The Great War: The People’s Story; Rev. Andrew Clark

Ipsden Church, Oxon. South side (9 am Sunday 24 August)

Ipsden Church, Oxon. South side (9 am Sunday 24 August)

Tonight Ipsden Church appears as the setting for just one of  the 3 diaries featured in  ITV’s  ‘On the Home Front. The Great War – The People’s Story” (9pm ITV 1). The short drama is based on the diaries of a country vicar, the Rev. Dr Andrew Clark and I thought it worth saying a bit about this interesting man  – one of life’s great ordinary people. He held degrees from St Andrews and Oxford University and after ordination seemed settled for an academic life as Chaplain of Lincoln College and vicar of 2 Oxford churches – All Saints on the High (deconsecrated in 1976 and since then Lincoln College’s Library) and St Michael at the Northgate in Cornmarket.  Having historical and literary interests, he edited  John Aubrey’s ‘Brief Lives’ and diaries and texts by the antiquarian Antony Woods for the Oxford Historical Society; for the Early English Text Society (E.E.T.S.) he edited the English Register for Osney Abbey.  Both series mentioned are almost solely to be found in academic libraries being available only by subscription. I was fortunate to come across their entire runs during Balliol Library’s recent mammoth upheaval (as the rare books, etc  departed to a new home) and I was able to scan through the contents of the volumes as I added our holdings to the Oxford catalogue. Such books are the nit nurse’s report on history. They are rarely asked for but when they are the reader often departs overjoyed by the treasure trove they have been handed. (For example, the latest volume published by the Oxford Historical Society is ‘The Warden’s Punishment Book of All Souls (sic) College Oxford, 1601 – 1851″. We had a few laughs about this one and what was even funnier was that one colleague even greeted it with unrestrained delight, although that was because she had previously worked at All Souls in the library during the book’s gestation. I know, I know, I digress too far, too much too boring information).

To return to Clark, it seems Clark’s wife didn’t enjoy the academic life, so in the interests of marital harmony in 1894 he became rector of Great Leigh in Essex (in the patronage of Lincoln college where he had been chaplain). He could have vegetated quietly here but having lived with the work of  the eccentrics Wood and Aubrey so closely and for so long he realised how much of interest could be gleaned from documenting everyday life with its invaluable mixture of gossip, hearsay and conventional wisdom.  Nothing was too trivial or ephemeral for him to record. After Germany invaded Belgium (4 August 1914) he dutifully and systematically (exhaustively and no doubt exhaustedly) collected and collated information in the following way. (The box below is taken from here.)


  • Every day, often on several occasions, he noted everything that he heard or saw relating to the War, from air raids to billeting, and from health issues to news of fatalities.
  • He gathered rumours and conversations, comparing ‘official news releases’ displayed at the local Post Office, with information gleaned from people that he spoke to in Great Leighs or in Oxford.
  • He recorded conversations with men on their way to the front line and also with those sent back to recuperate.
  • He pasted in or transcribed many letters from soldiers at the front in Flanders, Salonika and Italy that had been sent to Clark or to local villagers.
  • He commissioned essays from schoolchildren describing their impressions when, for instance, 8,000 troops marched through the village en route to war.
  • He corresponded with his daughter in Scotland, who also gathered news from friends and colleagues across Europe.
  • He collected ephemera, recruiting posters and propaganda and added them to his diaries.


The diary covers 1,793 days (sometimes more than one entry a day) from the German invasion of  Belgium to the signing of the Versailles Treaty. His full diaries extend to 92 exercise books and more than 3 million words. That they are now to be found in the Bodleian Library is down to the foresight of Bodley’s then Librarian who appreciated the value of such work and arranged for the diaries to be taken into the library volume by volume as each was completed.

Church Street North Stoke (used as the village Street in the ITV documentary about Rev. Dr Andrew Clark

Church Street North Stoke
(used as the village Street in the ITV documentary about Rev. Dr Andrew Clark

Clark also collected what he called clippings (press cuttings/pamphlets/printed ephemera) from which his ‘English Words in War Time’ was culled. To my surprise he was the first to document and define the use of the term ‘fog of war’ which he notes was much in use in the press from August – October 1914. ‘Lie-factory’ (a place that manufactures falsehoods), ‘decking out’ (in the sense of exaggerating) and ‘word pictures’ were among other phrases he noted the use of before the OED were alerted to them.

The diaries also document a growing wave of sadness as men leave the village and some make no return.Out of  600 people, 72 went to war; 19 never returned. (This is not dissimilar to Ipsden where out of a population of 652,  16 did not return; I have no figure for the number that went to war.) The diaries document the  trauma of war felt both by the the village collectively and by individuals as the rector’s dry humorous tone deepens into sadness accordingly.


I never cease to be amazed how topics I try to cover in this blog have resonances back to what is happening in my own life. Having worked for the college for 6 years (twice as long as I was at my own college, LMH), I always look for a Balliol connection and wouldn’t you know it, there is one. Andrew Clark matriculated* at Balliol but was offered a scholarship at Lincoln and promptly understandably hied himself there. Secondly, what is my husband at present reading to me while I stab my way through multiple wedding monograms? – why nothing other than   Aubrey’s ‘Brief Lives’ the humour of which I have to admit sometimes passes us by completely. (Our fault probably – we undoubtedly know too little about the characters and the period. The Rev Dr Andrew Clark would no doubt have roared his head of while we just scratch ours.)

Note * Matriculation at Oxford means something quite specific. You apply to and get accepted by a college and then in your first term you matriculate or take part in a ceremony in the Sheldonian Theatre in which membership of the university is conferred upon you.  You cannot be a member of the university without being attached to a college. Academic dress or ‘sub fusc’ is required for this ceremony and for all university examinations.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Anna
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Hello Mary – I missed reading this post when it appeared, and my attention has just been called to it. Have you seen Linda Mugglestone’s English Words in War-Time project? She is working on Clark’s wartime notebooks and just gave a talk about the project to Bruce’s Brunch (formerly Doug’s Lunch) 😀

    • Mary Addison
      Posted January 22, 2015 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      Lovely to hear from you Anna. I did come across Linda Mugglestone when I was researching this and would have loved to have heard her talk. (Glad the Doug’s Lunch tradition has evolved into Bruce’s Brunch).

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


  • August 2014
    M T W T F S S
    « Jul   Sep »
  • Photographs & Media

    Please attribute any re-uploaded images to Addison Embroidery at the Vicarage or Mary Addison and link back to this website. And please do not hot-link images!