Arthur Joseph Clay 1870-1915

Arthur Joseph Clay was the first of the men connected to Newborough to die in the First World War, but he did not die on the battlefield.


Arthur was born on 29 April 1870 at Stapenhill House, Stapenhill, (Stapenhill Gardens are the gardens to the now demolished house). He was the eldest son of Charles John Clay (a barrister, JP and director of Bass Ratcliff & Gretton, Brewers, of Burton) and "Aggie" (Agnes Lucy) née Arden, from Longcroft Hall, Yoxall.


The Clays were originally bankers and brewers in Burton. Before coming to Stapenhill they had lived at Foremark Hall (1861 Census) and previous to that at Piercefield Park, near Chepstow (where Henry Clay, Arthur Clay’s grandfather, founded the Chepstow Racecourse)

Foremark Hall, Derbyshire.

Piercefield House, near Chepstow, in recent times. Now a ruin but the extensive parkland has been restored.

from Wikipedia

Piercefield House circa 1840 from a painting by George Eyre Brooks

Arthur had three younger brothers –


     Gerard Arden b1871

     Ernest Charles b1872 

     Wilfred Henry b1874


(a few days after Wilfred was born their mother died).

In the 1871 census Arthur is at Stapenhill House, and again in 1881, with his widowed father and three brothers (and 8 staff)

Stapenhill House

Photo from


(note from Robin Clay – the figures on the steps could well be the Clay brothers)

After the death of his mother his father Charles married Elizabeth Teasdale Smith in 1883. She was born in Alnwick, Northumberland. She had formerly been governess or housekeeper to the Bott family at Coton Hall near Hanbury, and had possibly been Charles’ housekeeper at some point also.


Charles and Elizabeth had two daughters - Elizabeth Mildred b1886 and Adelaide Hilda b1887. Adelaide later married Henry Clifford, who also died in WWI. Elizabeth sadly died very shortly after the laying of the foundation stone of All Saints church, Newborough (18 September 1899) at the age of 13. The tower was dedicated to her.

In the 1891 Census Arthur is resident at Hollybush, aged 20 and listed as an Oxford Undergraduate.

Hollybush Hall

Photo Liz Ford


Arthur was educated at Harrow, whence he went on to New College, Oxford.

Photo – New College Garden Quad by Miles Banbury

He matriculated in 1889, aged 19. He also achieved fourth class honours in Jurisprudence* in 1892, and had the degrees of BA and MA conferred on him on 18 June 1896. (Note - the degree of MA could be conferred seven years after matriculation without any further study or residence required)


He is still at Hollybush in 1901, with his father, step- mother, brother Wilfred and sister Adelaide and 17 staff. Arthur is a now a director of Bass, Ratcliff & Gretton of Burton upon Trent.


Note * Jurisprudence – “The study, knowledge or science of Law”



A steam powered lorry of about 1900-1915, used for carrying beer casks. Top speed of 12 mph.

From Staffordshire Past Track

Bass, Ratcliff and Gretton


1827 Michael Bass Senior died and his son, another Michael succeeded to the leadership of Bass & Co. He renewed the Ratcliff partnership and brought in John Gretton, creating the company of Bass, Ratcliff and Gretton as it traded in the 19th century.


1839 The opening of the railway through Burton led to Burton becoming pre-eminent as a brewing town.


1870s Bass, Ratcliff and Gretton accounted for one third of Burton's output.


1884 Michael Bass died.


1888 The company became a public limited company.

Early in the 20th century, in a declining market, many Burton breweries closed down. The numbers fell from twenty in 1900 to eight in 1928.


1927 Worthingtons merged with Bass, Ratcliff and Gretton, ending a long standing rivalry between two of the town's major brewers, forming Bass and Worthington. Worthington continued to brew their own beer.                                       


From Grace’s Guide

Arthur invented a system of shorthand and this was published in 1898 by Bemrose & Sons and called ‘A Manual of Linear Shorthand – An Original Scientific Alternating System’. The book sold for 1/- 

(note, reproduction copies are still available on Amazon, sadly no longer at the original price!)


He was a J.P. for Staffordshire in 1904, but evidently did not appear on the bench very frequently. He was also active in politics.



When Newborough church was built he donated £100 towards the cost and supported many church and village events.


‘A. J. Clay Esq. has added to his former kindness by giving some more photographs of the children taken after the last concert.  These are to be sold for the benefit of the School. They are wonderfully good and clear. By the time this appears, it is probable all will have been disposed of.  Our best thanks to him.’


Newborough Parish Magazine January 1899


On the organ is noted -

To the glory of God/ and affectionate memory

of their fathers



this organ for many years at HOLLYBUSH

is presented and enlarged


and re-erected in this place by


September 27 1913



Arthur was one of the promoters of the Ryknield Motor Company Limited; (in Burton) a syndicate whose building works were later taken over by Baguley Cars Ltd. 


The Ryknield  Engine Company was set up by the Clays, Arthur, Charles, Gerald and Wilfred plus Baron Burton, William Worthington and Robert Ratcliff (all prominent in the brewing trade) The company was registered 25 February 1902 and the original directors Arthur Clay and William Worthington, with Major Baguley manager from 1 July 1902.


A new factory was built at Shobnall, Burton upon Trent, next to the then Midland Railway, and 600 vehicles annually were produced (steam, and light cars). The petrol cars were produced as a 10 hp Ryknield and then 15 hp and 20 hp versions followed. In 1905 the company went into liquidation, and the assets sold to Wilfred Clay’s new Ryknield Motor Company. This company too eventually failed and was disposed of to Baguley Locomotive


Source Burton Daily Mail 25.11.1975

A Ryknield car, possibly with Clay family members up front.


Clay brothers & Mr. Baguley outside Ryknield Factory, Shobnall, Burton on Trent.

photo Martin Wroughton

Arthur’s brother, Gerard Arden Clay, then of Hollybush Hall, registered a car at Burton upon Trent in July 1904. The car was a 10 hp Rykenild (sic).  It was a four seater, the body blue with primrose lines and primrose wheels. It was 17 cwt and for private use. The number is FA62.

Source  Register of Motor Cars. Burton upon Trent Library. D29/1/1


(Note. The first car recorded, FA1, was registered on 21 December 1903 to Mr. George Frederick Reading, of Nunnely House, Burton upon Trent, a Wolsey.)


In 1905 Arthur took part in the first ever Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race. (It remains the oldest motor race still being held today, more usually now run at Silverstone)  He was ranked 14th out of 18 finishers (42 cars started the race). He drove a Ryknield car at an average speed of 25.40 mph and took 8hrs. 11mins. 44.20secs  (the winner being John Napier, in an Arrol-Johnson, with a speed of 33.90 mph giving a time of 6hrs 9min) The race was run over 6 laps of the Highlands (Highroads) course which was 52.15 miles in length, with 420+ bends.

Arthur inherited Holly Bush on his father's death in 1910, but sold it to the Hignets, as he was by then living at Grangewood, near Overseal, Leicestershire/Derbyshire border.


Arthur married, at the age of 35, on 10 May 1905 in Lichfield Cathedral to Bridget Parker‑Jervis, who was then 30.  They moved to Grangewood, Netherseal in Leicestershire, and had two daughters – Evelyn Agnes b1906, Doris Muriel b1907 (who died in 1909), and two sons - Charles John Jervis b1910 (he became a banker) and Henry Arthur b1913 (who was a farmer)


Arthur joined the Burton Volunteers and served for many years under Lord Burton, retiring with the rank of captain. When the War came in 1914, Arthur was given a commission in the 6th Reserve North Staffordshire Regiment with the rank of Major, with command of ‘A’ Company. He was involved with trench excavations, practised at Shobnall.

North Staffordshire

Regiment cap badge



2/5th  Battalion

Formed at Hanley on 1 November 1914 as a second line unit.

Became part of 2nd Staffordshire Brigade in 2nd North Midland Division. Moved to Luton area by January 1915 and in July went on to St. Albans

Moved to Ireland in April 1916 to quell disturbances.

August 1915: formation became the 176th Brigade, 59th (2nd North Midland) Division.

Moved in January 1917 to Fovant and landed at Le Havre 25 February 1917.

6 February 1918: absorbed into 1/5th Bn. and ceased to exist.


2/6th Battalion

Formed at Hanley on 1 November 1914 as a second line unit.

Record same as 2/5th Bn except was not absorbed in February 1918

9 May 1918 reduced to cadre and transferred to 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division.

31 July 1918: absorbed into 1/6th Bn and ceased to exist.

Active                   1881-1959

Role                      Infantry

Garrison/HQ       Whittington Barracks, Lichfield

Nickname           The Black Knots

Colours               Maroon, black & silver

March                  God Bless the Prince of Wales (slow march)

                             The Days we went a Gypsying (quick march)

Anniversary        31 July, Third Battle of Ypres

Disbanded          31 January 1959

Colonel of the Regiment HRH The Prince of Wales

From Wikipedia

Arthur did not serve overseas but he died while on active service, of pneumonia, less than six months after being posted, on 18 February 1915, at his billet in Harpenden, Herts, at the age of 44. 

The brass memorial tablet to his memory in St Nicholas Church, Harpenden.

G Ross, April 2013

“To the Glory of God  and in loving memory of Arthur Joseph Clay, Major 6th North Staffordshire Regiment, who died at Harpenden in the service of his Country on February 18th 1915.   This Brass is placed by his Brothers.  Crown for the valiant: to weary ones rest.”

It is recorded in the Burton Mail of 19 February 1915 that Arthur had only a few days before falling ill himself written to the mother of a young soldier who also died of pneumonia in Harpenden. (Private Stanley Bertie Woodward, 2/6th North Staffs Regiment. Died 6 February 1915, son of Mrs. Emily Parker, 212 Stanton Road, Burton upon Trent. Stanley is buried in St. Nicholas’ churchyard, Harpenden).

Note : There are three soldiers buried in this churchyard from the Staffordshire Regiment.

Stanley Woodward

St Nicholas church Harpenden

From the Medal Roll:

Arthur Joseph Clay, N. Staffs Regmt.

Rank Major, Dec’d 18.2.15.


The address of his widow is given as Mrs. A. J. Clay, Grangewood, Overseal, Ashby de la Zouch.

Arthur was not awarded any medals as he had not served overseas.


 At his funeral service the wishes of the family were that his should not be a military funeral. A service had been held previously at Harpenden, which had been attended by officers and men of Company ‘A’ Reserve Battalion.


Arthur’s body was brought from Harpenden by motor car and arrived at Newborough about midnight, being met by the vicar, the Rev. Thomas Herbert Spinney, Rev. Montague Spinney and the church wardens, Messrs. T. Mellor and T. Waltho and Messrs. T. Bill, W. Craner and the parish clerk S. W. Cobb. The coffin was placed at the chancel steps, draped in the Union Jack, on which was placed the officer’s sword, cap and belt. A wreath from his widow, and another from the children, along with other wreaths were also placed around the coffin. A short service was held.

Many parishioners and people from Burton visited the church the next day, when the funeral service was conducted by Rev. T. H. Spinney, assisted by other local clergy and the chaplain of the North Staffs Regiment. Apart from family mourners representatives from Messrs. Bass & Co, the North Staffs Regiment, the Dowager Lady Burton, the Mayor and councilors and many more local notaries attended.

 (for more details of mourners and wreathes see the Burton Chronicle, Thursday February 25th 1915)


He was buried at Newborough. (Note – Arthur’s headstone is not one provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as is usually the custom)

All Saints churchyard, Newborough

The inscription reads – In Loving Memory of / ARTHUR JOSEPH CLAY/ born April 29/ 1870/ died February 18 1915/ ”Looking into Jesus the author and finisher of our faith/ one who never turned his back but marched breast forward/ Never doubted clouds would break/ held we fall to rise are baffled to fight better sleep to wake”

Note – this appears to be extracts from Hebrews 12 and Browning.

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.


One who never turned his back but marched breast forward, never doubted clouds would break, Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph, Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better, sleep to wake.



He is remembered on the memorial plaque in All Saint’s, Newborough.



The screen in the church is also in his memory


WHO DIED AT Harpenden north

on February 18th 1915

In the Newborough School Log book 1915 it is recorded:

“School closed this afternoon for the funeral of Captain A. Clay who died at Harpenden after an attack of pneumonia whilst with his regiments (6 Batt. N. Staffs) He lived formerly at Hollybush Hall Newborough and was buried in the Newborough Churchyard”


He is also remembered at Netherseal -

And at Oxford -

‘Oxford University Roll of Service’ lists all those who served in the FirstWorld War - 

Clay, A. J., MA (Joined Sept. 1914)

Maj. 2/6th N. Staffordshire Regt.

Died on Feb 18, 1915, of illness contracted on active service.

Memorials in Burton Town Hall

Memorials at the National Brewery Centre

(Formerly Bass, Ratcliff & Gretton) Burton upon Trent