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A tribute to


Gerard (Arden) Clay

17.03.1871 - 23.02.1955

Capt. Clay, Staffordshire Yeomanry, 1900

Gerard was born on 17 March 1871 at Stapenhill House, Burton-on-Trent, the second son of Charles John Clay and Aggie (Agnes Lucy) née Arden. One of his Godfathers was the Rev. John Harden Clay, the son of his great uncle, the Rev. John Clay.  

He went to Elstree Preparatory School, and then, like his elder brother Arthur a year ahead of him, he went to Harrow. He hated it, and vowed that if he had sons, they wouldn't go there (they both went to Lancing). His younger brother Ernest went to Marlborough, while his youngest brother Wilfrid reverted to family tradition by going to Repton. 

 Gerard went on from Harrow to the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester. He was very keen on soccer and rugby, and played for the College – upon his death, his photographs of that period were passed to the College, who were so kind as to provide copies.  

Gerard in the RAC Football team

 From 1892 to 1900 Gerard managed his father's Holly Bush estate at Newborough, Burton-on-Trent. 

 Gerard was a recognised expert and breeder of smooth-haired fox-terriers, and judged at the Fox Terrier Club at Crufts, and in Austria and the U.S.A. 

 In 1900 Gerard, as a 29-year-old Lieutenant, with five other officers and a hundred and thirty yeomen, volunteered for active service in South Africa in the Boer War. This contingent formed the 6th (Staffordshire) Company of the 4th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry, the Queen's Own Regiment of Rifles, under the command of Captain Bromley-Davenport. 

Gerard was promoted Captain, and appointed to command a Company. He was wounded twice, and then invalided out with enteric fever. He was awarded the Queen's Medal with four clasps. 


 He kept a diary throughout his life, but the entries for this period are pretty dull, principally because he carried it with him, and there was always the chance of capture and it being read by the enemy.

 Upon his return to England, Gerard joined Bass, Ratcliffe and Gretton, and went "through the Works" as training, before joining his father and elder brother on the Board of Directors. 

 In 1904 he agreed to be Godfather to Gerard Leigh "Peter" Clay.

 He was married on 25 April 1906 in Stretton, Burton‑on‑Trent to (Ella) Violet Thornewill, then aged 21 (see below). 

 They had two sons :-

Gervas (Charles Robert), born on 16 April 1907, see

Ralph (Arden), born on 18 April 1908, see

They lived at Needwood Lodge, Rangemore, now Needwood Manor Hotel.

 In 1914, when Gerard was 43, he became seriously ill, and, though he eventually recovered, he was not passed fit for service in the First World War. Also, his three brothers (q.v.) told him that as he had fought in the Boer War, he had done his duty, and they, all three, joined up.

 Gerard was a member, and then for some years President, of the Trademarks Federation of the British Isles. 

 He became what would now be called Personnel Director of Bass, Ratcliff & Gretton, and he worked there every day. In the early days, he would ride down into Burton on horseback, and leave his horse in the stables vacated by the dray horses out at work. Later he went by car, although he frequently walked the five miles home. This he continued to do until 1926, when he retired at the age of 55, with a "golden handshake" following a Boardroom re-shuffle after the merger with Charrington's, which he had opposed. He, as a very minor share-holder, was out-voted. 

 The family then moved south, to Weston House, Albury, in Surrey, leased from the Duke of Northumberland. He moved away from Burton partly because he felt that workers who had spent their lives with the Company might appeal to him for redress, and he was now powerless to help them. By this time, his elder son was up at Oxford, and his younger son was undergoing engineering training in London. 

 He took up beagling, and became Secretary of the Guildford and Shere Beagles. 

In 1937 he moved again, after selling his collection of antique silver to enable him to buy Abbotswood, Hurtmore, Godalming, Surrey, a large house in a hundred acres, where, during the Second World War he cleared some of the woods to grow potatoes - "Digging for Victory". Gerard's elder son was refused leave to enlist, and spent the War in the Colonial Administration in Northern Rhodesia. His younger son served throughout the War in the Royal Air Force.

 After the War, with both sons settled in Northern Rhodesia, and a Socialist Government making it impossible for him to continue in his way of life, in 1948 he and Violet emigrated to join their sons, and built a house in Essex Avenue, Kitwe, which they called "Arden".


Gerard was a "family historian". He was 5ft 8ins in height, of slight build, but of erect and military bearing. Always very fit and active, he did a great deal of walking. In his younger days he wrote poetry, and had a volume privately printed. He was also fond of translating Homer from the Greek.

 Gerard died of a coronary thrombosis, on 23 February 1955 in Kitwe, N.Rhodesia at the age of 83, and was buried in Nkana Cemetery, in the country now called Zambia.



 (Ella) Violet née Thornewill,

Violet née Thornewill was born on 8 July 1885 in The Abbey, Burton‑on‑Trent, the younger daughter of Robert Thornewill and Eliza Arabella Sara Hamilton, known as "Ella". 

 Violet's father was the son of Robert Thornewill and his wife Martha Hammond Wright, who was one of the Wrights of Eyam, Derbyshire, whose records go back to the fourth year of the reign of Edward III (1331). Violet's grandfather Robert died in 1858, long before Violet was born, and the business was successfully run for some years by his widow. She died just before Violet's fourth birthday. Violet's father died in 1914, when she was 29.

 The Thornewill records go back to Thomas who died in 1548; the family had been in the iron business in Burton for ten generations, since the early 1700s, that is, they had already been established for two generations in their trade in Burton when our ancestor Joseph moved to Burton to start in the brewing trade. A Family History of the Thornewills is a separate work.

 Violet's mother's father was the Venerable George Hamilton and was born in Ireland; he rose to become Archdeacon of Lindisfarne, and then Archdeacon of Northumberland and Canon of Durham, and was referred to as "The Arch". 

 The Arch died on 29th September 1905, curiously, while Violet was staying with the Clays on a grouse-shooting holiday at Grinton in Yorkshire.   Gerard had "spoken" to Violet one day on the moors, but before she could give him her reply, the news of her grandfather's death arrived and she fled home to be with her family.  Gerard then wrote her a letter, which appears elsewhere on this WebSite.

 The Arch's wife, Violet's mother's mother, was "Bella Best", Arabella Sarah Best, whose father came from Worcester. He was an accountant with the East India Company in Bombay, and his wife and children seem to have travelled much between there and Sunderland, where her mother came from. He died in Bombay in 1825 aged 33, leaving his widow - possibly in India - four months pregnant, with four other children under the age of ten. Bella died in January 1868, when Ella was nearly 9. A year and a half later, in June 1869, her father The Arch married the Lady Louisa Clements, who became known to her step-grandchildren, one of whom was Violet, as "Young Granny". Violet's mother Ella died aged 60 in 1919, when Violet was 34.

 Violet was "a sickly child", and medical opinion at the time insisted she be cossetted - perhaps her doctors were right, for she lived to be 95. She always remained proud of her "great height", although that was not noticeable after middle age. Although not "blue stocking", she had a great sense of fun; and was a force to be reckoned with, with high standards. 

 Violet had a half-brother, Robbie, whose mother had died at his birth. He had been brought up by a very religious nanny, whose influence sent him into the church. He died unmarried in 1940, when Violet was 55. 

 Violet also had an elder sister Kathleen, who was married at 26, in 1910, to Bertram Sargeaunt, then 33, whose marriage proposal Violet had turned down five years before. He was director of the United Services Institution, and later was Government Secretary in the Isle of Man, where he was Commandant of a POW camp during the First War. He was never very well off – he retired in the 1930s on a fixed pension, which, with inflation, soon became worth very little. Violet and he remained very fond of each other, and in old age, after the deaths of her husband (in 1955) and her sister (his wife) in 1962, Violet was a great support to him. He lost his sight in his eighties, and survived a succession of harridan housekeepers to the age of 101. He was "a lovely man", kind, gentle and witty, and played the piano even after losing his sight.  

 During the Second World War, which broke out when Violet was 55, she took an active part in local fund-raising and in the local Red Cross. 

 Always "Mummy" to her sons, Violet was "Gran" to her grandchildren. When her granddaughter Gill once was considering a marriage proposal from a not very suitable young swain, rejection of it came with the thought of presenting him to Gran. 

 After the death of her husband Gerard in 1955, and with the removal of her younger son Ralph and his family to Salisbury, the capital of Rhodesia, Violet also moved there, to a new house she built in Wingate Road, Highlands, which she called "Knightley". 

 About this time, she decided to have a portrait of her husband commissioned, and chose a German artist called W. Craig-Hainisch, then living in Britain. When the work was complete, Violet flew to Britain for an unveiling, to be held at her sister Kattie’s flat in Hurstpierrepoint, in the presence of the artist, friends and members of the family. When the artist arrived, he was met by Kattie’s husband, and immediately said, “I have drawn that face !”. There, in the corridor, was the pen-and-ink drawing that he had done during the First World War while he had been a PoW on the IoM, and Berkie had been the Camp Commandant!

 After the Rhodesian Government made its Unilateral Declaration of Independence (U.D.I.) in 1965, when she was 79, Violet returned to England, living first at Drayton Court, near Langport, where she held a dance to celebrate both her 80th birthday and the 21st birthday of her grandson Crispin. After two years there, she moved into a converted wing of Bagborough House (the home of the Brooke-Pophams, long-time friends of the in-laws (the other B-Ps) of Violet's son Gervas), before moving a year later into an annexe made by converting a barn adjacent to Hardings in North Cheriton, the home of her son Ralph, who had also returned from Rhodesia at about the same time. Her son Gervas had retired back to England in 1964. When Ralph sold Hardings and moved into Drakes Cottage (which had been part of the same property), Violet went to live at Ford Lodge with Gervas. 

Although she was physically hale, sadly, much of her eyesight and much (but not all) of her memory had slipped away before then, but she still used to help with laying the table, etc.. There were many untitled family photographs of people whom she could once have identified, but she could neither see them clearly, nor remember who they were.  She had her own photograph album started in 1906 upon her marriage; and that of her mother, Ella nee Hamilton; and that of her father’s mother, Martha Hammond nee Wright, containing 200 cartes de visite, of which less than a dozen are identified.

Violet was operated on for cancer when she was 90, and made a full recovery. 

 Five years later, at the age of 95, Violet died, on 22 December 1980, gently slipping away in the arms of her daughter-in-law Betty at Ford Lodge, Wiveliscombe, Somerset, where she lies buried in the graveyard of the parish church of St. Andrew. 


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