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The Strutts
in Belper


East Lodge

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Late 18th
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Views of Belper mill

Views of Belper mill.









Views of Belper weir

Views of the weir.



The Strutt family history around the late 18th century.

Jedediah Strutt was born to a farming family from the Derby area and was trained as a wheelwright aged 14. Jedediah (1726-1797) and Richard Arkwright (1732-1792) were partners in the late 1700s bringing automated, water powered cotton and silk mills to the river Derwent valley in Derbyshire, UK. Samuel Need was another partner providing financial backing.

The Strutts built in Derby, Milford and Belper (1776 South Mill) while Arkwright built in Cromford and Matlock. This was the start of the industrial revolution in textile manufacture and the whole of the Derwent valley from Derby to Matlock is a World Heritage site for this reason. The present North Mill (1804) at Belper was one of the earliest fireproof buildings and one of the oldest still standing. It replaced a former wooden building built in 1786 and destroyed by fire in 1803. The first 'fireproof mill' was William Strutt's Derby Cotton Mill of 1792 after which William shared his ideas on fireproof building techniques with Charles Bage before Charles built Ditherington flax mill ( the first iron framed building ) in 1796. The Strutts employed these principles in their mills at Derby and then Belper, fire being a major hazard since the fibres and dust could spontaneously ignite. North Mill can just be seen to the right of the large brick East Mill of 1912 in the panoramic picture taken from East Lodge roof. The Belper mill complex of at least six mills also has the first big drop horseshoe weir system (1797) which still functions to this day, now generating electricity.

Jedediah married Elizabeth Woolatt with whose family he had lodged during his apprenticeship. Their courtship was a long remote affair since Elizabeth had gone into service with Dr G. Benson in London and their only communication was by mail. Many of their letters still exist and they contain a great deal of social information of the time. Elizabeth's brother, William was in the hosiery business and at that time only plain knit could be made on machines; ribbing was added by hand. Jedediah used ideas from other people's unsuccessful designs to perfect his own attachment to an existing frame in order to add rib capability. Using finance from two Derby hosiers the patent was awarded in 1759 for the "Derby Rib Machine" used extensively in Strutt's mills. The machine consisted of a separate iron frame placed in front of the standard one. The new frame contained vertical barbed needles which could reverse every other stitch and so create a ribbed fabric to give grip to the top of stockings.

Jedediah and Elizabeth had three sons: William, George Benson (named after their, by then, great friend) and Joseph. He had two daughters Elizabeth and Martha both of whom were accomplished poets. The son George Benson settled in Belper to run those mills and built Bridge Hill House on a hill on the west side of the river, overlooking the mill complex. The house was sadly demolished in 1938.

The Strutts provided housing, schooling, religious instruction, a church, clean water, swimming baths and gardens for the workers, many of these being still in use today. The provision of schooling was not completely altruistic, there was a benefit to the mill owner if their employees could read and heed the warning signs since the mill was a very dangerous workplace. The childern were taught for half a day in their six day working week in the attic of North Mill shown below.

Attic of Belper North mill

Belper River Gardens is featured in pictures on the page Where is Belper anyway, Long Row is a good example of housing built for the workers families. This and the adjoining streets show building techniques of the time where brick courses and roof eves run downhill parallel with the ground. By the standards of the 19th century the Strutts were considerate employers providing for the families of the children that were employed in the mill by developing the nailmaking business that was traditional in the area. By today's standards, of course, the conditions were horrific.

Further information on Belper history and historical documents is available here.



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