Not just a Mill owner
Born in South Normanton in 1726, Jedidiah Strutt became a leading figure in the development of Derbyshire’s industry and the creation of communities in Belper and Milford, turning his back on a quiet country life to revolutionise the cotton mills and build the infamous Strutt dynasty.
Jedidiah Strutt’s early life on the farm.
Given Jedidiah’s reputation for machinery and connection to the mills, the idea of him being a farmer may be a surprise; however, this is where he found himself, both prior to his apprenticeship in Findern with Ralph Massey and upon returning to South Normanton. Reports from this time in his life are a little patchy but he is said to have inherited his uncle’s farm and moved there with his wife Elizabeth Woolat and young son William. Farming was a way of life, accompanied by a secondary business delivering coal between Derby and Belper, but it seems that mechanics was a much deeper interest that continued from childhood to adulthood. Whether or not the idea of Srtutt making toy water wheels in the stream as a boy is true or not is unclear – it could just be a romanticised image of a local hero – but this passion soon took over and he left the farm for the mills.
Jedidiah’s developing business relationships and impact on the industry.
One of Jedidiah Strutt’s greatest achievements came early on in his career with the creation of the Derby Rib, an improvement to the stocking frame that allowed for the creation of rib stitches. At first, Strutt had a little trouble getting backing for the invention; a trip to London in 1758 proved unsuccessful, as the one deal he did make fell through after poor sales, and he faced a patent challenge in 1766. After winning the challenge, Jedidiah’s fortunes changed as he and a new partner called Samuel Needham went into business with Richard Arkwright. Together they built the first water powered cotton spinning mill on the banks on the Derwent in Cromford, starting a growing business that would also include mills in Belper (1778) and Milford (1779). Needham’s death two years later led to a split, leaving only Strutt in the Belper and Milford mills, but from there he was able to build the family empire and make some important changes.Jedidiah gave a young man an apprenticeship who helped him with some adjustments to his cotton frames,that man was Samuel Salter, who went to wider fame in America.
The importance of family in the Strutt empire.
The development and ongoing success of the mills in Belper and Milford had a lot to do with the working relationships that Jedidiah forged with his family. These close ties were obvious early on, as he collaborated with his brother-in-law on the Derby Rib, but his wife Elizabeth was also involved and once William and his younger siblings were deemed old enough, they too played their part in the running of the mills – a move that would prove useful when the children were temporarily left alone after Elizabeth died on a trip to London and Jedidiah took time off to grieve. The family unit had been very close but this unfortunately changed when his daughters disapproved of his decision to marry a second time, this time to Anne Daniels.
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Jedidiah Strutt was an unconventional boss.
Family was one important aspect in Strutt’s attitude to his business, the other was a sense of responsibility to his workers. He was brought up as a Presbyterian with non-conformist religious views and later became a Unitarian – building a chapel for his new Belper community and using these beliefs to advocate philanthropy and improve his employees’ lives. In addition to building facilities and better quality housing for his workers, a move that was greatly appreciated and admired, he made a point of criticising those that employed very young children, saying that even though he did use children from the age of seven, he much preferred them to be over ten[easyazon-image align=”center” asin=”B00BBB3ZRM” locale=”uk” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51gH03HlDkL._SL160_.jpg” width=”117″]
Strutt’s death and ongoing remembrance within Belper and Derby.
Jedidiah Strutt died on May 7th 1797 at his home at Friar Gate – the site of a new blue plaque in his honour – and was buried at the Unitarian chapel in Belper. Many examples of tributes to the man can be seen around Derby, from the statue on the corner of Exchange Street and St Peters Street to the well known portrait by the legendary Joseph Wright that hangs in the art gallery, but the biggest and best memorial has to be Belper’s North Mill. Jedidiah’s original creation may have been lost to fire but the replacement and its current, tourism-friendly role helps to highlight his impact on the area.