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Joseph Clarke - ‘Extraordinary revelations at Fletton’


This was the the title of the newspaper report that announced the result of the inquest of Joseph Clarke. The inquest was held at Fletton Lodge on 28 January 1889.


Joseph’s demise appeared to have begun the previous week when he ‘refused to leave his bed’. When Dr. Kirkwood was called the deceased was ‘almost pulseless and dying’. An autopsy was peformed by Dr. Crane who found that death was caused ‘due to effusion of the brain, the result of chronic disease’. The verdict of the inquest returned by Mr. H. C. Gaches was ’natural causes’. However, reading the report there does appear to be some doubt about Joseph’s treatment. It was reported that Joseph ‘had no memory’ since the previous spring and that his wife ‘never ill treated or swore at him’. But witnesses stated that the body was ‘emaciated’ and Dr. Crane corroborated that ‘the body was not clean, and did not seem well attended’. Furthermore, the groom John Wallis said ‘the family swore at the deceased sometimes, but he was not ill-treated’. Despite this Joseph ‘slept in the attic’ and when he was returned to his son’s care two months previously, after being found in Stanground, Willoughby (Alfred) threatened him with the workhouse to which the deceased responded ‘You can send me where you like for peace’.


What circumstances led to Joseph’s demsie and subsequent burial in St. Margarets on 25 January 1889?


Joseph was born in 1820 in Ellington Thorpe, Bedfordshire. In the 1851 census Joseph was a successful thread lace merchant. He had married Elizabeth and they had four children: Hadderley 7, Robert 5, Harry Arthur 3 and Joseph Fitzallen 1, plus a servant and nurse. By 1861 the family had expanded to include Adophus 10, Augusta 8, Eugenie 6 and Florence 4 and a move to 5 Goldington Street, Bedford had occurred.


The 1871 census reveals that the family had moved closer to Fletton and were living at Alconbury Hill, Huntingdonshire. Joseph’s buisness interests had diversified and he was recorded as a commission agent. Their final child Willoughby had also been born.


The 1881 census saw the family move again to Brickfield House, Eynesbury, Huntingdonshire. At 61 Joseph was still a lace merchant and Willoughby had joined his father.


By the time of Joseph’s death in January 1889 the family, or at least Joseph, Elizabeth and Willoughby were living at Fletton Lodge. Fletton Lodge was part of the Hicks Gardener Brickyard owned by Richard Gollings and purchased by Richard Gardener in an auction on 5 November 1889. It would therefore seem likely that the Clarkes rented the Lodge. It is a mystery why, given Josephs apparent state of poor health, the family moved to Fletton.


One clue might be found with Augusta, their daughter. Augusta was married to Thomas Jagger a diamond merchant and jeweller. Their first daughter Hilda was born in Peterborough in 1878, although by 1881 they were resident in Sandy, Bedfordshire. Augusta may have shared with her parents the opportunities that were available in Fletton and Peterborough. Also, in the 1881 census the family lived next door to Frederrick Dudley, a brickmaker, and similarly he may have shared his experience of Fletton. So, the family may have moved to Fletton Lodge for Willoughby’s employment prospects.


Joseph and Elizabeth had nine children, six boys and two girls. The children were engaged in various occupations including painter decorator, stock dealer and corset maker. It is Willoughby who was with his parents when Joseph passed away.


Willoughby was quite illusive in the usual census records. However, he does appear in two other documents, and these may offer an explanation of Willoughby’s character. On 18 May 1900 it was recorded in ‘The Police Gazette’ that Alfred Willoughby Clarke, a dealer, had been remanded ‘for obtaining money by false pretences’ by advertising horses and dogs in various publications. An article in The Northampton Mercury on 8 June 1900 gives additional detail including the fact that this was not Willoughby’s first offence, he had only recently served a 12-month sentence for similar offences. Willoughby had set himself up as a well to do gentleman and then set himself on a systematic course of swindling. There were at least 20 individual cases that the police were aware of.



For ‘obtaining money by false pretences’ a sentence for 18 months hard labour was passed. Willoughby served this sentence in Wormwood Scrubs.


By 1902 Willoughby was living in Sheldon Road, Cricklewood.


Willoughby certainly seems to be a dubious character which may, in part, explain the vagueness of the newspaper report of his father’s death.


It would be interesting to trace Willoughby into the 1911 and 1921 census but as yet he refuses to reveal himself to me. Likewise, it would be nice to trace his mother, Elizabeth. With a surname such as ‘Clarke’ this is not an easy task.



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shields_h_f
Sep 07, 2022

It is an interesting case. I wonder... when a patient has dementia or depression they often lose weight despite best efforts at care. Lack of hunger, not making the 'effort' to eat, forgetting to eat etc. It is not unusual for such patients to resist disturbance especially washing. When someone is poorly often the family are busy trying to deal with them, housework goes to pot and the house may be more untidy than is usual. With chronic illness this can become a more chronic problem. Nearly everyone gets tired and snappy at times, despite understanding dementia is not the person's fault. It must have been really hard to deal with a man who' refuses' to co-operate. Perhaps he…

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