CLAYTON, William (aft.1650-1715), of Fulwood, nr. Preston and Water Street, Liverpool, Lancs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1698 - 1708
1713 - 1715

Family and Education

b. aft. 1650, 2nd s. of Robert Clayton of Fulwood by Eleanor, da. of John Atherton of Atherton, Lancs.  m. 7 Aug. 1690 (with £1,000), Elizabeth, da. of George Leigh of Oughtrington, Cheshire, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 7da. (4 d.v.p.).  suc. fa. ?1664.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Preston 1662, 1682; common council, Liverpool 1687–95, 1705–d., merchant appraiser 1688, mayor 1689–90, alderman by 1694–5.2

Trustee, Liverpool grammar school 1709.3

?Commr. for taking subscriptions to S. Sea Co. 1711.4


Clayton’s family hailed from Preston, but his uncle, Alderman Thomas Clayton, traded from Liverpool from 1672 and served as the borough’s mayor in 1680. Clayton followed his lead, becoming a prominent tobacco and sugar merchant and serving as mayor in 1689. Apart from the difficulty in distinguishing between the two aldermen, his activity in the early 1690s is hard to disentangle from that of his namesake ‘Captain William Clayton’. Nevertheless, it seems likely that it was the future MP who provided ships to assist in the reduction of Ireland and who supplied tobacco to the army in Ireland in 1689. When a vacancy occurred at Liverpool in 1694 Thomas Norris* hoped to persuade ‘Alderman Clayton’ (either William or Thomas) to stand as ‘he has hitherto been a zealous friend to this government and always gone along with me as a justice of the peace and deputy lieutenant in all those things which (for fear of disobliging the Popish party) few others would join in’. Norris was, however, unable to persuade him, attributing Clayton’s rejection to the government’s failure to reimburse Liverpool’s merchants for their provision of ships in 1689, and to Clayton and his fellow merchants ‘having lost so many of their richest ships lately taken by French privateers’. When attempts were made in 1695 to replace Liverpool’s charter of 1676 Clayton signed the condemnation of these efforts, and, though the reasons for his opposition are unclear, it led to his exclusion from the bench of aldermen in the new charter of 1695. It was Clayton’s namesake (the captain) who stood unsuccessfully for the borough in 1695.5

By 1698 Clayton appears to have mended his differences with the advocates of the 1695 charter and was returned for Liverpool unopposed. In a comparison of the old and new Houses in about September he was classed as a Court supporter. A month later he was forecast as a likely opponent of the standing army, but though he did not vote against the disbanding bill on 18 Jan. 1699 his support for the Court in this session is suggested by his telling, on 14 Feb., against the expulsion of Samuel Atkinson. Clayton was to prove a diligent representative of local interests throughout his parliamentary career, and soon after his election Liverpool corporation ordered him and his fellow Liverpool Member William Norris to obtain a bill to establish Liverpool as a separate parish from Walton. Leave was granted to introduce such a bill, and on 16 Dec. Clayton and Norris were appointed to the drafting committee. His concern for local interests was also apparent at the end of this session, when he spoke against an attempt by London merchants to prohibit tobacco imports unless transported in hogsheads, cases or chests, a measure thought to be potentially damaging to the small traders of the out-ports. In the following session he was granted a leave of absence on 9 Mar, and in early 1700 was classed as a Court supporter.6

At the first election of 1701 Clayton was returned on a joint interest with Norris, but the latter’s absence in India had encouraged Sir Cleave More, 2nd Bt.*, to challenge Norris’ election. Much of Clayton’s time was spent defending against More’s petition, and in March he wrote to Richard Norris* that he was ‘forced to [at]tend every day and night to mind it’, and that ‘I dare not be absent one half day for fear’. The prospect of war and its consequences for trade, given the losses he had suffered in the 1690s, was uppermost in his thoughts early in the session. On 11 Feb. he optimistically forecast that ‘we shall have no war but to get a good fleet and to make terms for ourselves’, but by the 18th he was writing that ‘I fear an embargo’. A week later he was resigned to the renewal of hostilities with France, writing that ‘we shall strive all we can to keep off the war, but if the French will not enter into a negotiation then a war must arise’. His lack of enthusiasm for the conflict led him to vote against the preparations for the war in this session and to his subsequent appearance on a black list, but on 22 Feb. he still wrote that ‘I praise God we are very unanimous about the business of the nation and the King is very well pleased at what we do’. In March Clayton diligently reported the settlement of the succession in approving terms to Liverpool’s mayor. Clayton’s care for the economic interests of his constituency was emphasized in this session by his efforts between April and June to protect the emerging rock salt industry. Producers of brine salt petitioned the Commons in April 1701 for a bill to prevent frauds and abuses in the salt duties, a measure provoked by what brine salt producers saw as the favourable interpretations of these duties as they related to rock salt producers. Several Liverpool merchants, including Richard Norris and Thomas Johnson*, were heavily involved in the rock salt industry, and in the three months until the end of the Parliament Clayton closely monitored, and reported upon, this bill. His concern for local matters was further indicated by his sensitivity in May to proposals to require that land tax commissioners had themselves paid £100 p.a. in land tax, feeling that the clause exempting Lancashire from these provisions ‘will look like disparagement on the county’, and in his appointment on 10 June to draft a bill to prevent abuses in the transporting of slaves to the American plantations. Although matters of local interest took up a great deal of his time, his attention was engaged in other matters such as the Speaker’s reading of Defoe’s Legion Memorial on the ‘endeavours of several ill-disposed persons to raise tumults and sedition’, upon which he wrote to Richard Norris the following day that ‘some ill people . . . would fain raise a civil war among us’, while his own sole prayer was ‘God send peace’. Clayton’s hostility throughout this session to the enthusiastic advocates of war appears to have affected his view of the Whigs generally. On 29 May he wrote condemning the denial by Lord Somers (Sir John*) that the Commons articles of impeachment against him ‘be any fart’, and proposed to ‘let the world judge whether we had not reason when such things was done and our poor nation brought so much in debt’. This hostility to Somers was again evident in a hostile report of his acquittal on 17 June in the Lords. Clayton also fully endorsed the Commons’ laying of the blame for the delay in the passing of supply on the determination of the Whig Lords ‘to procure an indemnity for their own enormous crimes’. His final act of significance in the Parliament was a nomination on 24 June to confer with the Lords on their amendments to a bill continuing several duties.7

Hostility to the renewal of war and distaste for the behaviour of the Whig Lords heralded a political shift by Clayton. Having been considered a Whig and returned for Liverpool with the support of the borough’s Whig interest, Clayton allied himself with the Tories at Westminster from this point on and became the leader of the Tory interest at Liverpool. Despite this change he was unopposed at Liverpool in December 1701. He was nominated on 6 Jan. 1702 to draft a bill to provide for the relief of the poor, and four days later was appointed to draft a bill to encourage privateers. On the 20th he was added to the committee preparing the bill to prevent bribery and corruption at elections. On 6 Mar. he was nominated to draft a bill to encourage this trade. He was appointed on 10 Feb. to draft a bill to prevent the making of clothes from short threads, and on the 21st presented the resulting bill to make more effectual the act for preventing abuses in the manufacture of linen. Given his views of the previous session it is not surprising that he was listed among those who had favoured the motion of 26 Feb. vindicating the Commons’ proceedings against William’s former ministers. On 21 Mar. Clayton reported from the committee considering a petition relating to the shipping of unqualified servants to America, a trade in which a number of Liverpool merchants were involved, leading to his appointment the same day to draft a bill to prevent such occurrences. He presented the bill on the 30th, but the following day was given leave of absence, apparently in order to resolve a dispute at Liverpool between the borough’s tobacco merchants relating to the terms of a clause which some of these merchants intended to submit to the Commons, for preventing the repacking of tobacco for re-export.8

Clayton’s altered political allegiance led to some disquiet in the borough before the 1702 election, but he was nevertheless returned unopposed, and his new political loyalties were emphasized in this session when he preferred to work through the new Tory chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Sir John Leveson Gower, 5th Bt.*, rather than the Whig 10th Earl of Derby (Hon. James Stanley*), when attempting to obtain a lease of Liverpool Castle for the corporation. After he had been appointed on 9 Nov. 1702 to draft an estate bill, his concern with matters of trade was quickly demonstrated by his nomination on the 18th to prepare a bill to encourage privateers, a measure he presented on 16 Jan. 1703. Concern for trade and manufacturing also explains his appointment on 18 Jan. to draft a bill to prevent the export of wool, and his management through the House of a bill to prevent abuses in the manufacture of textiles. His appointment on 20 Jan. to draft a bill to lay at the charge of the hundred the costs of transporting poor felons to gaol is most easily explicable in terms of a desire to remove from Liverpool’s corporation the cost of transporting prisoners to Lancaster. Though Clayton was less active in the following session, he did speak in the debate of 4 Dec. 1703 upon the navy, when he urged the House that ‘seamen must have good usage’, and later the same month he was appointed to draft two estate bills (16, 22 Dec.). That his political loyalties remained with the Tories was indicated by his inclusion in mid-March 1704 in a list of probable supporters of the Earl of Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) over the Scotch Plot. His concern for trade was demonstrated in his letter of May congratulating Robert Harley* on his appointment as secretary of state, Clayton encouraging Harley ‘to promote the trade of the nation and not let it be neglected nor run down by foreigners’. Impressions of the moderation of Clayton’s Toryism are confirmed by his failure to vote on 28 Nov. for the Tack. The 1704–5 session again saw Clayton’s significant parliamentary activity subdued, though he was appointed on 14 Dec. to draft a bill to allow Thomas Whitley of Cheshire to compound with the Treasury. His concern for local interests was again evident in his opposition to the bill to allow the export of Irish linen to the plantations, a measure thought likely to threaten Lancashire’s linen industry and against which Liverpool’s corporation petitioned the Commons on 31 Jan. 1705. Although the bill passed the Commons, Clayton and Johnson, his fellow Liverpool Member, appear to have been the prime movers behind the clause added to the bill to limit its validity to 11 years.9

By 1705 Clayton’s Toryism had provoked enough resentment in Liverpool to cause a contested election, but his status as a representative of trading interests in the Commons is suggested by a letter to his challenger from a London merchant confiding that ‘I am heartily concerned you stand in opposition to Alderman Clayton, who is a very necessary man in Parliament, and therefore I shall long to hear some means may be found to set your houses together’. Such appeals went unheeded, but Clayton emerged victorious at the poll and in an analysis of the new Parliament was classed as ‘Low Church’, probably owing to his stance on the Tack. He divided against the Court candidate for Speaker on 25 Oct., but after telling on 10 Nov. for setting a date on which to hear the petition of the Tory Sir George Warburton, 3rd Bt.*, on the Cheshire election, he was granted, on 23 Nov., a seven-week leave of absence. The following month he and a kinsman, Richard Clayton, obtained confirmation of a grant of a plantation of 200 acres on St. Kitts. Returning to the Commons after Christmas, Clayton concerned himself in the attempts of Liverpool and Bristol merchants to raise with the Treasury the question of the interest due upon their bonds. On 24 Jan. 1706 he was nominated to consider the Newfoundland trade. Having reported from this committee on 12 Feb., he was appointed to draw up an address embodying its conclusion that the French had been allowed to gain too large a share of the trade, presenting the address to the Commons four days later. His concern for trade was further demonstrated by his managing through the Commons a bill in February to enlarge Parton harbour in Cumberland, and his appointment on 18 Feb. to a conference with the Lords on their amendments to the bill allowing the import of a cargo of French wine contracted before the ban upon such imports.10

Given his trading interests, it is unsurprising that Clayton became involved in the debates in the 1706–7 session surrounding the passage of the Union. News reached Clayton that Johnson had recommended that Liverpool’s merchants re-export tobacco from England to Scotland, claim drawback on the customs duties, and bring it back again after the Union came into force on 1 May, thereby undercutting competitors. Clayton’s disapproval of Johnson’s machinations led him, on 11 Jan., to ‘acquaint the House what the revenue was like to suffer’ from such schemes, but by February Clayton’s allies in Liverpool were following Johnson’s lead in shipping tobacco to Scotland. On 4 Feb. Clayton spoke against the section of the 4th article of the Union that provided for exceptions to be made to the removal of obstacles to free trade within the new kingdom. He remained angered by the existence of the customs loophole, attempting to embarrass his fellow Member by informing the ministry of Johnson’s plans to take advantage of the loophole, and spoke to William Lowndes* about the bill introduced to close it, towards which Clayton was sympathetic. Clayton also took a keen interest in the effect of the Union upon the salt industry. English salt producers, including the rock and brine salt producers of Cheshire, feared having their domestic market undermined by foreign salt, imported into Scotland before the Union, where there were no salt duties, and then brought to England freely, following the removal of internal customs on 1 May. Clayton was appointed on 27 Feb. to draft a bill to equalize the export allowances of England and Scotland, a bill which when passed allowed the seizure by the government of all stocks of foreign salt in Scotland. Although the Union dominated Clayton’s parliamentary activity in this session it did not prevent his pursuing his interest in trade more widely. On 20 Jan. he acted to preserve Liverpool’s status as Lancashire’s leading port by telling against committing a bill to make Lancaster a staple port for the import of Irish wool, and his chairing on 19 Mar. of a committee of the whole upon trade may indicate a growing respect in the House for his opinion on this matter.11

A list compiled early in 1708 classed Clayton as a Tory, and on 17 Jan. 1708 he was approached in the Commons by Robert Harley, who took Clayton behind the Speaker’s chair and offered him the nomination to the post of collector of customs at Liverpool in what may have been part of Harley’s attempts to gain Commons support for his intended ministerial coup. Four days later Clayton was nominated to draft a bill to regulate linen manufacture. On 5 Feb. he was nominated to draft a bill to encourage fisheries, and, after being appointed on 2 Mar. to draft a bill to revive the Act for better discipline in the navy, he was granted leave of absence on 19 Mar. for an unspecified period, leading to complaints from Johnson that Clayton always left London before the end of a parliamentary session.12

Defeated at Liverpool in 1708 and 1710, Clayton remained active in borough politics and was returned unopposed in 1713. His enthusiasm for matters of trade and manufacture had not diminished. On 9 Mar. he was nominated to draft a bill to curb wool smuggling, and six days later to prepare a bill to regulate the armed forces. Having been appointed on 12 May to draft a bill to preserve shipwrecked vessels and goods, he managed this measure through the Commons. This concern for trade can also be seen in his appointment on 14 May to draft a bill to preserve the navigation of the Thames; his nomination six days later to draft a bill to allow a drawback on the export of silver and gold thread; and his management in May and June of a bill to offer a reward for establishing a method of ascertaining longitude. The session also saw him carry a naturalization bill to the Lords. Classified as a Tory in the Worsley list and in a further comparison of the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments, Clayton did not stand in 1715. He died on 7 July at Chester, being buried four days later at St. Nicholas’, Liverpool. His monument described him as ‘a great encourager of trade’, to which might be added Thomas Johnson’s comment, written in 1702 when the two were still on cordial terms, that Clayton was ‘very sensible, I must always do him that justice, and has a very good notion of most business, and a great memory’.13

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison


  • 1. Vis. Lancs. (Chetham Soc. ser. 1, lxxxiv), 85; info. from Prof. J. M. Price; H. Peet, Liverpool in Reign of Q. Anne, 127–8, 144–5; W. Gregson, Fragments Relating to Co. Lancaster, 165, 167; The Gen. n.s. xxvi. 136–42.
  • 2. Preston Guild Rolls (Lancashire and Cheshire Rec. Soc. ix), 142, 165; J. Picton, Liverpool Mun. Recs. 13th–17th Cents. 271, 288, 290; info. from Dr M. Power.
  • 3. J. Picton, Liverpool Mun. Recs. 1700–1835, 75.
  • 4. W. Pittis, Hist. Present Parl. (1711), 348.
  • 5. R. Stewart-Brown, Tower of Liverpool, 20–28; Picton, Liverpool Mun. Recs. 13th–17th Cents. 297; R. Muir and E. M. Platt, Hist. Mun. Govt. Liverpool, 204–5; info. from Prof. Price; HMC Kenyon, 263; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 646; Add. 70017, f. 319; 28879, f. 264; Liverpool RO, Liverpool bor. recs. 352 MIN/COU I 1/4, p. 346.
  • 6. Liverpool bor. recs. 352 MIN/COU I 1/4, p. 829; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/2, James* to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 2 May 1699.
  • 7. Norris Pprs. (Chetham Soc. ser. 1, ix), 57; Liverpool RO, Norris mss 920NOR 1/81, 86, 88, 91, 94, 108–9, 118–9, 122, Clayton to Richard Norris, 11, 22, 25 Feb., 1, 15 Mar. 1700[–1], 12, 15 Apr., 15, 17 May, 12 June 1701; 2/182, 220, 212, 215, 218, same to same, 11 Mar. 1700[–1], 20, 29 May, 5, 19 June 1701.
  • 8. Norris Pprs. 92–93.
  • 9. Ibid. 104–5, 110–13, 126–7; NMM, Sergison mss ser./103, f. 455; Add. 70161, Clayton to Harley, 27 May 1704; Parlty. Hist. xvi. 175–80.