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John Clay - A Scottish Farmer
Newspaper Notices

"Weekly Live Stock Report," September 9, 1904.


Eighty years save two months! "The days of our years are three score years and ten, and if by reason of strength they be four score years, yet Is their strength labor and sorrow —," saith the Psalmist.

Not so the closing decade of the life of John Clay, senior, who passed away peacefully in Edinburgh, Scotland, the evening of the 3rd inst. With the dying day, the great life went out into eternity; heart and hand became silent and still forever, but the influence, the example, the work, live on and will ever be a monument to his memory. He was a farmer; and lived the simple, unpretentious life of a farmer, residing fifty-seven consecutive years on his farm near Kelso, and retiring from active work only a few years ago. He was a father; and saw a large family of sons and daughters grow to maturity — educated and trained along those lines that make for manhood and womanhood, for usefulness in life, schooled in the school of experience, guided by a firm but kindly hand — a hand that did no ignoble act; by a mind that knew no unchaste thought, and by lips that uttered no profane word. He lived to see his name carried to the third generation, though not until in his seventy-seventh year. He was devoted heart and soul to his calling, and his efforts were ever directed toward the betterment of the agricultural classes. As a member of the Royal Commission, he secured the enactment of legislation giving to the tenant fanners remuneration for permanent improvements put upon property during their occupancy. He did not aspire to office, caring not for publicity, except so far as office enabled him to advance the great cause of agriculture. His were the arts of peace, and his home was his shrine. And so he lived to a grand old age, with faculties undimmed, with energy undiminished to the last. He saw the Scythe-bearer mow the wheat around him; he saw great trees fall; and knew that others around him — nearly all of them younger — were called, but the Messenger spared him until the flaxen-haired Anglo-Saxon of the third generation lisped his name. And so he died — grand old man — and his requiem is sung by the host of those who knew him and who learned to call him blessed. N. H. S.

"Scotsman," September 5, 1904.

The announcement of the death of Mr. John Clay will be received by a wide circle of friends with deep regret. For many years he occupied a foremost place in the agricultural life of Scotland, and was also well-known in English agricultural circles. Until two years ago he was a prominent figure at agricultural gatherings, but since that time he has been subject to a-protracted illness, and passed away on Saturday evening at his Edinburgh residence. Mr. Clay was born on 5th November, 1824, and has thus lived under four Sovereigns. He came of a well-known Berwickshire farming family, and was the fourth of his name connected with agriculture in that county. During his long life he has farmed many important holdings in the Borders, and would for a number of years pay between £4,000 and £5,000 yearly in rents. In 1848 he entered upon a lease of the farm of Winfield, in succession to his grandfather, and continued as tenant there until about 1892. On his leaving the farm he was envolved in litigation with his landlord, mainly arising from his claim under the Agricultural Holdings Act. One of the actions was appealed to the House of Lords, and is still the ruling decision upon the point involved. Mr. Clay was successful in all the actions raised against him but never ceased to regret that he should have had a difference with one landlord out of the several under whom he farmed. In 1867 he succeeded his father in the realm of Kerchesters, on the estate of his Grace the Duke of Roxburgh, and held the lease of that farm till 1896. He also, in 1872, entered into a lease of the farm of Plenderleith, upon the same estate, from which he retired about 1897. At the date of his death he was a tenant of the farm of Wedderlie, near Lauder, which he has held since 1852. Mr. Clay was a shrewd business man, with great force of character, and would have been successful in almost any line of life. He early made his mark in the farming world, and was for many years a progressive, energetic, and successful agriculturist. His abilities were recognized by the Government, when he was appointed one of the Commissioners for Scotland in the Royal Commission on Agriculture of 1879. He was again honoured by being appointed in a similar capacity on the Royal Commission on Agriculture of 1893. In both of these Commissions, while signing the report of the Commission, he tabled in separate memoranda advanced views on remedies for agriculture in Scotland, some of which have been since to some extent met by legislation. In politics Mr. Clay was a Liberal. He followed Mr. Gladstone on the Home Rule question, and latterly his views have been in sympathy with those of the Liberal League. In his early years he was actively engaged in political campaigns in Berwickshire, and in the election of 1880 was asked to stand as Liberal candidate for the North Division of Northumberland, against Earl Percy and Mr. Matthew White Ridley. He was unsuccessful in his candidature but it was admitted that he opened the way for the success of the Liberal candidate in that division after the passing of the Franchise Act. He left the Established Church at the Disruption, and has since been a Free Churchman; he has been an elder in the Free Church since i86r. He was in full sympathy with the Union of 1900. From his early years until within a few years of his death, Mr. Clay was a keen follower of hounds. His recollections date back to the well-known period when the late Earl of Wemyss hunted in the Border County, and he was well to the front in many a famous run. Mr. Clay rode not only straight, but with judgment, was never far from the first flight, and few figures were better known at a meet of the Buccleuch or Berwickshire hunt. Socially he was one of the most genial of men, and had a large circle of friends, not only in this country, but extending to the United States. He is survived by his widow (who also belongs to a well-known Berwickshire family), four daughters, and three sons.


Obituary Notice in Kelso "Chronicle," September 9, 1904.

In the Parish Churchyard of Sprouston on Wednesday the grave closed over all that remained mortal of John Clay — still a household word in the Parish. And what fitter resting place could there be for such a leal Borderer at the close of a long, a busy, and a useful life. There is rural quiet, and it is within the sound of the murmuring Tweed on its winding flow to the sea; it is also, in this particular instance, close by the home he knew so long, and, as numerous instances go to prove, loved with all the ardour natural to the true patriot. Whatever may have been bis shortcomings, John Clay has left behind him a record of useful service — in his own particular profession as an agriculturist as well as publicly — which well entitle him to a niche in the shrine for noted Borderers. His family originally belonged to Berwickshire, he himself being the fourth of the name, and he was born on 5th November, 1824, thus living under four Sovereigns. He was essentially one of the old school of Border Farmers, a school in which, with conditions favouring, son succeeded father with unbroken regularity, and, as was casually remarked in the churchyard on Wednesday, his death — at the age of eighty—reduces the number to an almost unknown quantity. Thus, early imbued with farming notions, he completed his scholastic career and waited his opportunity, which came when, in 1848, he entered upon a lease of Winfield, in Ladykirk. Here he succeeded his grandfather, his father having in the interim taken up the tenancy of Kerchesters, in succession to Mr. Trotter. It was at Winfield where Mr. Clay laid the foundation of his skill as a farmer, and he never ceased to regret his dispute with the landlord — his only one of the kind — when he relinquished the tenancy in 1892. He was an improving tenant, and his very substantial claim under the Agricultural Holdings Act led to prolonged litigation. He had the stick by the right end, however, and was successful throughout, the House of Lords' decision on the chief point involved being still the standard. Mr. Clay's inclinations were not confined to arable farming. He was an enthusiastic stocksman, and took a very keen interest in his two stock farms — lying widely apart, and carrying different stocks. He entered Wedderlee in the Lammermuir district, in 1853, and in 1870 began a lease of the fine cheviot farm of Plenderleith, at the head of Oxnam water, on the Duke of Roxburgh's estate. In 1867 he succeeded his father in the tenancy of Kerchesters, in the Barony of Sprouston, and one of the largest holdings on the Duke's estate — one of the largest, indeed, in Scotland. Here he established his home, and it was with this place that his name is most closely associated. It is computed that at this time Mr. Clay must have paid nearly £5,000 per annum in rental. It seems too large an undertaking for an ordinary mortal. But Mr. Clay was cast in a different mould from the ordinary mortal; he had native grit, and he faced whatever difficulties cropped up with a cheerfulness and determination that went more than half way towards achieving his purpose. Thus he made his mark, and for nearly half a century he was one of the oustanding figures amongst Border and Scottish Agriculturists — a position of which he was in every way worthy, and gained as much by his success as by the recognition of his shrewdness and business ability. A man of splendid physique, of iron will and strong force of character, he had an extraordinary capacity for work, and he was not content to leave the management of his affairs to subordinates. In his heyday he has often been known to drive in the morning from Kerchesters to Winfield, then on to Wedderlie, and back again to Kerchesters at night — a hard day for both man and beast, but a good illustration of Mr. Clay's energy, and of the strenuousness of his life. It was in keeping with his progressiveness as agriculturist that he should have interested himself to such an extent in the development of machinery for the farm, and he was one of those who, viewing the pressing necessities of the times, were mainly responsible for the introduction into Scotland of the self-binder, which has completely revolutionized harvest operations. Mr. Clay was honoured by the Government with appointment as one of the Commissioners for Scotland on the Royal Commission on Agriculture in 1879, and again in 1893. His colleagues have admitted the splendid service he gave on these commissions, and his marked individuality, his unflinching courage and sturdy independence, is reflected in the fact that, though he signed the reports of both commissions, he tabled in separate memoranda his own views as to the remedies demanded by the agricultural situation. These views were held to be too advanced for general adoption, but several of the suggestions he then made have since been given effect in legislation. While so fully occupied professionally, Mr. Clay recognized his duty as a citizen, and did not in any way shirk it. He shared in the administration of Sprouston affairs generally, and, very popular with all classes, especially with the villagers, who experienced many kindnesses at his hands, he was elected a member of the first County Council for Roxburgh, after a contest with Mr. James Turnbull He was actively connected with various Societies, was a shareholder of both Berwick and Kelso Corn Exchanges, and a Director of the Berwick Auction Mart Co. (Embleton's.) He was also a J. P. for Roxburghshire. From his early manhood days he had always been a close student of politics, and, never hiding that his sympathies were with the weak and unprivileged, he threw in his lot most heartily with the Liberals and developed into one of the stalwarts for the cause — an astute, a willing, and a wise leader. He received a very cordial invitation in 1880 from the Liberals of the North Division of Northumberland to stand as their candidate in opposition to Earl Percy and Mr. Matthew Ridley. This invitation he accepted, and fought a good fight very creditably. He was defeated, but his efforts were not in vain, for it is freely admitted now that his contest paved the way for Liberal success after the extension of the franchise. He was also one of the leaders in many a stubborn fight in Berwickshire and Roxburghshire; he was the favorite chairman at the big meetings at Kelso promoted by his party, and this notice will recall to many his familiar figure — a rugged figure, yet typical of the old yeoman race from which he had sprung, and more typical still when there is taken into account the old-world courtesy which invariably distinguished him. To one and all he was the same. John Clay commanded respect, and he enjoyed it in the fullest measure. He left the Established Church at the Disruption, and was one of the staunchest of Free Churchmen, holding office as an Elder since 1861. For a number of years he was connected with the East Free Church at Kelso, really the Sprouston Free Church, erected at Kelso because a site could not be obtained at Sprouston, but latterly, and until he left for Edinburgh, he was connected with the North Free Church. As an office-bearer his services were greatly valued — his place in the pew was rarely empty, he took his full share of management, and he was a ready and liberal supporter of all the schemes of the Church. The sporting instinct due to his early environment was strong in him, and when in his prime, he was a regular follower of the hounds. He was a capital horseman, and a straight and daring rider. Personally he was one of the most loveable of men. Stern and unbending when occasion demanded, or when convinced he had the right side of an argument with an opponent, he was ordinarily most genial and kindly. Good nature lit up his whole countenance; he was a happy and inspiring companion, and, always approachable, was ever ready, out of the experience of a fullness of years, to give a word of wise council. As an employer of labour he was most considerate; he was ever thoughtful of their well-being, and in this connection it is noteworthy that remarkably few of those under him quitted his service. As a matter of fact there are still employees at Wedderlie who have been there all his time. Mr Clay quitted Kerchesters in 1896, and the displenishing sale on the occasion attracted the largest and most influential gathering of farmers and others that has been known in the district—no better testimony to his popularity could be adduced. He also gave up Plenderleith, but retained Wedderlie. He and Mrs. Clay took up residence in Edinburgh, where, shortly afterwards, they celebrated their golden wedding under the happiest of auspices, and where his death occurred, after a long and trying illness, on Saturday night. Mrs. Clay also came of a prominent Berwickshire farming family, being a daughter of the late Mr. Thomson, Glororum and formerly of Bogend, and her sister married the late Mr. Borthwick, Mindrim. She survives, with four daughters (one unmarried) and three sons. One of the daughters, Mrs. Muirhead, is dead. Mr. John Clay, Jun., the eldest son, and Mr. Charles Clay are in America, and the former is now on his way to this country from Chicago.

On Wednesday the remains were conveyed by special train from Haymarket, Edinburgh, to Sprouston for interment, the only stoppage on the way being at Kelso. A brief service was conducted at the House in Magdala Crescent by Rev. Dr. Whyte, of St. George's U. F. Church, of which deceased, since taking up his residence in the City, was a devoted member. A number of mourners joined the train at Kelso, and a very large number met the train at Sprouston. An impressive funeral service was held in the Parish Church, the officiating clergyman being Rev. Hunter Smith, of St. Stephen's United Free Church, Edinburgh. The praise was well led by a choir under the direction of the organist, Mr. John Wright, whose opening voluntary was, "I know that my Reedeemer liveth." After prayer appropriate passages of Scripture were read, and the succeeding praise included the 2nd Paraphrase and the favorite hymn, "Now the labourer's task is o'er." In his concluding prayer the reverend gentleman thanked God for the life of deceased as father, friend, and counsellor; he also prayed that the widow and fatherless might be comforted and solaced in their hour of affliction and sorrow. "Compass them," he said in closing, "with thy mercy, and teach them through this affliction to know more of thy love." As the mourners left the church, after the benediction, the organist played the Dead March in "Saul." The coffin was borne from the church to the grave by old servants of Mr. Clay, or by their representatives. Those forward for this duty were Walter Brown, Sprouston, who for long acted as steward at Kerchesters; James Gray, Redden (formerly at Kerchesters); Matthew Craig, steward at Wedderlie, and his son, Alex. Craig; William Anderson, the aged shepherd at Wedderlie; and William Whitelaw, shepherd, Wedderlie. The shell was enclosed in a polished oak coffin, having heavy brass mountings, and it was surmounted by some exceedingly pretty floral tributes. Gifts of flowers, however, were restricted, by special request, to the family circle. The chief mourners were Mr. A. Thomson Clay, W. S. (son), and Mrs. Clay; Mr. George Muirhead, Commissioner to the Duke of Richmond, and Gordon (son-in-law) and his three sons; Mr. Robert Stewart, Glasgow (son-in-law), Mrs. Stewart (daughter) and Mr. J. C. Stewart (grandson); Miss Johanna M. Clay, military nurse in the service of His Majesty (daughter); Nurse Williamson, who nursed deceased in his last illness; Mr. David W. B. Tait, W. S. Kelso, agent of deceased; Mr. J. A. Borthwick, Oxnam Row, and Mr. Borthwick, Mindrum (nephews); Mr. James Stedman, Middleton, Galawater, and Mr. W. Chas. Stedman, solicitor and clerk of the peace, Jedburgh (nephews). The pall-bearers were Mr. A. T. Clay, Mr. George Muirhead, and Mr. F. C. Muirhead, Mr. Robert Stewart, and Mr. D. W. B. Tait. The grave, alongside that of deceased's granddaughter, Miss Patricia Stewart, was specially lined with wood, this again carrying a covering of moss and ivy, and from the boundary the proceedings were watched with mournful interest by a large crowd of people from the village and district. Rev. A. M. Craig, of East (Sprouston) United Free Church, Kelso, conducted the service at the grave. In his prayer he thanked God for the long life now closed, for the activity of his life, and for its usefulness and prosperity. He also thanked God for the gifts with which deceased had been endowed — gifts of intellect, of head, and of heart. Specially remembering the bereaved wife and family, he likewise spoke of the end of the period of suffering, and of the blessed hope of resurrection. Other mourners included Sir George B. Douglas, Bart., Springwood Park; Mr. James Stror-month Darling, Edenbank; Mr. George Tait, Edenside; Mr. John Smith, Galalaw; Mr. Adam Dees, solicitor, Duns; Mr. James Turnbull, Lempitlaw Eastfield; Mr. J. S. Johnston, Crailinghall; Mr. Jas. Roberton, Morebattle Tofts; Mr. W. R. Smith, Windy-walls; Mr. W. Dunn, Redden; Mr. Wm. Brown, St. Helens, Kelso; Mr. Alex. Johnston, Todrig; Mr. David Herriot, ex-Mayor of Berwick; Mr. Alex. Darling, Berwick; Mr. H. Alder, Berwick; Mr. Wm. Elder, Berwick; Mr. T. Gibson, formerly of Torwoodlee; Mr. Henderson, Upper Keith; Mr. Stark, Mellendean; Mr. Alex. Lyall, Edington; Mr. Wm. Davidson, Comhill; Mr. John Turnbull, Sunlawshill; Mr. A. Balsillie, Dykegatehead; Mr. R. V. Mather, Abbey View, Kelso; Rev. John Watson, North U. F. Church, Kelso; Rev. Mr. Weir, Bo'ness; Mr. Thos. Park, Haddington; Mr. John Allen, Edinburgh (formerly of Berwickshire); Mr. Alex. Gilmour and Mr. Andrew Scott, Edinburgh; Mr. John M'Arthur of the Kelso Chronicle; Mr. John Hutton, F. R. C. V. S., Kelso; Mr. Wm. Black, Schoolhouse; Mr. C. Dodds, Lime House, Kelso; Mr. John Brown, Ashlea, Kelso; Mr. Andrew Walker and Mr. Tom Walker, Sprouston; Mr. T. Chisholm, Victoria Cottages; Mr. George Wright, Tweedview; Mr. George Bruce, Mr. H. Peattie, and Mr. R. Hall, Kelso, etc.


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