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James Clayton (1869-1944)

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James Clayton (1869-1944)


1945 Obituary [1]

JAMES CLAYTON spent the greater part of his business life in the textile industry as chief engineer of Messrs. Courtaulds, Ltd. He had been with the firm from the very early days of the rayon industry until 1919. Although thus well known in textile circles, much of his work was of necessity of a secret nature, and therefore he was not widely known in general engineering circles; in fact he did not welcome personal publicity.

His personality was outstanding in any company. His standards of discipline were often considered severe, but were always admitted to be just. He rewarded diligence and good service readily and generously; and where he found ability, promotion and responsibility followed quickly.

He always had a kindly word and gave a helping hand to young engineers and apprentices, particularly to those who came of poor parents. There is no doubt that the struggles of his own early years were never forgotten—hence his bequest to the Institution.

James Clayton can truly be described as a "complete engineer". With his knowledge of buildings and reinforced concrete construction, of steam and electrical installation, and his uncanny aptitude for the design of intricate textile machinery, he undertook projects of the greatest magnitude with absolute confidence and unfailing success, both in this country and in the United States.

He was born on 16th May 1869, at Preston, Lanes. In his boyhood days he showed interest in engineering, and when he was of sufficient age he became an engineering apprentice at the works of Messrs. Wilding Brothers, cotton manufacturers, of Preston. Part only of his apprenticeship was served there. He completed the remainder with Joseph Smith, of Preston, who was also in cotton. During this time he attended the Harris Institute at Preston, where he won several certificates and diplomas, and he often spoke of his gratitude to his teachers. Upon completion of his apprenticeship he spent some time in a shipbuilding yard at Barrow, and then signed on as ninth engineer to the S.S. Westernland, belonging to the Societe de Navigation Belge-Americaine, running between Antwerp and New York. Following this he had a further two years with the Red Star Line, leaving as fourth engineer.

Returning to Preston, he became engineer to three cotton mills operated by George Paley; and at the age of 24, towards the end of the last century, he joined Messrs. Courtaulds at the Essex factories of the company as assistant engineer under the late Mr. James Finney. At that time the company was engaged exclusively on problems connected with the treatment and finishing of real silkcrepe and coloured fabrics.

Early in the present century the company became interested in the development of rayon. By that time Mr. Clayton had become chief engineer. The activities of the rayon side were concentrated at Coventry, and he took up residence there about 1906; and Coventry remained his headquarters until his retirement shortly after the conclusion of the war of 1914-18. Mr. Clayton was directly concerned with the solution of the many problems which had to be overcome before the manufacture of rayon became commercially practicable; and during his period of service with the company, he was closely associated with the development of special devices, notably spinning machines, washing machines, and bleaching machines — the Clayton multiple-piston spinning pump being an important example of this side of his work.

He spent long periods in the U.S.A. on behalf of the company, and was largely responsible for the selection of the sites and the design and construction of the first rayon factories built by Courtaulds in that country.

Whilst he did not remain with Courtaulds to take part in the firm's exceptional progress and development since 1919, there is no doubt that he played a great part in laying the foundations of the Rayon industry as we know it to-day.

Upon retirement in 1919 Mr. Clayton took up residence in Torquay, and remained there until his death on 6th March 1944. L. P. Lord, M.I.Mech.E.



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