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123 Joseph Clay of Burton 1726-1800

Joseph Clay was born at Barrow and baptised there on 1 July 1726.  He was the second son of Thomas Clay of Merrybower and Elizabeth nee Adams. Nothing has yet been discovered about his childhood or his schooling, except that there is no record that he followed his father and his brother Thomas to Repton.  When he was married, he described himself as "Grazier" which the OED defines as "someone who feeds cattle for market."  There was certainly plenty of grazing in the Barrow area and the town of Derby nearby would have provided a good market.  On 28 April 1751 Joseph, then aged 25, married Elizabeth Robinson (also 25) at Breadsall, near Derby.  She was at that time of the parish of St Werburgh, Derby.  A note about her and her family will be found below, but her father was an Army Officer at a time when commissions were purchased, so he must have been of some standing.  As the Historian of Burton, C.H. Underhill, wrote, "Joseph Clay must have had a good background or he would not have succeeded as he did at Burton."

Three months after this wedding, the following notice appeared in the Derby Mercury of 26 July 1751 :-

To be Sold or Let
and entered upon immediately
A Good Freehold House

consisting of six rooms on a floor, and a malthouse to steep ten quarters, with a brew house, tun house, and other conveniences for malting and brewing, situate in Burton-on-Trent, in the County of Stafford, lately used as an Inn and now compleated for a common brewer.
For further particulars enquire of
Mr Fenton, Attorney in Burton aforesaid.
N.B. Mashing tubs, working tubs, backs and other vessels to be disposed of, with some household furniture.


This was the old Lamb and Flag Inn, at No. 5, Horninglow Street[1].  Joseph Clay bought it and one wonders how he managed to raise the money.  Family tradition suggests that he came to Burton from Derby[2] on horseback, with his wife riding pillion, and his household goods in a wagon behind.  We don't know when this exodus took place, they may have moved to Burton before the advertisement appeared.  If it was the advertisement that prompted the move, then his wife, although she may not have been aware of it, would have been pregnant for the journey, as their firstborn arrived on 4 May 1752. 

One wonders if Joseph had spent a few weeks or months after his marriage in learning to be a maltster in Derby, which was at that date a more important centre of brewing than was Burton.  Burton, situated roughly in the middle of England, a long way from the sea, was situated on the River Trent, at the point where it narrowed.  Downstream the river was more navigable, and met the North Sea at the important port of Hull.   And Burton was changing:

A "Bill for making and keeping the River Trent in the Counties of Leicester, Derby and Stafford Navigable" became law on 4 May 1699, and in the early years of the eighteenth century improvements were made to the River Trent as far upstream as Burton, which thereafter became of great importance in opening up the Midlands.  Large quantities of cheese arrived at Burton for despatch to London, and imported bar iron from Sweden and Russia arrived at Burton Wharf on its way to Birmingham and South Staffordshire hardware manufacturers.  Other important commodities taken downstream were hardware, coal, lead, millstones, scythestones, ale, coney skins, timber and salt, while on the return journey the boats carried hemp, flax, groceries, timber, potash, corn and linen, brought from London or from ports in Northern Europe.  Burton was now at the head of navigation and this made it a significant distributing centre.

C.C. Owen, Burton on Trent
"The Development of Industry"
Phillimore 1978

Not long after Joseph Clay arrived in Burton, control of navigation passed into the hands of John Hayne and of Abraham Hoskins, a solicitor with whom Joseph Clay had had dealings - perhaps he acted for him in the conveyance of the Lamb and Flag Inn.  By the 1750's canal building was in full swing, though it was not till 1777 that the Trent and Mersey Canal was finally completed, thereby linking Burton directly to the sea-ports of Hull, Liverpool, Bristol and London.

The Derby to London wagon service had began in 1734 and by 1750 similar services were being operated to Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham and other towns, while in 1753 the Burton to Derby road was turnpiked with a tollgate at Horninglow and a weighing machine at the Eastern end of Burton bridge.  Burton was being changed by all these events, as Owen has said

"from an isolated and impoverished market town into a prosperous industrial centre.  In the case of the brewing industry ... the purchase of prime barley from Eastern England and of hops from Kent and Worcestershire, and the export of ale to continental markets would all have been uneconomic without the transport improvements described." 

Brewing in Burton goes back to the days when the Benedictine Abbey was flourishing, and there are references to brewing in the Abbey muniments going back to 1295.  Burton ale had a reputation as being of superior quality, no doubt in great part due to the hardness of the local waters, and the ale was able to withstand long and arduous journeys without deteriorating.  In early times all inns and large houses had their own brewhouses.  The Trent Navigation was the turning point[3] for Burton beers, because it enabled the brewers to take advantage of cheap return rates to the Baltic, whose exports of timber and iron ores were heavy and bulky, but greatly needed by this country.  It is known that by 1712, John Wilders - at that time proprietor of the Lamb Inn[4] in Horninglow Street - and other innkeepers in the same area had an agreement for the transport of ale and casks along the Trent from Wilden Ferry on the Trent South West of Derby - at which point it became navigable - the 70 miles to Gainsborough (some 30 miles South of the Estuary).[5]  Owen comments on the move from Derby to Burton of men with capital, ability and progressive ideas, and he instances Joseph Clay as one of them.

In 1760, Wyatt produced a plan of Burton-on-Trent which lists Joseph Clay, nine years after arriving in Burton and now 34, as a freeholder owning extensive buildings in Horninglow Street with a house on the frontage, and a courtyard surrounded by other buildings, in which appears to be No. 5.  There is no doubt that by this time Joseph Clay was producing ale mainly for export, and there is a record (William Bass book, 1762-4) recording that, during the 1762-3 season, William Bass's wagons carried over 100 barrels of Burton ale to London on behalf of nine Burton brewers including Clay, and later brought back the empty casks.  No doubt other carriers were similarly engaged.  The population of Burton increased from under 2,000 in 1700 to almost 5,500 in 1800.  English exports to Russia and the East Country increased rapidly from a mere 740 barrels in 1750 to 11,025 barrels in 1775.  The brewing season was largely confined to the period October or November until April.  The brewers occupied the rest of the year in dealing with other commodities or in Banking.

By 1774, Thomas Salt (whose family later took over all the Clay's brewing activities) was employed as Maltster by the Clays.

The land tax records of 1781 show that, apart from his house and malthouse, etc., already bought, Joseph Clay by now also owned another large house in Horninglow Street, called Sketchley's House, and in addition rented from Lord Paget another house, malthouse and shop there.  By this time his brewing was certainly concerned with brewing for export.  But he also had many other interests arising from his successful brewing activities.  Owen records that

 "during the 1780's John Walker Wilson, Joseph Clay & Son, William and Thomas Worthington and William Kinder, all of whom were brewers, were the leading timber merchants in the town." 

In 1788, when he was 62, Joseph Clay served as Townmaster of Burton, while (to quote Owen yet again)

"J.W. Wilson and Joseph Clay were largely responsible for the establishment of the first commercial banks in the town.  It is probably true to say that they (the brewers) had become the most influential and dynamic group within the community."[6] 

In 1790 Joseph Clay with other brewers and freeholders signed a certificate of affection to Mrs Stanton's Company of Players.  At that time, he had become a relatively wealthy man;  he was the proprietor of two houses, shops and another brewery on the North side of the street (previously owned by Samuel Sketchley) and a cooperage on the West side of High Street.

Tunnicliffe's "Survey of Staffordshire" published in 1789 describes Joseph Clay & Son as Brewers, suggesting that Joseph junior had now been taken into the business.  The "British Directory" of 1791 includes Joseph Clay & Son as one of the famous "nine common brewers of Burton-on-Trent."  By the time Joseph senior died at the age of 74 in 1800 he was one of the wealthiest men in the town.  As C.H. Underhill has said to me in correspondence "The Clays must have had a good background or Joseph Clay would not have succeeded as he did at Burton.  Correspondence I have seen suggest he was a very strong character, who knew exactly what he was doing."

While all these business activities were going on, Joseph and Elizabeth Clay had thirteen children, including two pairs of twins :

Richard,       the eldest son, was born on 4 May 1752, but died on 7 December at the age of six months. 

William,        the next son, was born on 8 June 1753, of whom nothing is known apart from the fact that he was alive when his father died in 1800.

Joseph          junior followed, on 3 August 1756

Diana            their first daughter, was born on 27 July 1757.  She married in 1799 Daniel Dalrymple, a solicitor, of Burton, and they had two daughters, Diana (died aged 15) and Frances, who married Rev. Henry Des Voeux, whose son Henry inherited a baronetcy which has since died out.

Elizabeth,     born 11 January 1758; died 24 April 1759 aged fifteen months.

Thomas,       born 1 August 1760; buried 31 December 1761 aged sixteen months.

Mary,            born 28 December 1761; died in infancy. 

Eliza,            born 25 November 1762; died 9 July 1763 aged eight months.

Richard    \   twin; not mentioned in his father's Will, so probably died young.
Sarah       /   twin; born 23 March 1764, baptised 10 May 1764, died in infancy.

Ann              born 14 October 1766

Thomas    \  twin; not mentioned in his father's Will, so probably died young.
Daughter  /  stillborn twin; born in 1768, when their mother was 42.

Only William, Joseph and Diana appear to have survived childhood.  Joseph's wife Elizabeth née Robinson died in 1780 at the age of 54, and was buried at St Modwen's Church, Burton, on 10 May.  Joseph was to outlive her by twenty years.

Joseph Clay made his Will on 4 November 1799.  He describes himself as a Gentleman of Burton-on-Trent in the County of Stafford,  He left £100 [about £12,000 in 2020] to his niece  Elizabeth Dawson,[8] £100 to his brother-in-law, the Rev. Richard George Robinson,[8]  and £100 to a maid servant "for her attention to and care of me during my illness."  Next he left to his younger son Joseph the house in which he was then living (possibly Clay House?), with the malthouse, brewhouse, tun house and other buildings, and the gardens, etc., which belonged to it, which were freehold.  He also gave to his son Joseph all his household goods, furniture, plate, silver and china which were in the house.

To his son Thomas and his daughter Diana Dalrymple he left £1000 each.  He then goes on to leave to William, Joseph and Diana as tenants in common, all his other buildings, houses, lands, hereditaments and real estate in Burton and elsewhere, and all the rest of his moneys, securities, etc., goods, chattels and personal estate of all kinds and wherever it might be.  What happened to William and whether he married and had children is unknown.  It could be that he inherited some other business from Joseph's elder brother Thomas[9] if the latter had no living children when he died, but this is pure speculation.  It would however explain the rather odd fact that it was the younger son Joseph who inherited the Burton brewery and his father's house, and not the elder son William.

The Derby Mercury of 13 February 1800 contained the following notice :-

Died on Thursday morning last at Burton-upon -Trent after a long illness in the 75th year of his age Joseph Clay Esq:  formerly an eminent brewer of that place.

He was buried also at St Modwen's, 11 February 1800, but the site of his grave has not been found. 

The executors of the Will were his wife's brother, "the Rev. Richard George Robinson of the City of Lichfield, Clerk, and my two sons William and Joseph Clay, and the said Daniel Dalrymple", his daughter's husband.  The Will was proved on 6 March 1800 in London by Joseph junior on behalf of the four executors.


Elizabeth née Robinson

Elizabeth Robinson was born in 1726, to Antony Robinson (-1738) and Elizabeth née Hastings (1695–1779), a daughter of William Hastings.  A Family Tree is here.

In 1909, Gerard Clay (who had passed through Barnstable during his honeymoon in 1906) bought a small oil painting of an old lady, from J. Lane of Bodley Head, Vigo Street, who had found it in an antique shop in Barnstaple.  The only other mention of that town in this story is that Gerard's nephew Michael was born there, though not until 1922; and Micheal's parents did (much much later) run "souvenir shops" in Cromer, Norfolk, and then one they called "The Peddlar's Pack" in Prestatyn in North Wales. 

On the back of the picture is written :

Elizabeth, daughter of William Hastings Esq. wife of Antony Robinson Esq. an Officer in the Garrison of Gibraltar, where he died about 1738.  She was born in 1695, and died April 1779. Aged 84.

She was the mother of the Rev. R.G. Robinson and of the wife of Joseph Clay Esq. of Burton.

In another hand has been written :

She was the only woman who ever spoke in the House of Lords & came over from Gibraltar to give testimony about the slaves.

Another emendation, against the name Robinson, states :

Vicar of Lichfield Cathedral

Gerard Clay's aunt, Caroline Baskerville-Mynors (Aunt Carrie) wrote to her eldest brother Henry Clay :

 I remember the picture from my earliest childhood, when it hung in the ante-room through which we passed to the nurseries and Father and Mother's rooms in the old house at Burton.  You probably do not recollect it as I do, as your bedrooms did not lead past it.  We were told it was our great-great-grandmother, and that she had forced her way into the House of Lords, and when they would not listen to her, she had stamped her foot and said "I will be heard, my Lords!"  I conclude that the picture belonged to our grandfather, and was left by him in the Burton House when he handed over the Bank to Father, I think when he got married."

Returning to the Robinson family, Elizabeth had a brother, Rev. Richard George Robinson, who married Mary Thorpe, daughter of R. Thorpe and Martha Disney.  Richard George and Mary had five children, Mary, Richard, William, Disney and Hastings.  The last, Elizabeth's nephew Hastings, became a Doctor of Divinity and was appointed Canon of Rochester.  He married Margaret (Ann) Clay, his first cousin once removed, a daughter of Joseph Clay junior, so his name will appear later.  For a "Family Tre" of this relationship, click here.

Elizabeth's death is recorded above.

[1]  The inn, which had brewed ale for export since the beginning of the century, had recently been closed and the premises converted into a house and brewery. - Dr C.C. Owen

[2]  Not Yorkshire - see first page ??

[3]  ouch !

[4]  Was this the Lamb and Flag ?

[5]  Wherever they may be ! 

[6]  See Note on Banking in Burton by Dr C.C. Owen in an Appendix

[8]  She was a daughter of Jospeh's sister Eleanor, see here.  

[8]   Buried at St Martin, Birmingham. 16 December 1867 ?   See also "Robinson, Hastings (1792–1866), Church of England clergyman, eldest son of the Revd Richard George Robinson, vicar of Harborne, and his wife, Mary, daughter of Robert Thorp of Buxton, Derbyshire, was born at Lichfield in February 1792. He went to Rugby School in 1806, and proceeded to ..."  Marriage ? to May Woodhouse Thorp, 1797 ?

[9]  Has Thomas's Will been discovered ?

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