William Claridge was a life-long resident of Berkhamsted and has left for posterity a remarkable legacy of paintings, prints and photographs depicting events and people from all walks of life who lived in the town in the mid nineteenth century and left their mark e.g. Thomas Whately, the surgeon, and Mr Ghost the gravedigger! William Claridge was a good amateur artist and Berkhamsted’s first photographer. Perhaps the best known of his drawings because they were lithographed were the two drawings of the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to the town in 1841 when they were on their way to stay with the Duke of Bedford at Woburn. These show the elaborate decorations and the triumphal arch that the people of Berkhamsted prepared as greeting to their Queen. One of these can be seen in the Clock Room at the Town Hall.
William was a well-to-do man and is listed in 1832 as owning freehold property in Grubbs Lane (later called Chesham Road) In both the 1851 and 1861 censuses he is described as a ‘proprietor of houses’. He did not marry until his mid-forties and then chose as his bride a very much younger woman, Charlotte, who was born in the Isle of Man. The family settled in a large house in the High Street almost opposite the Black Horse, now an Indian restaurant. Although the house no longer stands we have a photograph of that part of the High Street recording where the family lived. There were two daughters Sarah Isabelle, named after William’s mother, and Elizabeth who was four years younger.
In 1874, at the Mechanics art exhibition in 1874, there was exhibited ‘a painting by W. Claridge Esq. of the Old Rectory House at Berkhamsted where the poet Cowper was born
DEATH OF AN OLD INHABITANT – On last Monday a gloom was thrown over the town by the death of one of the oldest, most kind hearted, and genial inhabitants of Berkhamstead. Mr William Claridge who died during the night. For some time Mr. Claridge had not been in good health; but he was at the parish church in the morning, and about the town in the evening in his usual health late; and on the occasion of Mrs Claridge’s giving the prizes at the Cottage Garden Show, on the previous Monday at the Town Hall, Mr Claridge returned thanks on her behalf. The deceased gentleman was universally held in high regard for his liberal mindedness as a Churchman, his uniform kindness as a neighbour, the genuine transparency of his character. Hemel Hempstead Gazette 23rd September 1876
At the United Harvest Thanksgiving, a tea held by the Nonconformists in the Town Hall, Mr. J.E Littleboy ‘made a touching allusion to the sudden demise of his friend – Mr William Claridge, with whom he said he had been more associated than with anyone in Berkhamspstead outside his family circle; and said he did not believe that any one in the world had any ill-feeling towards him. (Cheers). Herts Advertiser 23rd September 1876
FUNERAL OF MR. WILLIAM CLARIDGE – The late Mr Claridge was interred on Saturday with every mark of respect. The funeral service was impressively read by the rector, and in addition to the realtives and frineds of the decesased, were Mr. J.E. Littleboy, Mr Proctor, of Gaddesden Hoo, and a number of the officers and members of the Mechanics Institute, with which he had long been connected, including the president, Rev. E. Bartrum, the secretary, Mr H. Nash, Rev. J. Harcourt, Rev. F. Evans, Rev. J. Menzies, Mr. G.F. Whately, surgeon, Messrs E. Lane, Wilson, and Shugar also attended. Bucks Herald 30 September 1876
Ten years after his death, the Rev. G. Charlton Lane, rector of Little Gaddesden, recalled at the Industrial and Art Exhibition at the Town Hall a memory he had of William Claridge. Remarking on how ‘there was ample instruction by the eye for them in the pictures, and there was such an assemblage of artists represented, ancient and modern, as was not often seen. It was not practicable to gain knowledge of this kind from newspapers as on other subjects, and such an occasion as that was very useful when they could see around the works of Tinteretto, Bassano, Cima di Conagliano, Sir J.E. Millais, Mr. Watts and others. Speaking of the late Mr. William Claridge of Berkhampstead, Mr Lane said he found him one day looking intently in the waters of the canal at the reflection of the golden clouds, and he said in reply to him, “Yes, sir, one need not go far for suitable objects.” It was not so much what was done as how it was done. (Applause). Bucks Herald 15 May 1886
The Berkhamsted Local History and Museum Society holds a number of Claridge’s paintings and drawings and copies of many of his photographs in its Collection in the DHT Museum Store.
As recorded above, Mrs Claridge presented the prizes at the Berkhamsted and Northchurch Cottage society exhibition in 1876. She appears to have been third choice!:
‘At 4.30pm the prizes were given away in the Reading Room of the Mechanics Institute by Mrs Claridge in the absence of Mrs Bartrum, who was prevented from attending by illness. The President (Mr Bartrum) said he had hoped that Lady Brownlow would have done it but read a letter from her ladyship which stated that she was away from Ashridge….The Rector proposed the thanks of the company be given to Mrs Claridge and coupled therewith the name of Mr. Claridge who briefly responded. Not only third choice, but also overshadowed by her husband and prevented, it seems, from speaking in public as a married woman! Bucks Herald 16th September 1876.
FUNERALS – On Tuesday two funerals took place in the cemetery, the Rev. W.G. Elnor, conducting the services. I) Miss Thomas (q.v) 2) Mrs Claridge was buried at three o’clock, and was followed to the grave by Miss Claridge, Mr and Miss Hubert, Mrs Nicholson, Mr and Mrs J. Procter, Mrs Barton, Mr Stanley Thompson, Major Foster, Mary Holliday, Mrs R.R. Norris, miss Norris, Miss Watsn; Mrs tower sent her carriage. The Rev. A.F. Birch, Miss Smith-Dorrien were at the graveside, and wreaths were sent by many sympathing (sic) friends Hertford Mercury and Reformer 30th June 1888
 Bucks Herald – 28 March 1874