The Revd William Clayton’s only church pastorate was at Abbey Lane. He was ordained here in 1809 and left in 1831 to become chaplain at Mill Hill School.
He came from a line of well-known Independent ministers. His father and two older brothers, all notable preachers, addressed the eager congregations at the three services which opened Abbey Lane’s new meeting house on 17 September 1811.
William was given the full treatment of florid Victorian prose in the Clayton family biography – for example, ‘William Clayton grew up a fine handsome lad, full of life and vigour; a buoyant sprightly mind being enshrined in a well-built and symmetrical frame’. His athletic power earned him the nickname ‘The Giant’. He certainly appeared as a larger-than-life figure in a story which one of his successors, the Revd Henry Pepper, retold with gusto:
One hot June day Mr Clayton borrowed a donkey cart to drive to a village preaching engagement, accompanied by his young daughter. When he was in sight, but not shouting distance, of the preaching tent, he came up against a strongly –barred gate. Nothing daunted, he lifted his daughter over the gate. Then he unharnessed the donkey and heaved the cart over. Then he seized the donkey and ‘with one powerful movement succeeded in placing the animal on the other side of the gate, to the astonishment and great amusement of his daughter’. Climbing over and proceeding on his way, he arrived unruffled at the appointed time. As Mr Pepper remarked: ‘A very good instance this of muscular Christianity’.