This book extract concerns Jedidiah Strutt, Richard Arkwright and the inventors of the machinery that sparked off Britain's Industrial Revolution.
The Imperial Magazine, October 1833.
"A Memoir of Jedidah Strutt Esq”
2nd Series, NO, 34. VOL. III. 1833
Amongst those, by whose strong intuitive powers of mind, at the very period when Smollet considered the manufactures of this country to be verging towards their decline, the manufacturers of Britain were enabled to call to their aid the improved powers of machinery and capital, and to surpass, in an almost infinite degree, those of every nation in the civilized world, arose Mr. JEDIDIAH STRUTT.
He sprang from a family which had little interest with that class of men to whom he afterwards became a distinguished ornament, and whose pursuits he, by his enlightened mind and indefatigable endeavours, at once eclipsed, and gave to them a new and more efficient direction.
He was born at Normanton, (South Normanton, we believe,) in Derbyshire, some time in the year 1723, and was the second son of a farmer and maltster.
The district around him was rude, and he had few means of cultivating his extraordinary mind. His father is said to have been not deficient in natural talents, but of a vulgar and severe character ; insisting upon the obedience of his children, but caring little about their welfare. Under such a parent, young Jedidiah, whose mind was strong, and adhesive to its own plans, could learn little more than reliance on his own natural resources. It has been observed that there are intellects, as there are trees, that thrive best when they are least cultivated.
Jedediah, while a youth, took no bent from his father, but his firmness of resolution—his tenacity of purpose; in every thing else, his neglected, or rather unaided, mind took its own direction. He thought for himself.
It must not, however, be inferred from what has been said, that Mr. Strutt was, in his youth, without those rudiments of literature and science that constitute the groundwork of education in civilized life. At what village-school the son of a farmer was taught the arts of reading and writing, or such branches of practical arithmetic as are considered sufficient for boys in his condition, it is not necessary to inquire; such instruction, though highly useful, has little influence in forming the intellectual character. rot young Jedidiah did not merely read, write, and cast accounts—he thought, observed, remembered. He was attached to mechanical pursuits, and discovered of himself several methods of subjecting the lever or the wheel to any motive power, and of combining them, in order to effect operations which at once amused his youthful fancy and expanded his mind.
At the age of twenty-eight, we find him in possession of a farm at Blackwell, not many miles from the place of his birth. In the next year, he married the sister of Mr. William Woollatt, a hosier, or frame-work knitter; and this connexion brought him acquainted with the stocking-frame, probably the first piece of complex machinery that he had had an opportunity of inspecting.
The stocking-frame had, at that period, been invented something more than a hundred and twenty years ; and, for the age in which it was produced, must be regarded as an extraordinary effort of mechanical skill. It had not, however, so much superseded the use of the domestic knitting-needles, as it had rendered stockings a more market'able article, and had so far increased the advantages of trade, and generally benefited the country.
Stockings continued to be knitted by the wives and daughters of farmers; and some vestiges of that species of home manufacture amongst old ladies of villages and farmhouses still remain, though the employment is followed more for amusement than profit.
Mr. Strutt saw instantly the principle on which the stocking-frame was organized, as well as those defects in that organization which frequently impeded the accuracy or neatness of its operations. He, accordingly, devoted his attention to its improvement, and the enlargement of its powers. In this he had to contend with the prejudices of the ignorant; and it was not easy to persuade the machine-makers to adopt alterations in a machine, which, from father to son, they had been accustomed to construct in a particular manner, with very vague ideas of the principles of mechanism on which it was fabricated.
Still, in opposition to repeated obstacles, he persevered, and, in less than two years, brought the knitting-frame to the highest degree of perfection of which it was then thought to be susceptible; and he added to it an invention, entirely his own, by which raised or elevated stripes, called ribs, were wrought with facility in fabricating the stockings. A patent for these improvements, and particularly for making Ribbed Cotton Stockings, was taken out by him and his brother-in-law, in the year 1756; and they removed to Derby, where they commenced business, in partnership, as hosiers.
While Mr. Strutt was enjoying the benefits of this invention, and of the other improvements he had made to the stocking-frame, and was realizing, from that honourable source, sufficient capital to enable him to take part in a different application of the powers of machinery then about to be brought into existence, Mr. Arkwright, afterwards Sir Richard Arkwright, was seeking the means of putting into action his important invention for spinning cotton.
It was not until years of perseverance had elapsed, that Mr. Arkwright, in the humble situation of itinerant barber and hair-dealer, could find patronage and capital for an undertaking, which has given to Britain a manufacture unequalled by any in the whole world, with respect to the extent of domestic and foreign traffic which it employs, the wealth it creates, and the portion of the population which it engages in its various departments.
It would be a curious question, could it be ascertained, if Arkwright ever conceived even a faint idea of the immense source of individual and national wealth, the secret of which he carried about with him, year after year, amidst the many deprivations of poverty. He had undoubtedly a strong, inciting hope, blended with prudent resolution, which enabled him to persevere in his object without divulging his plan, and encouraged him to look beyond the difficulties, not only of his situation, but those obstacles that originate in the ignorance, the jealousy, and the mistrust of mankind : but magnificent as the visions of that hope may have been, they must have left him in astonishment at the realities of his own success.
Mr. Arkwright's first works were opened at Nottingham, in 1768 ; but they were upon a very limited scale, and required the invigorating aid of capital, when Mr. Strutt was invited to inspect them, and to take a share in the concern. That gentleman was soon convinced of the practicability and importance of the undertaking; and, with Mr. Need, who was, at that period, his partner in the hosiery business at Derby, he agreed to furnish the pecuniary means of conducting the new manufacture upon a scale adequate to the views which it opened to his expectations. Mr. Arkwright then took out a patent, and, in 1769, a mill was built, in which horses were used as the motive power. The use of horses was, however, found to be a burdensome expense to the infant concern ; and, in 1771, the works were transferred to Cromford, in Derbyshire, where a mill of far more extensive dimensions was erected, the machinery of which was put into motion by a water-wheel.
The consequences of the junction of men so intelligent and persevering, were soon apparent; but, while they produced cotton threads of every requisite firmness, length, and tenacity, they suddenly met with obstacles to the sale and consumption of the article which had previously been so great a desideratum in the manufacturing community. The prejudices imagined interests of the calico-weavers and dealers in linen thread, were opposed to the introduction of cotton thread for purposes which had been previously effected by flaxen yarn; for the calicoes then made consisted of foreign or Irish linen yarn for the warp, and such short cotton threads for the weft as could be spun by the common distaff, or the spindle.
This opposition assumed a very formidable appearance, particularly in Lancashire, and threatened to give a serious check to the progress of that success which Mr. Strutt and his partners with so much reason had anticipated. But Mr. Strutt was not discouraged by seeing the market thus attempted to be closed against him: he knew that there existed the extensive market of the public beyond that of the weavers, and he resolved, that if the weavers would not allow him access to the former by the road of which they held possession, he would make a road of his own.
With this determination, in concert with his partners, he opened the calico manufactory at Derby, in the year 1773. The weavers of Lancashire, and other places, saw the rise of this establishment with vexation. They combined against the long cotton yarn spun by Mr. Arkwright and his partners ; and they now resolved, that those gentlemen should not, as weavers, make use of their own manufacture as spinners.
By a law, for the protection of the linen manufactures, the calicoes composed of cotton interwoven with linen yarn, were subjected to a duty of three-pence the square yard ; and it was now contended by the leaders of the combination, that the new calicoes, composed of cotton entirely, were liable to a double duty, or the payment of sixpence per yard. Under the influence of these persons, this interpretation of the act was enforced by the officers of the excise ; and the sale of calicoes made of cotton wholly, was considered to be prohibited by the provisions of the same act, when such calicoes were printed. An attack of this nature compelled Mr. Strutt and his partners to make an appeal to the legislature,'and a bill was brought into parliament to exempt calicoes made wholly of cotton from these rigorous enactments. The opposition to this equitable measure was great, particularly as erroneous notions were prevalent, at that period, relative to the employment of a foreign article in our manufactures, which, it was asserted, would be injurious to the cultivation of our wool and flax; and these opinions were backed by the narrow and mistaken interests of existing traders and manufacturers. The expense attendant upon an application to parliament, thus strenuously opposed, was great, and might have had serious consequences on the yet infant establishment ; but the new manufacture had already given testimony of its public utility—and public utility, when clearly manifested, is a species of public strength, which private interests, however combined, can never overwhelm.
In 1774, the parliament began to be convinced, that the recent invention had placed the cotton manufacture beyond the restraints of statutory regulations ; and, in the preamble of an act which acceded to the wishes of Mr. Strutt and his partners, it was acknowledged to be " a lawful and laudable manufacture."
Violence and Opposition
But the immediate and partial interests of capitalists, and the operatives in their employ, were not confined to measures of opposition, which, though illiberal, were legal. Recourse was had by the latter to violence, and by the former to artful malevolence. The humble artizans, whose wives and children assisted in the precarious subsistence of the family by spinning, on the distaff or common spindle, the cotton thread for the weft, had previously been irritated against the inventions of Hargreaves, an ingenious carpenter at Blackburn, in Lancashire, by which the cotton yarn for the weft could be prepared in less than half the time in which it could be spun by mere manual labour. The same mechanic had also given existence to the spinning-jenny, by means of which the same yarn could be made with incalculable facility.
This man fell a martyr to his intellectual energy. He was driven from his home: manufacturers, who adopted his inventions, became the victims of an infuriated mob ; and he was compelled, after the destruction of his house and his works, to seek refuge at Nottingham; where he vainly endeavoured, for a time, to obtain countenance for his beneficial inventions, and where, after being driven from misery to further misery, he terminated his wretched but valuable existence in the workhouse.
Similar violence arose against Mr. Arkwright and his partner, Mr. Strutt. The class of operatives, totally unconscious of the employment which these intelligent men were opening for them and their progeny,* were inflamed with the most malignant spirit, and a large factory, which had been erected by Mr. Arkwright and his partners at Birkacre, near Chorley, in Lancashire,was destroyed by an enraged and ignorant mob, in the very face of the civil authorities.
But the enemies of the new manufacture relied chiefly upon attacks, which were encouraged to be made upon the patent of Mr. Arkwright, taken out by him immediately before his partnership with Messrs. Strutt and Need.
In 1772, an action at law was brought, supported by loose allegations, and carried on at the joint expense of a combination, to set aside this patent; but a verdict was given in favour of Mr. Arkwright.
In 1775, that gentleman took out a second patent for subsequent inventions, by which the carding of the cotton was greatly facilitated. The combination, discouraged by their recent failure, and unable to discover even the shadow of a pretence for their legal attacks upon this new source of prosperity to the new manufacture, remained inactive until 1781.
It was then pretended, that the specification in the patent did not contain a distinct description of the machinery. This was the ground of a fresh action, and a verdict was given against the patent. A blow so unexpected was severely felt by the partners ; and it seems to have been the opinion of these gentlemen, that upon the protection of parliament alone could they rely for the just remuneration of their talents, industry, and enterprize. Certainly, the manufacture had then been more than ten years in operation, and had sufficiently manifested its national importance.
The importation of cotton wool had risen, during that period, from one million of pounds weight to nearly eight millions; and the exportation of cotton goods was exhibiting more than a proportional increase. Such an accession to the national wealth, arising from the new manufacture alone, was, undoubtedly, a just object of legislative attention.
On the other hand, there was a reluctance in these gentlemen to call upon the interference of parliament, which is apt to irritate the mind of the public, and to create a general sentiment against those who appeal to its protection : besides, so strong had the estimation of their fabrics become, both at home and abroad, that, even had the patents been then dissolved, their works must still have kept the head they had gained beyond all competition. Instead, therefore, of appealing to parliament, for which a petition had been actually prepared, they sought and obtained a new trial ; which came on in February, 1781, before Lord Loughborough, when the verdict against the patent was reversed.
In 1767, there were not thirty thousand persons employed in the cotton manufacture: now, in consequence of the inventions which the workmen endeavoured to destroy, there are at least a million.
Foiled in their attempt to throw the patent open, and thus to clear their way to a participation in the extending trade of the new manufacture, the combination had recourse to a new expedient. For the first time, a prior inventor was named; and, in the June of the same year, at a trial before a special jury, at which Mr. Justice Buller presided, a person named Highs, or Hayes, a reed-maker, of Bolton, was brought forward ; who swore that, in 1768, he communicated an invention of spinning by rollers, to a watchmaker, named Kay ; and Kay, in his evidence, also swore that he had shewn this model to Mr. Arkwright.
On testimony of this sort, which, if founded on fact, had most unaccountably and improbably lain dormant for sixteen years, a verdict was given against the patent, which, since that period, has ceased to exist. But, notwithstanding this decision, the claim of Sir Richard Arkwright to the originality of the invention, with which his own fame, and so large a portion of the prosperity of the nation, are connected, continues to be considered as indisputable ; nor were the advantages, which he and his partners had obtained, materially diminished.
The principle of correct organization, which seems to be the latent spving that governs the intellect of the inventor and arranger of machinery on to extensive scale, is perceptible in all his transactions ; and the whole establishment, with all the regulations of his trade, is modified with the same attention to the bearing of their particular effects upon the movement of the whole. Hence, in the course of sixteen years, the whole manufacture had become so dependent upon the master minds in which it originated, that, though now subjected to legal infringement, it remained morally and practically in the hands of its first possessors.
Belper and Milford
We have carried through the history of Arkwright's patent to its dissolution, although, in 1775, Mr. Jedidiah Strutt had begun the foundation of cotton works at Belper and at Milford, which lie from six to eight miles north of Derby, where he still carried on his improved manufacture of stockings on a very extensive scale in partnership with Mr. Need.
The works at Belper and Milford have since been enlarged and improved to an astonishing degree of magnitude and perfection ; and Belper, then an inconsiderable village, has attained the rank of a populous town, where several hundred families subsist by employment in these great and beneficial establishments.
A systematic attention to the comfort and health of the operatives of both sexes and of various ages, is there constantly maintained, and so modified and so rationally enforced, that, without trespassing upon individual independence, it secures a large proportion of social benefit to the whole body. Education is fostered—knowledge is diffused- and, perhaps, in no town throughout England are the principles of constitutional liberty more extensively understood, or advocated and acted upon with more good sense and discretion.
The population drawn together by a well-regulated manufactory must necessarily participate in that spirit of organisation to which it owes its origin ; and the town of .Belper, beautifully situate on the banks of the Derwent, upon the first rise, beyond Derby, of the mountainous, ridge of lime-stone rocks and thus possessing advantages natural as well as moral, affords one of the happiest illustrations of the proposition of Mr. M'Cullock, that " the health, morals, and intelligence of the population of the nation have all gained by the present manufacturing system".
Mr. Strutt, anxious that these works should be conducted on principles as durable as their utility, resided sometimes at Belper and one time at Milford, during several years ; promoting by his own undeviating regularity, a system of management, which seemed to him indispensable in the trading concerns of works which were rapidly blending the prosperity of his family with the welfare of the nation.
Subsequently he resided at Derby and died in the year 1797, at the age of seventy-one. His cha- racter is easily drawn from the outline of his history. A cool, clear energy of intellect supplied him with the means of devising his mechanical improvements and inventions, and he carried this mental energy into the conduct of his establishments, as they increased in magnitude.
His tenacity of purpose in all his transactions resulted from his conviction that his determinations were founded upon moral, as his mechanical plans were upon natural truths: in fact, there can be no moral fortitude, where this conviction is wanting. His perception was, with respect to the general views of society, as strong as they were in those matters that belonged to his immediate pursuits : his opinions on religion and public affairs were liberal ; always tending towards what he thought conducive to the service or happiness of mankind ; and he saw the national advantages arising from the new manufacture, with gratification not inferior to that with which he felt it was to be the source of a princely income to his family.
A whole length portrait (from which our present engraving is taken,) of Jedidiah Strutt, Esq. was painted by Wright, of Derby, and is now in possession of his grandson, Edward Strutt, Esq. member of parliament for Derby.
On his decease, he was succeeded in his extensive concerns by his sons, William, Joseph, and George Benson Strutt, Esqrs. These gentlemen relinquished the manufacture of stockings in Derby, about the year 1805.
In the year 1830, William Strutt, Esq. father of the present member for Derby, died, highly esteemed for that spirit of improvement, to which his native town is indebted for numerous conveniences and embellishments. He united the cool inventive powers of his father, to an extent of scientific acquirements seldom surpassed. He was a member of the Royal Society, and, in junction with Dr. Darwin, and other eminent men then resident in Derby, he was a founder of the Derby Philosophical Society. He was fond of rendering science useful.
His elegant mansion at St. Helens abounded with proofs of the practicability and advantage of applying our knowledge of the mechanical and philosophical powers to the purposes of domestic life.
The Derbyshire Infirmary, the most complete hospital in the kingdom, displays his admirable skill in adapting scientific principles to the various services of comfort and convenience, so requisite in an establishment of that nature ; which is not only a lasting monument of his talents, but of the philanthropic spirit with which he devoted his time and attention to such benevolent objects.
In a memoir of this nature, it is not expected that we should make mention of the surviving persons of Mr. Strutt's family, but as Edward Strutt, Esq., M. P. is before the public as a member of the legislature, we may be permitted to say, that be has been three times chosen as the representative of his native town : twice before the passing of the Reform Bill, without opposition; and, by a triumphant majority, at the last general election, when a feeble attempt was made by the conservative party to bring in Sir Charles Colville. By birth and by education, Mr. Strutt is the friend and advocate of the people.
He has made their rights and interests his principal study ; and the truths which observation and reading have implanted in his mind are urged and acted upon by him with the extent of intelligence, and firmness of purpose, so remarkably characteristic of his family.