John Clare Page: Chronology of Clare's Life


Online biographies:


(The dates of some events before 1820 remain speculative.)

1793 Born 13 July, Helpston, Northants. Twin sister Bessy dies in infancy.

1798- Attends a local 'Dame School' run by Mrs Bullimore.

1800- Attends a school at Glinton Church, taught by Mr Seaton.

1803 Meets Mary Joyce. James Merrishaw succeeds Seaton as Clare's teacher.

1804 (aged about 11) Receives from his uncle (a drover) a copy of Pomfret's Poems, which his father reads to him, stimulating his love of poetry.

1805 Employed as a ploughboy by Mrs Bellairs of Woodcroft Castle. Several employments rejected (the apprenticeships offered are all too expensive). Travels to Wisbech for an interview with Counsellor Bellamy, but fails to impress him.

1806 Begins working as a potboy for Francis Gregory, the landlord of the Blue Bell Inn, Helpston, next door to his home. Reads, then buys Thomson's Seasons, which makes his heart 'twitter with joy'. This inspires him to write down a poem for the first time ('The Morning Walk'). Continues to write, and develop his education.

1807 Works as a gardener at Burghley House.

1808 Attempts to enlist in the Nottinghamshire Militia at Newark.

1809 Act for the enclosure of Helpston passed. First dated poem, 'Helpstone'.

1812 Joins Northamptonshire Militia at Oundle.

1816-17 Working again as a gardener at Burghley House.

1817 Lime-burning at Great Casterton and Pickworth in Rutland; meets Martha ('Patty') Turner, his future wife.

1818 Meets Edward Drury, Stamford bookseller, and Octavius Gilchrist, local editor.

1819 Meets Drury's cousin John Taylor (Keats's publisher), at Stamford. Earl Spencer grants him a 10 annuity.

1820 Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery published by Taylor and Hessey. 1,000 copies of first edition; four editions that year. Meets Lord Fitzwilliam of Milton Hall. Meets Artis & Henderson. The Marquis of Exeter (owner of Burghley House) grants him 15 guineas a year for life. Visits London; acquires Lord Radstock, Mrs Emmerson as patrons. Meets Bishop of Peterborough. William Hilton paints portrait. Visits Holywell Hall. Marries Martha Turner; first child, Anna Maria, born.

1821 The Village Minstrel published by Taylor and Hessey. Second child dies in infancy. Taylor visits Clare at Helpston.

1822 Second visit to London: meets Lamb, Hazlitt, Thomas Hood.

1823 Third child, Eliza Louise born. Death of Octavius Gilchrist.

1824 Fourth child, Frederick, born. Third visit to London: meets Coleridge, Thomas de Quincey. Begins his Journal and Autobiography.

1825 Death of Lord Radstock.

1826 Birth of fifth child, John.

1827 The Shepherd's Calendar with Village Stories and Other Poems published. Sixth child dies in infancy.

1828 Fourth visit to London: bronze bust of him cast by Henry Behnes Burlowe. Birth of seventh child, William Parker. Visits Boston, Lincs.

1830 Birth of eighth child, Sophia.

1832 The Midsummer Cushion completed, but remains unpublished (until 1979). Moves with his family to Northborough, a few miles from Helpston.

1833 Birth of ninth child, Charles.

1835 The Rural Muse, Clare's last book, published. Death of his mother.

1837 Admitted to High Beach Asylum, Epping Forest, suffering from delusions. Under Matthew Allen's fairly enlightened regime regains some of his physical health.

1838 (July) Mary Joyce dies, unmarried, at 41, while Clare is at High Beech. On his return, he steadfastly refuses to believe she is dead.

1841 (July) leaves High Beech and walks 80 miles home to Northborough, surviving by "eating the grass by the roadside" (described in the 'Journey Out of Essex').
(December) is committed to Northampton General Lunatic Asylum and remains there for his last 23 years.

1843 Death of his eldest son, Frederick.

1844 Death of his eldest daughter, Anna Maria.

1845 W.F. Knight becomes Asylum Steward, Dr Nesbitt Superintendant. Knight transcribes many of Clare's poems in the ensuing period.

1846 Death of his father, Parker, aged 82.

1852 Death of his youngest son, Charles.

1858 Dr Edwin Wing becomes Superintendent of Northampton Asylum.

1864 (20 May) dies at Northampton; is brought home and buried at Helpston.

1871 Death of Clare's wife Martha, at Spalding (buried at Northborough).
1893 Exhibition marking the centenary of Clare's birth, in Peterborough.
1921 Plaque marking Clare's cottage unveiled by Edmund Blunden.
1964 Exhibition marking the centenary of Clare's death, in Peterborough.
1981 The John Clare Society founded at Helpston by Brian Blade, George Dixon and Edward Storey.
1989 Clare honoured with a plaque in 'Poet's Corner', Westminster Abbey.
1993 Bicentenary of Clare's birth: numerous celebratory events.


Compiled by John Goodridge
Nottingham Trent University