The Cottage Prayer Book

Mr Cliff Webb writes:

There was a growing movement from the early 19th century to publish inexpensive books of a religious nature suitable for children. Some were stories which illustrated the triumph of evil over good, or the ill-results of poor behaviour. Others were books of simple prayers or hymns. There is an immense number of such works.

Cover of the Cottage Prayer Book

The tone of such books is by modern standards mawkish and embarrassing; they reflect attitudes most of us feel extremely uncomfortable with. Fortunately, children by and large seem to have agreed, as many can be obtained in pristine condition!

The Library has never had a strong collection of such items. Indeed, many of these items are very rare, with no copy in any of the major libraries.  I have been making some acquisitions in this area, with some interesting discoveries which I have donated to Lambeth Palace Library.

The subject of this post is The Cottage Prayer Book and Helps to Devotion by Rev W.B. Clarke, D.D. This edition was published by Nelson’s in 1871. The work contains a large collection of prayers, some written by the compiler himself and designed for all occasions.

The book has a gift inscription “to Katie Brister for her birthday 15 Apr 1884 from Auntie M. Baker” (see below).


The main list of the contents of British reference libraries (Jisc) only listed one copy of what must be this work, an 1840 edition held by Glasgow University, though the author is listed as W.D. rather than W.B. Clarke.

I enjoy sleuthing to discover the identify authors, and where possible former owners. In this case, the owner proved impossible to pin down, even with an exact birthday [but not year].

The identity of the compiler proved more difficult than most, but was eventually traced. He turned out to be a William Brown Clarke (or Clark – he was not totally consistent). He was born in Biggar, Fife on 27 January 1805, son of a merchant. He entered Edinburgh University in 1822 where he took his D.D. He became minister of the Free Church of Maxwelltown, Kirkcudbrightshire in 1843, but went to Canada in 1853 where he became minister of Chalmers Church, Quebec. He served there until 1874 and was later Professor of Church History in Morrin College, Quebec. He died 15 March 1893 at the home of his younger daughter Bethia Moodie.

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