Library cuts threaten John Clare archive

Portrait of John Clare from 1821

Portrait of John Clare from 1821

With the many cuts being made to library services across Northamptonshire, the special collections at Northampton Central Library could be under threat. Of particular concern is the conservation of and access to the internationally important collection of manuscripts and books by John Clare.

John Clare was one of the most famous poets of the 19th century, and his work regularly features in poetry anthologies taught in schools. Because of his modest origins, he was known as the ‘Northamptonshire Peasant Poet’.

Clare was born in Helpston and his family’s cottage was purchased by the John Clare Trust in 2005 and is now open to the public. Clare actually lived in Oundle when he was stationed here with the Northamptonshire militia in 1812. The battalion comprised 1,300 “lawless fellows” prone to public disorder. With a shortage of accommodation in town for such numbers, Clare complained that the rents were correspondingly high.

He later wrote: “I was obliged to be content with the quarters allotted to me, which were at The Rose and Crown Inn, kept by a widow woman and her two daughters, which happened to be a good place.”

A large group of writers and academics, including Simon Armitage, Hilary Mantel, Philip Pullman and Jonathan Bate, wrote to Northamptonshire County Council urging it to prevent “a permanently detrimental effect upon the care and curation of the Clare collection”. They fear that the cuts that the council are proposing will result in “the loss of staff and expertise” who play a fundamental role in keeping the archive open to researchers.

It is of the greatest importance that this archive which is “arguably the world’s greatest archive of the poet’s manuscripts”, and certainly Northamptonshire’s most important literary asset, is protected regardless of the budget cuts being made across the county.

Hannah Wakeford
May 2018