The Clark Family and their Business

by Valerie Wood

The name Clark has long graced the Chapel Ash area. They were first based in the corner plot where a kitchen and bedroom showroom now stands.

An advert from the 1861 edition of Harrison, Harrod & Company's Directory & Gazetteer of Staffordshire.

In J. G. Harrod & Company's postal and commercial directory of 1870 the business is listed as: William Clark, carriage builder and harness manufacturer, Chapel Ash.

A view from Merridale Road looking towards Chapel Ash in about 1900, clearly showing the early premises. From an old postcard.

An image from the early 20th century showing a weathervane above the ball on the roof. From an old postcard.

The family coachbuilding business started out in Walsall.  An obituary for Charles Clark in The Chronicle dated 11th January, 1911 states that this was in 1843 by Charles. Charles was only 6 years old at this time and the business was actually founded by his father William.

William Clark was born in Stourbridge in 1817. I don’t have a marriage certificate for him but he was just 20 years old when his first son, Charles was born in Stourbridge. The family definitely moved to Walsall sometime between 1837 when the first child Charles was born in Stourbridge and the birth of the second son John in Walsall in 1847. The date 1843 cited in The Chronicle could therefore be accurate for the founding of the business. It still made William very young to be establishing his own business (26 years old) and I would like to research further back into the family history as my guess is that William’s father was also a coachbuilder.

The obituary states that the business moved to Wolverhampton sometime around 1846. I believe it was sometime later though, as in 1850 his daughter Ann was born in Walsall. I have consistently noted during my research into my family history that men generally moved their family near their place of work. I therefore conclude that the move took place sometime between the birth of Ann in Walsall in 1850 and the birth of his son Edward (my great grandfather) in 1853 at Tettenhall. That’s quite a small window really.

Our next documentation is from 1861 when we find Williams’s eldest son Charles, living on Compton Road with his wife Mary and two children (aged 1 year and 3 weeks) where he is described as a coachbuilder. He was likely working for his father from a young age.

In 1871, William died aged 54. I think that he was still head of the company when he died as the 1871 census states that Susan Clark was the widow of a coachbuilder who employed 24 men. 

At this time Charles was 35 years old,  John was 24(who was a coachbuilder living with his Mum at Chapel Ash along with his wife and child) and Edward was 18 years old and also listed as a coachbuilder living with Mum.

Would the sons be listed as employees? At this time then we had three coachbuilding brothers, Charles, John and my Great Grandfather Edward. 

A census of 1881 finds Charles living at 34 Chapel Ash with 5 of his 7 children. Charles is described as Coachbuilder Master employing 19 men and 1 boy. Is he head of the company over John and Edward? Very possibly as the eldest boy.

From the 1881 Census:

Charles Clark, age 44, born in Stourbridge, a coach builder master employing 19 men and 1 boy.
Mary D. Clark, wife, age 45, born in Romsey, Hampshire.
Edgar D. Clark, son, age 15, scholar, born in Wolverhampton.
Minnie Clark, daughter, age 13, scholar, born in Wolverhampton.
Mary L. Clark, daughter, age 11, scholar, born in Wolverhampton.
Julia M. Clark, daughter, age 9, scholar, born in Wolverhampton.
Edwin Clark, son, age 7, scholar, born in Wolverhampton.
Lydia Dolton, domestic servant, age 29, born in Terweston, Buchingham.


A photo from before 1920 with the florist John E. Knight occupying the downstairs showroom. He also had a shop in the Central Arcade. A balustrade had been fitted on the roof line. The A.J.S. motorcycles outside Cyril Williams' motorcycle shop are from just after the First World War. From an old postcard.

The photograph above was taken when the business was already in its 70th year and the founder, William long gone.  The downstairs showrooms were occupied by a florist called Knight and the name on the building is simply ‘Clark’s Carriage and Motor works’. At the rear of the premises are workshops. As a signpost on the building says ‘Garage’ and points around the building, it seems that the rear workshops belonged to the Clarks.

According to the catalogue, Clarks exhibited in the Industrial Hall, at West Park in the 1902 Art and Industrial Exhibition. At the time of the exhibition, Charles was 65 years old, John 55 years old and Edward 49 (with his daughter, my Grandmother, Millie, on the way). Therefore in 1902, the emphasis was still on carriages. 

The interior of the Industrial Hall showing Clark's display, consisting of  a selection of carriages including Broughams and Victorias,  and a four-wheeled dog cart. From Hildreth & Chambers souvenir of the exhibition.

A supplement in the Express and Star said that in 1907, Charles' son Edgar was head of the business. Charles Clark's obituary in the Wolverhampton Chronicle on 11th January, 1911, states that he died at home (35 Chapel Ash) on Sunday 8th January, 1911.

We see from the photographs that selling cars and building coaches was at least for some time carried out at the same premises. However, my father (Edward Clark’s grandson) recalls being told that the brothers decided to go in two different directions. Charles wanted to focus on cars and Edward wanted to continue building coaches. There is no reason to believe that this was anything but amicable. It seems that Charles wanted to move into selling cars and Edward wished to continue building coaches.

When did Edward leave the company and where did Edward build his coaches ?

At some point between his second marriage to Sarah Ann in 1896 and the birth of his daughter Millicent in 1902, Edward moved from 27, Chapel Ash to 163 Lord Street. I walked Lord Street to find an approximate location of their home. The only original buildings in the street were at the town end. I came across a garage and went in to make enquiries. Apparently, the building I had walked into was originally built as coachworks. I wondered if this was my Great Grandfather’s ‘lost’ workshop.

From the 1881 Census:

Edward Clark, age 27, born in Stafford, coachbuilder.
Radianetta Clark, wife, age 26, born in Sunderland, Durham.
Beatrice Clark, daughter, age 4, born in Tettenhall.

A little bit about Edward Clark my Great Grandfather

Edward was born on 31st January, 1853 when the family were living on Tettenhall Road. His father died in 1871 and the census for that year places Edward with his mother at Chapel Ash, Wolverhampton. 

On the 2nd March, 1875 he married Radianetta, daughter of Thomas Parkin. Edward was a coach builder, like his father. When he married he was 22 years old and Radianetta was 21. The certificate said that they married at Tettenhall Parish Church. I believe this to be St. Michael’s. When they married, both Edward and Radianetta were living in Tettenhall, although no address was given on the marriage certificate. It’s hard to make out but the signature of one of the witnesses of their marriage seems to say Anne Elizabeth Clark (could this be Ann, Edward’s big sister?)

Edward and Radianetta had a little girl called Beatrice in 1876 and in the census for 1881 we find the family living in Old Hill, Tettenhall, but unfortunately no number.  From this document we learn that Radianetta was born in Sunderland, Durham. We have no record of when she moved to Wolverhampton.

There we lose track of Radianetta and I am forced to the sad conclusion that this young husband was bereaved because on 2nd November, 1896 he married Sarah Ann Wallace. His marriage certificate says he was 40 years old but according to his birth certificate, he was 43. Sarah Ann was 34 years old and had a 13 year old son, Robert. Beatrice would have been 20 years old.

Edward Clark's daughter Millicent was born on 29th October, 1902 at the family's home, 163 Lord Street, Wolverhampton.

Edward died in 1920 when he was 67 years old, his daughter Millie (my Grandmother) being 18 years old. Dad’s (Arthur Edward Porter, Grandson of Edward) notes say that he died of Tuberculosis but I don’t know how he knows this. Also that both Edward and Charles are both buried at Jeffcock Road Cemetery, yet to be confirmed. 

A view from the 1920s, taken from an old postcard.

The photo shows the premises when the business had become Charles Clark and Son Limited and the showroom occupied by the florist is now a car showroom. Note the balustrade fitted on the roof line and the new clock.

During the 1960s the business moved into a large plot in Bilston Road. It was acquired by Toyota and became ‘Charles Clark Toyota’ up until recently (2019) when the name Charles Clark had been replaced.

A view from the 1920s before the traffic lights were installed at the junction. From an old postcard.

When the new Wolverhampton Archives opened in Wolverhampton some years ago, I visited and did find information about the Clarks. I was only vaguely interested at the time but seemed to recall that Clarks exhibited at the West Park in 1902. I have only vague recollections of the information I looked at, but seem to recall a photograph of the carriages.  At the time of the exhibition, Charles was 65 years old, John 55 years old and Edward  49 (with his daughter, my Grandmother Millie on the way). I was delighted then to find the photograph on the internet with an inscription confirming that it was Clark’s stand. Therefore in 1902, the emphasis was still on carriages. The information against the photograph says that the exhibition catalogue says that they have a ‘selection of carriages consisting of Broughams, Victorias, four wheeled dog carts and Ralle cars? model horse?, harness.

The 1902 Art and Industrial Exhibition, West Park, Wolverhampton

Trade exhibitions seem to have begun in France as a bid to encourage the French to manufacture their own goods due to a blockade by Britain. 

Backed by Prince Albert, a Great Exhibition was held in London in the newly built premises, nick-named and thenceforth known as the Crystal Palace. This was a huge success and manufacturing towns across Britain began holding their own exhibitions. There were at least two held in Wolverhampton before the 1902 exhibition, Wolverhampton at the time being a major player in manufacturing.

The interior of the Industrial Hall. From H. J. Whitlock & Sons photographic souvenir of the exhibition. The stand next to Wulfruna Cycles was occupied by Clarks.

The 1902 exhibition was held in the West Park and covered the whole area. Some of the buildings were built in a different style but mainly were art nouveau, the latest style, which I think is just wonderful. There was a water chute, a machinery hall, Canada Hall, the Industrial Hall (where we find Clarks) a bandstand, the Connaught restaurant, a spiral toboggan, the kiosk bandstand and a Concert hall – even swan boats on the lake. 

In the town centre, the trams were completed quickly to be ready to ferry passengers from the railway station to the park and toilets were built in Queen Square to accommodate hordes of visitors. I remember using those toilets right up to (I think) the early 1970s. They were covered over and the ‘man on the orse’ (Prince Albert’s statue) is pretty much on top of them.

Unfortunately, it was a bad summer due to three volcanoes in various parts of the world blowing smoke over the sun and the turnout was not as expected. It lost a lot of money between May and October 1902. (Millie was born end of October that year). The whole was dismantled and sold off.

The Kiosk Bandstand with the Industrial Hall on the left. From H. J. Whitlock & Sons photographic souvenir of the exhibition.

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