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The Family's Origins

It has long been family tradition that Joseph Clay (the first of Burton) arrived in Burton in 1751, with his wife on the pillion, and bought the Lamb and Flag Inn.  Where he came from and in what circumstances had been a mystery, and for at least the last hundred years and probably a great deal longer nothing about the family before that date was known.  It almost seemed that Joseph had deliberately covered his tracks.  There were one or two clues which members of the family of succeeding generations have tried to follow up :

1   In his Will Joseph Clay left a legacy to "my niece Elizabeth Dawson".  This riddle is now resolved, see half way down here.

2   It was known from his age at death that he must have been born in 1726, and there was a family story that when he moved to Burton he had "brought his wife on a pillion" - before the days of motor-cycles, a pillion was the name for "a cushion attached to the back of a saddle, on which a second person may ride".

3   His wife Elizabeth Robinson was known to have been the daughter of Antony Robinson who was an officer in the garrison of Gibraltar who had died there in 1736.

4   Elizabeth Robinson had a brother who was Vicar of Lichfield.

5   There was a story that the family was descended from the Clays of Crich in Derbyshire and it was known that the signet ring of early members of the family was identical with the crest of the Clays of Crich.  However, Sir John Clay, the last Clay of Crich, who married twice, left three heiresses when he died, and though he did have two sons nothing is known about them, except that one died young.  It seems very likely that when our family became well-off they took the crest of the only Clay who had ever borne arms, and whether they were in any way related to the Clays of Crich is very doubtful.

In the late 1960s, Gervas Clay began to research the history of his family, and got in touch with the Derby Public Library.  Luckily the staff were both knowledgeable and helpful, and they discovered that the marriage of Joseph Clay and Elizabeth Robinson had taken place on 28 February 1751 at Breadsall near Derby, and that he was of Barrow-upon-rent, thus solving the mystery of where the family had come from before they arrived at Burton.  The next step was to look at the registers of the church at Barrow and it was there discovered that Joseph Clay was born 16 July 1726  -  thus tying in with the date given by Joseph Clay's age at death.  The missing link had been found - Joseph was a son of Thomas Clay by his wife Elizabeth Adams, and they lived in a hamlet called Merrybower in the parish of Barrow-on-Trent, some five miles South of Derby.  Their house still stands, and is now a self-supporting homestead.

The history trail backwards now lay open.

Following on from this breakthrough, Gervas managed to unravel two more previous generations before getting lost in a morass of conflicting information which still requires resolution. 

Tracing the Clays of Merrybower is not always straightforward, for though the expression "of Merrybower" is often used, this is not always the case, and there was another Clay family living in the adjacent hamlet of Sinfin in the same parish.  Again, the expression "of Sinfin"  occurs often but not always.  It will be noted that the names Thomas and Joseph are as common among the Sinfin Clays as those names are among the Clays of Merrybower.  It seems very likely that the two families were closely connected and descended from a common ancestor.  It is interesting that there were Clays "of Sinfin" by the name of Thomas and Roger in the years 1652 and 1655, for they are mentioned in the Fair Books of those years as standing pledge for certain horses sold at the fairs.  They were described as "of Sinfield", a previous name for Sinfin.  Again it seems very likely that these were ancestors of our family but no proof has yet been discovered.


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