Jedidiah Strutt Biography: "Memorials of Old Derbyshire"

Updated: Sunday, July 17, 2011   |   Belper Historical & Genealogical Website

This extract is a biography of Jedidiah Strutt and is written by his relative the Hon. Frederick Strutt


"Memorials of Old Derbyshire"
by Revd J. Charles Cox 1907.

Pp 371- 384

 JEDEDIAH STRUTT, the second of three sons of William Strutt, a farmer at South Normanton, Derbyshire, was born on July 26th, 1726. His mother was Martha Statham, of Shottle, a hamlet in the parish of Duffield, at which church she and William Strutt were married on February 11th, 1724.

Of his elder brother Joseph little is known, except that he went to London, where he started in some commercial business, and that he married a Miss Scott.

(Note: Joseph Strutt went to london early in life and we believe ultimately kept a shop there. He married in the year 1755 a Miss Scott, and from this marriage the Strutts of Tutbury are descended. His two daughters married in succession Mr Joseph Chamberlain. From the second of these marriages is descended the Rt. Hon. Joseph Chamberlain, late Secretary of State for the Colonies etc.)

Jedediah's education can have been only that of a country school of those days, though it is but fair to surmise that his father must have been a man superior to the farmers and yeomen of his day, otherwise his sons, Jedediah in particular, could not have been so successful in the respective occupations of their after life.

Mr Felkin in "History of Machine-Wrought Hosiery and Lace Manufacture" 1867 tells us that in very early years Jedediah's thoughts took an eminently practical turn, and that as a boy he occupied himself in making toy water-mills on a small brook, in endeavouring even to improve his father's plough, and in other ingenious pastimes. The writer of this memoir is unaware from what source Mr. Felkin obtained his information as to the early tastes and occupations of Jedediah, but as he (Mr. Felkin) was a friend of the first Lord Belper, the grandson of Jedediah, the writer feels confident that nothing was inserted in Mr. Felkin's account that had not Lord Belper's full knowledge and approval.

It is at all events clear that at fourteen years of age Jedediah had shown a greater taste for mechanics than for husbandry, for he was then apprenticed by his father to a Mr. Ralph Massey, a wheelwright of Findern, a village about five miles from Derby, and twenty miles from his paternal home. It was to this apprenticeship, and to this life at Findern, that Jedediah Strutt owed a great part of his success in after life, and it is interesting to know that the document of the original indenture, of which a facsimile is given, is in the hands of and prized by his great-grandson, the second Lord Belper.

At Findern, Jedediah was put to lodge with a family of the name of Woollatt, who were what were called hosiers (i.e., hosiery manufacturers in a small way); it was, as we shall see, from his intimacy with this family that a great deal of his success in after life emanated.

It may be presumed that William Strutt's family were not members of the Church of England, but belonged to the Presbyterian, or, as it was called in later years, Unitarian persuasion. Whether that was so or not, the Woollatts at all events belonged to that sect, and sat under a Dr. Ebenezer Latham, who was a scholar of some repute, and had chapels both at Findern and at Caldwell.

Jedediah StruttJedediah Strutt, we know, served the full time of his apprenticeship at Findern, and after that was in service or employment at Leicester, or at Belgrave, near that town, for a period of about seven years.

It must have been about the year 1754, when he was twenty-eight years of age, that an uncle, who was a farmer at Blackwell, the parish next to South Normanton, died; he left his stock on the farm to Jedediah, with the idea, we suppose, that he would succeed him as tenant. This legacy seems to have been sufficient to induce Jedediah to give up his employment, whatever it was, near Leicester, and return to the land or to husbandry. It served also as a reason for thinking he was in a position to marry.

We find him, therefore, almost at once, after settling at Blackwell, writing to Elizabeth Woollatt, with whom he had been ever since his residence at Findern, now more than eight years before, on terms of intimacy if not of affection.

Miss Woollatt had during that time been very little at home, but had been out in service, and at the time of Jedediah's proposal was acting as servant or housekeeper to a Dr. Benson, an eminent Presbyterian divine in the east of London, who had written several works on divinity, and who has in more recent days been deemed worthy of a place in the Dictionary of National Biography.

The characteristic letter containing Jedediah's proposal to Elizabeth Woollatt, which we are about to give, is a long one, but it is rather typical of the writer, and is also worth inserting as a proof of how well he, who was little above a working man in position, had managed to educate himself.

" J. Strutt to Elizabeth Woollatt.
" Blackwell
  Feby 3rd 1755
Since our first acquaintance, which is now many years ago, I have often wrote to you but never in a strain like this ; nor did I think I ever should for though we were then more intimately acquainted than since and though then I thought you had some degree of kindness for me, yet as my conduct and behaviour to you has been such as could neither raise nor continnue your regard, together with the years that have passed since then, (for time often puts a period to love as well as all other events) I did not think you could remember me with the least pleasure or satisfaction but rather the contrary; but when I was at London and had the opportunity of seeing you something or other told me (though perhaps nothing more than the last glance of your eye when I bade you farewell) that you looked on me with an eye of tenderness nay, one is so apt to speak as they wish I had liked to have said love ; and if so that one generous instance of truth and constancey has made a greater and more lasting impression on my mind than all the united claims of beauty wit and fortune of your sex so far as I have had opportunity of conversing, were ever able to make; therefore it is upon this foundation I promise to tell you that from a wandering inconstant and roving swain I am become entirely yours!

I am ready to become all that you could wish me to be if you loved me and which is all I wish your husband. But suppose I should have gone too far in this declaration, and my fond observation prove a mistake, how will you wish, nay rather how impossible would it then be for you to wish even to call me by that tender name.

But let me still suppose it is not so, ... Yet what argument can I use to induce you to leave London with all the delights it affords, or how persuade you to leave so good a master who I know values you and whom you both esteem and love. Here I am at a loss and if you should be indifferent with regard to me it will be impossible to say anything that will be sufficient.

And indeed I am not inclined to flatter nor to fill your imagination with fine words only ; and this is one of all the realities I can think of, that it is not impossible but that you may be happy here even tho' it is true you cannot behold the splendour and the gaiety of a great city nor the noise and hurry of its inhabitants; yet the London air is not half so sweet, nor the pleasures half so lasting and sincere. Here inocense and health more frequently reside ; here the beauties of nature are ever presenting themselves both to our senses and imaganations ; here you may view the rising and the setting sun which many in London are strangers to ; here it is that you may have the morning and the evening song of many warbling larks and linnets and as Milton expresses it 'The shrill matin song of birds on everry bough,'

As to myself fortune has not placed me among the number of the rich and great and so not subjected me to the many temptations and follies that attend great men some of which perhaps I should not have been able to withstand, and others that I should have been loth to bear; yet by the blessing of heaven I have more then enough for happiness, and by that means at this season of the year I enjoy many leisure hours (and all the blessings of leisure and retirement) some of which I spend in reading and meditation, the rest I dedicate to love and you."

But I shall forget myself and learn to do a thing I never loved that is to write long letters, and yet methinks I have a thousand things to say; but as I had rather you wished I had said more than less nay if I could have told you all my heart in one word, I should not now have troubled you with so many ; but I have no apology to make, only my sincerity, and if you read with candour and with the same simplicity with which I write you will certainly find it sincere. I hope that will recomment it to your kind reception and obtain if possible an answer of kindness.

I saw your brother as I passed through Derby but I did not take him the books you desired me. I heard from any brother last week and rejoyce to hear he has been abroad (i e out of the house).

My father often talks of the Doctor and you and withall knows that I love you, nay he himself loves you and will be glad to see you here; and now if ever you had any kindness for me, if ever I did or said any­thing to give you either delight or pleasure, let it not be in vain that I now ask, nor torture me with silence and suspense; by so doing you will lay the highest obligations on one who is in every sense of the word.

Your sincere lover
J Strutt.

This proposal elicited the following equally characteristic reply :—

Elizabeth Woollatt to Jedediah Strutt.
addressed to Mr Jedediah Strutt at Blackwell
to be left at the Bull Inn, Mansfield
London Feby isth 1755

Yours of the third came safe, which I would have answered before but had not presence of mind enough for some time to lay it before my master; at length a favourable opportunity offering itself, my resolution got the better of my fear, and, after a short introduction gave him your letter which he said showed you to be a man of sense and he thought of honour and honesty; but as to himself he was so surprised, disconcerted and uneasy as I never saw him, and for some time would say nothing more to me.

At length he became able to talk freely on that head, bid me consult my own happiness and not think what he suffered. He then offered to make me independent, that so after his death, I might live where I pleased, not at all intending that as a dissuasive from accepting your generous offer, but as a means to prevent my being influenced by any other motive than that alone which is essential to the most lasting, most perfect happiness.

Such, such is the behaviour of this god-like man; may he meet all the reward that such beneficence deserves in both worlds.
As to myself was I possessed of any desirable qualification, and had I enjoyed the greatest affluence, I should not then hesitate a moment, but comply with whatever you will desire; but my consciousness of my own inferiority in points of fortune as well as anything else, makes me  extremely fearful that you should find cause to repent, when it is too late; it this should be the case, what I must suffer from what in me is the least occasion of pain to you, is not for me to say ; but be this as it will, you are and ever will be entitled to the best wishes of your most humble servant,

E. Woollat.
My service to your father, I wish I better deserved his good opinion.

Many letters afterwards pass between the happy pair ; but their course of true love runs very smoothly until all is made ready. At the beginning of September, we find Miss Woollatt coming down from London to Blackwell to be married.

It would certainly have seemed more natural that she should be married from her father's house, but that did not seem to be either possible or advisable under changed circumstances, as her father had married again, and the step-mother, as is often the case, seemed to stand rather in the way of the children being at home.

We now, therefore, see Jedediah Strutt happily settled at Blackwell, apparently ready to remain steadfast to farming, and married to the excellent and most industrious woman of his affections. It must have been, however, about the time his first child, William was born, that a change came over the scene, and that Jedediah's strong taste for mechanics obliged him to think of other things besides his farm.

His brother-in-law, William Woollatt, who had been assisting his father in the hosiery trade, and till the second marriage had been living at Findern, knowing Strutt's bent for mechanics, desired his assistance in connection with an object which he had at heart, viz., the invention of a machine for making ribbed hose.

It will be best and most fitting here to give Mr. Felkin's account of this invention:

Mr. William Woollatt was at that time, 1750, a hosier in Derby. His attention was directed to the question of how these ribbed hose could be made, and he brought under the special attention of his brother-in-Iaw, Mr. jedediah Strutt, who, though an agriculturist, had he knew been from his youth engaged in mechanical pursuits as an occupation of his mind and hands during his leisure time. The reference thus made proved to be a most successful one. The important results could not have been at first anticipated, nor even during the lifetime of Mr. Strutt were they fully understood. But they have been such as to have given him a just prominence amongst the inventors of that age, and to require the more extended personal account about to be given. The very simplicity of the plan he devised and of the mode of its application to the machine of Lee 170 years after its invention added to the fact that no historian of the trade wrote during the next fifty years preclude any very minute details of the obstacles he encountered. Such an account now would be very interesting, if it had been forthcoming. Great difficulties there must have been, for the constructive powers of mechanics in the stocking trade had not a hundred years ago been employed as they have been since; mainly as the effect of this effort of Strutt's genius. . . . It was now that he, by Mr. Woollatt's representations of the difficulty and importance of the matter then occupying the frame-work knitting world, was induced to make himself practically acquainted with the principles and the movements of a stocking frame ; probably the most if not the only very complex machine he had ever seen ; and this with the idea no doubt at first but a remote one of so dealing with it as to cause it to produce what had hitherto been thought to be beyond its powers. A clergyman had invented it, why should not a farmer increase its capacity for usefulness? After much labour, time, and expense, he succeeded admirably in this by making an addition to it, or rather placing in front of it so as to work in unison and harmony with it a distinct apparatus or machine ; thus between them to produce the ribbed web of looped fabric ; and not as popularly stated by finding out the defects of Lee's frame and devoting himself to its improvement.
.... The principle of Strutt's Derby rib machine remains unaltered; its operation has been simplified, however, by its subordination to automatic movement, as will be at once seen on examination of power hosiery frames lately constructed.

From this time, though he did not leave his farm at Blackwell at once, Strutt's mind was evidently entirely occupied with his invention, and with the consideration of the best way of making use of it. Strutt's means were, we can imagine, very small, and therefore his only plan was to try and get some other manufacturer of hosiery to take him as a partner, and share the advantage of his mechanical skill and invention. We believe there are no letters of Strutt's to be found relating to his invention  of the Derby rib machine, but in 1757 he was evidently making great efforts to start in a hosiery business.

Early in that year, Mrs. Strutt went up to London to see her kind old master, and to inquire whether he could be persuaded to advance them or lend them some of the necessary capital for starting in business. She was, we believe, successful in this object, and we know that the next child was christened George Benson. The account of her journey up to town gives a rather good idea of the difficulty of travelling in those days, especially for the humbler classes, who could not afford the coach, but had to go by the waggon.

Jedediah Strutt took his wife to Derby, evidently on a pillion behind him on horseback, and from there she proceeded in the stage waggon. In this their progress must have been very slow, as she writes about the journey that at Glyn, six miles from Leicester, " I was so sick I was not able to travel further, but staid behind the waggon more than an hour, and then walked five miles before I came up with it."

In this and the following year the necessary patents were taken out, and a great many of the leading hosiery manufacturers in the neighbourhood of Nottingham were approached, and several visits to London had to be paid. The first business Jedediah Strutt started was with hosiers of the name of Bloodworth and Herford. This arrangement, though terminated happily by all parties, did not last long, and the two brothers-in-law ultimately persuaded Mr Need, a most respectable hosier, to join them, the firm being styled Need, Strutt and Woollatt. They had works both at Derby and Nottingham. It can be readily understood that immersed as he was in this business, Strutt had found it impossible to continue to reside on the farm at Blackwell, which place he must have left about 1759, when he took his family to reside in Derby.

Before we leave the village of Blackwell, it ought to be mentioned that the farmhouse where Strutt resided is still known, and that when one of his great-grandsons visited the place only a few years ago, he was at once taken up to a long, low garret in the roof, where it is the current tradition of the place his great-grandfather had 150 years ago worked his hosiery frame and invented the Derby rib machine.

It may also be of a little interest to some of our readers to be told that one of the Strutt family was able to acquire quite recently a cradle made by Jedediah for his first child, William. This cradle, it appears, had been acquired or bought when Strutt left Blackwell by his friend Haslam, the blacksmith at Tibshelf (a neighbouring village), who had probably assisted Strutt in making his machine. It has since that time rocked four generations of the Haslam family. The cradle is of oak, and it is needless to say, like many other works of Strutt's, of very strong and solid construction.

The hosiery manufacture of Need, Strutt and Woollatt must have been very successful, or they would not in such a few years have been able to gain the position they did. Strutt must have been the manager or moving spirit of the establishments both in Derby and Nottingham. It is interesting to learn that in the latter town, in which we believe he never resided, he received in the year 1762 the compliment of being made a freeman.

It was, we believe, in or about the year 1770 that Richard Arkwright, knowing, of course, what the demand for cotton yarn was for hosiery making in Derby and Nottingham, came to Nottingham in the hope of finding someone to help him in starting cotton mills, by which he could reap the fruits of his recent invention, the Spinning Jenny.

Messrs. Wright, the bankers, not being prepared to find all the necessary capital, advised Arkwright to apply to the successful hosiery manufacturers, Messrs. Need, Strutt and Woollatt. This advice was at once acted on, and in a very short time the firm of Messrs. Arkwright, Strutt and Need was formed. Cotton mills, driven by horse power, were at once started at Nottingham, and a few years later mills were built at Cromford, where advantage was taken of the fine water power of the river Derwent.

Strutt was now a very busy man, as he was not only part proprietor of large hosiery works and of large cotton spinning works, but he was also starting in Derby calico or weaving works. It was he, we are told, who was the first person to start the manufacture of calico all of cotton, that is to say, not of linen warp and cotton weft. This change, though it may seem to us a small one, created a revolution in the calico trade, and all the Lancashire manufacturers were up in arms against it. In the end an Act of Parliament, after much trouble had been taken, was passed, by which certain prohibitions and discriminating duties were repealed, and the new process declared to be both lawful and laudable.

The following letter from Lord Howe, the celebrated admiral, who had no doubt been helping to steer this measure through the House of Commons, is perhaps of sufficient interest to insert :—

Grafton Street
August 16th 1785

Lord Howe presents his compliments with many thanks for the piece of the new manufacture he has received from Messrs. Need & Strutt. He is very much flattered by that instance of their gallantry to Lady Howe who accepts it with equal acknowledgment, as he deems it an evidence of their obliging prejudice in his favour, tho' conscious at the same time that the success of their application to Parliament was solely ascribable to the reasonableness and justice of their pretensions. Lady Howe will have a particular satisfaction in making the circumstances known, hoping that the elegance of the pattern and the perfection of the work will incite all her acquaintance to encourage so great an improve­ment in the British manufactures.

In the year 1780, Strutt and Arkwright severed their business connection, Arkwright retaining the works at Cromford, and Strutt building works at Belper and at Milford on land that had been recently acquired. These works, as well as those at Crom ford, continue to be carried on as cotton mills in spite of the enormous development of the cotton trade in Lancashire.

It is interesting, too, to know that Samuel Sclater, known in America as the " father " of the cotton spinning industry in that country, came from Belper, and was actually apprenticed for seven years to jedediah Strutt while he was living at Milford. Samuel Slater's life was written in America nearly eighty years ago, and contains a view of the Belper mills, and the portrait and one or two interesting little anecdotes of his old master, jedediah Strutt.

We must now say a few words about Strutt's domestic and family life in the latter part of his career. In 1773 he had the misfortune to lose his wife, a loss that was irreparable to him, as she had been not only a devoted helpmate and companion to him, but a most excellent mother to their children. She died while with him on one of his many journeys to London which he made about this time. She is buried in Bunhill Fields.

We give here an extract from one of Jedediah's letters to his children after their mother's death :—

At present I feel so bewildered and so lost so wanting, some how or other so but half myself that I can scarce believe things to be in the manner they are indeed it is impossible for me to describe or you to imagine bow I feel I doubt not every repetition of this kind will affect you but it will wear off especially in minds young as yours are. Other objects will make their impressions but you I trust will never forget your dear mother who loved you so well I hope you will always retain much of her goodness of temper disposition and affection ; that you will imitate the example she has set you of virtue of goodness of benevolence and kindness for they are most amiable virtues and that you will study the same sentiments of sobriety temperance diligence frugality industry and economy that you observed in her Your own recollection will bring to your minds so many things that were to be found in her worth your attention that I need not here enumerate them.

The bereaved husband, owing to his business in London, and perhaps also to his own feelings, did not return to his family till November. The children, of whom William, the eldest, was only seventeen years of age, by their letters at any rate show how well they had been brought up. Having only one servant, a great deal of the work in the house had to be done by them, and we have proof also that both William and his sisters were making themselves of use in some of the office work of their father's business. It is interesting, too, to find how careful their parents were in impressing upon them the importance of learning French, and to note even in their letters what trouble they took to obtain proficiency in that language.

In the letter to his son, from which we are about to make a few extracts, we can see how Jedediah felt the disadvantage of the rather humble and imperfect education and of the illiterate society he had had in early life, and was determined if possible to do his utmost to prevent his children suffering in the way he had suffered.

London August 4th 1774
My dear Billy

Some time ago I happened to see some of the letters wrote by the Earl of Chesterfield to his son which pleased me so much that I determined to buy the book and on perusing it find it so full of good sense, good language and just observations that I am charmed with it. The late Lord Chesterfield was a nobleman of the first rank, had all the advantages of a learned and polite education joined to a ready wit and good understanding. He had seen and conversed and been employed in most of the countries in Europe; indeed he had spent a life of many years in the most polished and refined company that were anywhere to be met with ; to all of which great advantages he added the most diligent the most careful and most just observation.

After explaining Lord Chesterfield's and his son's position in the world, Jedediah Strutt continues:—

I need. not tell you that you are not to be a nobleman, nor prime minister, but you may possibly be a tradesman of some eminence and as such you will necessarily have connection with mankind and with the world and that will make it absolutely necessary to know them both and you may be assured if you add to the little learning and improvement you have hitherto had, the manners, the air, the genteel address and polite behaviour of a gentleman you will abundantly find your account in it in all and every transaction of your future life when you come to do business in the world. . . . You may believe me in this for I now feel the want of them (accomplishments) by dear experience. If I would I could describe the awkward figure one makes, the confusion and the embarrassment one is thrown into on certain occasions from the want of not knowing how to behave and the want of assurance to put what one does know into practice. I look on it now as a real misfortune that in the beginning of my life I had not sense nor judgment enough of my own nor any friend that was able or kind enough to point out to me the necessity of an easy agreeable or polite behaviour. Indeed so foolish was I that I looked on dancing and dress the knowing how to sit or attend or move gracefully and properly as trifles not worthy the least expense of time or money and much below the notice of a wise man. I observe in you a good deal of the same temper and disposition with regard to these things that I myself had when I was your age but if you will believe me as the best friend you have in the world they are wrong notions and must be eradicated and changed for those of a different nature if ever you mean to shine in any character in life whatever.

After reading this letter of advice of the father to his son, it is interesting to know that the son, if he did not occupy any public position, did shine as an eminent scientific man, who numbered amongst his friends all the greatest scientists and philanthropists of his day, and was himself a member of the Royal Society.

Very little more remains to be told of Jedediah Stxutt's life. He married a second time about the year 1780 or 1781, Anne, the widow of George Daniels, of Belper, and daughter of George Cantrell, of Kniveton. This marriage, we learn from one or two letters, did not give satisfaction to his daughters and other members of his family, nearly all of whom were, however, married about that time or a little later.

Jedediah Strutt passed the end of his life at Milford House, which he had himself built. He did not die there, but at Exeter House, Derby, in the year 1797. He lies buried in the Unitarian Chapel at Belper.

We may perhaps be excused here for quoting what Mr. Felkin says about Mr. Strutt :—

An intellect singularly clear and cool was combined in him with the faculty of devising inventions and improvements which he carried into effect with unwearied energy of mind and purpose, impressing themselves on the entire conduct of his establishments as they increased in magnitude. His tenacity of principle and moral fortitude resulted from his confidence that his determinations were founded upon truth. His convictions in regard to general views of society were equally strong. His political and religious opinions were adopted because he thought them sound and conclusive to the happiness of mankind."

Mr. Strutt seems to have been singularly void of ambition for worldly distinction ; he was only ambitious of the blessing that follows duty done.

Although the practice of writing your own epitaph cannot be exactly commended, the writer of this brief memoir may perhaps be excused for inserting in it the words found a few years ago amongst Jedediah Strutt's papers, and in his own handwriting :—

Here rests in peace J. S- who without fortune family or friends raised to himself a fortune family and name in the world ; without having wit, had a good share of plain common sense ; without much genius, enjoyed the more substantial blessing of a sound understanding ; with but little personal pride, despised a mean or base action ; with no ostentation for religious tenets and ceremonies, he led a life of honesty and virtue, not knowing what would befall him after death, he died resigned in full confidence that if there be a future state of retribution it will be to reward the virtuous and the good.
This I think my true character. " J. Strutt

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