The Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society (YAHS) have recently added to their extensive collection of Clay papers with the Additional Papers of Charles Travis Clay.

Charles Clay
Charles Travis Clay (1885-1978) librarian and historian. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Sir Charles Travis Clay (1885-1978) was a librarian and antiquarian.  Born in Halifax, Clay was an active member of YAHS for 70 years and was particularly known for his work on medieval charters.  He became the assistant librarian to the House of Lords in 1914, but shortly after the outbreak of the First World War joined the Royal Devon Yeomanry.  Serving in France, Clay was mentioned in dispatches twice.

After the war Clay pursued his career at the House of Lords Library.  In 1922 he was appointed librarian to the House, a post he held for 34 years.  In parallel with this he carried out extensive and detailed academic research with a particular focus on Yorkshire.  This resulted in many publications for the YAHS.  During the 1920s he edited five volumes of the series ‘Yorkshire Deeds’.

In 1932 Clay took over the editorship of the series of ‘Early Yorkshire Charters’ begun by William Farrer, the historian and genealogist.  Clay’s scholarship was widely admired and he particularly excelled in his accurate dating of charters.  The University of Leeds awarded Clay awarded an honorary doctorate in 1943, but despite this recognition he regarded himself as an amateur historian.

le Patourel letter
Letter from Professor John le Patourel about Clay’s publication ‘The Yorkshire Families’. Image credit Leeds University Library.

The new material includes some of Clay’s personal and professional correspondence.  Letters highlight debates in the world of historical research between renowned historians in the early to mid-twentieth centuries.  John le Patourel, Professor of Medieval History, University of Leeds, and Dorothy Whitelock, Professor of Anglo-Saxon, University of Cambridge, were just two of his correspondents.  Clay’s correspondence with friends and colleagues in public life provides fascinating insights into colonial, European and domestic politics between the First and Second World Wars.

The archive contains research notes for Clay’s publications for the YAHS, which demonstrate his well referenced and analytical methods.  He took the same approach to genealogical research into his ancestral families including Clay, Pilleau, Perigal and Daval.  Some genealogical material relates to the Huguenot family of his mother, Alice Pilleau, who was descended from the silversmith Alexis Pezé Pilleau (c.1697-1776).

There are letters, many photographs and genealogical research notes relating to the family of Clay’s wife, Alice Violet Robson (1892-1972).  Her father was the MP and Attorney General William Snowdon Robson, Baron Robson (1852-1918).  Many of the letters were written to Alice by her mother and sisters, Kathleen and Diana.  They give an interesting insight into the women’s lives and activities.