The Kay Family Association UK

The Descendants of John Kay

In his Memoir, John Lord stated that John Kay married Anne Holt on 29th June 1725, the same day that his brother William married Mary Booth [JL]. He listed twelve children of John, extracted from the parish registers and elsewhere; Rita Hirst has identified one more (Mary). Some we can be sure of, those where the father’s trade is given as reedmaker or shuttlemaker. John described himself as a reedmaker on his first two patents, and it seems logical that he should progress to shuttlemaker later. The use of one of these descriptions is denoted by the letter R or S in the third column. Dates of birth given here are taken from Rita’s notes, and are not always the same as those given by John Lord.

10th July 1726
Named after her mother’s sister, she married John Fletcher, a chapman or woollen merchant on 4th October 1748. She caused a furore in 1763 when she ran off, possibly to see her father (see note), though she soon returned to Bury [RH]. One of her descendants was Dr Matthew Fletcher, a well known local radical and chartist.
3rd July 1728

Robert and his brothers were once credited with the invention of the cardmaking machine, though it is now known they simply improved on their father’s design and integrated John’s two machines into one. These machines do not seem to have been used much outside the Kay family until the end of the century when work in America led to their more general adoption. Robert carried on a business as a cardmaker in Bury from 1791 until his death in 1802 [WM].

Robert did however invent the Drop Box, a device whereby two or three shuttles carrying different coloured yarns could be used together to weave stuffs with a striped weft. In 1764, he made a suggestion for the substitution of brass for wood in the shuttle, making it possible for a larger spool to be carried [WM].

He married Betty Meadowcroft at Middleton parish church on 11th April 1749. Their first child was born 24th October 1749 but died in 1750; the second child Ann was born 11th November 1751. Robert then left for Paris, and there were no more children until his return in 1758. He lived in Bury for the rest of his life. He died well respected in the community; an account book held in Bury Library shows he was a much more successful businessman than his father [RH].

Miss Whitehead, Canon Raines’ source, was a great grand-daughter of Robert.

Named in the old family bible
15th June 1730
Tradition has it that she went into a convent. Rita Hirst suggests that this may mean she went to France with her father and stayed there.
15th September 1731
John Lord plucked this name out of the Edenfield registers; there is no other evidence and given the distance of Edenfield from Bury, we will discount him.
23rd December 1733
John Lord said he found this in the registers, but offered no supporting evidence. Given the birth of another Alice later this child, even if it was his, would have died young.
26th June 1736
15th June 1738
It is not known what happened to James. He is not mentioned in French records after 1758, so may have returned with his brothers. There is an Anglo French family of Kays who trace their family back to the marriage of John Kay, a weaver in Spitalfields in the East End of London, to May Homan in 1778. They have a strong tradition of descent from John Kay. Rita has suggested that James may have gone to London to father this branch. But his brother William was also working in London (see below). But if you do belong to that family and are reading this, we’d love to hear from you!

He may have returned to Bury with his brother Robert. He was known as ‘Frenchman Kay’ in Bury because of his French education and manners. He was married on 11th December 1764 to Elizabeth Lonsdale, the ‘Squire’s’ daughter. John and Elizabeth Kay ran a very successful drapery business in the Market Place in Bury until his death in 1792 [RH].

One of his daughters was the mother of Thomas Sutcliffe whose work in 1847 has caused so much confusion (see note).

31st March 1741
14th July 1743
John Lord called her Shusie. She married James Snape in Bury on 19th July 1762 [RH].
14th July 1745
William made his own improvements to the carding machine and set up a business in London; in 1774, he had been making cards for ten years but they were his own speciality [WM].
13th September 1747
John’s wife Ann was buried on 20th September 1747, dying after Mary’s birth.

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John Lord ‘Memoir of John Kay: Inventor of the Fly-Shuttle’ (1908)
Rita Hirst: notes from a lecture on John Kay 1983 (Bury Central Library)
Wadsworth and Mann ‘The Cotton Trade and Industrial Lancashire’ (1931)