Lincolnshire Life – the early years

“Lincolnshire Life – the early years”

memories of a Lincolnshire lad


John Bartram Clark – retold by Lizzy Clark


I was born at ‘The Bungalow’, Mill Lane, Donington, Near Spalding in South Lincolnshire on 17 September 1933, the first child of James Bartram Clark and Gwendoline Martha Clark (nee Sandy).  I had a younger sister and two brothers, all were born at the same bungalow, home births being the norm in those days.  In attendance was the local district nurse/midwife and in all of our cases my maternal Grandmother, Grandma Sandy was also in attendance.

My father was a grocer, working in my Grandfather’s shop ‘Ince Clark’ at the Market Place. The Bungalow was the last on the left hand side going down the lane from the direction of the main road through the village.  It was here that I spent the first seven years of my life.  A spacious home with front, side and back gardens – a haven for a small boy.  At the bottom of the back garden was the chicken hut and pen, and the vegetable patch, then came the trellis fence to separate the rear lawn and flower garden.

To the side of the garden was the detached garage which my father kept the shop’s Morris Van.  It was in this vehicle we would travel to the coast at Chapel St Leonards and holidays in Skegness where we stayed in a boarding house on the Wainfleet Road run by a Mr and Mrs Speakman.  Unfortunately the van trips came to an abrupt end when my grandfather (Ince Clark) crashed the van on a trip to visit his sister at Swayfield.  Had had an accident at Swayfield crossroads and the van was a write off – the actual details of the accident were never made clear!  Following this incident I recall that Grandfather Clark was confined to a bed in the front room of the house in Market Place, I remember visiting on my way home from Sunday School.  It was no chore to visit my Grandparents, as my Grandmother used to make ice cream!  Home made ice cream, from milk supplied daily by Mr Hall, the village milk man, fresh from the farm, and my Grandmother would churn away in the back yard to ensure the shop always had a supply of fresh ice cream.  ‘Clarks’ Fresh Dairy Ice Cream was a speciality of the shop.  Like the holidays in the van, this treat too came to an end – the outbreak of the Second World War and rationing put a stop to my ice cream treats.

The Bungalow was new when my parents took up residence after their marriage.  Although considered ‘modern’ at the time, there was no electricity and no direct mains water supply to the house.  Fresh water had to be pumped  from a well reservoir into a roof space storage tank.  From here it fed the hot water system and the cold water tapes in the kitchen and bathroom.  There was a water closet (WC) which was something of a luxury in the early 1930’s village life.

I enjoyed by early years here as I had plenty of garden space in which to play.  Friends would come to play and I would go to other houses on the lane to join in games.  There were a few village boys of my age and so we were never without playmates.  In the holidays my cousin Doreen would come to stay from Lincoln.  Doreen was much older than I and it was she who taught me to ride my small ‘Hopper’ school bicycle.  After many hours practice, she was eventually able to leave go of the seat and I was away on my own.  It was an idyllic way of life down the lane pre war.

We had some harsh winters in the thirties, and on one occasion the Brick Pits were frozen over.  The ice was so thick that people came from all around to skate on the ice.  It was only a short distance from the bungalow and myself and my friends would go to play on the ice too.  The area was lit with braziers from the local farm.  Even my father came along, he had a pair of ancient skates and joined us on the ice.  PC Thomas and his wife occupied the Police House on Mill Lane, Mrs Thomas was a skater of high standard and showed off her racing skills on the pits.  In the summer the Brick Pits were the a popular haunt for boys and boats.  Henry Shaw, a neighbours son made model boats as a hobby and I watched him sail his large model yacht.  Being much older than me, Henry was conscripted into the Royal Air Force following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 – he wore his full uniform with pride on his first home leave, little did I know that would be the last time we saw him as he was killed in action soon after at the age of 18.

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The war changed our way of life.  Food rationing was introduced and was to last until after the duration of the war.  My father went to Grantham for his military medical but was given the lowest grade due to the fact that he had had a big toe amputated when he was a schoolboy.  His failure of the medical meant my father stayed at home in the village and worked in the family shop.  My friends and I started to play ‘war games’ and we formed our own ‘Dads Army’ with our motley collection of bits of uniform and armaments.  My Hitler would have run for his life if he had seen this band of ‘brigands’!

Some school holidays I would go and stay with my maternal Grandparents.  They lived in a very isolated cottage in the middle of a field at West Rasen, North Lincolnshire.  The cottage was about a mile down a green lane off the main Market Rasen/Gainsborough Road.  There were no public utilities to the cottage.  Oil lamps suspended from the ceiling provided the only lighting, heating was by a coal fire and the only toilet was at the bottom of the garden of the ‘long drop’ variety.  Fresh water was obtained from a pump outside the cottage door.  However, despite these deprivations I spent many a happy holiday there.  Granda Sandy was a tailor and I would sit and watch him at his work.  It was fascinating to see a suit evolve from a roll of material.  His customers were mainly farmers from nearby villages and would make the journey over the fields to the cottage for fittings.  The coal man would deliver the coal in sacks in bulk, all other provisions had to be fetched from Market Rasen which was the nearest market town.  Market days were Tuesdays and Saturdays so it was a regular outing on the weekly market ‘bus on both of these days to shop for milk and groceries.  As I grew older I would take my cycle and ride around the area, I found the countryside much more interesting than the flat landscapes of the fens of south Lincolnshire.IMG_2929

Aside from the war, another big change affected my family.  My Grandmother Clark became ill and died on 13 November 1940.  This meant my Grandfather would be alone in the big house that joined on to the shop.  As a family we moved out of the Bungalow at the beginning of 1941 and moved in with him at the Market Place.  This would be my home until I left the village in 1957.  A new chapter in my life began.

John B Clark

retold by Lizzy Clark





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.

Lizzy Clark