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Clayden, Peter Williamlocked

  • G. S. Woods
  • , revised by H. C. G. Matthew

Peter William Clayden (1827–1902)

by Elliott & Fry, pubd 1902

Clayden, Peter William (1827–1902), journalist and author, eldest son (of four children) of Peter Clayden (d. 1865), ironmonger, and Eliza Greene (d. 1873), was born at Wallingford on 20 October 1827. He was educated at a private school in Wallingford, and early went into business. Brought up among Congregationalists, he was led by the writings of Dr James Martineau to unitarian views, and was admitted to the Unitarian ministry. He married in 1853 Jane (d. 1870), daughter of Charles Fowle of Dorchester, Oxfordshire. For thirteen years—from 1855 to 1868—he was an active Unitarian minister. He was in charge, successively, of Unitarian churches at Boston (1855–9), Rochdale (1859–60), and Nottingham (1860–68). In 1865 Clayden appealed to Dr Martineau to act as leader in a movement for the union of all congregations that rested on a spiritual and not on a dogmatic basis; and on 14 March 1866 the Free Church Union was formed, of which Clayden became secretary. Meanwhile, he was also devoting himself to journalism. While at Boston he edited for a time the Boston Guardian; while at Nottingham he wrote chiefly on political and social questions for the Edinburgh Review, The Fortnightly, and the Cornhill Magazine. He strongly advocated the cause of the north during the American Civil War. He had already become acquainted with Harriet Martineau, and she, in 1866, introduced him to Thomas Walker, editor of the Daily News, who immediately engaged him as an occasional writer—the start of a thirty-year association with the paper. In 1868, when the price of the Daily News was reduced to 1d., Clayden resigned his ministry and joined the regular staff in London as leader writer and assistant editor. In 1887 he became night editor, a post he retained until 1896. In 1887 he married Ellen (d. 1897), daughter of Henry Sharpe, of Hampstead. His second wife was great-niece of Samuel Rogers, the poet (of whom Clayden published two memoirs, in 1887 and 1889), and a niece of Samuel Sharpe, the Egyptologist (of whom he published a biography in 1883).

Clayden, an ardent Liberal of strong nonconformist leanings, greatly increased the influence of the Daily News as an organ of Liberal nonconformist opinion. He was especially active in support of Gladstone's anti-Turkish views on the Eastern question, and in opposition to the pro-Turkish policy of Lord Beaconsfield and his successors. He was a notable chronicler of his times in England under Lord Beaconsfield (1880; used by Gladstone in preparing the Midlothian campaign) and Five Years of Liberal and Six Years of Conservative Government (1880). These books were his best work, linking his experience of journalism and politics. He thrice sought in vain to enter parliament as a Liberal, contesting Nottingham in 1868, Norwood in 1885, and North Islington in 1886. He was a member of the executive committee of the National Liberal Federation and an alderman of St Pancras.

Clayden's journalistic efficiency and honesty of purpose were well recognized by professional colleagues; in 1893 he was elected president of the Institute of Journalists, and in 1894 president of the International Congress of the Press at Antwerp. In 1896, when freed from regular journalistic work, he championed the cause of the Armenians against Turkish persecution. He was honorary secretary of the Armenian committee, and in 1897 published Armenia: the Case against Lord Salisbury. Clayden died suddenly from acute bronchitis at his home, 1 Upper Woburn Place, London, on 19 February 1902. The eldest son of his first marriage, Arthur William Clayden, became principal of University College, Exeter.


  • F. M. Thomas, Recollections of Sir John Robinson (1904)
  • J. Drummond and C. B. Upton, Life and letters of James Martineau, 2 vols. (1902)


  • BL, letters to W. E. Gladstone, Add. MSS 44451–44526, passim


  • Elliott & Fry, photograph, pubd 1902, NPG [see illus.]
  • S. Cooper, oils, National Liberal Club, London

Wealth at Death

£10,903 19s. 8d.: probate, 2 April 1902, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

W. E. Gladstone , ed. M. R. D. Foot & H. C. G. Matthew, 14 vols. (1968–94)
Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]