The Archive of Sir Henry Clay – collection items numbered and handlist now fully accessible online!

Starting in January 2019, the renumbering of the Clay collection and the expansion of the handlist took longer than anticipated. Naively it was thought that the numbering may only take 6 weeks (!) based on the evidence gathered from the partially expanded 2008 handlist. However, numbering the individual leaves of notes and copious amounts of pamphlets and publications resulted in the project lasting 10 months rather than the 6 weeks predicted. Over 10,000 individual documents later, with 81 boxes numbered, handlist entries expanded and 45 previously numbered boxes checked, the main collection is finally ready for researchers.

Who was Sir Henry Clay?

Sir Henry Clay (1883-1954) was an Economist, academic and Warden of Nuffield College, Oxford (1944-1949). He was one of the founders of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, a research body which looks into the influence of economics and social policy on ordinary lives with the aim to help shape social policy for future generations.

Origins of the Clay collection

The collection came into the College’s possession after Clay’s death in 1954. It was believed to have been deposited by one of his sons, J. A. Clay, however we do not have any records about the original deposit; we only have a set of correspondences between J. A. Clay and the Library dated from September to December 1954. The collection holds material on Clay’s working life, his time with the NIESR (1938-1952) and a small amount of family material.

Physical history of the collection

The collection was originally listed when the material was moved into archival boxes in the 1950’s and remained that way for more than 50 years. In 2008 there was an attempt to expand the original handlist and number the collection items however this was only partially completed (boxes 16-59). This task was picked up again at the beginning of this year with the remaining boxes (60-126, 1-15) listed and the collection items numbered. The boxes which had previously been numbered were then reviewed and updated. This work was done for the main section of the collection (boxes 1-126), with the second section (C1-23) kept as originally listed. Further investigation needs to be undertaken to see whether this section would benefit from more in-depth listing and numbering.


Sir Henry Clay Exhibition

To mark the end of this project, the Library put together a small exhibition showcasing some of the material in the Clay collection.

It includes three posters on ‘The Man’, ‘Scholar’, and ‘The NIESR’.

‘The Man’ showcases Clay’s life and portrays interesting family content such as the bedtime contract he made his wife, Gladys, sign (although the reason behind this is unclear). He married his first wife, Gladys Priestman, in 1910 and second wife, Rosalind Wrong, in 1951 after Gladys’ death in 1941. There are also some sweet letters from Clay’s sons, Anthony and Gabriel, from when they were at school.

‘Scholar’ showcases Clay’s academic life from early beginnings as a Fellow of New College, Oxford (1919-1921) to becoming Nuffield College’s Warden (1944-1949). In between Clay was Stanley Jevons Professor of Political Economy (1922-1927) and Professor of Social Economics (1927), both at Manchester University. The archive collection holds 36 boxes of pamphlets and publications Clay published, and publications he collected or was given. As well as publications, the collection is predominantly made up of Clay’s handwritten notes on various subjects. He was a prolific note taker and would use scrap paper to write down his thoughts on a subject or to plan lectures and talks for his students.

‘The NIESR’ displays the material Clay collected on the NIESR and the correspondence he partook in when he was President (1949-1952). The NIESR correspondence dates from 1951 to 1952, and particularly highlights ‘The Appeal’ whereby Clay was vital in establishing deeds of covenant with many companies – securing the Institute’s research capabilities in the years after his death. Clay was involved in the Institute from its founding in 1938 to becoming Chairman of the Council from 1940 to 1949.

Exhibition Photo

Sir Henry Clay Exhibition at Nuffield College Library (Images © Nuffield College Library)



Nuffield College Archive – Clay Collection

Oxford DNB

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About Nuffield College Library

We are a social sciences library serving Nuffield College and the University of Oxford
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