Mrs Ethel Mary Clarke (“Poppy” Clarke)

This page was kindly researched and written by Mrs Caroline Wessel in 2019, from her memories and her family archives. Caroline is a great-niece of Poppy Clarke’s.

Photograph of Poppy Clarke, from the family archive of Mrs Caroline Wessel
Poppy Clarke, from the family archive of Mrs Caroline Wessel

Poppy Clarke, née Gee (1872-1965) was the eldest daughter of Harry Simpson Gee and Ella Gorham and the wife of Dr Astley Clarke. She was educated at Belmont House School, Leicester and then at a Sussex boarding school, which she left fairly soon due to homesickness. When Poppy was eleven her mother died and when the following year her father remarried the family household became much grander, with more servants and much lavish entertaining. In 1890 Poppy “came out” at a grand ball and was by now a very pretty and charming girl, whom everybody loved.

When in 1897 her brother, Ernest Gee, married Hilda Clarke, Poppy was introduced to Hilda’s brother, Dr Astley Clarke – and he fell greatly in love with her. They married in 1898 and on their wedding day all the drivers and conductors of Leicester’s horse trams wore white rosettes in her honour, as her father was Chairman of the Leicester Tramways Committee. The couple had three children and by 1912 were living at Lansdowne House, (now) University Road, Leicester, from where during WW1 Poppy joined a sewing group mending the clothes of the wounded soldiers at the 5th Northern Base Hospital (now the University) run by her husband. As a member of the intellectual Leicester Ladies’ Reading Society, she felt somewhat intimidated by the other more highly-educated ladies, and when it was her turn to present a paper she was (according to her daughter) ‘terrified on these occasions’.

Black and white photograph of Ethel (Poppy) Clarke, with young boy.
Poppy Clarke at her daughter’s wedding, reproduced by kind permission of Oliver Hart

Poppy had always been a gentle, shy and modest person, dreading public appearances, so she found it very daunting to be asked to chair the new University College’s Grand Bazaar of 1922. However it was a great success and from that time onwards she entered more fully into public life. She was a member of the Belmont House Society and a Soroptomist; served on the Leicester Moral Welfare Committee; was a Life President of the Diocesan Mothers’ Union; a President of Lyddington Women’s Institute; and President of the Leicester branch of the National Council of Women, the year that its national annual conference was held in Leicester.

Twenty years a widow, in later life Poppy Clarke became very deaf and rather blind, and died in 1965 aged 93. But she is remembered as being intelligent though not intellectual, never criticising nor making trouble, never sitting idle, and was a truly loving grandmother, always thinking of others.

Key Sources – Gee/Clarke private family archives