The Revd. Dr. Francis Clerke, (1684 - 1734) Eighteenth Century Churchman and Doctor of Law

Rector of North Benfleet, Doctor of Law, Lessee of South Benfleet Hall, Advowson of Bowers Gifford Church

Cover for a Sonata by John Christian Mantel (Mantel came to South Benfleet due to the annuity left by Dr. Francis Clerke)
Bernhard Forster

As Robert Hallmann amply covered in the Georgian chapter of his book, ‘South Benfleet, A History’, Dr. Francis Clerke was a prominent character, who had far reaching  interests in the churches of North and South Benfleet, and among the Georgian gentry of both the City of London and South Benfleet. A clever and witty man, who studied law at Oxford before he was ordained – he was also responsible for the rather charming doggerel verse on the grave of James Matthews.

His Will revealed that he left properties in Warwick Lane, Newgate Market and Hoxton Square, ‘in and about the City of London’. He also leased the farms and lands of South Benfleet Hall, and a ‘farm called Bonville in North Benfleet’.

Looking through ‘The Matson Papers’ in the Archive’s collection, I came across a laboriously typed copy dated 1917, of Extracts relating to South Benfleet Church from ‘Ecclesiae Essexienses’ by H. W. King. This was a historical survey of Essex Churches undertaken by Mr. King in the 1840s. He visited the Parish of South Benfleet in August 1845 and September 1848.

The extract which caught my eye, (as I had been researching James Matthews) related to the inscription on the monument of Dr. Francis Clerke. The monument is in the chancel of St. Mary’s Church. South Benfleet.

‘Here lies the body of the aforesaid Dr. Clerke who departed this life, October 21st 1734, aged 50. At whose charge this chancel was paved with marble and an organ to be erected’.

Note: there is also a Hatchment of the above Arms with funereal motto, ‘Post funera virtus’ (Virtue outlives Death’).

As Robert Hallmann stated in his South Benfleet, A History (page 46), Dr. Clerke’s sister, Sarah Mayer, wife of Joseph Mayer, was charged ‘in Trust’ to have the chancel laid out in marble, and to buy and set up a new organ, within two years of his death, and pay an Organist thirty pounds in perpetuity, to play upon the anniversary of his death. Dr. Clerke stipulates that, ‘… the Organist shall be chosen, named and appointed by the President and Treasurer of the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy … with a preference always to a Clergyman’s Son’. [Editor’s Note: The new Organist who came to South Benfleet around 1737, was Johann Christian Scheidemantel (anglicised to Mantel), the German Baroque organist, harpsichordist, violinist and composer]. Robert Hallmann says (ibid., page 47) that Mantel ‘raised the name of South Benfleet, for a time at least, among lovers of baroque music’.

Robert mentions that two years later, when the work had not been carried out, a Mr. Poole sent a letter to ‘The Minister and Church Wardens of South Benfleet in Essex’, urging that the carrying out of this work be chased up.

In ‘The Matson Papers’, a full copy of the letter has come to light, which I reproduce below, keeping the idiosyncratic spellings and capital letters of the eighteenth century:

London, October 28th, 1736

Sirs,

I was lately informed that my Friend Dr. Clerke who dyed about three years ago, hath left by Will a Considerable Sum of money to pave your Chancell with marble and to Erect an Organ. I was likewise told that Mr. Mayers of Corbetstile his Executor Hath done Nothing in the affair but is looking out for an old chamber organ of 20 or 30 pound price which he thinks good enough for your Church att South Benfleet. I am surprised you do not oblige him to fullfill ye Will of the Donor when it is so Easily done, for if you do but give direction to an Attorney of Reputation to prefer a short Bill in Chancery of only a few lines, The Lord Chancellor would not only oblige him to Expend the money left by Will but would also fix the sum he shall be obliged to lay out to purchase the Organ. Dr. Clerke leaveing a sallery of 30 pounds p.annum without doubt he designed a good instrument should be Erected and in my opinion Mr. Mayers will be obliged to pay all expences etc.

If you are unacquainted with a Proper Attorney I would recommend Mr. Gibbons who has the Character of a very honest man and lives in Lincolns Inn New Square No. 6, and he will without doubt manage the affair to your satisfaction and this Term I believe will be the properest time to proceed.

I wish you success in it and am Gentlemen your well wisher.

Your most Humble Servant

N. Poole

 

It would seem that this letter, and any subsequent action taken, had limited effect. Robert Hallmann on page 49 of South Benfleet, A History comments, ‘It would seem that Clerke’s sister and her husband minimised the obligations of their inheritance. The Clerke memorial inscription on the chancel wall is of lesser quality than that of his wife’s, the organ they were looking for is second-hand and it transpires that some of the marble in the chancel floor was slate’.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Extracts relating to South Bemfleet Church, (pages 76, 274 and 547) from ‘Ecclesiae Essexienses’ by H. W. King, pub. 1840s.  Extracts typed by Mary R. Ralling, Colchester, November 1917.

South Benfleet, A History, by Robert Hallmann, published Phillimore & Co., Sussex. 2005.

 

 

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