Written by volunteer Simon Dunham

Jack Clemo was a blind and deaf poet and author who was born in 1916 and died in 1994. He lived most of his life in Nanpean. Clemo’s poetry focused on the clayscape and the lives of those who lived in it. He was invited to become a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedh in 1970, taking the name Prydyth an Pry, or ‘Poet of the Clay’

Clemo wrote two poems about Wheal Martyn, both of them in 1992 after the museum decided to begin developing a Jack Clemo collection. Their acquisitions included his braille watch, his first typewriter, a package of photographs and manuscripts, as well as Clemo’s writing desk. The watch is still on display in the museum today.

How does a braille pocket watch work?

A braille pocket watch is very similar to a standard pocket watch except for two differences:

  • Above the numbers are a series of raised dots: 3 dots are above 12, 2 dots are above the other 3 quarters (3,6 & 9) with a single dot representing the two numbers between the quarters. You would open the watch and slide your thumb or fingers around until you found the raised 3 dots, so as to know where to start from, and then count from there.
  • The hands were designed to not be susceptible to accidental movement when checking the time.

The wear on the watch from the area of 12 to 6 gives you a good idea of what time Jack might have tended to check the time!

When and why did he start using a braille pocket watch?

Around 1964. In 1963 he met and began a relationship with Mary Wiseman. She was something of a muse to him, and tried to change his ways by making him learn to read braille and memorise the keys on his typewriter. She believed it would help him to expand his literary influences outside of what he had read as a child when he still had his sight: ‘ “I want you to write poems for me, not about me”‘ she would complain.’  he would recount from his autobiography. The relationship eventually ended in 1966.

Why did he not use a pocket watch (hadn’t learned braille) prior to this?

He was quite stubborn! He didn’t want his affliction to define him and refused to learn braille, and other skills those who were blind learnt, for 8 years. He once wrote he had a ‘refusal to write or think within handicaps’ and in the poem Outsider he would further write:

“I do not have to overcome,
I do not face the worst, I do not accept:
I just speed home”

When/why did he stop using this watch?

Sometime after his marriage to Ruth Peaty in 1968. Prior to learning braille he had relied on his mother to print on his palm (to tell him certain things), something Ruth continued to do after his marriage. So it may be the simple case he enjoyed the tactile sensation of being told things that way.

He also considered that marriage was his vocation or destiny, similar to the ‘The Barrets of Wimpole Street.’ Besier’s play detailed the courtship between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barret, and was a favourite of Clemo’s – believing his life would parallel theirs. Barret’s health is said to have improved when Browning “whisked her away from her father’s house” and Clemo hoped the same would be true of his own eventual marriage i.e that he would feel complete or ‘healed’.

Much of our information on Clemo’s pocket watch is drawn from research by Dr Luke Thompson, Senior Lecturer in School of Writing & Journalism at Falmouth University