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This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death (20 May 1864) of English poet, ‘Mad’ John Clare, who died of a stroke, and was buried in Helpston, the village of his birth. Known in his time as a ‘peasant poet’ (a description he sometimes adopted himself), most of Clare’s life centred on the East Midlands region of Northamptonshire, its villages, people, its fields, forests, waterways and byways.
Born in 1793, he wrote in a largely self-educated style. He was son of an agricultural labourer and his illiterate wife, and was educated in a village school until joining the workforce at the age of twelve as a rural labourer. But he could read and write, and recalled his ‘first great book of any merit’ being a copy borrowed in childhood of Robinson Crusoe. Fortuitously, at the age of thirteen, he bought a book of poetry and determined to become a poet.