Robert Clayton (1629-1707) came originally from Northamptonshire, but became an apprentice scrivener to his uncle in London. A scrivener can be described as a cross between a moneylender and a scribe, often acting as a broker or notary. After Clayton’s apprenticeship, he set up on his own and, together with a fellow apprentice, John Morris, took over his uncle’s bank. They renamed it Clayton & Morris Co. His uncle left him a fortune and when Morris died without issue, he also left a considerable sum to Clayton, so he became very wealthy. Clayton had a finger in many pies, first as Alderman of the Cheap Ward, as sheriff, as Lord Mayor, as MP, as colonel in the militia, as governor of the Bank of England and much more.
On 26 September, 1672, John Evelyn wrote in his Diary that he went to dinner at Sir Robert Clayton’s with Lord Howard and they had “a great feast” there. Clayton was at that time Sheriff of London and had just built himself a new house at 8 Old Jewry. Evelyn remarks that the house was “built indeed for a great magistrate, at excessive cost. The cedar dining-room is painted with the history of the Giants’ War, incomparably done by Mr. Streeter, but the figures are too near the eye”. A few years later Clayton bought an estate at Marden, Godstone, Surrey, from a kinsman of Evelyn. They travelled together to Clayton’s new home on 12 October 1677 where Evelyn saw that Clayton had transformed “a despicable farm-house […] into a seat with extraordinary expense”. Evelyn’s description gives us a good idea of Clayton’s house and grounds:
The gardens are large, and well-walled […] The barnes, & the stacks of corn, the stalls for cattle, pigeon-house, &c. of most laudable example. Innumerable are the plantations of trees, especially walnuts. The orangery and gardens are very curious. In the house are large and noble rooms. He and his lady (who is very curious in distillery) entertained me three or four days very freely. […] This place is exceedingly sharp in the winter, by reason of the serpentining of the hills: and it wants running water; but the solitude much pleased me. All the ground is so full of wild thyme, marjoram, and other sweet plants, that it cannot be over-stocked with bees; I think he had near forty hives of the industrious insect.
Clayton did use his wealth for numerous good causes and he was a major benefactor of Christ’s and St. Thomas’s Hospitals, but it is for the latter that he is probably best remembered. Thomas’s Hospital was first located in Southwark, but in the 1680s, it was considered to be in such a state of dilapidation that patching up was not an option and a complete re-building was envisaged. Funds were, however, a problem. A subscription scheme was set up in 1693. Clayton contributed £600 towards the rebuilding and was later to endow the hospital in his will with a further £2300. But Clayton was not the only major benefactor: Thomas Guy and Thomas Frederick paid for wards to be put up, Sir John Wolfe gave fifty pounds and portraits of the King and Queen, Thomas Gudden gave reading desks and bibles for the patients, Captain John Howard paid for the interior of the chapel, and many lesser-known people gave sums between 10 and 100 pounds. And money kept flowing in even after the new hospital had been built. Benjamin Golding gives a complete list of benefactors in his book on the history of the hospital.(1)
In 1701 (Matthews says 1702), a statue of Clayton was erected in the square built at his expense. According to Golding, it had Clayton’s arms on the south side of the pedestal and a – rather wordy – inscription on the north side. The statue had been ordered from Grinling Gibbons, although it was possibly made by his workshop rather than by the artist himself.(2) By order of the Governors of the hospital, the inscription was altered slightly in 1714 when the statue was “beautified and improved” “as a compliment to his virtues and to perpetuate his memory”. In 1862, a compulsorily purchase order had forced the hospital to make way for the Charing Cross Railway viaduct. It temporarily moved to Newington until, in 1871, the new building further west along the Thames at Lambeth was opened. Fortunately for us, the hospital had the sense to take Clayton’s statue with them when they moved from Southwark to Lambeth. The right hand and scroll are replacements to rectify the damage done by a medical student climbing the statue when drunk.(3) The statue itself was moved several times, but since 2000, it stands in a small garden in a quiet corner of the hospital grounds, close to the river.
(1) Benjamin Golding, An Historical Account of St. Thomas’s Hospital, Southwark (1819).
(2) Peter Matthews, London’s Statues and Monuments (2012), p. 187.
(3) Matthews, p. 188.