Saturday, August 13, 2011

Rediscovering Egerton Clarke

I'll admit that sometimes doing this research is frustrating. So much of it is names and dates, births and deaths, an address here, a telephone listing there. And from those very spare bits of data, one tries to reconstruct a life.

Who would you be if you were summarized by only your key dates, your addresses, and your phone numbers?

It's not exactly as if I simply sit by the mailbox, waiting for more, but sometimes that's more or less the form that it takes. Patience in this research is a virtue, and sometimes it pays off!

A week ago I received a message out of Toronto from Janine Le Forestier, granddaughter of Egerton Clarke [above, right; click to enlarge], whose life and friendship with George Mills we recently attempted to examine here. Since then, my mind has been spinning trying to determine how I could best organize and set forth the information she and her family have so kindly and generously shared.

In the end, I think it is best to let Janine tell the story, just as she told it to me, and to follow the thread through the past seven days. I will only interrupt her narrative to fit her information into the outline of what we already know.

Saturday, August 06, 2011 9:39 PM

Good evening:

I am fascinated. The reason for my writing is that Egerton Clarke is my grandfather. I just stumbled upon George Mills - I had googled G.K. Chesterton [left] another of my grandfather's friends - and Egerton Clarke. I am curious about your interest in him.

Would love to connect.


Sunday, August 07, 2011 11:54 PM

I am deeply touched by your interest in a man who was so loved by my mother and respected by my father.

It is quite bizarre - absurd - that now of all times, we should be communicating like this. Over the past week I have been forced to clear out my mothers office and indeed, my parents home having just had to place them in a retirement home. I will endeavour to relay your research to her and indeed to her two brothers, Michael (# 2 child born in 1928) is visiting from England on Wednesday. The third brother - the youngest (Anthony - born in 1929) closed Burns & Oates in 1970 and began his own business with much of the remaining stock as (Anthony Clarke Books).

What I have had confirmed from reading his letters and poems - some unpublished is, as you say, is that he was a very sensitive talented man, a loving husband and father. I do not recall my mother ever telling me that he took an active role during WWI and am actually shocked. It must have been incredibly difficult for him to partake of such madness on any scale.

(He wrote a lovely poem to her and I wonder if the MC you refer to, is in fact Mary Clarke. Just a thought) .

I have discovered wonderful loving letters that he wrote to her before his death, from TB in 1944. I am in the midst of going through all the letters, cataloguing them, and pulling out as much information as I can. He was deeply religious. A devout convert who lost his inheritance when he joined the Catholic Church. But I believe there was money up until then and indeed pictures I have of him as a young boy - several years after the death of his father, would confirm this. His clothes are certainly those of a little boy who was pampered [right, with mother, Emma Anna Clarke]. So I am intrigued to learn that he was poor prior to the conversion. I do know that the family relied on my grandmother's money when they were married and he was a poor business man, quickly going through it.

His sister Dorothy died in 1972 (I can confirm the date) He did have a brother. I will be able to provide you with exact dates and additional information after I have had a chance to go through what I have although I feel you have more than I do. I have a family bible, photo's of both sides of the family including, Kelly's, Sheils, Pipers, Clarkes.

My grandfather did write beautifully as did my mother, uncle and various members of the latest generation. It is in the blood I think.

This is just a quick note. I can't tell you what your research means to me.

I must pass on this to the rest of the family over the next week or so. My father has just, at the age of 92, had two surgeries. Again ironically - his memory was amazing up until a week ago. It has slipped somewhat but he will also be intrigued by this and I will confirm some details with him. I am hoping may be able to shed some light on the "missing years".

What a wonderful message! It confirms some of what we knew and provides insight into other things we did not.

Egerton Clarke's children were named Mary, Michael, and Anthony, and were born between 1926 and 1929. At least in the case of the first two, the location of the birth is recorded as Winchester.

We also learn, sadly, of the cause of Egerton's untimely death at such a young age.

And, finally, we are privy to information that would seem to contradict my assumption that young Egerton attended St Edmund's School in Canterbury, Kent, as a poor orphan out of Brittany. Clarke did have at least two relatives who were doing quite well in business: His Aunt Hannah, a widow and owner of a large farm called Thorley Wash in Bishops Stortford, Herts, and his Uncle Egerton Harry John Clarke, a London stockbroker.

The wild card here is actually what Egerton's father, Percy, left to his mother, Emma, upon his death while chaplain at Dinard, France. She may have been fairly well off herself, although her own probate in 1931 does not reflect the assets of a wealthy woman. However, by being careful, she may have lived on her own means for thirty years after Percy's passing and put Egerton through school with proceeds from his father's estate.

Monday, August 08, 2011 3:09 PM

Just to give you a wee bit more. When my grandfather was ill, they did an experimental treatment on him - deliberately collapsing his lung(s)? - the treatment failed. Clearly.

Tony (Anthony) lives in Hartfordshire and would likely know much more than I do. If you can give me a few days I will dig up as much information as possible in answer to your question. I have been going over letters this morning and he certainly was writing - and in fact had one of his poems rejected which he took very hard - this around 1942. (I have found a notebook with additional poems in it - at least I believe they are unpublished - again I must research this more closely.) I am just getting snippets and when I am more organized I will certainly provide you with what I have. I am just on my way to visit my parents and will discuss this with my father. I am excited to also speak with my Uncle Mike (Michael Egerton-Clarke) when he arrives…

Couldn't wait - just got off the phone with my Uncle. He is fascinated that you were able to get so much information, some of it new to him also. He is a bit suspicious of your intentions - don't get me wrong - he is thrilled but wonders why? I read him your letters and because my grandfather really didn't have that much attention bestowed on him Mike wonders why you would be interested. He did not know about the WW1 corp.

Thank you so much Harry for stirring all this up. Incredible.

First of all I can completely understand Mike's suspicion of my motives in researching his family. One cannot be too careful these days. I do think it is a shame, though, that Egerton Clarke did not have more attention bestowed upon him, both during his lifetime and posthumously. The reviews do show that his poetry was well-received, and I'll admit that the 'free verse' he wrote later in his career really moves me personally.

More importantly, we discover here that Egerton Clarke did not stop writing when his work was no longer being published. In fact, I can only imagine the pain he suffered when he received a rejection in 1942 after years of documented success.

Monday, August 08, 2011 11:28 PM

Just thought I would share my father's thoughts with you. I saw my parents today and my mother was having a very good day. She recognized the name George Mills, was not aware of any heart problems. She was thrilled naturally to hear of your interest in her beloved father.

In answer to the question of why he did not publish after 1939, my own father said the war profoundly affected him, especially because he was such a gentle and sensitive man. He was walking through rubble most days on his way to his office in Westminster. His beloved country was being bombed and the Germans were ploughing through his home in Dinard [right, with Nazi beach obstructions in place]. A man of his nature would not have been able to write the kind of poetry that he loved in that atmosphere. He wasn't well as he suffered from TB early in the 40's. The war would have been a disaster to his creative spirit. Also his children were sent out of London to boarding schools and he missed them terribly. He was saddened by all that was happening around him. He must have missed his children terribly.

Could he have been suffering some sort of depression or as we call it post-traumatic stress? Quite possibly - but this is personal speculation. If I am able to get a better answer from his other son Tony, I will certainly let you know.

Cheers, Janine

There isn't much that can be added to Janine's amazing insight into the life of her father during the Second World War. She has, I feel, captured him perfectly: Feeling isolated in one of the world's largest cities, ailing, seeing his world coming apart—brick by brick at times—around him. Unable to publish and share his feelings. Missing his children. Nazis with a stranglehold on his childhood home in France.

While Clarke's feelings would not have been unusual, I'm certain, during the hostilities, they remind us of how devastating the war was to individuals of the entire society. Nightmares were common on the battlefields, but on the 'home front' as well.

Here we do find out that Egerton had an office in Westminster, less than a half mile from the home of the family of George Mills, who by 1944 had relinquished a commission in the Royal Army Pay Corps as a war substitute reserve officer and was using the damaged Naval and Military Club as his mailing address.

It comes as no surprise that the name George Mills might be remembered. Egerton Clarke had helped George survive his tenure in the military during the First World War. It would be stunning to me to find out that Mills had not reached out, trying to be a comfort to his friend during the second global conflict—at least when Egerton found himself in London.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011 7:31 PM

In front of me now is a letter in which [Egerton Clarke] is answering a question my mother must have asked concerning his brother. The letter dated December 1, 1942 refers to his brother as John (Jack) Percy Dalzell Clarke born in 1892 and died 21/02/1915 - war injury likely as he served. His name comes up if you google it. Yes - there was certainly a very wealthy stockbroker and I do remember hearing about that - thank you for the memory. Dorothy Mary Clarke is Egerton's sister. She is who my mother is named after. She died in the '70's - in fact I just read a letter regarding that, too. - can't find it but it is there somewhere.

Theresa Clarke [pictured, left, as a nurse at Guys Hopital in 1922] was born in Dublin. Her mother was Clara Sheil - a twin. There was a brother James who died during the first world war - actually - after it was just over - falling off a horse I believe. You need to come up to Toronto some time and I can show you pictures of all these folk.

I am going to email my cousin in London and ask her to see if there is any correspondence from George Mills in the possession of her father Anthony. He was supposed to have had much of this type of thing.

So - off to the library tomorrow for sure to print this all off and pass to Mike upon his arrival in the evening. He was so excited last night when I called him, he was concerned he wouldn't get any sleep. He is the last with the name Egerton and I suspect very like my grandfather in temperament. A very gentle man. As is Anthony who is an incredible writer and wonderful poet - unpublished though.

So there you have it for another day.

As I've done my research here, I have always been struck by how easy it is for family members to lose track of each other. It has even happened in my own family. I have to admit, it is extremely rewarding to read, not simply of the memories of Egerton Clarke's descendants, but of the warmth that they all continue to share.

And imagine how exciting it would be to find correspondence from or about George Mills among the letters Janine mentions!

The following taut but powerful message regards the circumstances in which writers, poets, and artists would have found themselves, even long after the last shot of the war had been fired. Is it any wonder that the creative energies of many—including Egerton Clarke and George Mills—had been sapped?

Tuesday, August 09, 2011 7:39 PM

As a very small child, I remember seeing bombed out buildings in London - it was 1954 and there was such a lot of destruction still - I remember the colour gray and we still had rations [right]. Bleak and dismal. I cannot imagine what they went through and how it affected them. Especially the sensitive artistic type. Horrible. So - there seems to be a recurring theme here doesn't it?

Thursday, August 11, 2011 9:59 PM

I had a very interesting afternoon with Mike and my parents.

I read out our emails to them and a couple of points were clarified......

John Percy Dalzel Clarke died not of a war injury but from falling off a horse - on the morning of his wedding day.

James - brother of Clara Sheil - my great grandmother died during the war on the front. (there is a plaque in Liverpool which I have seen with a James Sheil mentioned on it.)

Did not know of a sister Hannah - But my uncle remembered the Thorley Wash Farm [left] and said it was sold in the 70's - a town of Thorley now sits on the property.

I meant to mention that not only is there a plaque to Percy in the Church in Dinard - but also a couple of stained glass windows.

Sounds as though there was a stock broker on both sides of the family - Theresa's and Egertons. My uncle thinks there was one on Theresa's side - - they were quite well off.

But what was interesting and pure speculation is this regarding the writing stopping in 1939.
My uncle says Egerton was fired from Burns Oates and Washbourne.

He was in charge of the Children's Branch and at some point participated in an exhibition of children's books. He was accused of claiming some books as his own when apparently they were not. He was honest to a fault. The books must have been his but since he worked for B & O, were his writings then the property of B&O. Apparently he was very distraught over this. If that is the case would George Mills have rebelled also. Egerton then went to Hutchinson's as Art Director.

[A display of Hutchinson's mid-1930s children's offerings is pictured below, right.]

So - that is the best I can do unless I can update you further if more info comes from the UK.

Hope all of this doesn't confuse the issue too much and like I said - there is some speculation here and I am sure the war also played a part as discussed earlier.

Cheers, Janine

Janine's message above bears out her speculation that her grandfather was not a businessman—but how many poets could claim to be? It seems he may have been taken advantage of in this situation. That is not to imply that there were any illegalities in his contractual relationship with Burns & Oates, but as I grow older I find out more and more that what is legal isn't always what is morally right, and it would seem that was likely the case for Egerton Clarke.

Interestingly, Egerton's family seems to have had some stake in the publishing house as we read above. Nonetheless, Clarke took his talents to Hutchinson's, which incidentally was the publisher of the brother and sister-in-law of George Mills, authors Arthur Hobart Mills and Lady Dorothy Mills, during that era.

Thursday, August 11, 2011 11:15 PM

One more thing - I was just reading another of your articles that I hadn't seen and it brought to mind a trip I made to Canterbury where I went to the Hospital of St. Thomas [left]. There on a plaque was the name of Percy Carmichael Clarke. One of the masters - didn't get a date but it was him. Egerton was definitely at St. Edmonds also.

One uncertain aspect of the life of Percy Carmichael Clarke and Emma Anna Clarke, parents of Egerton, was their relationship with the city of Canterbury, where Egerton had been born and baptized. Discovering that Percy had been one of the Masters of the Hospital of St Thomas, which still serves as an almshouse for elderly poor today, provides us that link between the Clarkes' life in Dinard and their roots back in England.

Thursday, August 11, 2011 11:52 PM

1923 Hugh Egerton - This our Egerton. He joined with a man by the name of somebody Hugh or Hugh somebody, and they published The Death of Glass and the Earring. Hugh took off with all the money.

'Hugh Egerton' would have been the name of the firm that published The Ear-ring: A comedy in one-act [London: Egerton, 1922] and The Death of Glass and Other Poems [London: Egerton, 1923].

Again, this would substantiate that Egerton Clarke clearly was not a businessman, and an eventual mistrust of publishers may have played a role in the difficulty he had in having his work published after his fractured relationship with Burns, Oates & Wasbourne.

Thursday, August 11, 2011 11:53 PM

Don't believe Egerton resided at Egerton Gdns. They were in Tisbury, Hertfordshire, for much of their lives.

Tisbury, in Wiltshire, is situated about 25 miles west of Winchester, a locale that plays a significant part in the story of Egerton Clarke. A telephone listing for him in 1929 gives his address as "Kennels Lr Lawn Cott" within the Tisbury exchange.

Friday, August 12, 2011 11:46 AM

Just got this from my cousin (Mike's daughter here in Toronto)

I think Lr would stand for lower. There was probably an upper and a lower cottage with the same name - perhaps beside each other. Just a guess.

I just asked Dad and he said yes is does mean "lower". That there was a Lower Lawn
Cottage where Tony was born and a Lawn Cottage. It is in fact not Tisbury but Fonthill
Gifford. The address might have included Tisbury in the address as it is in the next village.

Dad doesn't know anything about Egerton Gardens or even heard of it.

As of today, here is real estate information on 'Lower Lawn Cottage': "This property is located at Lower Lawn Cottage West Tisbury Salisbury SP3 6SG and has 16 houses and flats located on it. The average current estimated value for homes in SP3 6SG is £604,313."

Also, on page 247 of Wiltshire (Vol. 26, 1975), the authors, Nikolaus Pevsner and Bridget Cherry, reference information from "Mrs. C. Lloyd-Jacob" that some ancient doors originally from nearby Fonthill Abbey [above, right], from before the 1755 fire, were still in place at Lower Lawn Cottage at the time.

The Egerton Gardens locale I wrote of came from
Who's Who in Literature, in both the 1928 and 1934 editions. The entry read:

CLARKE, Egerton A. C. B. 1899. Ed. Clock Tower (Keble Coll.,Oxford), 1919. Au. Of Kezil and Other Poems (Stockwell), 1920; The Earring (one-act comedy); (Hugh Egerton), 1922. Sub.-Ed. National Opinion, 1922. C. Morn. Post, West. Gaz., Colour, Even. News, Dy. Mirror, Poetry Rev., Oxford Poetry, Oxford Fort. Rev., Nat. Opinion. 73, EGERTON GARDENS. S.W.3.

I did not capitalize that address, but found it printed that way. And, since it apparently hadn't been corrected by 1934, I'll admit I assumed it was correct. On the other hand, nothing in the above entry seems very "up to date" regarding Egerton Clarke's career after the mid-1920s, despite having been published in 1934.

One wonders if it is possible that, while visiting his office in Westminster, Clarke stayed in rooms at Egerton Gardens, less than a mile away.

Saturday, August 13, 2011 12:36 PM

Here are a couple of pictures - the family shot shows Theresa, Egerton and children from left to right
Anthony, Mary and Michael 1929 - Tisbury

Not sure of the date of the single - likely early 20's.

And, with that, I have been able to use the family photographs of Egerton Clarke you have seen illustrating this entry.

At this point, that is everything that Janine and her family have generously provided. It all has been meaningful to me because so rarely has anyone become so 'fleshed out' and truly human during this research.

Egerton Clarke is a man we can begin to understand: Sensitive, talented, complex, loving, and born during a time during which many of those adult characteristics would not have been rewarded.

Egerton endured the First World War, during which he suffered from severe health issues, raised a family through a worldwide global depression, and endured the fear, loneliness, carnage, and deprivations of the rise of fascism and ruthless attacks on his childhood home in France and England itself [depicted below, right].

Clarke was among a cadre of writers and poets who lived and wrote at the time: Dorothy L. Sayers, Gerald H. Crow, G. K. Chesterton, and Mills himself. In Egerton, we see a model for how a sensitive gentleman like George Mills may also have handled the difficulties of such era.

Mills died childless, as did his siblings, ending his branch of the family tree. He largely has been forgotten.

In breathing life into the memory of George's friend, Egerton Clarke, however, Egerton's descendants have given us insight into how Mills himself may have dealt with the horrors of World War II, and why he may never have published another word either.

Thank you so much, Janine and everyone. If any readers have any additional information or insight, please contact me and I will pass it along to the family!

1 comment:

  1. What a great entry! You got so much good information from Egs' family.