William Robinson Clarke

‘Mechanic who became a part-time preacher’

1926 - 1969

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Some years after arriving in England on the Empire Windrush, Henry Archer heard the call of God while having a drink in a Derby pub. It changed his life forever. He set up his own Pentecostal fellowship with a friend and would be out preaching the Gospel as far away as Wales in between running his business.

Henry was born in Green Pond, Manchester in Jamaica, on September 3, 1926. This meant he was 21 when he arrived in England, and not 26 as shown on the ship’s passenger list. He was the only child of Agatha Archer, a labourer. Henry never saw his mother again after leaving in 1948. However, Henry’s children were later able to visit Jamaica on two occasions to meet their grandmother.

Despite indicating that he was going to stay at Mornington Crescent in north London, he spent his first few nights in England at the Clapham South Deep Shelter, a former war-time bunker set aside for Windrush arrivals. But very soon he moved to Derby in the East Midlands, where he had been offered employment, initially staying with a West Indian family called Benjamin.

At the time, Derby was part of England’s industrial heartland and many other Windrush passengers headed straight for the town (now a city) to form the beginnings of a strong and active West Indian community. Henry soon found love after meeting 19-year-old Gertrude Wilson, who lived near him. The couple married in 1951 and went on to have five children, four boys, and a daughter, eventually living in Bedford Street, Derby.

When he left Jamaica, Henry had been working as a mechanic. In England, he was much more than that, setting up his own business and owning two lorries. His daughter, Lorraine, remembers that he was always tinkering with the family’s old van. Henry and a friend rented a hall where the fellowship could meet. On Sunday afternoons, he preached in Derby Market Place, which at the time his children found embarrassing but they now look back on it with fondness. Henry’s work often took him away from Derby and to places such as Wales, but even then he would meet with the locals for prayer and worship.

On March 3, 1969, tragedy struck when he was driving to Colwyn Bay in Wales, where he was working on the construction of a new road. He was in a head-on collision with a lorry on the Derby to Stoke Road near Uttoxeter and died instantly. He was only 42 years of age.

Henry’s fellowship is still going strong. “My father’s friend is still the pastor of our little church and we [his children] have continued in the same church,” said Lorraine. “He was an awesome man and well respected in Derby.”

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