Jedediah Strutt, the son of William Strutt and Martha Statham, was born at South Normanton, Derbyshire in 1726. The Strutts were small farmers and part of a small Presbyterian community with strong Nonconformist religious views.
At fourteen, Jedediah was apprenticed to Ralph Massey, a wheelwright in Findern. The village was also the home of the Nonconformist Findern Academy and Jedediah came under the influence of its headmaster, Ebenezer Latham. Jedediah later married Latham's servant, Elizabeth Woollat.
In the 1750s several attempts were made by people working in the hosiery trade, to improve the stocking frame, a machine that had been invented by William Lee, a Nottinghamshire parson, in the 16th century. One man by the name of Roper, approached Strutt and his brother-in-law, William Woollat., for help with his invention. By 1757 Strutt and Woollat, had came up with the idea of an attachment that was placed in front of the stocking frame. This set of barbed hooks, operated vertically among the horizontal needles of the frame, taking the loops from the latter and reversing them to make a rib stitch.
In early 1758 Strutt visited London with samples of the ribbed hose he had made using his invention. Strutt hoped to find businessman willing to back his stocking frame. This ended in failure, but later Strutt and Woollat formed a partnership with John Bloodworth and Thomas Stamford, two substantial hosiers from Derby. The four men obtain a patent for the invention and began producing the machine. In 1762 Bloodworth and Stamford, impatient with the slow sales of the stocking frame, left the partnership. Soon afterwards, Strutt found a new partner, Samuel Need, a hosier from Nottingham.
Strutt's hosiery business began to grow rapidly. Raw silk was purchased in London and was prepared at Strutt's Silk Mill in Derby. Some of the thread was then turned into silk cloth in the mill, but most of it was sold to hosiers living locally or to merchants living in England's main towns and cities.
In 1769 Richard Arkwright went to Ichabod Wright, a banker from Nottingham, in search of funds to expand his business. Wright introduced Arkwright to Jedediah Strutt and Samuel Need. Strutt and Need were impressed with Arkwright's water-frame and agreed to form a partnership.
Jedediah Strutt's Milford Mills
Arkwright's Spinning-Frame was too large to be operated by hand and so the men had to find another method of working the machine. After experimenting with horses, it was decided to employ the power of the water-wheel. In 1771 the three men set up a large factory next to the River Derwent in Cromford, Derbyshire. Arkwright's machine now became known as the Water-Frame.
As well as his investments in Arkwright's textile mills, Strutt and Need built cotton mills at Belper (1778) and Milford (1779). When Samuel Need died on 14th April, 1781. Strutt and Arkwright decided to dissolve their partnership. Strutt was disturbed by Arkwright's plans to build mills in Manchester, Winkworth, Matlock Bath and Bakewell. Strutt believed that Richard Arkwright was expanding too fast and without the support of Need, his long-time partner, he was unwilling to take the risk of further investments.
After the death of his wife, Strutt had a new house built by the side of his factory at Milford. His brother-in-law, William Woollat was left to run the business in Derby. His three sons, William, George and Joseph, were also at this time senior managers in the company.
Strutt became a Unitarian, and like others of that faith, believed that wealth brought responsibility. Strutt was considered to be a good employer. Several observers passed favourable comments about the quality of the houses that he built in Belper and Milford. When William Gaskell visited Strutt's Belper village he wrote that it was a shame that there were not more factories owned by "men of enlarged benevolence and active philanthropy."
Like all factory owners at the time, Strutt employed children. In 1774 Strutt told a committee of the House of Commons that he employed children from the age of seven but preferred them to be at over ten. Strutt criticised those employers who took children as soon as they "able to crawl".
Strutt married his second wife, Anne Daniels, in 1781. He continued to live in Milford House until he bought Exeter House in Derby in 1795. Jedediah Strutt died on 7th May, 1797, and is buried in a vault under the Unitarian Chapel he had built at Belper.
(1) The Derby Mercury reported Jedediah Strutt's successful patent for making ribbed stockings (4th July, 1766)
The agreeable news of the establishment of the patent for making turned ribbed stockings was received here with particular joy; particularly by the workmen and others employed therein; as thereby that branch of the stocking trade is secured to this town for seven years longer, which would otherwise have been spread all over the kingdom.
(2) Advert that appeared in The Derby Mercury on 20th September, 1781.
Wanted at Cromford. Forging & Filing Smiths, Joiners and Carpenters, Framework-Knitters and Weavers with large families. Likewise children of all ages may have constant employment. Boys and young men may have trades taught them, which will enable them to maintain a family in a short time.
(3) The Derby Mercury (14th November, 1777)
John Jefferies, a gunsmith of Cromford, has been committed to the House of Correction at Derby for one month; and to be kept to hard labour. John Jefferies was charged by Mr. Arkwright, Cotton Merchant, with having absented himself from his master's business without leave (being a hired servant).
(4) The Derby Mercury (22nd October, 1779)
There is some fear of the mob coming to destroy the works at Cromford, but they are well prepared to receive them should they come here. All the gentlemen in this neighbourhood being determined to defend the works, which have been of such utility to this country. 5,000 or 6,000 men can be at any time assembled in less than an hour by signals agreed upon, who are determined to defend to the very last extremity, the works, by which many hundreds of their wives and children get a decent and comfortable livelihood.
(5) James Farington, diary entry (22nd August, 1801)
In the evening I walked to Cromford, and saw the children coming from their work out of one of Mr. Arkwright's factories. These children had been at work from 6 to 7 o'clock this morning and it is now 7 in the evening.
(6) A few months before his death, Jedediah Strutt wrote his own epitaph.
Here rests in peace Jedediah Strutt who, without fortune, family or friends raised to himself a fortune, family, and name in the world. Without much genius enjoyed the more substantial blessing of a sound understanding. He led a life of honesty and virtue and not knowing what would befall him after death, he died resigned in full confidence that if there be a future state of retribution it would be to reward the virtuous and the good.