Rotha Mary Clay

Rotha Mary Clay, 1939
Reproduced courtesy of Professor Nicholas Orme.

Rotha Mary Clay, 1939

The Hermits and Anchorites of England was the second book by the remarkable Rotha Mary Clay.

Born in 1878 to the vicar of Hendon (Middlesex), who named her after the River Rothay in the Lake District, she was largely self-educated.

Hermits and Anchorites was published in 1914 in the series Antiquary's Books, in which Clay's first book, The Mediaeval Hospitals of England (1909), had already appeared. Volumes in the series aimed "to be comprehensive and popular, as well as accurate and scholarly; so that they may be of service to the general reader, and at the same time helpful and trustworthy books of reference to the antiquary or student". The long-lasting value of both books has been due in large measure to their appendices, in which Clay set out to list all the hospitals, or hermits and anchorites, of medieval England.

Clay dedicated the majority of her working life not to medieval studies, but to practical social work in and near Bristol, first at the University Settlement at Barton Hill, and subsequently in similar work at Shirehampton.

In the 1940s she turned to academic work again, producing two books on late eighteenth-century artists, Samuel Hieronymus Grimm and Julius Caesar Ibbetson. She also published two supplementary articles on hermits and anchorites, in 1953 and 1955, and began collecting material for a 2nd edition of Hermits and Anchorites, but she died in 1961 with the project incomplete.

This note is based on the entry by Nicholas Orme in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Professor Orme also kindly supplied the photograph of Clay that appears here.

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