The John Clare collection contains Clare manuscripts covering all periods of his life. They show Clare not only as a great poet, but also a man who was a fine naturalist and a lover of music. The manuscripts include thousands of poems and letters, notably nearly all of those of the Northampton Asylum period. The collection also includes Clare’s own library of about 400 volumes. There are also many contemporary newspaper and periodical cuttings; microfilms of manuscripts held by other institutions, especially those held by Peterborough Museum; portraits of Clare and contemporary illustrations of buildings and scenes known to him; books, articles and theses about Clare. The manuscript collection is available on microfilm. Originals can only be viewed on application to the Northamptonshire Central Library Manager.

John Clare was born in Helptson, Northamptonshire, in 1793, the son of Parker and Ann Clare. He is regarded as one of the great Romantic poets. He worked as a ploughboy and aged 13 bought a copy of James Thompson’s The Seasons, which inspired him to write poetry. In 1820 his first book Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery was published. This was a great success and led to a first visit to London where he was feted by fashionable society. The same year he married Patty Turner, although he retained affection for his childhood sweetheart Mary Joyce who effectively became his muse. Further collections published were The Village Minstrel (1821), The Shepherd’s Calendar (1827) and The Rural Muse (1835). However, Clare’s mental health gradually declined and in June 1837 he was placed in an Asylum in Epping Forest, from where he escaped in 1841, walking 88 miles back to his home in Northamptonshire. On 27 December the same year Clare was taken to the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, where he spent the rest of his life and continued to write poetry. John Clare died on 20 May 1864.

In addition to the items listed on this site, you can search the Northamptonshire Libraries and Information Service online catalogue for books, articles and theses written about Clare.