Clayton & Sons – Clothing Factory, Barrington Street
One of the largest manufacturers of clothing in Canada for much of the late 19th and half of the 20th century was Clayton & Sons on the corner of Barrington and Jacob streets. The large modern textile factory was the home to over a five hundred employees at the height of its success.
The company is interesting from the perspective of it being run for most of its history by women as the Clayton & Sons refers to Mary E. Clayton and her sons William and Edward.
The Clayton Family
George Clayton (1819-1864) was born in Wales in the area surrounding the city of Montgomery. He relocated to Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire, England where he met and married Mary Davies who was born in that Welsh/English border town. The family eventually moved to Shrewsbury which is the county seat and a large market town in that area of the English countryside. George and Mary were married at Bishop’s Castle on the 22 March 1844. They would have eight children whose baptisms all appear in the church register of Saint Chad’s the large Anglican church of that town:
1. Celia Clayton, b. 6 January 1845
2. Elizabeth Clayton, b. 19 July 1846
3. Susan Clayton, b. 15 April 1848
4. Edward Clayton, b. 5 August 1849
5. William James Clayton, b. 17 April 1851
6. Ada Amelia Clayton, b. ca. 1852
7. George Washington Clayton, b. 5 October 1853
8. Mary Ann Clayton, b. ca. 1854
George, Mary and family relocated to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1863 and set up on Duke street. George unfortunately succumb to Apoplexy which is an outdated term that commonly refers to some sort of internal bleeding of the organs. Prior to emigrating to Nova Scotia George worked in Shrewsbury as a tailor and did so for the short time that he was in Halifax.
The beginnings of a family business
The origins of Clayton & Sons is clearly in the profession of George Clayton a tailor – it is evident that he trained or apprenticed his sons in the trade as well as, quite possibly, his wife Mary. So it was that after his death in 1864 that the family set up shop on Argyle Street and eventually opened their own store “Clayton & Sons Tailors & Colthiers”. The business was officially incorporated in 1868 and the Clayton of the name is clearly Mary Clayton and not her husband George and the sons being Edward Clayton who eventually would partner with his brother William James Clayton.
The firm expanded and in the late 1880s and at that time had roughly 100 full-time employees, mostly girls and women, and farmed out piece meal work to women in the surrounding fishing communities. According to William J. Clayton’s affidavit to the Royal Commission on Labour Relations the firm employed 100 hands inside the factory, they worked nine-hour daily, and had a roster of 300 employees it could call on at busy times. The average weekly wage for workers inside the factory was between $3 to $4 weekly, some earning as high as $6. Clayton reported that there were also no labour issues in his factory.
In 1891 the firm purchased all of the property between Jacob street and Birmingham street along Barrington street and proceeded to build a large four-storey factory (complex pictured above). Here is a description of that facility:
“Messrs. Clayton & Sons’ new building is a very handsome one. It is of brick, four storeys high, and faces on two streets – Jacob and Barrington. The building covers a space of 100 square feet. The lower storey is fitted up as show rooms and for offices. The second storey is used as cutting rooms, design rooms, etc, and the upper storey as a general workroom…the latest improved machinery has been introduced, and skilled labour is employed. The stock rooms are so arranged that the customer can see at once what he wants. There is a quantity of goods kept therein that is something marvellous. Men’s and boys’ suits of all sizes, styles and textures; men’s and boys’ overcoats, reefers and ulsters, overalls, etc. are there in great variety.” (Canadian Dry Goods Review, April 1895, p. 36).
Clayton & Sons was one of the most successful clothiers in Canada for much of the first few decades of the 20th Century – primarily known for its ready to wear mens trousers and overalls.
For those of you interested in labour relations Clayton & Sons was one of the first firms in Canada to start a profit-sharing scheme with its employees. In 1899 they announced “that in future the profits of the business in excess of 10 per cent will be divided among the men. Interest at the rate of 7 per cent on the capital invested must also first be paid. For the purpose of apportioning the profits in excess of 10 per cent the employees are divided into four classes. The first class including employees occupying the most responsible positions, are to receive, 40 per cent; the second class, 30 per cent; the third class, 20 per cent; the fourth class, 10 per cent of the balance of profits.” In the first year that meant an addition $2400 into the pockets of the firms workers.
The firm managed to get itself through the depression because of its contracts with the military which were established during the first world war and carried through to the end of the second World War. William James Clayton died in 1935 and Edward Clayton would die a few years later in 1938. The firm was left to William’s daughter Mary Louise Clayton (primarily due to the death of her brother Reginald in 1917 in WWI) she would sell the business in 1955 to avoid bankruptcy. The Clayton’s were very smart though and some would argue visionary as they took their financial stability and purchased vast tracks of land along the Bedford Basin. In 1904 the family purchased 105 acres between Fairview and Rockingham – the property would be sold in 1959 to the Shaw Company who would go on to begin their very successful development business with the construction of Phase One of Clayton Park.
The fate of the factory complex on Barrington Street would be like that of many buildings in that part of town – demolished to make way for the urban renewal projects of the city in the mid to late 1960s. Today much of the property is underneath the Trade Mart Building and the Cogswell Interchange.
– 1897 one of the largest industrial fires in Nova Scotia history took place at the Clayton & Sons factory in the evening of 22 May at approx. 9.30. The factory building was completely destroyed the cities down town was knocked into darkness due to the loss of electricity and the trolley system was completely interrupted The cost of the damage was forecast to be between $75,000 to $100,000 (approx. $1.9 million in today’s money).
– The factory was also extensively damaged in the Halifax Explosion of 1917 as seen in the photo below:
– Government of Canada. (1889). Report of the Royal commission on the Relations of Labor and Capital in Canada: evidence, Nova Scotia. Ottawa: A. Senecal, pp. xi-xii.
– Ingalls, Sharon & Wayne. (2010) Sweet Suburb: A history of Prince’s Lodge, Birch Cove & Rockingham. Tantallon, NS: Glen Margaret Publishing.
– Smith, Harry D. (1976). Through dirty windows: a humorous account of shop and factory life in the incredible 1930s. Windsor, Nova Scotia: Lancelot Press.