These pages were produced by Roy Mat for his Wilford & Clifton Index in 1997

The Noble Clifton Family


The Clifton's held the manors of Clifton and Wilford for nearly 700 years and are descended from one of William The Conquerors Knights, Alvared.  Many of the Clifton's were destined to rub shoulders with royalty.  The family assumed the name of 'Clifton' from the village when they purchased the lands in 1272 from the de Rhodes family.  One branch of the family likewise assumed the name 'Wilford'.  The family home became Clifton Hall  on the summit of the Clifton heights overlooking the a large bend in the River Trent.


A brief reference is made to Sir John Clifton in Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1. In Act 5, Scene 4 Douglas casts doubt on King Henry's right to be king and the two fight.  Prince Henry interupts them and Douglas flees at which point the Prince conveys the news that Sir Nicholas Gawsey and Sir John Clifton have sent requests for support.

Prince   : Cheerly, my lord: how fares your Grace? Sir Nicholas Gawsey hath for                 succour sent, and so hath Clifton: I'll to Clifton straight.
                . . . . .
K.Henry: Make up to Clifton:  I'll to Sir Nicholas Gawsey.

Sir John Clifton died at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 where Henry IV defeated 'Hotspur' Percy.

The Cliftons & The War Of The Roses

The War Of The Roses took place in the later half of the fifteenth century between the house of York ( with the symbol of the white rose ) and the house of Lancaster ( represented by the red rose ).  The two houses both laid claim to the throne of England.  Sir Gervase Clifton ( then the Sheriff Of Nottingham ) supported the house of York.  After Richard III's white rose forces were defeated by Henry VII at the Battle Of Bosworth ( 1485 ), Henry was crowned king and stripped the house of York nobleman of their titles and lands.  The Clifton's managed to avoid this fate.

Legend has it that Sir Gervase made a pact with his Lancaster friend, Sir John Byron ( of Colwick, Nottingham ) swore to protect each others lands and titles regardless of the outcome of the war.  During the Battle Of Bosworth, Clifton was fatally wounded and his friend found him shortly before he died with Clifton reminding him of his oath.  Sir John kept his pledge and spoke up for the Clifton's to Henry VII protecting the Clifton heritage from ruin.  The story was put into verse by the poet, Sir John Beamont in his poem, Bosworth Field.  Some Historians dispute the tale since Sir Gervase Clifton is believed to have died some time after the battle.  It is probably more likely that Byron protected the Clifton estates because his family was linked to the Clifon's by marriage.

      Alledged Image Of Gervase The Gentle
          From A Ceilng In Clifton Hall Gervase The Gentle
Sir Gervase The Gentle ( 1515 - 1588 )

One of the first Clifton's of note is Sir Gervase Clifton.  He has shared his unusual Christian name with eleven other prominent members of the Clifton family.   He was very popular in the court of Queen Elizabeth who referred to him as 'Gervase The Gentle'.  Gervase Clifton had also been a favourite at the courts of Henry VII and Edward VI.  He had a reputation as an impeccably courteous man 'of great authority in peace and war'.  In 1544 he fought in France at the siege of Boulogne and in 1569 he defended Doncaster from a group of  noblemen rebelling against Queen Elizabeth.  He lies in a large tomb in the church that stands next to Clifton Hall, St.Marys.  His only son, George died at the age of 20, a year before Gervase.  George's son, another Gervase, was born after George had died but four months before Gervase died.  Since Gervase The Gentle had no other heirs, the child became the holder of Clifton estates.

Sir Gervase The Great ( 1587 - 1666 )

The young Gervase was looked after by his grandmother, Lady Anne Thorold and grew into a much loved eccentric ( he often worked on his accounts in his pew during Church services ).  He was universally popular for his generosity, hospitality and charity.  He avidly enjoyed bowling and built a bowling green on one of the four grass terraces that still exist today behind Clifton Hall.  During his visit, King Charles I played bowls with the Baronet and according to a royal communique sent to Sir Gervase 'the greatest pleasure the King took in his entertainment' was a boating trip on the River Trent.   Sir Gervase served as a member of Parliament eight times.  He was knighted at just 16 years of age and was the first Clifton to achieve true aristocratic status with a title of  Baronet.  A baronet is the lowest rank in the English aristocracy, it is hereditary title of honour that does not in itself hold any more power than a knighthood.  The title was purchased by Gervase from James I  for £1,000.   James I set up the baronet titles to raise money for his army.

Sir Gervase supported the Royalist Cavaliers during the English Civil War ( 1642 - 1651 ) and supplied them with pistols, saddles, pikes and muskets.   After Cromwell's Roundheads had defeated the Cavaliers, Gervase was for a while imprisoned in the Tower Of London.  He was eventually released and fined an astronomical sum by Cromwells parliament.    He lived to see the collapse of Cromwell's government and the Charles II crowned king.  The Baronet married several times, outliving all but one of his wives.  Local historians believe could be due to Gervase deliberatly marrying older, wealthy women to help pay off his debt to Parliament.  Gervase died in the same year as the great fire of London in 1666.   Memorials to Gervase the Great and his wives ( including a bust of Sir Gervase ) are still to be found in St.Mary's Church.


General Sir Arthur Clifton was born in 1780 and fought at Waterloo in 1815 as Colonel of the 1st Dragoons.   He lived to be 99 years old.  A picture of him hangs in the Clifton Hall although the picture was originally of his wife with his image later painted over the top.  At the summit of the grove stands 11 ancient Turkey Oak trees.   Some of the locals think they were planted to the memory of eleven Clifton men who fought and died at Waterloo.   Trees have often been planted in the area to commemorate historical events.   A tree was planted on Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, George VI's coronation and the recent 900th anniversary of Clifton's entry in William The Conquerer's Doomsday Book.

Sir Robert Clifton ( 1826 - 1869 )

Sir Robert Clifton spent a lot of money around Clifton such as on St. Mary's Church and on a new school on the village green.  He was very popular and a notable figure in local politics.  One local described him as a smooth and charming man who could 'lure a bird out of a bush.'   Sir Robert was also very fond of horse racing. He rode in the Nottingham races and continued to gamble heavily and unsucessfully on horses for many years .  It was this which prompted him to build the Wilford Toll Bridge and the Clifton Colliery to generate revenue to pay off his gambling debts.  He spent many years away from Enlgand, visiting Turkey and residing for some time in France - possibly to avoid creditors.  He came back from foreign shores to surprise everybody by moving into politics as an independant M.P. with conservative sympathies.  He first stood for election as the member of Parliament for Nottingham in 1861.

The corner stone of his campaign was directed against the 'permissive bill' which was intended to limit alehouses and alcohol consumption in general.  Sir Robert certainly appears to have been a man who enjoyed his ale for in a light hearted speech during his campaign he cheekily proclaimed 'that bill if passed would ... (save me ) thousands annually in my pocket ( crowd roars with laughter ) ... I respect temperance, I respect good order; I am not a teetotaler.  When I am thirsty I drink, and I hope every man in this room when he is thirsty or hungry, will have the best of everything to eat and drink.'  His popularity can be illustrated by the scene described in the Examiner newspaper.  When the Sheriff of Nottingham called for a show of hands among the crowd of electors for Sir Robert's opponent there were 'terrific groans before he saw the one hand in a vast crowd lifted in his favour suddenly ...(diverted) to the rescue of its owners hat.'  When a similar vote was called for Sir Robert '... a scene unparalleled in the annals of electioneering was witnessed.  The immense multitude raised their hands as if by one common impulse, and cheered with a noise like thunder ... about 2,000 people cheering and applauding with the full power of thier voices and the extreme strength of thier hands.'

When he stood for re-election in 1865 the campaign turned nasty.  One of his opponents, Mr Morley, brought in groups of his workers from outside of Nottingham to testify to his good name as an employer in an attempt to refute allegations that he oppressed his employees.  The workers and Mr Morley travelled to Nottingham from Mansfield by train on the 26th of June.  They disembarked onto the platform to be bombarded with stones hurled by a crowd of angry Clifton supporters.  The incident developed into a riot as a running battle between the two groups rampaged through Nottingham.  The 83rd Infantry Regiment were called in to restore order.  Its uncertain wether or not the skirmish had any impact on the final result for there is no evidence Sir Robert had any involvement in the clash.  The Patriot newspaper's allegations that Sir Robert had played a key role in the riot may however have swung the election against him, he lost by 42 votes.  Sir Robert hit back by winning a libel case against the newspaper's report.

The toll bridge and colliery were opened after his death in 1870 and neither project made a significant profit.  He died of typhoid and since he had no male heir, he was the 9th and last Baronet Clifton.  According to the Memoirs Of The Clifton Family printed in the Nottingham Journal in 1869 'There could not have been less than about twenty thousand persons assembled at the end of the Grove, beside the churchyard and in the neighbourhood of the house' at Sir Robert's lay in state.   Many shops in Nottingham and all of those in Wilford and Clifton were closed on the day of his funeral and thirty-thousand people were estimated to have attended the service at St. Mary's Church.

The Clifton Manor Passes To The Markham & Bruce Family

With no male heirs to succeed Sir Robert Clifton, the estates went to a cousin, Henry Markham who subsequently changed his name to 'Clifton'.  Twenty years later he died without an heir and so the lands went to Lt. Col Sir Harvey Bruce who had married Sir Roberts sister, Maria.  When his son, Colonel Percy Bruce inherited the manor he soon after changed his name to 'Clifton' in 1919.  In 1947 progress ended the Clifton families direct influence in and around Clifton and Wilford when the Nottingham City Council actioned a compulsory purchase on the lands to be used as a new housing estate. After living in the old rectory for a few years, Lt. Col. Peter Clifton ( son of Colonel Percy Clifton ) moved to Hampshire ending a Clifton residency of almost 600 years.

The title of  'Baronet Clifton' officially died with Sir Robert Clifton but there were a few subsequent claims to the title.  A Francis Clifton from London claimed to be the 11th Baronet in the 1880's although he was unable to provide sufficient evidence to be taken seriously.  A line in Australia were also linked to the title, with one alleged heir said to be living in ignorance of his potential claim in the 1940's as the 14th Baronet.

Lt Colonel Peter Clifton ( 1911 -1997 )

The Eton educated Peter Clifton was the last Clifton to occupy Clifton Hall . He was a distinguished soldier in one of Britainís most prestigious regiments, the Grenadier Guards. He was commissioned into the regiment in 1931. During World War II he served in France between 1939 and 1940 and then in Italy for the final years of the war. He was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order for his part in leading a night time amphibious assault over the River Po on the 24th of April, 1945. A recent obituary described how he so skillfully maneuvered his troops that 'the German defenders were dumbfounded; many died or were taken prisoner - the others fled in disarray.' Shortly after the war his unit was posted to Austria. The Grenadiers organized refugees, restored order and dealt firmly with aggressive Yugoslavian partisans. In late 1945 the regiment was given the difficult task of keeping the peace in Palestine between Jewish immigrants trying to set up the new state of Israel and the Arab's trying to retain their claim to the same region.

In post war years he became a Justice Of The Peace and the honorary country secretary of the Nottinghamshire Soldiers, Sailors & Airman's Families Association. He retained links with Wilford and Clifton long after he moved away in the fifties, attending the 300th year anniversary of the opening of Wilford school in 1994.

The Kentucky Cliftons Link

Research conducted by Charles Wesley Clifton in 1930 states that around 1738 'two of the sons of Sir Gervase, William and a younger brother together with several other young men of so-called 'noble familes' went to the colonies of Virginia and became tobacco planters and farmers.'   The text goes on say that William had three sons named Ceicil, William and Robert. One of the his sons, William,  travelled to the far west to settle in Kentucky at about the time of the Revolution in the 1770's.

He in turn had a son named William who also fathered a son called William Thomas Clifton.  The Kentucky line obviously had as deep an affection for the name of 'William' as the English Cliftons had for the name 'Gervase'.  The Kentucky Cliftons at this time were still in the business of 'tobacco growing and distilling'.   The three sons of William Thomas Clifton moved to Indiana in 1845.

One of them had a son named Charles Wesley Clifton who was swept up into the American Civil War in 1862 at the age of 16.  He joined the 51st Regiment,  presumably of the Northern Army and stayed in the army for three years leaving with the rank of Quartermaster Sergeant.  He became a school teacher and died in 1934 at the age of 88.  He is buried at the National Cemetry in Sawtelle, California.   He married twice leaving behind him three sons and a daughter.

One of Charles Wesley Cliftons sons moved with his farther to New Orleans in 1894.  He was named Charles Gerald Clifton.   After four years in New Orleans he volunteered for the army after war broke out between Spain and the United States.  He spent four years in the army and was stationed for some of that time in the Phillipines.  He was commisioned as a Lieutenant and Chief Of Scouts.  He left the army to marry Flora Kate Cockran who lived the grand old age of 105!  Charles Gerald died two years before his farther in 1932 aged 57.

Charles Gerald and Flora Cockran had three daughters and a son named Charles Gerald Clifton II.  He was born on March 23rd 1922 and followed in his farthers and grandfarthers footsteps by joining the armed services in time of war.  He joined the the Navy in 1943 and went on to become a highly decorated navy aviator flying patrol bombers in the South Pacific.   After the war he married Dorothy Rinker and they had three sons.  The oldest of the three sons, Charles Garold 'Gary' Clifton kindly provided me with the Clifton Family Tree.

One of the modern schools in Clifton, Farnborough Comprehensive ( which I attended ), adapted its uniform badge from the Clifton crest.  The motto is 'Keep In The Right'.   The original crest is shown at the top of this page.

 Farnborough Badge
Farnborough Comprehensive School Badge

If you are interested in reading more about the Clifton family, I recommend you read The Clifton Book by Rosslyn Bruce who was the rector of St. Mary's Church in Clifton in the early 20th Century.