Clarke, Bertha


Collection date:

Area: London

Bertha Clarke (1881-1961): deserves a place in this website for two reasons - first she acted as a chaperone when Sharp and Marson visited female singers, collecting songs in and around Hambridge from 1904; secondly she was a piano student at the Hampstead Conservatoire* and actually lived with the Sharp family in Hampstead for a year or so, commenting on that experience to Maud Karpeles in interview prior to the Sharp biography in 1933 (clink vwml link above).

Bertha Marguerite Clarke was born in Bangkok 'Siam' in 1881 and was baptised on 6/6/1882 at Christ Church, Folkestone, 2nd of 3 daughters of Frederic Sydenham Clarke, timber merchant and his wife Annie, who was born in Nepal. The family had a house in Surrey in 1901 but had moved to Taunton (1911 census). It's possible that the Clarkes attended Sharp's lecture in Taunton in December 1903. Alternatively they may have met Rev Charles Marson, vicar of Hambridge, in some other capacity but it seems that Bertha was involved as a volunteer parish worker with Marson around this time. There are 9 letters from Marson to Bertha in the Marson archive at the Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton. They are letters of warmth and humour to someone he knew well. Marson knew her wider family too, officiating at the marriage of Bertha's younger sister Edith Lilian Clarke in London in April 1910.

In a letter to Fox Strangways in 1931 Louie Hooper describes how Bertha Clark (sic) often accompanied Sharp on his visits to her house to collect songs (file CJS/1/13/1/10/7). Bertha stayed with the Sharp family until they left the Conservatoire in July 1905. The family atmosphere seemed pretty stressful due to Sharp's ill health. It was also the time when he felt underpaid and undervalued at the Conservatoire. But Bertha described Mrs Sharp as: 'a wonderful wife. She lived Christianity. There was little money and she devoted herself to making ends meet and keeping worries from him'. 

Bertha found work in the East End as an assistant at the Medical Mission of the Good Shepherd in Hoxton, Shoreditch. It was a home for little sick babies and was run by a matron with 3 nurses and 2 midwives (1911 census RG14/1334). The home was wound up in 1935.

Bertha Clarke never married and died on 12 May 1961.

*Bertha Clarke was a soloist in a Conservatoire concert Hampstead & Highgate Express 2 April 1904  

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