I’ve been looking through some family papers recently. My father has collated a lot of information about our family history, one branch at least, tracing the family name through several generations. It has been an interesting exercise sifting through the documents, certificates, notes, photographs and newspaper cuttings that he has meticulously filed and recorded. One particular piece grabbed my attention as I read. It was the account of the death of my great great grandfather, miller and corn dealer who lived in a small market town in Lincolnshire.
James Clark was born in Fiskerton on 26 January 1829 and died at the age of 72 on 19 December 1901. The following is a report of his death which appeared in the Market Rasen Mail:
“Death of an old standard – It is with deep regret we record the death of one of Rasen’s old and respected standards in the person of Mr James Clark, miller and corn dealer, of Caistor Road, who passed away about ten o’clock on Thursday night after a brief illness. Mr Clark was within a month of being 73 years of age, and up to the 12th instant he was as hale and hearty as one could wish, and looked considerably younger than he really was. It will be remembered that the weather on that day was of a most fearful description, and that it continued until the Friday. It appears that during Thursday night and Friday morning the deceased was almost continually at his mill to see that the large volume of water which filled the beck should have as free a passage as possible through his sluices. It is supposed that he then contracted a chill, taking to his bed on the Monday morning, his demise occurring, as stated above, four days later. His was a well known figure at the Tuesday’s market, having attended it for upwards of fifty years. He was one of the most kind hearted and genial of men, and was very much respected by his fellow townsmen. At one time the deceased and Mr Hill practically regulated the prices of flour in the district, and, be it said to their credit, they never abused the privilege. Mr Clark came to Rasen in the December of 1849, when he acted as manager of the Church Mill for the late Mr Fryer. He continued in this capacity until 1864, when he took over the business, since which time the work has been carried on at the Church Mill by him without intermission. Mr Clark was a habitué of the Tradesmen’s Association’s annual dinner, and at their gathering on Thursday he was greatly missed. The deceased leaves a widow and grown up family of one son and six daughters to mourn their loss. His funeral will take place on Sunday at two o’clock.”
He was obviously dedicated to his family and his work and responsibilities. Such dedication it would seem was the cause of his demise. It is indeed commendable to note that he was working full time in running the mill and attending market at the age of 72 and had worked at the mill ‘without intermission’ from his arrival in Rasen at the age of 20 until his death some 52 years later.
The funeral report is quoted as it appeared in the Market Rasen Mail – note how the style of local reporters has changed over the years! The publication of the local weekly newspaper was obviously an event to look forward to in those days:
“The funeral took place on Sunday of Mr James Clark, miller and corn dealer, whose somewhat sudden demise was reported in our columns last week. The cortege, consisting of a hearse, two mourning coaches and a large number following on foot, left the residence of the deceased on the Caistor Road at two o’clock and proceeded to the Wesleyan Chapel, where a short service was conducted by the superintendent minister, the Rev J Harrop Taylor. As the mournful procession entered into the sacred edifice, Mr Wilson played on the organ a funereal voluntary. The hymns, ‘Give me the wings of faith to rise’ and ‘Jerusalem The Golden’ were sung. At the conclusion of the service, the organist played the ‘Dead March’ in Saul. At the cemetery the last rites were performed by the Rev J Harrop Taylor. There was a large attendance both at the chapel and the cemetery…The funeral arrangements were in the hands of Messrs Dixon and Hill, and Mr M Pickering acted as undertaker. The coffin was of oak with heavy brass mountings.”
We are able to gain a little more insight into the character of the man who was James Clark from an article which appeared in the Market Rasen Mail on 23 February 1929 – I have at this time, no idea what the occasion was for the article, but read it with interested.
“James Clark – Mr James Clark the proprietor of the water mill on the Caistor Road was one of the most kindly men it has been my pleasure to meet. He was a short man with a goodly well cared for corporation and would have passed easily for an Alderman of one of our ancient cities. I do not mean that he was red of face and bloated in appearance, (No Alderman is). On the contrary, he possessed a benevolent face, fair and finely chiselled features, kindly eyes and his mouth seemed as though it was put there in order that at any moment it could pronounce a benediction on those who were ready to receive it. His speech was rather of the monotone order, pitched in a minor key, but remarkably sympathetic in expression. He never seemed to be flurried, but spoke slowly, and always had himself under control when he conversed with others. He has pity for needy ones and a poor but honest man who wanted a stone of flour for his family or some barley meal for his pig ‘on tick’ until say next week, could invariably find a responsive chord in the heart of the generous miller. Mr Clark presided over Fryer’s Mill with a quiet unruffled dignity, but the charm of the man lay in his good nature and the gracious manner which he dispensed to all who came to him for counsel or sought his help.”
A detailed description of a man’s character and personality which, although brief, paints a picture of a man and his life. It is worth noting here, that this is a man who is four generations removed from myself, yet through these printed words I can imagine the type of person he was, and how he lived. There are no other documents which give more information other than official certificates of birth, marriage and death and a couple of portrait photographs. I visit Market Rasen several times a year, organising events at the Festival Hall, on Caistor Road, near to where the mill used to be. The building still stands, no longer a mill, it has been turned into apartments. I can imagine it though, as it was, standing proud, larger than its surrounding buildings. Many of the old cottages remain that would have housed mill workers, hotels and public houses have been updated over the years, but echoes of the past can be seen all around. As I walk around the small town, along the high street, across the cobbled market place, I can’t help but think about James Clark, his family and his dedication and duty – to the end.