This interesting surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and has two possible sources. Firstly, the surname may be a topographical name for someone who lived in an area of clay soil, deriving from the Olde English pre 7th Century "claeg", clay. Topographical surnames were among the earliest created, since both natural and man-made features in the landscape provided easily recognisable distinguishing names in the small communities of the Middle Ages. In some instances the surname may be an occupational name for someone who worked in a clay pit, or worked with clay, for examples someone who built with wattle and daub.Job descriptive surnames originally denoted the actual occupation of the namebearer, and later became hereditary. The surname is first recorded in the latter half of the 12th Century (see below), and can also be found as Claye. Reginald de la Claie is noted in the Pipe Rolls of Essex (1200), and Nicholas del Clay is listed in the Subsidy Rolls of Yorkshire (1302). On February 6th 1568, Richard Clay was christened at St. Andrew by the Wardrobe, London, and Charles, son of John Clay, was christened on December 27th 1581 at St. Dunstan's, Stepney, London. A Coat of Arms granted to the family is a shield divided per pale green and black, with an ermine lion rampant between three silver escallops, the Crest being a lion's head divided per pale green and black charged with a silver escallop. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Ralph de Clai, which was dated 1172, in the "Pipe Rolls of Suffolk", during the reign of King Henry 11, known as "The Builder of Churches", 1154 - 1189. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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