Clayton Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Clayton Surname Meaning

The Clayton name is locational, from various places now called Clayton in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Staffordshire and Sussex.

Lancashire has the largest number of these place-names – Clayton Vale near Manchester, Clayton-le-Dale near Blackburn, Clayton-le-Moors near Accrington, and Clayton-le-Woods near Chorley.

The root is the Old English clorg-tun, meaning “settlement on the clay.”  The earliest spelling, as Claitone and Claitune, was in the Domesday Book of 1086. The surname appeared in its present form in the Lancashire pipe rolls of 1263.

Clayton Surname Resources on The Internet

Clayton Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Lancashire)
  • to America and Australia

England.  The largest numbers of Claytons have been in Lancashire.

Lancashire.  The forebear of the Claytons in Lancashire is said to have been the Norman Robert de Clayton who was granted lands at Clayton-le-Moors after the Conquest. Clayton Hall passed to the Byron family after the marriage of Cecilia de Clayton to Robert de Byron in 1191. But Clayton Manor remained in Clayton hands. John Clayton of this family was the first in the family to drop the “de” around the year 1500.

These Claytons subsequently acquired the Adlington and Worthington manors. Richard Clayton was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in Ireland from 1765 until his death in 1770 and another Richard Clayton was created a Baronet in 1774.

The Claytons of Fulwood near Preston were near-relatives. They were sugar and tobacco merchants in Liverpool. Their numbers also included Robert Clayton, the 18th century Irish Protestant bishop.

Cheshire.  Another old Clayton family, possibly related, was recorded as beginning with Randal de Clayton who held land at Thelwall in the early 1300’s. This family prospered at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. Church records showed the baptism of Henry Clayton, son of Peter Clayton, in Thelwall in 1577. Sir Randall Clayton of this family left for Mallow in county Cork in the early 1600’s.

Elsewhere.  There is a place called Clayton in Yorkshire. But some Claytons in Yorkshire may have come from the original Lancashire stock. That was probably the case with Thomas Clayton who lived at Clayton Hall in High Hoyland parish near Barnsley in Yorkshire in the 15th century:

  • a line of these Claytons was thought to have settled near Chichester in Sussex on the south coast. William Clayton of this family departed with William Penn for America in 1677.
  • John Clayton, a merchant, came to London from Yorkshire around the year 1650. He settled in Enfield. His son Samuel acquired the former royal game reserve, Enfield Old Park, in 1736.

Another line of Claytons, dating back to the late 14th century, came from a small farming stock at Bulwick in Northamptonshire.  Robert Clayton left the village sometime in the 1640’s for London where he apprenticed as a scrivener (money-lender). He later made his mark as a merchant banker and became very rich and a benefactor to many causes.

His statue stands in front of St. Thomas’s Hospital opposite the Houses of Parliament. Robert’s nephew William Clayton was made a Baronet in 1732 and this line has continued through ten iterations until the present time.

A Gypsy Name.  Clayton can also be a Romany (gypsy) name, found primarily in Warwickshire and its environs from the 1750’s onwards. In 1808 Brington Clayton married Charlotte Booth on the same day and in the same church as Francis Clayton married Mary Bannister. Eric Trudgill’s 2009 booklet covered the family trees of Francis and Mary Clayton from Derbyshire and of John and Mary Booth.

America.  James Clayton, a blacksmith from Middlewich in Cheshire, was the English forebear of the Delaware family of Claytons. He came with his wife and children in William Penn’s fleet to Pennsylvania in 1682.

Delaware.  The line through his son John and grandson James led to Dr. Joshua Clayton who served as the first Governor and second Senator for Delaware. His son Thomas was also US Senator, as was his nephew John who as well became US Secretary of State under Zachary Taylor. Henry Hepburn’s 1904 book The Clayton Family covered this family and their antecedents in England.

Another line of this family, through a later blacksmith James Clayton, migrated first to North Carolina in the 1740’s and then, after the Revolutionary War, to Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana. Henry D. Clayton became a general in the Confederate army and was later the President of the University of Alabama. His Alabama home was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

Elsewhere.  Descended from the Sussex immigrant William Clayton was Powell Clayton, born in Pennsylvania, who was a Union general during the Civil War. He afterwards settled in Arkansas with his brother William, serving as both its Republican Governor and Senator. William Clayton, a judge, was later instrumental in bringing statehood to Oklahoma.

Australia. William Clayton, a sawyer, left Manchester with his wife under an assisted passage program for South Australia in 1854. There he struggled to find work and after ten years they returned to England. But England was no better and they returned to Adelaide in 1866 where William eked out a living again.

All of this would have been forgotten had not Clayton in 1913, at the age of 80, penned his remarkable memoirs. They covered in vivid and candid detail his career as a working man. He lived to be 100.

Clayton Surname Miscellany

Clayton Hall in Lancashire.  The Clayton family in Lancashire was said to date from the time when their forebear came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066 and was subsequently granted lands in Lancashire that were then and now known as Clayton-le-Moors.  He took the name of Robert de Clayton.

Clayton Hall was built in the 12th century and the present-day park is situated on what remains of the vast estate of the de Clayton family.

When Cecilia Clayton married Robert de Byron in 1194 it passed to the Byron family.  The Byrons lived there for more than 400 years until they sold it in 1620 to London merchants.

It is reputed that the Royalist army were stationed at Clayton Hall before its attack on Manchester and that Oliver Cromwell was said to have stayed there for three nights.  Clayton Hall is rumored to have had three ghosts..

The Clayton Merchants of Liverpool.  Clayton Square in the center of Liverpool was named after William Clayton, one of the greatest Liverpool merchants of the late 17th and early 18th centuries.   He was Mayor of Liverpool in 1689 and an MP for Liverpool in six Parliaments between 1698 and 1715.

When he died in 1715 his daughter Sarah was just three years old. She was 33 years old when her mother Elizabeth died in 1745.  Almost immediately afterwards, she assumed the reins of the family business.  She merged the family’s coal business with that of her brother-in-law’s and emerged as one of the most important coal dealers in Liverpool.  She made a fortune transporting coal from the Lancashire fields to the hearths of Dublin.

It was quite unheard of for a woman to assume the place of a captain of industry in the mid-18th century. Sarah Clayton, who never married, remains an extraordinary figure.  Records of her business dealings show her engaging with all the vigor of her exclusively male rivals in business partnerships, price wars and competitions for transport and emerging with considerable success.

Reader Feedback – Clayton in Bolton, Lancashire.  My fully researched ancestry is totally Bolton in Lancashire, starting with William Clayton’s marriage to Ellen Mort in 1827.  Where he came from and where he died is still a mystery after 30 years of searching.

Colin Clayton (

Robert Clayton and John Evelyn.  On September 26, 1672, John Evelyn wrote in his Diary that he went to dinner at Sir Robert Clayton’s with Lord Howard and they had “a great feast” there.  Clayton was at that time Sheriff of London and had just built himself a new house at 8 Old Jewry. Evelyn remarked that the house was “built indeed for a great magistrate at excessive cost.”

A few years later Clayton bought an estate at Marden near Godstone in Surrey from a kinsman of Evelyn. They travelled together to Clayton’s new home on October 12, 1677 where Evelyn saw that Clayton had transformed “a despicable farmhouse into a seat with extraordinary expense.”

Evelyn’s description gives us a good idea of Clayton’s house and grounds:

“The gardens are large and well-walled.  The barns and the stacks of corn, the stalls for cattle, pigeon-house, all of the most laudable example.  Innumerable are the plantations of trees, especially walnuts.  The orangery and gardens are very curious. In the house are large and noble rooms.  He and his lady entertained me three or four days very freely.  All the ground is so full of wild thyme, marjoram, and other sweet plants, that it cannot be over-stocked with bees.  I think he had near forty hives of the industrious insect.”

Reader Feedback – Brington Clayton from Derbyshire.  Brington Clayton who married Charlotte Booth was my 4th great grandfather. In Eric Trudgill’s booklet there is a reference to my great grandfather Isaac Clayton (1873–1958). I have a photo of four generations, with Isaac holding me as a baby, along with my father and grandfather. I’m currently researching my family tree and wondered if you have any further information on our family.

Stephen Clayton (

Claytons from Barbados to the Isle of Wight.  Samuel Clayton was said to have been an Irish gentleman who emigrated to Barbados in the early 1700’s. There he married an heiress Thomasina Wittewronge in 1729, but he died five years later.  Both their son and grandson Thomas joined the British Navy and both were captains during the Napoleonic wars.  The younger Thomas died at sea off Ireland in 1805.

His widow Phoebe, from a well-to-do naval family, afterwards moved with their son Samuel to Ryde in the Isle of Wight.  From a later family journal it was written:

“At the time of Gilbert’s birth in 1875, the Clayton family had risen by common sense, prudent management, devoted naval and military service, and plain good luck from obscurity in early 18th century England to a respected position among the gentry of the Isle of Wight in the 19th.”

Reader Feedback – Claytons in Jamaica.  There are numerous Claytons in central Jamaica. They are said to be descendants of two Clayton brothers who were immigrants from Liverpool. This I learned from my grandfather and he learned from his grandfather who was one the Clayton brothers who came from Liverpool.

Kimani Clayton (

Bowell Clayton and Adaline McGraw.  Powell Clayton was a Union general during the Civil War who commanded Federal troops occupying Pine Bluff in Arkansas.  He successfully repulsing a three-pronged attack from Confederate forces. His troops had piled cotton bales around the Pine Bluff courthouse and surrounding streets to make a barricade for the Union defenders and it worked.

Adaline McGraw, by contrast, was the orphaned daughter of a Confederate steamboat captain from Helena, Arkansas. No matter. They met and apparently fell in love. After the war was over Powell stayed in Arkansas and they got married in December 1865.

Powell later entered Arkansas politics and in 1868 became its Republican Governor.  Adaline found herself as her state’s First Lady, moving into a fine river house on Carpetbagger’s Row in Little Rock.

Adaline always referred to her husband as “General C” (he was known in politics as Boss Clayton). Adaline saw to the marrying off of their two daughters – Charlotte to the Belgian ambassador and Kathleen to an English diplomat.  And Adaline outlived her husband. Three years after he died in 1914, she sailed to England to visit her daughter.  But she never made it back.

Clayton Names

  • Robert de Clayton, granted lands at Clayton-le-Moors in Lancashire, was the forebear of the Claytons in Lancashire. 
  • Sir Robert Clayton was a prosperous merchant banker who became Lord Mayor of London in 1679. 
  • John Clayton was US Senator for Delaware between 1829 and 1849 and subsequently served as US Secretary of State under Zachary Taylor.

Clayton Numbers Today

  • 29,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 20,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Clayton and Like Surnames

The Anglo-Saxon word tun meaning “settlement” gave rise to many place-names with the suffix “-ton.”  And the place-name could become a surname describing someone who came from that place.  Sometimes the name was specific to just one location; but often the place-name could be found in various places and the surname would also crop up in a number of locations.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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