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Pork Butcher, fishmonger and auctioneer

Thomas Clack

Known for...

Leading family of butchers, fishmongers and fish auctioneers, in Slippery Lane.

Samuel Thomas Clack, known as Thomas, probably just Tom or Tommy Clack, was born in 1848 into a family of pork butchers.  He was the eldest of six children, two of whom died in childbirth.   His surviving siblings were known as Kate, Emma, and Ellen.  His parents were Thomas and Emma Clack.  Thomas the elder died aged 45 in 1870 and his mother Emma in 1873 aged 49.


Thomas’s grandfather, also carrying the name Samuel (Samuel Charles Clack) grew up at a time of meat shortages when farmers deliberately stepped up the production of pork and bacon.  Pigsties could be found even in Bath backyards sometimes to the point of constituting a public nuisance.   More complained about than the pigsties were the offensive slaughterhouses, especially those standing near the old East Gate. These were handily located for the butchers market, the hides and tallow market, where waste (entrails)  were disposed of in the river and where the stench they created polluted the air near Pulteney Bridge and in the 1770s led to the call for their removal.


In the mid eighteenth century the Shambles, an area of buildings close to the river, was enlarged to build regular butchers stalls.  Later in the decade the wholesale/retail meat section was extended and a separate building put up for the pig butchers.


Thomas’s father with his two uncles William and George Clack set up in business as pork butchers in Bath and their first recorded shop was in 4, 5 and 22 Westgate Street between 1846-1848. These may have been permanent market stalls or booths.  In 1850 (when Thomas was two) his uncle William left the family business to become a publican and ran The Gloucester Inn in Bath.


In 1870 at the age of 20 Thomas married  Mary Louisa Martin.  They were to be married for sixty years bearing eleven children, three of whom, Chesterman, William Henry, and Florence, died in early childhood.  One more, Cyril their youngest son, was later killed in 1916. Corporal Clack’s monument is the separate cross on the family grave, a facsimile of one near Ypres.


Thomas had entered the family business as a trainee Pork Butcher.  Beef and Sheep butchers dealt primarily in joints of fresh meat and offal.  The pork butchers had much more to do with meat preparation – fresh pork, corned pork, griskins (the best selling lean part of a loin of pork), pork sausages, savaloys (sausages bright red in colour and made of pork brains), bolognas (ground pork containing cubes of lard) hams and tongues and Chaps, 


The Bath Chap is still sold today in the Guildhall Market and other Bath butchers.  In the 1800’s a chop meant the cheek and jowls of a pig.  The slang expression ‘slap you in the chops’ that is still used by some, actually dates back to this time, the word ‘chap’ being an alternative pronunciation of chop. (Chop today tend to mean any cut with a bone, from shoulder to loin.)


In 1870 Thomas’s father was recorded as running a butchers stall in 23 Westgate Street.   His other uncle George had left the business and was recorded as a Wholesale Upholsterer in Monmouth Place. By 1872  Thomas was recorded as running a butchers shop (probably a market stall) in 37 Westgate Street.  With his father now dead and both his uncles having left the business, Thomas expanded his own business to take on the sale of poultry and fish.  Coastal supplies of fish came by relays of horses twice a week for the Wednesday and Friday fishmarkets.  In addition to the Bristol Channel and Devonshire sea fisheries, the tidal river Severn produced a significant catch.


Many fishmongers found it paid to rent a market stall as well as a separate retail shop.  Freshwater species could be kept alive in ponds or in chained fish tanks on river beds though always at the risk of poachers.  Carp, tench, perch, gudgeon, crayfish and eels could be kept at the pools in Widcombe and at Bathwick Mill.


With the opening of the Great Western Railway in 1840, links to Bath from Bristol and London opened up a whole new vista.  Shopkeepers’ lives grew more complicated as a result.  Dealing as they often did with dozens of wholesalers, importers, manufacturers and middlemen with a plethora of transport services and with the pressure of credit terms and variable cash flows, the need for Auctioneers became more important. 


In 1884 Samuel was registered as an Auctioneer and Fish Salesman.  By this time he had had four children.  Louisa Mary, William Henry (who died aged 1) Richard Martin and Edgar Leonard Clack.


A major improvement of the Shambles area was the building of the Guildhall Market.  Administered directly by the Corporation through a system of bailiffs, inspectors, licensing procedures and regulation to limit fraud and profiteering, the Bath Market eventually came to be regarded as a model of its kind - ‘its excellent order and abundance surpasses any thing in London and is as surprising a sight as any in its place.’ (1)


A fish auctioneer strategically placed himself where fishermen with fish to sell could meet the fishmongers who needed to buy them and would be responsible for auctioneering off all the catch.  To make life a little easier for the Auctioneer and to retain his clients loyalties, he handed out what was known as market tokens or tallies. Most market tokens or tallies were an element in a rather complex deposit system which allowed valuable containers to pass safely and economically between wholesalers and retailers of fish.


A supply of market tokens also enabled those attending the market to obtain a free drink or other refreshments and was a useful device in strengthening loyalty to the distributing auctioneer.  One origin of the practice seems to have been the rural tradition of ‘luck money’ whereby a purchaser returns a small sum to the seller on completion of a bargain.


In the Bath Museum of Work there is one of these Tokens with the name of Thomas Clack – Fish Salesman which would have been dated around 1893.

By 1898 when Thomas had renamed his fishmongery T. Clack & Sons he had had seven more children: Chesterman born in 1877, who died aged 5 weeks, William Reuben  in 1878 and Emma in 1879.  Florence was born in 1881 and died aged 4 months and Ethel was born in 1883, followed by Thomas Howard and Cyril Anthony in 1884 and 1889 respectively.  


Registered in business at their premises at 3-5 Market Row were Thomas and his sons Richard and Thomas Clack. In 1915 they moved their shop to 14 Northgate Street where it remained until its closure in 1963 when the Clack name disappears from all records. The shop, however, is still there on the corner of Northgate St and the alleyway (aptly named Slippery Lane).  In 1965 it became – and still is – a prominent hairdressing establishment. Nonetheless,  some of the fishmonger’s tiles, now painted black, can be seen on the outside of the building on the Slippery Lane side. 


Samuel Thomas Clack died in 1930 aged 80.  His Estate was valued at £8,188-2s-6d and his executors were named as Richard Martin and Howard Thomas Clack (fishmongers) and Louisa Mary Clack (spinster).



Names on the family burial register at Smallcombe cemetery


Mary Louisa Clack 1851-1924  Samuel’s wife

Samuel Thomas Clack 1848-1930

Louisa Mary Clack 1870-1933  Sam and Mary’s daughter

Beatrice Mary Clark 1881-1956  wife of Howard below

Howard Thomas Clack 1884-1966 son

Chesterman Clack 1877 son who died in infancy

William Henry 1875-1877 son who died in infancy

Florence Ellen 1881  daughter who died in infancy

Cyril Anthony Clack 1889-1916 son who was killed in action in 1916 in Ypres.

Mary Jocelyn Suffrin 1912-2005 daughter

Arthur Charles Emmanuel Suffrin 1909-2006 husband of Mary above



Auctioneers Tokens by John Whitmore

Eighteenth Century Shops and the Luxury Trade by Trevor Fawcett (1)

Bath Commercialised Shops, Trades & Markets @ the 18c Spa by Trevor Fawcett

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