Old Hyde

Old Hyde
Pole Bank 1910 ----------------------------------------------------------Town Hall 1937 --------------------------------------------- Cenotaph 1990

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Captain Clarke

These images and this account of Captain Clarke are taken from The Annals of Hyde by Thomas Middleton. (1899)

CAPTAIN Hyde John Clarke was for a long period the leading spirit in public affairs in the neighbourhood of Hyde. He sat on the magisterial bench for four counties (Cheshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Derbyshire), and was ever forward in any movement likely to tend to the general good. His prominence and popularity as a public man is evidenced by the fact that in 1839 the inhabitants of Hyde presented him with a handsome testimonial, in "recognition of his many services," and in order to show their regard for him, and for "his unwearied disinterestedness, impartiality, and affability." The testimonial took the form of plate, valued at 270 guineas, and on the tureen was this inscription:
"Presented with other pieces of plate to Hyde John Clarke, Esq., of Hyde Hall, Captain of the Royal Navy, by the inhabitants of Hyde and its vicinity, as a token of their regard for his long and valuable services, and of their high esteem for his private character. A.D. 1839."
As illustrative of the representative character of this presentation, it should be mentioned that the principal ministers of the Established Church, and of the Nonconformist bodies, together with influential members of both political parties, attended and spoke on the occasion, while the meeting, which took place in the Navigation Inn, is described by the newspapers as having lasted three hours, and being "a ceremony which in these excited and jealous times has hardly had its parallel."

The earlier portion of Captain Clarke's career was occupied by his naval duties. He joined the navy at Portsmouth on the 29th of June, 1791, at the age of fourteen, and was placed aboard the "Bedford" 74 guns, under Captain Sir A. Snape Hammond. One of his first duties was to provide three ropes with which to hang three men for mutiny. In 1793, he was removed to the "Duke" and served in the West Indies until the close of the year 1798, when he saw service in the North Seas on board the "Amphion," 32 guns, and the "Nassau," 64 guns. He became Lieutenant on December 31st, 1798, and subsequent to 1804 served on the "Antelope" and the "Powerful" in the North Seas and the East Indies. On the 13th June, 1806, he fought at the capture of the privateer, "La Henrietta" which result was effected after a running fight of two hours, and on the 9th July in the same year he aided in the capture of the French privateer, "La Bellone." He was invalided in August, 1807. Three years later he joined as senior the "Temeraire" for service in the Mediterranean, but prior to sailing was promoted to the rank of Commander. For a time he was on the safe-guard service in Liverpool.

After a distinguished career as an officer of the Royal Navy Captain Clarke settled in Hyde. The writer of a history of the Clarkes of Hyde and Swanswick tells us,
"After the death of the old Squire, Captain Clarke went to live at Hyde Hall, as manager of the estates, at the request of his half-brother George, who preferred to remain in America, in the spacious house called Hyde Hall, on the banks of the lake of Otsego, where he had a large estate left him by his great uncle George".
Another writer says,
"After ploughing the deep the Captain soon fell into his new sphere and ploughed the land. He took great interest in the colliers and workhands at the mills. He was an early riser, and his great delight was to meet them as they came down the private road from Haughton to the mills in Hyde, and to have a chat with them. He deemed it only right that they should be supplied with the produce of the land at as cheap a rate as possible, and on the same principle he kept about 20 cows, the "fore milk" being sold in the (then) village, while the "afterings" was all churned by a small steam engine, and he had his own private mark upon the butter".
From the time of his settlement in Hyde to his removal from the town, Captain Clarke was in every sense the grand old man of the place. He was the principal figure at most public assemblies both in Hyde and in the neighbouring towns, and in the newspapers of the day his name is constantly found as that of a leader of public opinion in these portions of Lancashire and Cheshire. Few magistrates played so conspicuous a part in the great industrial agitation of the thirties and forties, and certainly none exhibited the same degree of coolness, or won the general regard of all parties as did Captain Clarke. Throughout the Chartists' risings he was constantly in request, and to his efforts the satisfactory termination of many unpleasant incidents was mainly due. More than once, as was to be expected, his loyalty and devotion to duty brought upon him the odium of the ring-leaders of the rioters, and sinister threats were hurled at his head. But the Captain through all remained the same fearless, open-hearted, English seaman, with an old fashioned idea of the dignity of his public position, and of the responsibility that position entailed. His loyalty to duty was proverbial and probably no man feared the consequences less than he.

Captain Clarke for many years lived at Hyde Hall and had a family of nine children, only one of whom has survived, Mr. John Clarke, of Brook House, Oswestry, who has supplied the writer with much interesting matter concerning the early history of Hyde. Among other things of interest is the following extract from one of his letters which shows the prominence of Captain Clarke's position as a magistrate and a leading public man, besides throwing a side-light on one very important event of local history.

Mr. Clarke writes:
"I remember well the murder of Thos. Ashton. We were at supper and I happened to look out through the window; my sailor father did not like the blinds down so that he might "study" the stars - and saw someone hastening up the front court. Soon after there was a furious knocking at the front door that startled most of us and the man came in to ask my father to go up to Pole Bank. My mother did not wish him to go, for Stephens, I think it was, had said, "Mrs. Clarke would make a nice widow." You know my father was very active at the time. The man said, 'Captain, if you will give me your little book, I will swear this is the blood of Thomas Ashton on my hands.' After that he went, and I think called for Mr. Chorlton, Magistrate's Clerk, who lived at Wood End."
It is worthy of note that Captain Clarke's activity in suppressing the spirit of riot and lawlessness which was so rife about this period, won him the thanks of the war office and of the Earl of Stamford, and he was widely looked up to as one of the principal forces for the maintenance of law and order in the cotton district.

Among other striking incidents of Captain Clarke's career, was his connection with Louis Napoleon on the occasion of the latter's visit to Manchester, in 1839. The Prince carried letters of introduction to Captain Clarke, who stayed with the party at the Royal Hotel in Manchester. The Royal guests inspected several mills in the district, and attended a dramatic representation of one of Charles Dickens' novels, at the Theatre Royal.

Captain Clarke devoted much attention to the immediate social and religious needs of his own town. He was the moving spirit in the erection of St. George's Church, obtaining the gift of the site from his half-brother George. He also was mainly instrumental in securing the means wherewith to build, and for a long time was the principal supporter of the edifice. In politics Captain Clarke was a staunch Conservative, and was a prominent figure and a leading speaker at most of the great meetings in Lancashire and Cheshire. His removal from Hyde to Llangollen was felt as a great loss to the community, and his death in 1857 was deeply regretted. There was, perhaps, no greater favourite with all classes about Hyde than Captain Clarke. He is still widely spoken of with great feeling, and his memory will go down to future generations as that of an upright, honest man, who strove to live up to the highest ideal of an English gentleman.

Captain Clarke married, in 1808, Ann Joyce, of Whitchurch, by whom he had issue
  • Hyde, b. 1813, d. 1858, buried at Swanawick, Jamaica.
  • Edward, b 1815, d. 1874, buried in St. George's Churchyard, Hyde.
  • Henry, b. 1816, d. 1855, buried at Llantysilio, Denbighshire.
  • John, b. 1820, still living at Oswestry.
  • Sophia Ann (Peacock), b. 1809. d. 1879, buried at St. Peter's, Ashton-u-Lyne.
  • Sarah, b. 1810, buried in St. George's Church, Hyde.
  • Emma Beetenson (Cocks), b. 1811, d. 1846, buried at St. Peter's Oldham.
  • Elizabeth Mary, b. 1825, d. 1841, buried in St. George's Church, Hyde.
  • Fanny, b. 1828, d. 1874, buried in St. George's Church, Hyde.


  1. If you haven't already done so, you need to watch the latest Who do you think you are? on BBC iPlayer. Turns out that Sebastian Coe is a descendent of Captain Clarke, and there is a good deal of story above that too.

  2. Like James I just saw the programme with Sebastian Coe where his family were from Hyde and recognise the photo in your blog. Thought of you with all the talk of Hyde on the show!

  3. Interesting that it is a Christian name not a surname. What about that second name carried by poor Emma? Beetenson. Perhaps a family name from her mother's side.

    Thanks for responding, Gerald. Much appreciated.


Sorry about having to keep captchas on my blogs but I took them off and got inundated with spam - I appreciate your efforts to comment despite the hurdle.

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