Samuel John Claye

Samuel John Claye


Samuel John Claye is not a well known name amongst students of the history of the Scunthorpe Iron Works. Nevertheless his name goes down amongst the local Ironmasters, not though, as you will discover by reading on, in a positive manner.

Much of the research to publish this biography of the man and his relationship to Frodingham comes from 19th century local newspapers, principally the Derby Mercury, accessed through the British Library Newspaper archive provided by Hull Central Library  to whom thanks are due. Ruth Barber of the Derby Family History Society very kindly provided the details of S J Claye’s birthplace and in effect kick-started the story, thanks are to her, and also to the Cumberland Railway Association, in particular Mike Peascod of that Association for allowing me to use parts of his essay on S J Claye’ involvement with the Barrow Railway Wagon Company, first published in 1990 in the associations journal. Finally and as always, thanks go the staff of the South Humberside Record Office, Grimsby: Scunthorpe Museum and Art Gallery and the West Yorkshire Archive Service at Leeds and Wakefield for allowing access to the Nostell Priory Papers, (The Winn family Archive) )and the Lord St Oswald Mining deposits.



Samuel John Claye was born in Halifax, Yorkshire in about 1819. There does not appear to be any publicly recorded information regarding his early years other than that he married Jane Fletcher, daughter of a ‘Yorkshire Gentleman’ on eighteenth February 1846 at Slaidburn, near Clithero, Lancashire. Claye’s address was given as Osberton RoadDerby and his occupation given as Agent for the Stanton & Staveley Iron Company.

By 1850, Samuel Claye had established a coal and coke business and railway wagon hirer still living in Derby, the advertisements he place in the press throughout Derbyshire and Staffordshire give his address as the RailwayWharf, London Road, Derby.[1] Apparently frustrated by a shortage of railway wagons, especially on the nearby Midland Railway, that were hampering the growth of his business, the following year he moved to Long Eaton and having decided to set up a factory alongside the river and adjacent to the Midland Railway to manufacture railway rolling stock: specifically 4 wheeled wagons of the type in use throughout the UK.

Claye built up a successful business: in September of 1851 the ‘Derby Mercury’ ‘carried an advertisement listing his Coals and Cokes available from Agents in Birmingham, Leicester and other midland towns

Business was such that he was soon able to buy the nearby Long Eaton Manor House, with its farm buildings and a house and croft on the opposite side of the road that led to that house from the Long Eaton railway station. Within two years and in the furtherance of his business, he had erected further buildings on both sides of the road designed to house a foundry, smithy, turning shop, blowing engine and several sheds and an office building. In 1854 he built another large shed on the north side of the road, and a pattern house above the brook which ran alongside.

Long Eaton had remained a small township until the arrival of the Midland counties Railway in 1839, followed in the 1840’s and 1850’s by a line from Trent Junction up the Erewash Valley to just south of Chesterfield, reached in 1862, where it joined the mainline from Derby to Leeds. These extensions to the railway network, coinciding with an influx of machine-lacemakers from Nottingham and Leicester created a boom town with good communications, ample building and low rates. While land was freely available accommodation was scarce, Claye set about providing accommodation for his work force by building a terrace of 12 houses for them. At the end of the terrace he built a (possibly larger) house for his nephew Aked Claye, who was top take up the position of Office Manager.[2] By 1861 the number of workmen employed by Claye stood at about 200.

As the firm expanded during the 1860s, over 1,300 wagons at a time were produced for the Midland Railway. The firm was mechanised during the 1880s, producing 1,000 wagons a year while dealing in coal, coke, ironstone and fireclay. They also leased wagons to other merchants.

Claye became a pillar of Long Eaton society, the local newspaper, the ‘Derby Mercury’ carried reports throughout the 1860’s,70’s and80’s of the meetings of the Long Eaton (Local Government) Board, of which he was a long standing member and also chairman of several committees within that organisation. The church also benefited from Claye’s benevolence, several reports of church outing’s and children’s picnics etc refer to being funded by Samuel John Claye His work force at the Manor house Works also benefited: free tickets were given to several excursions, one in particular took 200 of his employees on a three day outing to the Lake District, with all expenses paid for by Claye. He was also Foreman of the jury to the Derbyshire Quarterly Assizes, and a JP and by the late 1870’s at least, giving an annual Christmas dinner to the foremen and porters of the Midland Railway’s Long Eaton station.

In short a model citizen, remarkable in an age when, generally speaking, the last thing on an employers mind was the well-being of his employees., a comment by one of the mourners at his funeral in 1887 and reported in the Derby Mercury was that ‘he had made Long Eaton.’

In 1867 Claye became an investor in the proposed Trent College Company of Derby. ‘The object of the institution being simply to offer boys intended for a life of business a sound and scriptural education in accordance with the doctrines of the Church of England. An admirable site has been purchased in the Parish of Long Eaton, about a mile from the Trent Station’[3]


During the late 1860’s Claye had decided to expand and create  a ‘little empire’ of businesses, though his first expansion out of Long Eaton, a partnership with a firm of Birmingham  livery stablers and  tack manufactures ended in an acrimonious bankruptcy, whereupon that partnership was dissolved

By 1870 Claye readied himself for that business expansion by setting up the Railway Rolling Stock Works in Barrow-in-Furness. Why this long distance move to an area in which he does not seem to have any connection? The only answer I can give is that he was looking for a district where quantities of iron, and possibly steel, were at hand.[4]  Barrow-in-Furness fitted that requirement. To back up that argument Claye in the following year became the largest investor in the newly formed Lincolnshire Iron Smelting Company.(qv) Whether it was with direct contact with John Hodgson Lovell & William John Roseby that prompted Claye’s interest, or whether the advertisements giving the prospectus and published throughout the UK first attracted Claye is impossible to say. Whatever the answer Claye obviously saw the advantages of north Lincolnshire: close proximity to established ironworks, access to a railway, river transport nearby both on the west and east boundaries of the district, but most importantly, several firms nearby (including Winn’s ironstone mines) who would need railway wagons. And lots of them. To a wagon builder north Lincolnshire must have seen like a new eldorado. So Claye dived head first into an investment that would eventually cost him dear. Whilst in Barrow-in-Furness the local haematite ore, with its high iron content, gave little trouble to the smelters. North Lincolnshire ore was a different proposition altogether. With a variable iron content, anything between 12% and 30% at best: added to high limestone content the ore was giving much trouble to the local ironmasters. In fact it was not until Joseph Cliff at the Frodingham Works discovered that the addition of a large part of Northampton Sands Ironstone was charged with the north Lincolnshire stone that the problem was solved. Of course this meant the Northampton stone had to be freighted into the district, an additional cost to the ironmasters. Again with coal, while deposits were close at hand in Barrow, again the importation from either south Yorkshire or even from County Durham imposed an additional financial burden. I suspect that Claye did not fully understand the differences between Barrow and Lincolnshire, he wanted good iron at any cost and the Smelting Company failed to produce that commodity. Arguments over the quality of ironstone continued throughout the Companies existence, John Roseby was on hand to provide good advice regarding the use of the local stone, advice that was ignored. The financial state of the Company worsened over the years, fresh injections of cash from Claye failed to stem the losses resulting from the poor make of pig iron from the furnaces until in 1882, after several shutdowns and failure to persuade Roland Winn to significantly reduce the price of ironstone: Roland Winn, exasperated by the Companies inability to pay for the ironstone or even the due rent, not to mention failure to carry out the term of the lease they held from him,  instructed his Agent William Langbridge to remove the rails leading into the Smelting Companies works and terminated his contracts with Claye and the Smelting Company, in effect closing it down.[5]

Meanwhile in Barrow-in-Furnace Claye again took to local politics, until at least 1877, when the Lancaster Gazette gave notice that Claye was not standing for re-election in the Yarside Ward of Barrow Municipal Council.

A few years, in September of 1882, the press carried reports of the failure of S J Claye: “A petition for liquidation by arrangement was on Friday presented to the Derby County Court by Mr Samuel John Claye of Long Eaton, near Derby, and of Barrow-in-Furness, railway rolling stock manufacturer. The liabilities are stated as £200,000, a large part of which is secured. The assets are reported to be considerably in excess of the liabilities and it is hoped that the suspension will only be temporary. We understand that the liquidation proceedings have been rendered necessary by some person to whom Mr Claye was liable under a partnership, in which he was recently engaged at Birmingham.”[6] To whom the partnership refers I have been unable to trace, I suspect that it is a mistake by the press reporter, I believe, though there is scant recorded evidence, that Roland Winn, to whom Claye owed at least £4.000, could well have been the instigator of the proceedings.

In the event, the debts were cleared, production resumed at Long Eaton and Barrow-in-Furness, having been suspended whilst the financial state of Claye’s mini-empire were under investigation, no doubt much to the relief to the townsfolk and employees at Long Eaton and Barrow.

Within a couple years with his debts paid and his name was cleared,[7] Claye then embarked on fresh opportunities, becoming financially involved with the Earl’s Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd., of Hull, remaining on that Companies Board of Directors until his death in 1887.

Before his death, Claye had built ‘Belfield’ on Main Street, Long Eaton and a rather ornate mansion which he called ‘Infield’ on the outskirts of Barrow in Furness.

Claye died at Belfield on 3rd April 1887 after a short illness and was buried in Long Eaton.

After his death the firm became a limited company, managed by his sons Edgar and Frank and a new foundry and an electricity generating plant were built. In 1937 it was sold to a rival company, Charles Roberts of Wakefield. The 19th century buildings were demolished in the 1960s. At present the site is occupied by some industrial units and the Tapper’s Harker public house.

Sadly Samuel Claye’s nephew, Aked Clay, whom the Sheffield & Rotherham Independent noted had had financial control of the Long Eaton  works, committed suicide at his home on 25th February1890.

Claye’s Barrow holdings, including ‘Infield’ were eventually sold, the works went to the Vulcan Steel and Forge Company, who inherited a very well equipped factory with a full range of steel making equipment, including several  small Bessemer furnaces.

Samuel John Claye certainly fitted into the style of the Victorian entrepreneur, wherever he spotted as chance of making money, he was certainly in there.  Philanthropic and benevolent, well thought of in Long Eaton and Barrow-in-Furness you could not apply that memorial to him in north Lincolnshire.

[1] The coal. coke and lime business was advertised for sale in several issues of the Derby Mercury in mid-1860. Prospective purchasers were informed that ‘Easy terms can be arranged for suitable applicants.’

[2] Several published reports name Aked Clay as his brother, the Derby Mercury of 15th July 1857 gives the correct family relationship.

[3] Derby Mercury 10th April 1867.

[4] The Schnieder-Hanney works, established in 1859, had by 1866 morphed into the Barrow Hematite Steel Works. Two years later the Company operated 10 blast furnaces and 18 5ton Bessemer Converters.

[5] 31st June 1882;   To the Lincolnshire Iron Smelting Company. I hereby give you notice that under the Authority of Roland Winn M.P. Esq. I have taken possession of the Premises in the Township of Scunthorpe in the Parish of Frodingham and held by you under lease from Roland Winn and in consequence of the forfeiture of that said lease.  Signed Wm Langbridge.

Lord St Oswald’s Mining Deposits, South Humberside Record Office, Grimsby No 578/247/15

[6] Sheffield & Rotherham Independent et al September 1882

[7] Probably as a result of the sale of the Barrow in Furness works. “the railway works at Barrow-in-Furness lately owned by Mr S.J. Claye of Derby ,have been sold to Mr David Caird, Shipbuilder, Barrow, and Mr Thomas Massicks of Millom who is largely interested in the iron and steel works of the district” Leeds Mercury 27th January 1883. Claye also advertised for sale in February of 1883 Cavendish House, at the junction of Midland Road and Park Street Derby, which had been his home for many years Derby Mercury 21st February 1883

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