My name is David Clay (The researcher and compiler of these pages) I have been a Derbyshire Clay family history researcher for some 30 years. I'm interested to hear from anyone researching the Clay`s of all the parishes in the county, especially for the years pre 1700. All my research has been carried out working from original archives as a result of my numerous visits, over many years, to various archive departments throughout England (I have listed the old spellings of Cley and Claye entries to the more modern spelling Clay). I would like to invite your comments and questions, so please email me (address at top of page) and let me know your interests, all comments are welcome.

The Clay Family of Derbyshire (by David Clay)
The surname of Clay is documented in the County of Derbyshire from the time when surnames were first given to ordinary people back in the 1200s. The name is most likely occupational and was probably first given to a man who made his living excavating clay and supplying it to various trades. It is in the north of the county where the Clays multiplied extensively around the parish of North Wingfield, although there were some early Clays in the town of Derby. The 13th century “Charters of Darley Abbey”, which was located near Derby, mentions a land transaction between the years 1214 and 1233, when Abbott Henry granted Adam del Clay a messuage of land in Derby for an annual rent of 20 pence, and between 1236 and 1251 Richard del Clay rents 1 acre of land at Normanton in Derby from the same Abbey for 1 farthing. Also in 1266 Peter son of Henry de Clay had a house and land near St Michaels Church in Derby, at an annual rent of 2 shillings and sixpence, rented from the same Abbey.

The next mention of a Clay is found in the north of the county in a Duchey of Lancaster Court Roll for the year 1284, when a Robert Clay is listed at “The Forest Proceedings” held in a place called Peak Forest, just north of Buxton. Nicholas del Clay of Stretton, in the parish of North Wingfield, paid 30 shillings tax in 1327 and it is this parish which becomes the most prominent home of the Clays in Derbyshire over the following 700 years.

In the 1300s they begin to appear also in the neighbouring parishes of Brampton and Wingerworth. Thomas Clay and William Clay had 5 acres of land in 1338 at Brampton which they rented from “The Guild of St Marys” for 12 pence. In 1397 Henry Clay rented land at Wingerworth from the Lord of the Manor for 18 pence, he was also fined 2 shillings at the Manor Court in 1405 for allowing 2 oxen to stray onto other land. In 1427 Robert Clay had land in Wingerworth for a rent of 18 pence a year. In the adjoining parish of North Wingfield William Clay is a tenant in 1462, paying 8 shillings and sixpence twice yearly to the Abbott of Beauchief, and the Clays are listed in the Manor Court Rolls throughout the 1400s at North Wingfield and Wingerworth and during the latter part of the century at Holmesfield and Ault Hucknall.

By the time of the 1500s the Clays had expanded to surrounding parishes which were all within a few miles of North Wingfield, i.e. Eckington, Chesterfield, Glapwell, Pleasley, Morton, Crich, South Normanton, Beeley and further west to Hartington. In 1523 John Clay was taxed at Brampton and Robert Clay the same year at Chesterfield, and in 1524, they were both taxed again along with Roger Clay and William Clay at Pilsley in North Wingfield, also Thomas Clay at South Normanton and John Clay, Roger Clay and Geoffrey Clay at Glapwell. Not everyone was taxed, but regarding the Clay family who were at Stretton in North Wingfield in 1327, their descendants were still there 300 years later. William Clay of Stretton was listed in the 1538 Muster Roll and the same man was taxed there in 1545 and again in 1570 when he paid £3-3s tax in the Lay Subsidy. Thomas Clay of Stretton left a will in 1550 mentioning his son Thomas Clay and in the parish register of North Wingfield which begins in 1567, Thomas Clay of Stretton had a daughter baptised on the 7th of July in 1567 and from that date on there are numerous entries in the register for Clays who were living at various places in the parish including... Stretton,Tupton, Hill, Pilsley and Handley.


Clay Cross
There is a certain crossroads in the parish of North Wingfield and one of the roads leading off is called Clay Lane and back in the 1500s which ever way you went from this point would lead you to where the Clays lived within a very short distance, the area became known as Clay Cross and is still so called today. The Clays had over run this parish and had farms in every direction. Clay Cross is mentioned in the will of John Revell in 1538 and Clay Lane is mentioned in the will of William Robotham in 1559.

Ten people with the surname of Clay left wills at North Wingfield parish in the 1500s -
  • Ralph Clay in 1542
  • Hugh Clay in 1544 
  • Thomas Clay in 1550 
  • John Clay in 1551
  • John Clay in 1558 
  • Robert Clay in 1558 
  • John Clay in 1567
  • William Clay in 1580 
  • Charles Clay in 1597 
  • John Clay in 1599 
No doubt some of these men would have been born in the late 1400s.

The Clays are referred to over 200 times in the wills of other North Wingfield people, beginning in 1534 with Roger Clay and numerous others up until the year of checking at 1700. One of the prominent Clay families in the parish lived at a place called “The Hill” in North Wingfield and in 1558 John Clay of “The Hill” left a will in which he mentions his wife Ellen and sons Thomas Clay and John Clay, and again in 1558 James Clarke instructs in his will that the farm at “The Hill” in North Wingfield, that he rents from Mr Revill, is to go to (his daughters husband) Nicholas Ludlam, and then after their decease the lease should go to William Clay son of Richard Clay. He left a cow to William Clay and the same to Thomas Clay (the Clays are listed at this farm through the centuries and into the 1800s). 

By 1633 Francis Clay of “The Hill” is listed as a “Freeholder of Land” and by this time had acquired ownership of the farm. In his will of 1644 his sons are John, Francis and William. John Clay of “The Hill” left a will in 1680 and is listed as a yeoman farmer, there is a date stone in the barn with the initials “F + K.C. 1693” (Francis and Katherine Clay). The Clay's ancient house at “The Hill” is still there today and has recently been turned into hotel accommodation under the name of “Hagg Hill Hall”.

As previously stated Clays were also in the adjoining parish of Wingerworth, listed there from the late 1300s when Henry Clay was listed as being on rented land, and they are listed there through the 1400s, and in 1518 John Clay was a tenant on church lands at Wingerworth. The parish register starts much earlier here and once again Clay is the most common surname, starting in 1539 when John Clay has a son Richard baptised  (there are 65 entries in the register for the surname of Clay up to the year 1659). John Clay of Wingerworth was listed as an “Archer” in the 1538 Muster Roll, John Clay was also on the Wingerworth tax list for 1545 and he left a will in 1557. 

The Clays were in another parish which also adjoined North Wingfield, this was Ault Hucknall and the Clays lived there at Rowthorne near Hardwick Hall, they were yeoman farmers and John Clay left a will there in 1549, as did Robert Clay in 1550, also William Clay in 1550, John Clay in 1567, Thomas Clay in 1589 and Roger Clay in 1607. Thomas Clay had land in 1573 at Rowthorne which he leased from the Hardwicks for 13s-4d. John Clay was employed on the building of the new Hardwick Hall in 1587 and was described as a “Handbeener”. Thomas Clay worked on the building as a labourer in 1591 and Robert Clay was listed working on the building in 1595. Thomas, son of Robert Clay of Rowthorne, had two sons, Richard and Hercules, Richard had a son Hercules Clay who became a wealthy man and Mayor of Chesterfield he was Mayor in 1654 and again in 1661, but was ejected from office in 1662 along with his Aldermen for refusing to take an oath to which they did not agree. Hercules Clay was taxed in 1641 and is also listed in the Poll Tax of 1656, in 1661 he gave £2 in a collection for the restoration of the monarchy after the Civil War, which was substantially more than most people in Chesterfield gave. In the Hearth Tax of 1670, he was taxed on 5 fireplaces which again was quite substantial, as most people were taxed on one. In his will of 1685 he left money to be distributed amongst the poor of Chesterfield and Walton. 

The first mention of a Clay in Chesterfield is in 1523 when Robert Clay was taxed on goods worth £2. The parish register starts there in 1558 and John Clay was baptised in 1559. Ralph Clay was married there in 1561 and had 4 children, he left a will in 1579. The parish register contains numerous entries for Clays...

Avery Clay of Chesterfield is on a list of Alehouse Keepers for the year 1578, and in the 1638 Muster Roll for Chesterfield four Clays are listed Godfrey, Hercules, John and George. 

The other Hercules Clay born in Rowthorne moved to Sutton-in-Ashfield and had a son again another Hercules (cousin to the Chesterfield Mayor) who also took a similar line in public life and became Mayor of Newark in Nottinghamshire, becoming a very famous and prominent man. He was the Mayor at Newark in 1644 when the Royalist Castle and town was under siege from the Parliamentarian Army. At that time the Castles defences surrounded the whole town and on the night of March 11th 1644 Hercules Clay dreamt three times that his house was on fire and, unable to stand it any longer got his family out in the middle of the night, just as a siege machine sent a fireball over the ramparts and burnt down his house. In his will of the same year he left £100 to the church for a sermon to be said on the 11th of March yearly forever “Upon which day it pleased God of his infinite mercy wonderfully to preserve me and my wife from destruction by a terrible blow of a granado in the time of the siege”. 

He also left another £100 for bread to be given to the poor of Newark also upon the 11th day of March yearly (his sermon is still preached every year and his family bible is brought in a procession to the church, where bread is given out to the choir). 

Hercules Clay family bible

There is a monument to him, in the church, with the Clay coat of arms, also there is a plaque on a building in Newark market place to show where he had lived. After the civil war was over and the royalists were defeated and Hercules Clay had died, his brothers John Clay and William Clay had to answer charges in 1648 that Hercules had loaned £600 for maintenance of the Newark Garrison against Parliament during the siege of 1644, the charge was proved and the money was declared to be forfeited to the State.       

Hercules Clay monument 
Hercules Clay plaque, Newark market place 

In the court rolls of Holmesfield (Dronfield parish) in Derbyshire, Clays feature from 1486 when William Clay, son and heir of Mary, had two bovates of land at Holmesfield, and the same year Henry Clay occupied a close without permission and was fined. From 1491 to 1516 William Clay was a juror there at the Manor Court and in the year 1500 he is listed with his wife Isabella. The parish register of Dronfield, which covers Holmesfield, begins in 1560 and William Clay is buried in 1565. John Clay marries in 1581, his wife died that year after having a son Adam. John married again in 1582 and had two more children, the surname carries on there throughout the 1600s. 

Glapwell is another place in the county where the Clays lived, about two miles from Hardwick Hall, and here we find the earliest Clay will, which was left by John Clay in 1538, his wife was Joan and they had four sons John, Richard, Robert, William and a daughter Anne. His son Robert Clay was taxed there in 1545, he married Emma Wood of Burton Joyce and he died in 1556 leaving a will. During the Reign of King Henry VIII, John Clay of Glapwell went to court to testify in a case of “Unlawful assembly and riot at Glapwell”. John Clay purchased land off the Hardwicks in 1574 for £15. The tax list for 1524 gives John Clay, Roger Clay, Geoffrey Clay and Robert Clay all taxed at Glapwell. 

    Coat of arms presented to Sir John Clay
The Clays at Glapwell became prosperous due to their involvement with “Bess of Hardwick”, who was the Countess of Shrewsbury. Robert and Emma Clay's son, John had moved to the parish of Crich by 1570 (pronounced Crych) and he married twice into 'well to do' families, first to Mary daughter of William Calton, who was “Servant of the Hawks” to King Henry V111. She died in 1583. He then married Margaret, daughter of Sir Edward Ferrars, after his parents died he sold their lands at Glapwell in the year 1585 for £600 and bought a farm called “The Edge” at Wakebridge in the parish of Crich, which had been confiscated from Anthony Babbington, who was executed in 1586 for being involved in the plot to free Mary Queen of Scots, who was being held prisoner nearby at South Wingfield Manor.

By this time John Clay had become a man of means and was duly knighted and given a coat of arms in 1588 and was appointed to have a “Lance and Horse” ready for Royal Service. In 1589 he appealed against the “Forced Loan” and asked for the sum of £50 to be reduced to £25.

In the Lay Subsidies of 1598 to 1601 Sir John Clay, gentleman of Crich is taxed on land. In 1599 he contributed 20 shillings to the cost of horses for the service of Ireland. He had a son, William who died in infancy and one other son, Theophillus Clay, who is said to have died without issue and his burial is recorded in the parish register of Crich for 2nd March 1590, leaving Sir John Clay with no direct male descendant, although he had three daughters. In the year 1601 in the will of Oliver Wheat of Crich, Sir John Clay and his three daughters Penelope, Marie and Susan were left 20 shillings each. In 1602 Sir John Clay of Crich paid the “Horse Tax”. In the year 1605 Sir John Clay of Crich, gentleman, gave a slanderous speech, accusing the Earl of Shrewsbury of “Knowledge of the Gunpowder Plot and absenting himself from the Houses of Parliament under colour of his happy gout" on the planned day. In 1608 Sir John Clay and his daughter Mary received a gift of £50 each in the will of the Countess of Shrewsbury (Bess of Hardwick) there are other references to Sir John Clay but finally, he passed away in 1633 and left three daughters, but no sons to carry on that particular line of Clays from Crich. There is a large memorial to him and his family inside the church.

At Morton parish, next to Northwingfield, Roger Clay is on the 1534 Muster Roll and again in 1538, listed as with “Horse and Harness”, he left a will in 1543 and had a son John who was taxed in 1545 and in 1553, he is described as a yeoman. John Clay of Morton was the supervisor of the will of his father-in-law Thomas Eyre of Pilsley in North Wingfield in 1552 and witness to another mans Inventory at the same place in 1558, he died in 1567 and in his will he mentions his wife Anne and sons John, Robert and Thomas, his wife left a will in 1569. John Clay of Morton was taxed in 1570 and 1572 and also again in 1577. 

The parish register of Morton starts in 1575 and Michael son of John Clay is baptised in 1578. Robert Clay was living at Brackenfield in Morton parish and is listed as a tenant there from 1583 to 1591, he is also listed on the 1585 Muster Roll. The Clays are well documented throughout the 1600s at this parish. 

About 4 miles south of Northwingfield is a parish called South Normanton, and Thomas Clay was taxed there in 1524 and the Clay family appear in the parish register near the beginning, when Ralph Clay married Jane Robertson in 1553. Thomas Clay left a will there in 1555 and mentions his son Ralph Clay, who in turn left a will in 1566 in which he mentions his wife Jane and sons Thomas, Ralph and Edward. The Clays at South Normanton were renting a property with land from Nicholas Longford for 12 shillings a year. Ralph Clay was a “Trained Musketeer” in the 1624 Muster Roll. 

In Pleasley parish, which is on the Derbyshire border with Nottinghamshire, the Clays were farmers at Shirebrook and Thomas Clay was listed there as a “Bilman” in the 1534 Muster Roll. Richard Clay was taxed there in 1545 and in 1550 left a will mentioning his wife Anne with sons Thomas and Robert. The parish register begins in 1553 and Alice Clay is buried there in 1555, Thomas Clay was married there in 1562 both Thomas and Robert have children baptised there and Thomas Clay of Pleasley parish was taxed in 1597 and in the 1624 Muster Roll Robert Clay was a “Trained Musketeer”. John Clay was also listed there in the 1624 and 1638 Muster Rolls. On the Northern border of the county in the “Eckington Court Rolls” of 1513 Thomas Clay is fined for cutting greenwood and in 1514 John Clay is fined for cutting down hedges, again in the “Eckington Court Rolls” dated 1576 to 1589 William Clay is fined for taking wood. Nathanial Clay of Eckington is listed in the 1638 Muster Roll and he had 2 fireplaces taxed in the 1670 Hearth Tax and likewise Charles Clay. Nathanial Clay was a tailor by trade and left a will in 1685.

To the west of the county is the parish of Hartington, and in the “Duchey of Lancaster Court Roll” for 1532 Hugo Clay and John Clye (sic) are listed and George Clay was listed in the 1538 Muster Roll. In 1574 Henry Clay had land in a part of the parish called Crowdicote and is listed there in the “Duchey of Lancaster Manorial Rolls” up to 1593 (one Henry Clay married Margaret Howe in 1594 about 8 miles away). Henry had a son, Richard Clay who later lived at Fernibotham in Hartington parish, Richard had two daughters baptised and appears to be buried in 1654 at Alstonfield, which seems to be the end of the Clays in Hartington parish. 

There are scant references to some Clays at Palterton in Scarcliffe parish, Joan Clay left a will there in 1543 and John Clay paid Tithes there in 1572. Robert Clay was on the 1638 Muster Roll and was taxed in 1641, he is listed as a yeoman in 1661 when he gave 10 shillings for the Kings Restoration. At Swanwick in the parish of Alfreton, William Clay left a will in 1555 mentioning his wife Anne and his brother Robert, he also mentions four children, but does not give their names, he no doubt was a farmer as he leaves cattle and sheep in his Inventory. The parish register does not start until 1706, the earlier one not having survived, so we know little of this family but Henry Clay of Swanwick leaves a will in 1613 mentioning his wife Edith and daughters Anne and Elenor, he also mentions Francis Clay of Mansfield, who was witness to the will and Inventory (Mansfield is just over the border of the county in Nottinghamshire and the 3rd entry in the parish register at Mansfield is Joan daughter of Robert Clay baptised 10th November 1559). 

At Wilne 3 miles from Derby Thomas Clay has a son, Michael, baptised in 1552 his wife, Agnes, is buried in 1556 he must have remarried as he has a daughter baptised in 1565. There were three churches in the town of Derby which have early registers dating 1538, 1542 and 1558 but the Clays do not appear in any of them until 1611, which leaves a large gap from those which are mentioned there in the 1200s, maybe they were victims of the plague which decimated whole communities. Clays are mentioned in the “Derby Fair Book” when Robert Clay of Derby bought a little bay nag in 1642 he is listed as a tailor. William Clay and Joseph Clay who both left wills at Derby in 1695 are described as Brickmakers. 

Beeley parish register starts in 1538 and a family of Clays appear to have moved there from somewhere else, as the first entry in the register for a Clay is not until 1585 when Constance Clay has an illegitimate daughter baptised there. Thomas Clay married there in 1599. An Elizabeth Clay marries there in 1627, but they were not baptised at Beeley and the same for Francis Clay, who is having children baptised there from 1630. Peter Clay of Birchover in Youlgreave parish gave evidence at Beeley in favour of Beeley church in 1670 at a dispute with Bakewell church with three other witnesses “the youngest of them being 76 years old said according to their ancestors" etc . 

The Clays still continued to expand thier families and later, in the 1600s, we find them in the parishes of Wirksworth, Shirland, Ashover, Bakewell, Pentrich, Duffield, Youlgreave and Darley, but stil in the northern half of the county. In the parish of North Wingfield a Roman road passes through Stretton, Clay Cross, Tupton and on through the parish of Wingerworth, all places where the Clays settled, the Romans called this Ryknield Street (Now the A61). The Clays have used this road for the last 800 years and still do so today as they continue their remarkable journey.

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