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An affectionate farewell from The Mid Sussex Times to its creator Charles Clarke (1841-1921)

Updated: Sep 27, 2020





We are such stuff as dreams are made of.

And our little life is rounded with a sleep.

It is our sorrowful duty to record that the death took place on Sunday of Mr. Charles Clarke, of Caxton House, Haywards Heath, and we know that the news will give rise to a sympathetic and regretful sigh in many a heart, for Mr. Clarke had a host of friends, not only in England but across the sea.

For some months past it had been recognised that his life’s sun was setting and that he was nearing the end of his long and useful career. On February 3rd he became unwell, and the next day being bitterly cold, he was advised to remain in bed. On the Saturday he became feverish and medical aid was summoned. “Everything depends upon his reserve of strength” was the doctor's cautious reply to a question, and thus was it with feelings of anxiety that the dawn of each day was greeted, for one knew not what an hour would bring forth.

At times Mr. Clarke was very bright and chatty, strengthening the family’s hope that he might recover.

It brought a smile to his face when he recalled how he pulled through his last severe illness—this was in 1918 — and he liked to believe that he would again keep death at bay. He thoroughly enjoyed life, and his outlook upon it was that of an optimist.

No man, we venture to think, dies before his time, and the fact that Mr. Clarke has gone from us leads us to believe he had finished the work that the Almighty had given him to do.

The faith that had been his stay and support in health gave him inward calm in illness, and that his passing at the age of 80 was so peaceful, so free from pain, will ever be to his friends a happy memory.

It was Bideford, Devon, on February 13th, 1841, that Mr. Clarke was born, He started from the bottom rung of life’s ladder, and from his youth upwards he never disdained honest toil.

At the age of 13 years he obtained work with a cutler and gunsmith, who paid him a penny a day. If the pay was meagre the instruction was helpful, and Mr. Clarke found it of service to him later on.

At 14 he was apprenticed to a printer and bookbinder—Honey by name. When the stamp duty on newspapers was abolished, a paper was started at the office, and then it was that the “industrious apprentice" developed what in the world of journalism is called “a nose for news”

Wishing to still further improve himself, at the end of his apprenticeship Mr. Clarke accepted the offer of situation at Redruth, Cornwall. He had not been there long before he urged his employer, Mr. Erle, to publish a four-page paper, and it was named “The Cornish Free Press.”

Eventually there came upon Mr. Clarke another desire to gain further experience, and he accepted the offer of a situation at Williton, Somerset. He stayed there, however, only a few months, and then made his way into Sussex, where he entered the employ of Mr. Townshend, of Uckfield. This was in 1864.

At Uckfield Mr. Clarke met a Mr. Brodie - a gentleman who took a deep interest in him and made it financially possible for him to set up in business for himself at Haywards Heath. Also at Uckfield Mr. Clarke became acquainted with the youngest daughter of Mr. George Stevenson, of Piltdown, who kept a boarding school, and in time he made her his wife and settled at Haywards Heath. Three sons and a like number of daughters were born of the marriage. When six years age the eldest son, Robert, passed away, and three years later (1875) Mr. Clarke lost his wife. With five young children around him he sorely felt the need of womanly help, and in 1876 he married again. By his second wife (who died in 1907) he had one daughter.

In 1871 Mr. Clarke took up his residence at 10 Boltro Road It hardly merited the name of road, for it was fearfully rough and had a gate at each end.

But Mr. Clarke saw there was a large “field” for him to draw upon and that the demand for printers’ ink was likely to be great.

He received his first job from the late Rev. R. E. Wyatt—the first Vicar of Haywards Heath —and his support was never withheld until his death.

In time the need was felt for larger premises, so Mr. Clarke purchased the plot of ground—then part of a brickfield —on which the present business premises stand.

In 1875 “The Mid-Sussex Directory” was published, and it won great popularity. Every year it was brought out until the Great War made it necessary to suspend publication.

As Mid-Sussex increased in population, and events multiplied, Mr. Clarke had impressed upon him the desirability of publishing a newspaper. He weighed the matter over, and in 1881 he brought out “The Mid-Sussex Times.’ Tuesday was selected as publishing day because of the cattle market. Farmers and country people who came to the town for shopping never thought of returning home without a copy of what they were pleased to call “The Mid.”

In the early days all was not smooth sailing in connection with the publication of the paper, and those associated with the Press will have little difficulty in conjuring up the situations which had to be faced with limited staff and inadequate machinery. Mr. Clarke, however, never lacked grit. Instead of being cowed by difficulties, they only increased his determination to succeed. And his faith in himself and his work brought its reward. Three times it became necessary for him to enlarge his premises, and as the districts about him grew, and the news service improved, from time to time enlarged his paper.

In 1917, with the legal aid of Mr. C. H. Waugh, Mr Clarke converted his business into a Limited Company, appointing as permanent Directors Messrs. E. Stevens (who had been with him from boyhood and was chosen as Managing Director), J. and G. Clarke (sons), J. Portwine and E. G. Hayden (sons-in-law) and A. H. Gregory (who had been connected with the editorial staff for 25 years). Mr. Charles Clarke was Chairman of the Company.

For many years he was a member of the Institute of Journalists, and for some time was Chairman of the Sussex District. He was also a Freemason, and had the honour of being admitted a member of Grand Lodge by H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught. He was a Past Master of Mark Masons.

The Sussex Archaeological Society was another of the numerous organisations to which he belonged. Up to the time of his death, and for many years previous, he was a Director of the Haywards Heath and District Building Society and also of the Mid-Sussex Permanent Building Society. Forty-four years ago he was Secretary of the Haywards Heath Cricket Club—a position now occupied by his grandson (Mr. H. W. Clarke). The Cottage Hospital and the Horticultural

Society also claimed his interest and support.

For religious organisations he had a deep attachment. He was one of the first Deacons of the Haywards Heath Congregational Church, and in the Sunday School connected with it he for years acted as Superintendent. He loved children and they loved him, and when in 1908, after 26 years' service, he resigned the superintendency, both scholars and teachers gave tangible proof of their affection for him. For 50 years Mr. Clarke had engaged in Sunday School work, and in recognition of his long service he received from the Sunday School Union a Diploma of Honour.

Failing health next caused him to resign the office of Secretary to the Haywards Meath Congregational Church, which he had held for 40 years.

In December, 1914, Mr. Clarke laid one of the foundation stones of the new Congregational Church South Road, and it was a delight to him to attend the services. His presence at Free Church gatherings, not only in Mid-Sussex but also at Brighton, was always appreciated, and for all who approached him he had a cheery greeting. As speaker was fluent, and never failed to have the right word for the occasion.

Shrewd man of business though he was, Mr. Clarke had a soft heart, and the kindness he showed others, the number of lame dogs he helped over stiles, will never be known, for he was not a man who let his right hand know what his left hand did.

He had a cheerful trust in human nature, a perception of “the soul of goodness in things evil,” a spirit great and wise enough to forgive injuries, gracious blindness to the faults of others and friendly discernment of their cardinal virtues. To quote the poet Whittier—

Tender as woman—manliness and weakness in him were so allied

That they who judged him by his strength or weakness

Saw but a single side.

Men failed, betrayed him, but his zeal seemed nourished

By failure and by fall,

Still a large faith in human kind he cherished,

And in God’s love for all.


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