrayal of the well-loved poet, John Clare and his friend Emma Emerson by actors Ben Bazell and Patti Holloway. Two amazing pieces, really bringing the figures and history back to life.”

A selection of video clips from the production can be accessed by clicking here.

John Clare, 1793 — 1864

Clare was born in Helpstone — midway between Peterborough and Stamford. He was the first child and only son of Parker and Ann Clare. His twin sister, apparently the stronger, died.

Clare’s mother, Ann, was the daughter of John Stimson, the town shepherd of Castor: his father, Parker Clare, a thresher, was the illegitimate son of a Scottish schoolmaster, John Donald Parker.

While still a young man, John Clare fell in love with Mary Joyce, a local farmer’s daughter. Their relationship ended around 1816, seemingly at the insistence of her father. Mary Joyce died, aged 41, in 1838 — she never married.

Martha (Patty) Turner married John Clare in 1820 — she was expecting his baby. They had nine children but only four survived beyond his death in Northampton Asylum in 1864.

For further information on John Clare, readings of his poetry and more weblinks, see the BBC website on the Romantics.

Dates of Interest

Act of Enclosures of Helpstone passed. First dated poem "Helpstone"
Meets Drury, Stamford bookseller and local editor
Meets Drury's cousin, John Taylor (Keats' publisher)
Makes four visits to London
Moves from the cottage where he was born to a cottage three miles away in Northborough
Admitted to High Beech Asylum
July: 80 mile walk - Journey out of Essex December: Committed to Northampton Lunatic Asylum and remains there for his last twenty-three years
Clare honoured with a plaque in "Poets' Corner", Westminster Abbey