Edward Clay was elected as Ossett's first mayor in 1890 soon after the town was given Borough status. He was one of the first in Ossett to be elected as an alderman and repeated his term as mayor again in 1893/94. For 40 years, Edward Clay J.P., "a man of determined will and forceful character" 1, took a prominent role in the affairs of Ossett at a critical period in the town's development.
Born in Ossett on April 21st 1844, the son of blacksmith Jacob Clay and his wife Mary (nee Archer), Edward Clay was educated at the Wesleyan and Grammar Schools, Ossett. He began his working career as a hand-loom weaver like so many of his peer group in the town.
After a short spell working for the Ossett Board of Surveyors, in 1870 Clay started in business in his own right as a rag merchant and mungo manufacturer. This proved very successful and in 1889, the firm moved to Wesley Street having acquired Wesley House and its land, previously the home of Ossett-born dyer, dry salter and colliery owner William Gartside. Here they continued trading as Rag Merchants. There were fifty women in the top storey of the warehouse, who removed zips, buttons and seams with hand shears from the old unwashed bales of clothes. They sorted the rags into shades and qualities i.e. worsteds, merinos, stockings, etc.2
Even now, 150 years later, the business is still trading under the name of Edward Clay and Son, Ltd. in Wesley Street as flock and mattress filling manufacturers. After Edward Clay's death at the age of 77 in 1921, the business was carried on first by Edward Clay's grandson Edward Wilson Clay and then, after his death in 1979 by his sons and grandsons.
Edward Clay was also a partner in the firm of Giggal and Clay, wool extractors, Healey New Mill. Edward Clay lived at Wesley House until his death in 1921.
He was first elected as a member of the old Local Board in 1877, and re-elected on three subsequent occasions, and during his period of office, twice occupied the chair. He was one of the chief instigators of the movement that led to the incorporation of the Borough in 1890.
In 1900, he was re-appointed as an alderman for a further six years, at the end of which period he retired from public life. During his career on the local board and town council, he was closely identified with many of the improvements that took place in Ossett, including the making of Station Road. He was also one of the prime movers in obtaining a commission of the peace for the borough and was appointed one of the first twelve magistrates.
In 1882, Edward Clay served as a guardian of the poor and he was overseer for some years. He also held the presidency of the Chamber of Commerce on two occasions. An ardent politician, he was for a long period a member of the Liberal Club and also president of the Liberal Association. He was closely identified with the Wesley Street Wesleyan Chapel and for many years a teacher in the Sunday school. His influence and support were always readily given to any good cause, including music and cricket, and he was a teetotaller.
Above: Wesley House, Wesley Street pictured in about 1906. The couple stood in the left hand doorway are Edward Clay J.P. (1844-1921) and his second wife Amy (nee Blackburn).
Edward Clay married his first wife Sophia Lockwood in 1865 and the couple lived in Field Lane (now Church Street). They had seven children: Mary Jane (b. 1866); Charles Henry (b. 1867, d. 1867); Anne Eliza (b. 1868); John Arthur (b. 1870, d. 1918); Fred Lockwood (b. 1874, d. 1892); Ada Sophia (b. 1875) and Florence Alice (b. 1878). Sophia died aged 50 on the 27th December 1895 and was buried at South Parade Wesleyan Cemetery. Edward remaried in 1898 to Amy Blackburn who lived on to the age of 90, dying on the 22nd December 1946. She was also buried with her husband and his first wife at South Parade.
Above: Edward Clay and Sons mill in Wesley Street, Ossett. In 2020, the business will have been in existence 150 years and is the last remaining textile mill of its type in Ossett.
1. "Ossett Observer" 14th May 1921.
3. "Ossett Through The Ages" Facebook article by Helen Bickerdike.