The Clays of Merrybower

Joseph Clay I

Once upon a time there lived a Joseph Clay (we’ll call him Joseph Clay I) at Merrybower. That’s the first definite Clay home that is known to the modern-day Clays, who now live in the south-west of England. There were other Clays at Sinfin, and whilst it’s likely they shared a common ancestor, there is no proof so nothing is written about that.

He appears to have married twice, firstly to Miriam with whom he had two daughters and one son – Miriam (baptised in Barrow, Dec 1683), Mary (baptised in Barrow, 11th Dec 1685) and Joseph (baptised in Barrow, 28th July 1688). Miriam the daughter went on to marry a taylor called Joseph Shirebrook at St Peter’s in Nottingham, and one of their children was born at Merrybower. Mary the daughter was married to Thomas Paget of Melbourne on 11th May 1714, when she was 29, and Joseph the son is presumed to have died young as no more can be found about him.

Joseph Clay I married his second wife, Elizabeth Gybson, at Barrow on 5th Sep 1696, and had one child, Thomas Clay. in 1712, Joseph Clay I was a ‘Husbandman’, a yeoman farmer, according to the Repton School Register’s account of his son Thomas. Following his death he was buried at Barrow on 24th Oct, 1728. Nothing is known of his first wife, Miriam, other than her name. His second wife, Elizabeth, died in 1722 and was also buried at Barrow on 25th October.

Thomas Clay I (son of Joseph Clay I)

Thomas Clay was baptised at Barrow on 8th April, 1698, and was schooled at Repton. On 2nd July, 1721, he married Elizabeth Adams at Lichfield Cathedral, and was descibed as ‘of Merrybower’. He was 23, she was 21, and they had three sons and two daughters; Thomas (we shall call him Thomas II), (baptised at Barrow on 22nd January, 1722), Samual (baptised at Barrow, 13th July 1724 and likely died young as he is not mentioned in his father’s will), Joseph (baptised at Barrow 1st July, 1726), Elizabeth (baptised at Barrow 3rd March, 1729, of whom there is no trace thereafter) and Prudence (baptised at Barrow January 1731, but died on 21st June 1732).

Thomas Clay I’s wife, Elizabeth, died in July 1740 and she was buried at Barrow. He remarried Eleanor Cooper, on 3rd December 1742 – a widow – and had five more children with her – Ann (bap. Barrow 16th Oct 1744), Eleanor (bap. Barrow 12th June 1745, who later married James Dawson of Foremark on 27th Dec 1769 and had four sons and one daughter called Martha, born between 1771 and 1783), Martha (bap. Barrow 8th June 1747, buried at Barrow 9th May, 1772 aged 25), George (bap. Barrow 22nd August 1748) and Lucy (born in 1751, died aged 18 on 4th April 1769).

When Thomas Clay I died at the age of 69, he was buried with his first wife, Elizabeth, and their gravestone still stands, along with that of his daughter Lucy who died two years later. On his marriage certificates he is described as a ‘butcher’, but in his will as a ‘farmer’, and of ‘Arlestone’.

Thomas Clay I’s will was interesting, in that he left Ann and Lucy £20 each, and Ellen and Martha £50 each, on the condition that his four daughters should stay at Arlestone with his second wife Martha, who survived him, and his youngest son George – and they could only leave either place unless they married or chose to leave. Whilst they lived there, they had to do what work they could for them, and if any married without the consent of his older sons, Thomas (we’ll call him Thomas Clay II) and Joseph (we’ll call him Joseph Clay II), they would lose their legacy. George himself wasn’t allowed to marry before he was 23 years old, without the consent of his elder brothers Thomas Clay II and Joseph Clay II. George in fact married within four months after his 23rd birthday, and became George Clay, the infamous deer stealer and runner of a public  house on Merrybower common for people of similar ilk, mentioned in White’s Directory of Derbyshire in 1857. In fact the story of cock-fighting being watched from the inglenook windows at Merrybower Farm are still around today – it’s just possible these are the very same cock-fights that George Clay used to organise as there are no buildings other than the farm at Merrybower that are old enough to link to the story.

I digress – so bad was his reputation that the modern-day Clays had no record of Merrybower, or any link to it, as his brothers seem to have done their best to disassociate themselves from their half-brother George. George was eventually buried at Barrow on 7th October, aged 62. This is where the story splits and we’ll concentrate on the line of Joseph Clay II.

Joseph Clay II

Joseph Clay II, George’s half brother, moved to Burton around 1750, as did many of those living in the country as they sought fortune in the newly industrialised cities.

Prior to this there is no record of him having followed his father and brother Thomas to Repton for schooling, but he is listed as ‘grazier’ on his wedding documents. He married, aged 25, to Elizabeth Robinson (25) at Breadsall, though she was from the parish of St Werburgh in Derby. Her father was an Army Officer in a period where commissions were bought, so he must have been relatively wealthy. Three months after their marriage, Joseph Clay II bought the old Lamb & Flag Inn on Horninglow Street in Burton – there is no record where the funds came from. The modern-day family tradition has it that he travelled from Derby to Burton on horseback, his wife riding pillion, and all the owned in a wagon behind. At the time Derby was a more important home to the art of brewing, but many men were being drawn to Burton, men with money and new ideas, to take up brewing there, as they were on the main road to London and could make use of the return trade from the Baltics of wood and ore into the Midlands.

By 1760, nine years after arriving, Joseph Clay II, 34 years old, is listed as owning several buildings in Horninglow Street, and producing ale for export., using William Bass’s wagons to transport his ale to London and further. By 1774 Thomas Salt was employed by the Clays as a maltster – he later went on to take over their brewing business. Joseph Clay II had also moved into the timber market, as brewing was a seasonal business and, along with JW Wilson, was responsible for the establishment of the first commercial banks in Burton on Trent.

Joseph Clay II and his wife Elizabeth had thirteen children:

Sarah – twin to Richard.
Daughter – the latter two twins.

Only three of these children seem to have survived childhood – William, Joseph and Diana.

Joseph Clay II’s wife, Elizabeth, died in 1780, aged 54, and is buried at St Modwen’s Church in Burton. Joseph continued on for another twenty years. His will of 4th November 1799 records him as a Gentleman of Burton-on-Trent. He left £100 each to his niece Elizabeth Dawson, his brother-in-law the Rev. Richard George Robinson, and a maid servant “for her attention to and care of me during my illness.” To his younger son Joseph (we will call him Joseph Clay III) he left the house in which he was living, the malthouse, brewhouse, tun house and all buildings belonging to them, all freehold, and all of the belongings of the house.

He left £1,000 each to his son William and his daughter Diana, and together with Joseph Clay III he left them pretty much everything else. He is also buried at St Modwen’s though no one has found his grave.

Joseph Clay II’s daughter Diana, born 27th July 1757, married Daniel Dalrymple, a solicitor of Burton on 19th January 1779, and had two daughters. Daniel was one of the executors for his father-in-law’s will.

Their daughters were Frances and Diana, christened 8th July 1796 and 15th December 1779 respectively.

Daniel Dalrymple went on to purchase the fee of Lord Melbourne in 1800. His daughter Frances Dalrymple married Reverend Henry Des Voeux, son of Sir Charles Philip Vinchon Des Voeux, 1st Baronet and Mary Anne Champagne, on 1st December 1812. From 1812 her married name became Des Voeux. She died on 13th January 1827, aged 30, in Dresden, Germany.

Frances Dalrymple’s father, Daniel, was cousin to Elizabeth Sale, and she bequeathed him her estate in Barrow upon Trent. On Daniel’s death it passed to his son-in-law, Rev. Henry Des Voeux and his daughter Frances Dex Voeux (nee Dalrymple).

It needs more research, but at first glance it would seem there may have been an ironic twist of fate to this story. The school in Barrow upon Trent, Sale and Davys CE Primary School, is named after its two original benefactors, Thomas Davys and Elizabeth Sale. As we have seen, a descendant of the ‘respectable’ Joseph Clay of Merrybower (who went on to grow the beer and banking business empire in Burton on Trent), Frances Dalrymple, was daughter to Daniel Dalrymple, who inherited Elizabeth Sale’s estate in Barrow upon Trent. Jane Davys, the mother of the other benefactor Thomas Davys, on her husband’s death, married one George Clay of Arlaston on 12th December 1805. The only George Clay of Arleston that we know of is Jospeh Clay’s half-brother George, the reputed deer stealer, and uncle to Daniel Dalrymple’s wife Diana. It would seem that both sides of the Clays of Merrybower are wrapped up rather neatly in the name of the local primary school.

Information (except the last paragraph) taken from “The Clay Family – 300 years of History” by Gerard Clay (ca 1920), Gervas Clay (to 1994) and Robin Clay (to date).

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