There are a number of web sites and books on the history of Clay Cross. For web sites see Links, for books visit Scarthin Books. These books include Cliff William’s excellent books on ‘Driving the Clay Cross Tunnel’, ‘Clay Cross and the Clay Cross Company’, ‘Clay Cross Community and Company’ and ‘Clay Cross The Third Selection’ and Terry Judge ‘The Clay Cross Calamities’.
The following section is reproduce with the permission of John Mills, which appeared on his Ashover site.
In 1846 Samuel Bagshaw
published a gazetteer and directory of Derbyshire in which we have a
description of Clay Cross or Clay Lane, as it was then known, in the
parish of North Wingfield.
With the centre of the town some 400 feet above sea level, Clay Cross is a prominent landmark on the A61 road. It is practically midway between Derby and Sheffield, both being about 20 miles in distance. Sections of the A61 in Derbyshire trace the same route as the old Roman road, Rykneld Street. This applies to Clay Cross and some years ago Roman coins and other relics were found on Stretton Road.
It was at the crossroads where Stretton Road now meets High Street and joins with Clay Lane and Thanet Street, that stood the cross from which it is said the town derived its name. Early Christians are thought to have erected it on a pilgrimage.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century Clay Cross was mainly a rural area, but George Stephenson the railway pioneer changed that. Driving a tunnel under Clay Cross hill for his main line from Derby to Leeds, he found coal and iron. Very soon afterwards Stephenson founded the Clay Cross Company. Ironworks flourished and several colliery shafts were sunk. Parkhouse Colliery was the scene of a disaster in 1882 when 34 lives were lost, and in the local cemetery a memorial was erected to the victims of that tragic disaster.
Clay Cross Parish Church was founded in 1851, although the ancient
font dates back to the thirteenth century, but the churchyard was closed
for new graves in 1878 so heavy was the death rate.
Clay Cross can claim to be among the pioneers of universal education, for as far back as 1854 Clay Cross Company built a block of school buildings out of the first profits made by the firm, and it was claimed that they were the first to provide nearly free education for local children. Workmen of the Company paid twopence per week no matter how many children they had at the school, which was open to other children in the area at a slightly higher fee.
Another long established business is that of the Kenning Motor Group which was founded in the town by Mr. Frank Kenning, JP., who opened a hardware business. Under the chairmanship of the late Sir George Kenning, the main activities of the company were guided into distribution and maintenance of motor transport.