Real lives: Helen consigns museum work to the history books

Helen Clark
Helen Clark
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A MUSEUM curator who has written several history books has announced her retirement.

Helen Clark, nee Banfield, was born in London on August 8, 1952 to parents Sheila, a teacher, and Geoffrey, a manager with Esso Petroleum.

She grew up in London and during her school years she discovered her passion for history.

While Helen was still very young her father suffered a severe stroke which left him confined to a wheelchair before he sadly died when she was just 13.

It was during her teenage years that Helen first visited Scotland, being taken to the Highlands on trips organised by the London Educational Authority.

She recalled: “It was a real eye-opening experience for a girl from somewhere so densely populated to arrive somewhere like that. We used to take long walks, just soaking in the scenery.”

After finishing school Helen studied history at Cambridge University. In 1973, during her third year there, Helen met her future husband, John Clark, a scientist from Lincolnshire, who later became director of the Roslin Institute and was awarded an OBE.

“We were part of a large group of friends and got together one night to Maggie May by Rod Stewart,” Helen said.

The couple were married in Canada in 1975 before moving to Edinburgh in 1978 so John could do his PhD. They had two children – Charlie, born in 1989, and Laurie, born in 1991.

Helen said: “When we moved to Edinburgh I volunteered at the National Museum before getting my first job as an assistant at the Royal Scottish Museum, now the National Museum of Scotland.”

In 1982, Helen became assistant keeper at Beamish North of England Open Air Museum in County Durham, meaning she had to move back to England while John stayed in Edinburgh. She said: “I was in a weekend relationship for three years, but I really enjoyed the work I was doing. It was during my time at Beamish that I began getting involved in recording oral history.”

Helen moved back to Edinburgh in 1985 when she was awarded the position of Keeper of Social History at Edinburgh City Museum, where she set up a new social history museum, the People’s Story, which opened in 1989. The opening coincided with the publication of her first book, Sing a Rebel Song: The Story of James Connolly.

Helen’s second book, Raise the Banners High, was published in 1999 and her third, She Was Aye Workin’ – Memories of Tenement Women in Edinburgh and Glasgow, in 2002.

John passed away in 2004, and she married Jim Kendall seven years later.

Helen said: “I’ve really enjoyed working with Edinburgh Museums and Galleries, with all the staff, the partners and with all the Edinburgh people I’ve met over the past 27 years.”