Bennett Clark

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Bennett Clark undertook both portraiture, commercial work, the production of postcards - and anything else that came along.

This is a half plate print, giving three gentlemen the full, traditional and pompous treatment. One would love to know who they are - and are they father and two sons? Bennett Clark could adapt his style to whatever was fashionable or whatever the client wanted.

This photo, neatly presented in a dark buff folder, would be typical of his studio work.

Anyone who wanted to, from high to low, could come to his studio.

But, of course, when it came to the very highest, the photographer went to the client.  In July 1900, when King George V and Queen Mary (then the Duke and Duchess of York) visited the Mander family at Wightwick Manor, there was only one photographer suitable to record the occasion.  Bennett Clark took the photos. Theodore Mander was the Mayor at the time.  The royal couple visited the Orphanage and the Duke unveiled the foundation stone of the Library. They planted trees at Wightwick (a purple-twigged lime by the Duke and a copper beech by the Duchess - now looking magnificent at the end of the south terrace garden) and then had a formal photo taken in front of the house. Fifty years later, in 1950, Sir Geoffrey sent Queen Mary cuttings from the trees along with  copies of the official photos from 1900 and a list of the people shown on the photos. Presumably the copies were taken by Bennett-Clark.

The reply from Queen Mary's Private Secretary (of which there is a copy on show at Wightwick) states how Queen Mary remembered the day well and could recollect all of the people on the photo without the aid of Sir Geoffrey's list!  

Sir Geoffrey, duly sent this letter to Bennett Clark.  "The enclosed" is probably a cheque for Clark's charges for providing copies.

(Thanks to David Bennett for information on this event).

Not surprisingly this letter was also carefully preserved and came in the cache of photos from Hart.

Such a commission was, of course, unusual.  Some examples of Clark's earlier and more usual bread and butter work are shown below.

This is a turn of the century cabinet size studio photo.  The column and curtains at the back are a painted backcloth. The potted plants and the sofa are Clark's studio props.

The studio and the pose are pretty standard but the technical quality of the photo is very high. In the original the details of the white lace collar are clear - many photographers would only have got a white blur.

A typical late Victorian carte de visite.  There is nothing remarkable about the standard, formal pose. Indeed anything other than the usual pose would have been objected to by most clients. But the technical standard is very high.

The same remarks apply to this 8 inch by 6 inch portrait photo. It might be thought that in both cases Clark had captured something of the character of his sitters, despite the formality of the poses.
In later times the Bennett Clark studio was still there to meet changing needs. This photo has nothing on it to identify the subjects, but surely they are the Home Guard.

Clark was also called on to record "St. Peter's Bazaar 1905" which, together with "Bennett Clark photo", are the words written across the bottom of this postcard.
A troupe of pierrots called Clark out for this publicity postcard. Bennett Clark's impressed stamp can be made out in the bottom right hand corner.

In fact nothing was too outlandish for Clark. If you wanted a photograph, he would provide it. Here are "Mrs Jarley's Waxworks St Marks Bazaar Nov 09", enshrined in a postcard.

Thanks to Dr. Roger Sabin I now (about a year after first writing this page) find that the original Mrs. Jarley's waxworks appeared in Dickens' "Old Curiosity Shop". The name was taken when theatrical groups, mainly amateur, dressed up and performed as waxworks, with one of them appearing as Mrs. Jarley, and others appearing as her assistants. The "waxworks" appeared on stage in groups.  Each one was described, in a humorous way, by Mrs. Jarley and was then "wound up" and "oiled" by the assistants, when they performed a few jerky, mechanical movements. A script for such a show was available from Samuel French, but there seems to have been nothing to prevent amateur troupes, or anyone else, from selecting their own characters and writing their own accompanying script. Such waxwork shows appear to have been popular in late Victorian and Edwardian times.  I can provide a bigger version of this photo to anyone wanting to try to identify which characters were thought worth while representing to Wolverhampton people in 1909.

Later in date and a world away, this is a Bennett Clark photo for Turner Brothers of Bilston. The white out behind the containers was added in the studio to give more prominence to the equipment.

Clark also did weddings, but this very high quality photo seems, from the painted backdrop, to have been taken in his studio.

At some point Bennett Clark handed over the studio to his long time assistant, Hart.  Hart at some point married his long time assistant.   Hart carried on the studio until about the mid 1960s when it closed.  All the clients who could be contacted were asked to come and collect any of their negatives which they wanted.  At least some commercial clients, like the transport executive, responded.  But, of course, many did not and vast amounts of material were heaved out.  (I am indebted to John Hughes for this information).

It seems that throughout his career Bennett Clark produced postcards and it was probably for this use that he took most his photographs of Wolverhampton.  Some of these topographic photos are shown on the next pages.

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