One of the gems of the Trust’s collections is the truly unique and miraculous ‘Eureka’ Latin Verse machine. This remarkable invention was created by Bridgwater eccentric John Clark (1785-1853), a cousin of the founders of C & J Clark Ltd, Cyrus Clark and his brother James Clark. John Clark, described as “as great a curiosity as his machine” and the Philosopher of Bridgwater, spent some 15 years inventing and refining his masterpiece.
‘Eureka’ in some ways resembles a large wooden fruit machine, generating Latin hexameter verse instead of winning fruit combinations! The machine can be said to be a predecessor of the modern typewriter or calculator and was representative of the automaton and arithmetic devices popular during the 19th century. In 1845, ‘Eureka’ went on its travels to London where it was put on public display at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. Clark was able to retire comfortably on the profits of the exhibition and to pursue his interests back home in Bridgwater where he was an integral part of an off-shoot branch of the Clarks of Greinton.
Following John Clark’s death in 1853, ‘Eureka’ eventually found its way to Street and briefly into the factory at 40 High Street where it stood in family director offices. It then moved to the Geology Museum at Crispin Hall in c 1889 where it remained until it was finally housed within the company museum across the road. The Latin Verse Machine has been in the care of the Alfred Gillett Trust since the mid 1990s.
In early 2015, ‘Eureka’ went to Devon for extensive restoration, bringing it back into working order through an exciting collaboration with the University of Exeter and a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. A website will follow its progress closely. For the first time in many years, the Latin Verse Machine will be restored to its former glory and will eventually be placed on display at the Grange in Street for future admiration and wonder!
An overview of the ‘Eureka’ Latin Verse Machine giving full details of its history, provenance and significance is available for those interested in learning more about this intriguing object.