Francis Ley

Sir Francis Ley
from a photo with his Baseball team
Born 3 January 1846 [1]
Derby, Derbyshire
Died 17 January 1916 [1]
Education Burton Grammar School and privately
Occupation Businessman
Spouse(s) Georgina Townsend
Alison Catherine Jobson
Children five
Parents George and Sarah Ley

Sir Francis Ley, 1st Baronet (3 January 1846 – 27 January 1916) was an English industrialist. He founded Ley's Malleable Castings Vulcan Ironworks in Derby.[2] He (re-)introduced baseball into the United Kingdom with the Derby County Baseball Club[3] and owned Ley's Baseball Ground from 1890 to 1924, which was home to Derby County Football Club.

In 1905, Ley was created a Baronet, of Epperstone Manor[4] and, in the same year, served as High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire.[5]


The mess room for Ley's Malleable Castings in Colombo Street, Derby

Francis Ley was born on 3 January 1846 in [6] and Sarah (born Potts).[1] He started work at Andrew Handyside & Co. as a draughtsman and learnt about engineering. At the age of 28 he established a malleable iron castings foundry on Osmaston Road, Derby in 1874.[2] The business became the Ley's Malleable Castings Company Ltd.[7]

The Vulcan Iron Works at Osmaston Road occupied an 11 acre site by the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway.[8] In the London Gazette of 14 April 1876 Ley was granted a patent for "improvements in apparatus for locking and fastening nuts on fish plate and other bolts".[9]

In 1878 he was sued for patent infringement by an American drive chain belt company; the case was settled and Ley's company was awarded sole manufacturing rights. By the 1880s Ley was demolishing his old works and rebuilding on a grander scale. The new factory was to include expensive sporting facilities. Ley was never sporting himself but he was an enthusiast for sport and sat on the board of Derbyshire County Cricket Club.[1]

The Vulcan iron foundry was closed and demolished in 1986.[8]


The 1890 Derby County Baseball team with Francis Ley at centre.[10]

Ley visited the United States of America in 1889, and was impressed by the game of baseball. Some people had been intrigued by Albert Spalding's world tour with his baseball team when it played in England in 1889.[11] Ley decided that, as a way of ensuring a healthier and more productive workforce, an investment should be made in promoting recreation for his workers. During his journey to the States, Ley had seen the way in which baseball fields had been laid out by companies and factories for the use by their workers and decided to follow suit on his return to Derby. Consequently, Ley had what was to be called "Ley's Baseball Ground" built; a 12-acre (49,000 m2) park for the use of workers with cricket and baseball facilities.

The National Baseball League of Great Britain and Ireland was started in 1890 and a letter was sent to Spalding in America requesting help in establishing a league. The British requested eight to ten players to coach and convert the existing players whose primary game was usually soccer. Spalding, who also sold sporting goods, was enthusiastic and sent a skilled manager, Jim Hart and players: William J. Barr, Charles Bartlett, J.E.Prior and Leech Maskrey.[11]

The intention had been to have eight teams but initially there were just four Aston Villa, Preston North End, Stoke and Derby. The first three used Hart to decide the line-up of their teams, but Ley, who had more experience of baseball, made his own decisions.[11] The club ran away with the first championship; however, pressure from other teams in the league over the number of American professionals (three) on the team led to Derby County withdrawing when they would have been the first league champions.[10] Derby did win the British title three times in the 1890s.

Another problem was the start of Derby County Football Club in 1895. The baseball club itself lasted until 1898. The Baseball Ground continued to be used under that name as the home of Derby County F.C. until 1997.

Ley's grounds were used for a variety of sports. A picture below shows Ley's 1912 Cricket team. Remarkably it contains three players who were capped for England at football. These were S. Bloomer on the right of the back row; H. Barnes on the left but one of the middle row and J. Bagshaw who is first on the front row.


Another Derby County baseball team - which on the middle row from left includes Steve Bloomer, Ley's son, H. Gordon Ley and Ley himself

Ley first married Georgina Townsend and they had a son and two daughters. His first son, Henry Gordon Ley (1874-1944) is pictured left with his father.

Following his first wife's death he married Alison Catherine Jobson in 1888. They had two sons who both joined the Armed Forces. Christopher Francis Aden Ley was the elder, born in 1893. He joined the South Nottinghamshire Hussars and became a Captain in the Royal Flying Corps. He died in March 1918[12] having survived the 1915 Gallipoli campaign and outlived his younger brother. Maurice Aden Ley was two years younger and a Lieutenant; he died in November 1914.[13][14]

Honours and legacy

A 1912 Ley's Cricket team that includes three members of the England Football team

Ley bought Epperstone Manor in Nottinghamshire and he was created a Baronet, of Epperstone Manor in 1905.[4] In the same year he was appointed High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire.[5] When Ley died he owned the company and Derby County F.C.'s sports ground. He also owned 6,500 aces of farmland and was the Lord of the Manor at Epperstone, Lazonby, Staffield, Glassonby around Kirkoswald in Cumbria.[6] There is an industrial estate named after him in Derby and his Manor and grounds have been converted to residential dwellings.


  1. ^ a b c d Tony Mason, ‘Ley, Sir Francis, first baronet (1846–1916)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 4 May 2010
  2. ^ a b Leys Malleable Castings, Graces Guide, accessed May 2010
  3. ^ Grounds for concern! Newcastle join the KitKat Crescent and Pizza Hut Park in the 'dodgy stadium names' hall of shame, Laura Williamson, 5 November 2009, Daily Mail, accessed May 2010
  4. ^ a b Kidd, Charles, Williamson, David (editors). Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage (1990 edition). New York: St Martin's Press, 1990,
  5. ^ a b The London Gazette: no. 27777. p. 2179. 21 March 1905. Retrieved 14 April 2008.
  6. ^ a b The Register Review of Public Events at Home and Abroad for the Year 1916, Hesperides, p.155, accessed May 2010
  7. ^ "North East Midland Photographic Record". The Leys Malleable Castings Company Ltd Works. (Undated page; Image November 1987). pp. DMAG000991. Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  8. ^ a b "MediaHub". Ley's Vulcan Iron Works, Derby. Area over 11 acres. JISC. Retrieved 17 February 2012. 
  9. ^ The London Gazette: no. 24314. p. 2490. 14 April 1876.
  10. ^ a b Baseball without borders: the international pastime, George Gmelch, p.268, accessed May 2010
  11. ^ a b c Baseball Fiends and Flying Machines, Jerry Kuntz, p.47, accessed May 2010
  12. ^ CWGC record for C.F.A. Ley
  13. ^ CWGC record for M.A. Ley
  14. ^ Lundy, Darryl. "p. 23376 § 233758". The Peerage. 


  • Leigh Rayment's Peerage Pages
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New creation
(of Epperstone Manor)
Succeeded by
Henry Gordon Ley
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Thomas Lewis Kekewich Edge
High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire
Succeeded by
Joseph Frederick Laycock
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