The Rise of the Strutts, from "The Vicissitudes of Families"

Updated: Friday, July 15, 2011   |   Belper Historical & Genealogical Website

This book extract covers the early life of Jedidiah Strutt, his family and fortunes and the development of the cotton mills.

"The Vicissitudes of Families"

1863 By Sir Bernard Burke LL.D
2nd Edition, from Page 213

"Hic patet ingeniia campus : certusque merenti
Stat favor : ornatur propriis industria donis."

IT has long been the just boast of our country, that the highest honours are open to the humblest of her sons. In the roll of the British Peerage will be found seventy names ennobled by the successful practice of the law. Trade and commerce have been prolific sources of nobility. The Dukes of Leeds trace back to a clothworker, the Earls of Radnor to a Turkey merchant, the Earls of Craven to a Merchant taylor, and the Earls of Coventry to a London mercer. The families of Dartmouth, Ducie, Pomfret, Tankerville, Dormer, Romney, Dudley, Fitzwilliam, Cowper, Leigh, Darnley, Hill, and Normanby were all founded by merchants or citizens of London.

In our own times commerce has added Lords Ashburton, Carrington, and Over- stone to the Upper House, and the Peerage is not less noble, but more honoured and more useful, because it is occasionally recruited from the ranks of honourable industry. Mechanical invention, which is, perhaps, the basis of our pre-eminence as a commercial nation, has less frequently led to wealth and honours, either to inventors themselves or to their descendants, than the successful  pursuit of the commerce that has resulted from it. Indeed " Tulit alter honores" has been as applicable to the inventor's case as to that of the Roman poet.

The combination of mechanical invention with commerce laid the foundation of the "rise" of the justly honoured family now under notice. In the retired village of South Normanton, near Alfreton, MR. WILLIAM STRUTT was, at the commencement of the eighteenth century, the occupant of two farms.

He was a member of a yeoman family who had for several generations held lands at that place and in the neighbouring parish of Blackwell ; one branch of the family residing at the old mansion called Newton Hall, in the latter parish, while another occupied an ancient manor- house near the church, the site of which can still be traced.*

Mr. William Strutt had three sons Joseph, born in 1724; Jedediah, in 1729; and William, in 1730. The early years of these youths were spent in assisting on the farm, and in acquiring such an education as a superior village school could offer. It is said that Mr. Strutt was indifferent to his sons' education, and was more anxious they should obtain a thorough knowledge of agriculture, than spend much time in what is termed " schooling."

If, however, their education, in the common acceptation of the term, was somewhat neglected, it is evident, from letters still carefully preserved by the family, that Jedediah, at  least, had acquired, either by training or self-culture, powers of composition not very usual in farmers' sons of that time. That is not always education which passes under the name.

Important lessons for the real business of life are often learnt under circumstances apparently little calculated to impart them; and perhaps the usual occupations of these youths formed no unfitting preparation for the career which one of them was destined to pursue.

JEDEDIAH, at an early age, evinced a taste for mechanics. Tradition says he constructed miniature watermills on the little stream that ran through his father's farm, and adopted many contrivances for improving the rude agricultural implements of the period* indications of that mechanical genius which was afterwards to render such important services to his county and country. He had scarcely reached manhood, when, on the death of an uncle, he succeeded to one of the farms at Blackwell that had long been in the tenure of the family.

To this he removed in 1754, and while devoting much attention to the cultivation of the farm, still continued to employ his leisure in his favourite pursuit.

About this time he formed an acquaintance with Miss Woollatt, the sister of a respectable hosier at Derby, to whom he was married at Blackwell, in 1755, when he was in his twenty-sixth year.

Miss Woollatt was a person of well cultivated mind, and in age and station, and indeed in every respect, well suited to him. The marriage was a happy one for both parties, and led, no doubt, to the important invention with which Mr. Jedediah Strutt's name has ever been so honourably associated. *

Amongst others, may be named the wheel-plough. Mr. Britton, in " The Beauties of England and Wales," thus describes the origin of the invention, on the authority, it is believed, of a member of the Strutt family : "

Some time after his marriage, being informed by his wife's brother, who was a hosier, and well acquainted with the stocking frame, of some unsuccessful attempts that had been made to manufacture ribbed stockings, his curiosity was sufficiently excited to induce him to investigate the operations of this curious and complicated machine, with a view to effect what others had attempted in vain.

In this design, after much time, labour, and expense, he at length succeeded, and, in connexion with his brother-in-law, obtained a patent for the invention, and removed to Derby,* where he established an extensive manufacture of ribbed stockings."

The ingenious new machine, remarkable for its simplicity and beauty, soon gave fresh impulse to the hosiery trade, and under the name of the " Derby Rib," its pro- duct soon came into general favour. A residence at Derby was, however, absolutely necessary to the successful working of the plans to which the invention gave birth ; it had also the advantage of placing him in the immediate neighbourhood of his wife's family, and in more frequent intercourse with minds congenial with his own.

The manner in which Mr. Jedediah Strutt secured the benefits to be derived from his invention, speaks as well for his prudence, as the invention itself speaks for his genius. The patent having been secured, he entered largely upon the manufacture of the ribbed stockings, from machines constructed on the new principle ; but he did not, as has been erroneously asserted, erect any factory, such work having, till very recently, always been carried on in private dwellings.

His brother-in-law, Mr. Woollatt, and Mr. Need of Nottingham, were now afterwards associated with him in partnership, and the firm carried on the hosiery trade with eminent success. About this time Mr. (afterwards Sir Richard) Arkwright, being in want of capital to carry his invention for cotton spinning into effect, applied to Mr. Need. The latter consulted his partner, Mr. Strutt, as possessing the requisite mechanical knowledge for testing the value of the Arkwright inventions. Mr. Strutt soon satisfied him- self of their extraordinary importance, and in 1771 he and Mr. Need joined Mr. Arkwright as partners.

In that year the first cotton-spinning mill was erected at Cromford, the funds for which, as well as for securing the patent, having been found by Mr. Strutt, or through his instrumentality, Mr. Need having very early withdrawn from the partnership.

* About this time Mr. Strutt suggested to Mr. Need the desirableness of trying the weaving of calicoes. The idea was eagerly embraced, and the two friends, in 1773, made the first successful attempt at weaving cotton ever made in this country.

[* Rightly, therefore, does Lysons, the historian, claim for Derbyshire the honour of being the cradle of the most important branches of the cotton manufacture ; a portion of our national industry that now gives employment to five or six millions of our industrial classes, and forms a large part of our commercial greatness. The incalculable benefits conferred on the country by cotton spinning and cot- ton weaving may, then, without injustice, be mainly ascribed to Mr. Strutt's invention of the ribbed stocking machine. It may be stated, too, on the authority of an eminent writer, manufacturer, and mechanician, Mr. Alderman Felkin of Nottingham, that Mr. Strutt's "new principle eventually formed the foundation of the lace frame."]

* Calicoes had been previously manufactured composed of linen warp and cotton weft. Calicoes wholly of cotton were first manufactured by Messrs. Strutt and Need. These were found to be liable to double duty, that is, to a duty of sixpence a yard, instead of threepence. After much opposition from other manufacturers, Messrs. Strutt and Need succeeded in obtaining an act to repeal this discriminatory duty. f By Mr. Jedediah Slrutt's patent of 1759, for apparatus for making " Derby Eibbed Hose," a variation of the plain looped work of the stocking frame was shewn to be possible, and might be made extensively applicable. This was effected by machinery which applied points to such of the hooks ("needles") as held the loops it was desired to operate upon, and by removing them, to cause an alteration in the face of the work, and if repeated, would produce an interstice.

It is gratifying to be able thus to trace the origin and brief history of a simple but beautiful discovery, which has been pregnant with such immense benefits to the ingenious discoverer, his family and his country.

 In 1775, Mr. Strutt's energetic mind was directed to a wider field of enterprise. In conjunction with his brother William, who had for some time been one of the partners in the hosiery trade, he erected the first of the four splendid cotton mills at Belper. The site on the river Derwent was judiciously chosen, and the structure and the machinery of this vast fabric again called for the exercise of his inventive powers. The genius which had, in his boyhood, The principle of this invention, though very simple, required skill in its application by Mr. Strutt ; for it involved entire control of any loop, and consequently over the use of every individual hook across the frame.

This principle lies at the basis of Morris's patents of 1763 and 1781, whereby eyelet-hole work was produced, and by various modifications produced the " Knotted," " Frilled," " Stump," " Mesh," and " Point Net" machines. In 1780, Frost, by means of a perforated hollow square roller affecting the working of any hook (needle) at pleasure, produced the first useful imitation of fancy lace. The " warp" machine is constructed on the principle of operating on every thread. Dawson patented this in 1791. No doubt the idea of selection and control in the Derby rib, together with the success of Mi*. Strutt in its working out, led to these extraordinary and skilful variations and additions to the original stocking frame. The result was, the large " pin," " point," and " warp" lace trades of Nottingham, Lyons, and Vienna, indirectly leading to the still more extensive bobbin-net manufacture of this country and the continent.

See account of the hosiery trade, 1844, as given in Muggeridge's report to parliament, 1845 and account of lace trade in Society of Arts' Transactions, 1856 each by Mr. Felkin.

Having constructed miniature watermills in his native streamlet, he was now to be exerted in raising and supplying with mechanical power an edifice destined to be the parent of others, and, eventually, to be the means of converting a straggling hamlet into the second town of the county.

There will be an opportunity of again referring to the philanthropy which for three generations has been exercised at Belper by this excellent and united family. At present it seems best to pursue the simple narrative of their gradual " rise." In Mr. Jedediah Strutt's case, and in that of many other remarkable men and public benefactors, the record of their lives is to be found written in their works, and not in their words. Mr. Strutt appears to have been singularly devoid of ambition for worldly distinction ; he was only "ambitious of the blessing that follows duty done."

To promote the welfare of his family, to encourage the trade of which he had been the founder, and to fill with honour the station to which his talents, energy, and integrity had raised him, were the objects at which he aimed. These he attained in an eminent degree, and the family motto, " Propositi tenax," had rarely ever a more correct application.

During the latter part of his life, he resided at Milford House, near Belper, a handsome structure of his own erection ; but shortly before his death he removed, in consequence of his illness, to Exeter House, Derby, where his useful life was terminated in 1797. He was in his sixty- ninth year.

It maybe added here, in order to avoid interrupting the continuity of the narrative, that Mr. Joseph Strutt, his elder brother, died at Rickmansworth, in 1794; and Mr. William Strutt, the youngest brother, died a bachelor at Derby, in 1800, aged also seventy. Mr. Jedediah Strutt left by his first marriage (he formed a second with Mrs. Daniels) three sons William, George Benson, and Joseph ; and two daughters Elizabeth, married to William Evans, Esq., of Darley Abbey, near Derby ; and Martha, to Samuel Fox, Esq., of Thurlston Grange.inherited, in a great degree, his father's mechanical genius. Amongst a great number of his useful inventions adapted to manufactures and other purposes, he invented a self-acting mule, the complete success of which was only prevented by the mechanical skill of the times being unequal to its manufacture.*

Devoted to scientific and literary pursuits, his society was eagerly sought by many distinguished persons of his time. He was the intimate friend of Dr. Darwin, the author of Zoonomia and the Botanic Garden, who paid, in the latter work, a striking compliment to the machinery in whose production the Strutt family had so large a share. Becoming possessed of St. Helen's a handsome man- sion erected by the Gisbornes he enriched it with a noble collection of paintings and works of art, and here he had * A system for warming and thoroughly ventilating large buildings and factories improved modes of cooking, washing, and drying and the construction of the first fire-proof building on a large scale, with several other inventions for manufacturing or domestic purposes, were also due to Mr. William Strutt. often the satisfaction of receiving as guests many distinguished foreigners, as well as Englishmen of mark.

To the improvement of the town of Derby he long devoted a large portion of his time, and to his zeal and liberality many of its best institutions and public works may be ascribed. He planned, and was mainly instrumental in erecting, the Derby Infirmary, and the great improvements which his inventions introduced into it, rendered it the model for many other Infirmaries. Nor, while nobly sacrificing so much time and money in the promotion of public objects, was Mr. Strutt regard- less of his private duties. In these, as in every relation of life, he was exemplary. Mr. Strutt was a Deputy Lieutenant of the county of Derby, and F.R.S. He died Dec. 29, 1830, at the age of seventy-four, universally regretted for his public usefulness and private virtues.

By his marriage with Barbara, daughter of Thomas Evans, Esq., of Darley, he left an only son, EDWARD, of whom, as the present head of the family, further mention will be hereafter made and three daughters. Mr. George Benson Strutt, of Bridge Hill House, Belper, the second son of Jedediah, was born in 1761. On him chiefly devolved the management of the extensive manufactories at Belper, in the superintendence of which he was most assiduous and successful; and he acquired, in a remarkable degree, the respect and confidence as well of the work-people, as of his friends and neighbours in the county. During the latter part of his life, he was an active county magistrate. He was also a Deputy Lieutenant.

By his marriage with Miss Radford, of an old county family, he left three sons, the second of whom, Mr. Anthony Radford Strutt, still survives ; also his grandson (the only son of his eldest son), the present Mr. George Henry Strutt, of Bridge Hill, Belper. Mr. Joseph Strutt, (the third son of Jedediah), of St. Peter's, Derby, was a deputy-lieutenant, a liberal patron of literature and art, a most amiable man, and a valued member of society. By his urbanity of manner, and princely liberality, he won the esteem of his townsmen, and after the passing of the Corporation Reform Bill, was elected their first mayor. He took great interest in the success of the Derby Mechanics' Institute, of which his brother William was the chief founder, and was the leading promoter of the Exhibition of 1838, which greatly conduced to its financial prosperity. In 1840 he presented to the town the 1 beautiful Park or Arboretum, which hz vested in the municipal council for the benefit of the in- habitants and the public.

This noble gift cost the donor upwards of ten thousand pounds, and has not only been the source of great enjoyment and advantage to his native town, but the origin of all other similar benefactions from private persons and municipal bodies. " It has often, been made a reproach to our country," he gracefully ob- served in his speech on the opening day, " that in England collections of works of art and exhibitions for instruction and amusement cannot, without danger of injury, be thrown open to the public. If any ground for such a reproach remains, I am convinced that it can be removed only by greater liberality in admitting the people to such establishments; by thus teaching them that they are themselves the parties most deeply interested in their preservation, and that it must be the interest of the public to protect that which is intended for the public advantage. If we wish to obtain the affections of others, we must manifest kindness and regard towards them ; if we seek to wean them from debasing pursuits and brutalizing pleasures, we can only hope to do so by opening to them new sources of rational enjoyment. "

It is under this conviction that I dedicate these gardens to the public ; and I will only add, that, as the sun has shone brightly on me through life, it would be ungrateful in me not to employ a portion of the fortune I possess in promoting the welfare of those amongst whom I live, and by whose industry I have been aided in its acquisition." Such sentiments, coming from such a man, might well touch the hearts of the audience, and at night a delighted multitude sung " The Fine Old English Gentleman" before the house of the speaker and generous donor.* * Leisure Hour.

Mr. Joseph Strutt married Isabella, daughter of Archibald Douglas, Esquire, and by her had issue an only son, who died at Constantinople, while travelling on the continent, and two daughters Isabella, married to John Howard Galton, Esquire ; and Caroline, to E. N. Hurt, Esquire, of the ancient family of Hurt of Alderwasley and Wirksworth. All the three brothers had been associated with their father in his vast manufacturing and commercial concerns, which they afterwards conducted with progressive enterprise, intelligence, and success.

All were distinguished for literary taste and liberality of feeling, and it was their high privilege to use the power, will, and opportunity to do good in a manner rarely ever surpassed by one family. Derby, the centre of their commercial operations, and Belper that of their factories, exhibit in every direction monuments of their munificence. Their kind solicitude for the moral and mental advancement of their numerous workpeople at the latter place was a distinguishing trait in their character. The comfort and well-being of the large population which their mills had congregated around them, seem, indeed, always to have been uppermost in their thoughts.

Churches, chapels, institutes, rose through the liberality of this united family, whenever such structures became a requirement ; and there is not, perhaps, in England, any example of a town created by the invention and energy of one man, and augmented by the same properties in his sons, which exhibits a more satisfactory social condition than Belper. Perhaps, however, this remark might require some qualification with respect to the nailers and stocking- makers, who are not connected with the factories of the Messrs. Strutt. It is gratifying to be able to state that this responsibility for the well-being of the operatives in these large concerns is fully recognized and acted upon by the present representatives of these eminent men. Reference has already been made to the literary tastes and associations of the Strutts. The three brothers enjoyed the friendship of many of the leading men of their times.

When Moore the poet was residing near Ashbourne, from 1813 to 1818, he was a frequent and favoured guest at St. Peter's and St. Helen's. Mention is made of these visits in Lord John Russell's life of the poet.

In a letter to a friend, in 1813, Moore writes thus:
" Bessy and I have been on a visit to Derby, for a week, at Mr. Joseph Strutt's, who sent his carriage and four for us, and back again with us. There are r three brothers of them, and they are supposed to have a million of money pretty equally divided between them. They have fine families of daughters, and are fond of literature, music, and all those elegancies which their riches enable them so amply to indulge themselves with. Bessy came back full of presents, rings, fans, &c., &c. My singing produced some little sensation at Derby."

In the following year Moore writes :
" You have heard we have been to Derby, and a very pleasant visit we had of it. I like the Strutts exceedingly ; and it is not the least part of my gratification to find a very pretty girl of six teen reading the sixth book of Virgil, and not at all spoiled by it. This is Joseph Strutt's eldest girl a classic, and a poetess into the bargain. Indeed they have quite a nest of young poets in that family ; they meet once a week, and each brings a poem upon some subject ; and I never was much more surprised in my life, than in looking over their collection. I do not think I wrote half so well when I was their age. Then they have fine pianofortes, magnificent organs, splendid houses, most excellent white soup, and are, to crown all, right true Jacobins, after my own heart ; so that I passed my time very agreeably amongst them, and Bessy came away loaded with presents."

To these brief notices of the leading members of the family it seems desirable to add a more extended one of the present representative and chief. EDWARD, only son of William Strutt, F.R.S., was born at Derby, in 1801. After receiving a careful private education, he entered the University of Cambridge, and gra duated in 1823. On leaving college he soon began to take an active part in the municipal and political concerns of his native town.

* The respect which his father had so justly earned was maintained by the honesty and integrity of the son, who was invited by his fellow townsmen, in 1830, to represent the borough in the Liberal interest. Returned to Parliament, he made no startling, sudden, or brilliant display, but gradually earned the character of a clever business man, of strong sense and sterling worth. He continued to sit for Derby till 1848, when he was un- seated on petition. In 1851 he was returned for Arundel, in the place of the Earl of Arundel and Surrey, who had accepted the Chiltern Hundreds.

At the general election of 1852 he was returned, in con junction with Mr. John Walter, for Nottingham, for which place he continued to sit while he remained in the Lower House. When Mr. Strutt first entered Parliament, the House was occupied for nearly two years with the Reform. Bill, to * At a public meeting convened at Derby, in 1826, in condemnation of the Corn Laws, Mr. Strutt delivered a speech which showed a remarkable acquaintance with the subject in so young a man, and elicited the warm approbation of the meeting and the public press, which he gave his strenuous and consistent support in all its stages.

On the 10th of May, 1832, when the Reform Ministry had resigned (ie consequence of an adverse vote of the House of Lords), and the Reform Bill was in jeopardy, Mr. Strutt seconded Lord Ebrington's motion for that address to the Crown which had the effect of reinstating the ministry, and securing the passage of the Re- form Bill through the House of Lords. After the passing of that Bill, he supported, in succeeding parliaments, all those important measures for which it had paved the way Municipal Reform, the Abolition of Slavery, the Corn Laws, the removal of the grievances of Dissenters and of the restrictions on Trade. He served on many of the most important committees, and took an active part in the management of the private legislation of the House. His great usefulness in his parliamentary capacity re- commended him to the leaders of the great Whig party, and in 1846, when it was deemed advisable to constitute a separate Board for the management of railways, Mr. Strutt was selected as the President of the commission, and sworn on the Privy Council.

He retained that office till 1848, when he lost his seat for Derby. On the downfall of Lord Derby's ministry in 1852, Lord Aberdeen recommended Mr. Strutt to Her Majesty for the honourable office of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which he held till June, 1854, when, in order to facilitate a new disposition of places among the Cabinet, he resigned it, and was succeeded by Lord Granville, and was appointed a permanent member of the Council of the Duchy.

In 1856 Her Majesty intimated to Mr. Strutt, through Lord Palmerston, her intention of conferring upon him the honours of the peerage. In making the offer, Lord Palmerston stated that " the Queen was desirous of marking the interest which she took in the great manufacturing industry of the country, and that she had observed that this important element of national wealth had not, as yet, been suitably represented in the Upper House."

The important benefits which had accrued to the commerce of the country from his ancestor's creation, and from his family's successful promotion of the cotton trade, well merited such a distinction, and Mr. Strutt's personal services in parliament had been consider- able, so that few modern peerages had been better earned, and none, perhaps, was more generally acceptable to the country. It was a just and graceful compliment to the town which had risen from his family's exertions, and had long been the scene of their commercial enterprise and prosperity, that Belper was selected as Mr. Strutt's title. LORD BELPER took his seat in the House of Peers February 3rd, 1857, having been introduced by Lord Glenelg and Lord Overstone. His Lordship married, in 1837, Emily, youngest daughter of the Right Reverend Dr. Otter, Bishop of Chichestcr, by whom he has three surviving sons, the eldest of whom, the Honourable Henry Strutt, attained his majority in 1861.

The present family seat is Kingston Hall, Nottinghamshire. This fine estate, which was purchased of the Duke of Leeds in 1796, was formerly part of the possessions of the Babingtons : and here the present noble owner erected the mansion which forms so striking an object from the Midland Railway, near Kegworth. Its style is Elizabethan.

The site, which is not that of the ancient mansion, was judiciously chosen, and extensive improvements and planting have rendered Kingston Hall one of the most complete country seats in the locality. That attention to the welfare of those around him, which, as has been said, is a family characteristic, led the proprietor to rebuild the cottages on the estate, and to restore the church, and Kingston has heen deservedly styled, " a model village." It should be added that from his first location in Nottinghamshire, Lord Belper at once identified himself with the public business and interests of that county, of which he was appointed High Sheriff in 1850. His Lordship is likewise a Justice of the Peace, and Chairman of the Quarter Sessions, and has been for many years a Deputy Lieutenant for the counties of Derby and Nottingham. In 1860, during the Duke of Newcastle's absence, when his Grace accompanied the Prince of Wales on his visit to America, Lord Belper acted as Vice-Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and LL.D. of the University of Cambridge.

[The author has to acknowledge his obligations to the Hev. Howard Frizzell for valuable information on the early history of the family]

{* Some writers have stated Mr. Strutt's removal to have taken place in 1756, but as letters of his are extant dated " Blackwell, 1758," it cannot have been so early. Possibly, however, he retained Blackwell for some time after the completion of his invention, and occasionally resided there, for he was strongly attached to the place and to rural pursuits.}

[* The partnership between Mr. Strutt and Sir Richard Arkwright continued til) 1781. Upon its dissolution the former retained the works at Belper and Milford, and the latter those at Cromford. ]

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