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Words: Alan Middleton
Featured in the January 2017 issue

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Francis Clarke was a three-time Mayor of Lincoln and noted philanthropist. His concern for the wellbeing of the people also extended to a medicinal ‘cure-all’, a remedy which promised great health benefits but would not pass muster today.

Francis Jonathan Clarke was born in 1842, the son of Robert Clarke, a druggist, who had a small shop at 5 Gas Street, in the west end of Lincoln near Carholme Road. In 1859, aged just 17, young Francis set up in business on his own account, a chemist like his father.

The regulations governing these things were obviously much more relaxed in those days. He rented a small shop at 35 Newland just a short distance from his father’s premises in Gas Street. The business prospered and soon the young and enterprising offspring was concocting his own medical preparations. Among these was a patent medicine which proved to be extremely popular, which he called ‘Clarke’s World Famed Blood Mixture’.

By 1868 the demand for this product encouraged him to move to larger and more prestigious premises at 215 High Street, near to High Bridge. He named his new premises ‘Apothecaries Hall’. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world bought his ‘Blood Purifier’. 

It was claimed to be a certain cure for numerous and varied complaints, including sores, glandular swelling, skin complaints, scrofula, scurvy, cancerous ulcers, bad legs, rheumatism, gout, sore eyes, dropsy, pimples, blackheads and piles. It was advertised as ‘The Finest Blood Purifier that Science and Medical Skill have brought to Light’. However, like the multitude of other ‘cure-alls’ on the market at the time, it was of questionable medical benefit to the countless thousands of people who bought it. The British Medical Association analysed Clarke’s product in 1909 and revealed that the contents were mainly water, a little sugar, a minuscule amount of alcohol and traces of chloroform and ammonia. It was also calculated that the cost of the ingredients of a standard bottle was around one old penny but the product was being sold for almost thirty times that amount.

During the 1870s Clarke formed the Lincoln and Midland Counties Drug Company, which was based in Park Street and continued trading for around 100 years. Participating actively in public life, he was Mayor of Lincoln three times, in 1878/9, 1883/4 and 1884/5. He was also a Justice of the Peace for the City. He had Bracebridge Hall built and lived there until his death in 1888 at the early age of 46.

Clarke was also of a philanthropic nature and gave generously to many charities and other good causes. He donated the Coade stone lion to the Arboretum when it was opened in 1872. Francis Clarke was a leading Lincoln Catholic and when Canon Croft was seeking donations for a new church and presbytery to replace the old deteriorating buildings, he offered the full £7,000 needed. Sadly he died before the money could be handed over and his will made no mention of the gift, but his trustees eventually agreed to donate £3,500.

Clarke was largely instrumental in removing a row of houses which sat down the middle of St Mary’s Street seriously impeding access to the Great Northern Railway Station. He also pushed forward the scheme which Richard Carline had proposed in 1854 to create Yarborough Road. It was said to be the best improvement of its kind since Canwick Road. He was involved in many more schemes aimed at improving roads and housing in the city.

It seems that the illustrations in his advertisements were as guilty of exaggeration as the claims for his medical products; the actual buildings apparently looked nothing like those in the drawings.

Francis Jonathan Clarke was clearly one of Lincoln’s great old characters with a genuine interest in the wellbeing of the City.

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