STRUTT, Edward (1801-1880), of St. Helen's House, Derby; Kingston Hall, Notts. and 17 Cork Street, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1830 - 22 Mar. 1848
16 July 1851 - 1852
1852 - July 1856

Family and Education

b. 26 Oct. 1801, o.s. of William Strutt of St. Helen’s House and Barbara, da. of Thomas Evans of Derby. educ. Manchester Coll. York 1817; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1819; L. Inn 1823; I. Temple 1825. m. 28 Mar. 1837, Amelia Harriet, da. of Rt. Rev. William Otter, bp. of Chichester, 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 4da. suc. fa. 1830; cr. Bar. Belper 29 Aug. 1856. d. 30 June 1880.

Offices Held

PC 30 Oct. 1846; chief commr. of railways 1846-8; chan. of duchy of Lancaster Dec. 1852-June 1854, member of council 1854; vice-pres. Univ. Coll. London 1862-71, pres. 1871-9.

Sheriff, Notts. 1850-1, chairman, q. sess. 1855, ld. lt. 1864-d.


Strutt’s grandfather was the Unitarian cotton manufacturer Jedediah Strutt (1726-97), an inventive engineer and innovative businessman, whose partnership with the celebrated Richard Arkwright established the family fortunes. His three sons, who continued to trade as W.G. and J. Strutt, were equally gifted, in different ways: William was the technical expert, George Benson the manager of the mills and estates, and Joseph the head of the commercial side of the enterprise.1 The Irish poet Tom Moore, who noted that the brothers had ‘more than 40 thousand a year’ and ‘a million of money pretty equally divided between them’, was delighted to recount in 1813 that their families were ‘fond of literature, music and all those elegancies which their riches enable them so amply to indulge themselves with’ and were ‘to crown all, right true Jacobins after my own heart, so that I passed my time very agreeably amongst them’.2 Together they were enormously influential in the development of Derby, not only as builders of fine houses and benefactors of educational establishments, but as leading members of the Dissenting community and advanced Whig stalwarts on the corporation.3 William Strutt, who was described by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as ‘a man of stern aspect, but of strong, very strong, abilities’, inherited much of his father’s ingenuity, his inspired creations including a method of constructing fireproof buildings and a convection system for heating Derbyshire General Infirmary, which he designed himself. A friend of Erasmus Darwin, whom he succeeded as president of the Derby Philosophical Society in 1802, and of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, another member of the Birmingham Lunar Society, William’s bent for scientific experimentation won him election to the Royal Society in 1817.4

His only son, this Member, who had much of the family’s yearning for intellectual inquiry and Unitarian sobriety of aspect, was noticed while still a child by Edgeworth, who found him ‘fond of mechanics’. His daughter Maria Edgeworth agreed that Strutt was ‘a boy of great abilities, affectionate, and with a frank countenance and manner which win at once’.5 Educated at Manchester College in York from 1817, the year that his uncle Joseph became its president, he seems to have imbibed his father’s enthusiasm for learning and went up to university two years later.6 Paternal confidence in his capacity to guard himself from being ‘infected’ by ‘such a sink of vice and profligacy’ seems to have been justified, since, despite his £5,000 allowance, it was later reported that ‘he used to be noted at Cambridge for fearing an inroad of friends lest they might drink some of his wine’.7 He was president of the Union in 1821 and became closely associated with the group of liberal-minded intellectuals, including Charles Buller II*, Thomas Babington Macaulay*, John Moultrie, Winthrop Mackworth Praed*, John Romilly and Thomas Hyde Villiers*.8 He was introduced to John Stuart Mill and his circle through Charles Austin, the Cambridge exponent of the doctrines of Jeremy Bentham, and became reacquainted with Robert Owen in London in July 1821, when he observed that the peers ‘who had been peculiarly hostile to the queen’ were subjected to the ‘hissing and the murderous cries’ of the crowd at the coronation of George IV.9

After taking his degree in 1823, Strutt began to study at the inns of court, but was never called. On his return from the continent that summer, his father congratulated him on being invited to visit Bentham, which would be reckoned ‘a feather in your cap’, and James Abercromby*, which would ‘of course lead to attentions from the duke of Devonshire’. He added:

These things are coming in some degree to your own merits, and some how or other derived from Cambridge I suppose. I think I remember observing to you that the eye of the public would be upon you at a certain time; that time is arrived, you are beginning to be thought of for a public station.10

He at some point became a partner in the firm, though he did not take an active part in it, and participated in family initiatives in Derby, where he was a corporator, such as the establishment of a mechanics’ institute in the mid-1820s.11 During election speculation in August 1824 he was named as a possible future Member for the borough, and Abercromby, pointing out the significant local influence of his ‘opulent, numerous and powerful family’, recommended him to Devonshire, in preference to Samuel Crompton*, as more likely to consolidate his electoral interest.12 However, Strutt stood aside in favour of Crompton, whose candidacy he seconded at the general election of 1826. With his first cousin William Evans*, he secured a petition for alteration of the corn laws at a meeting in Derby, 9 Nov. 1826.13 In September 1827 Bentham wrote to Lafayette that Strutt, ‘a young man of more than ordinary promise’, who was searching for a parliamentary seat, ‘agrees with us, I believe, entirely on the subject of government as well as that of religion’. According to Bentham, his literary reputation secured his association with the Westminster Review, but he did not publish.14 He assisted John Ramsay McCulloch and William Eyton Tooke with clarifications about the development of Arkwright’s inventions for articles they intended to write.15 He was an enthusiastic supporter of the educational ideals of the new University of London, where he attended John Austin’s lectures on jurisprudence.16 In 1829 the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge declined to publish his ‘Treatise on Wages’.17

John Romilly, with whom he proposed to travel in Scotland, wrote to him on 21 Aug. 1829, perhaps in relation to a possible parliamentary opening, that he regretted that Strutt’s ‘Wiltshire visit did not lead to an immediate arrangement’. Strutt informed his sister Fanny, 26 May 1830, of a plan to ‘bring me into Parliament for Newcastle[-under-Lyme] ... for £1,200!’. Exactly a month later his uncle Joseph informed him of Crompton’s sudden resignation and that the Devonshire interest had been placed at his disposal: ‘the duke and Mr. Abercromby are written to, and you must come by the mail ... to settle the address’.18 It was later reported, but whether or not this was to Crompton is unclear, that Strutt had ‘previously agreed to lend £19,000 for 10 years upon a borough without interest’.19 He requested his father to subscribe £25 to assist the canvass of the advanced Whig John Wood* at Preston, ‘as I know him very well and as I shall probably see a good deal of him in the House’.20 Thanking the electors for his unopposed return, he declared that

the friends to improvement in Parliament can do but little unless they are supported by the voice of the people out of doors. And I consider it to be one of the most encouraging signs of the present times that public opinion is daily acquiring greater influence over the deliberations of the legislature and measures of the government.

He advocated education as the best security for social order and good government, the abolition of colonial slavery provided the circumstances were right, the adoption of a system of rigid economy, the removal of unnecessary restrictions on trade, judicial changes and such radical reforms as shorter parliaments, an extended franchise and the ballot.21

Strutt, who was counted by the Wellington administration among their ‘foes’ and by Greville as a ‘Radical’,22 took his seat among his friends on the opposition backbenches, 2 Nov. 1830. The following day he observed to Fanny that the king’s speech was

a bad one, containing nothing about reform or political improvement of any kind, little about economy, an attempt to excite alarm about Ireland and Kent and a very objectionable passage about Belgium, particularly in calling the king’s government enlightened.

He accompanied his colleague Henry Cavendish to the levée and was elected to Brooks’s that day. He voted to reduce the duty on wheat imported to the West Indies, 12 Nov. Having divided in the majority on the civil list that precipitated the government’s fall, 15 Nov., he reported to Fanny on the 19th that the new ministry was to consist ‘exclusively of the Whigs and the remains of the Huskisson party and to contain no Ultra Tories’.23 He made his maiden speech on presenting and endorsing the Derby petition for reducing the stamp duties on newspapers, 8 Dec., and he brought up the first of many reform petitions, also from his constituency, 16 Dec. 1830. His father, who shared his favourable views about the revolutions in various European countries that year, died on the 29th, a loss to society, Owen remarked, ‘of one of the most valuable men that the last century has produced’. Strutt inherited St. Helen’s House, a valuable estate in Nottinghamshire and personalty sworn under £30,000.24 In February 1831 Strutt, who expected to find ‘some gross jobs’ as a member of the select committee on the expenditure on Buckingham House, opined that ‘the new ministers did not make a good figure’ on Lord Althorp’s budget and that ‘they have, as I feared they would, done little to satisfy the public’. Elected to the council of the University of London, 23 Feb., he found the ensuing dinner a ‘Whiggish and dullish’ affair and a subsequent internal quarrel a great nuisance. On 28 Feb. he was appointed to the select committee to consider the reform petitions, one of several which occupied his time and bored him with ‘stupid debate’. Following Lord John Russell’s statement, 1 Mar., Strutt commented the next day that the Grey ministry had

proposed a tolerably sweeping measure of reform, a much more extensive and better one than I think was expected by anybody. It has no doubt great defects, but if it is carried (as it must be eventually) all the rest must follow. It has of course horrified a great proportion of the House and I have no expectation that they can carry the measure in its present shape through the present Parliament; but I hope they will not permit it to be frittered away, and if they remain firm it must be carried at last.

A week later he believed that the ‘prospect of the bill’s passing the second reading improves’, and a week after that he was pleased at ‘how the reform bill goes on prosperously’. After having been put on the second reading committee of the cotton factories apprenticeship bill, 14 Mar., he wrote in exasperation to his sister ‘that you may suppose I am not idle; and to mend the matter I caught a very bad cold’. Reporting that he was ‘still fast upon this abominable [Petersfield] election committee’ and that there was no truth in the rumour of his impending resignation, 21 Mar., he added that if he had not been hoarse he ‘might possibly have said a few words in the [reform bill] debate’.25 He voted for the second reading of the bill the following day. Writing to Fanny, 18 Apr., he observed that

reports are very industriously circulated (but whether on any authority no one can tell) that the king will not dissolve if ministers are in the minority. In that case they must of course go out, which would make a tremendous sensation throughout the country. There will of course be a very full attendance tonight. The House has been by no means thin of late, though the divisions may not have been large at particular times and on questions of no great interest.

He was in the minority against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, but, as he put it in other letters to his sister on the 21st and 23rd, he and his Whig friends were ‘rather jubilant’ and ‘in great glee’ at the news of the dissolution.26

Strutt offered again for Derby as a reformer at the ensuing general election, arguing that the country’s welfare depended on the bill’s success, without which the ‘name of representation was an empty mockery and delusion’; he was returned unopposed.27 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831, and steadily for its details. He sided with opposition against the grants for professors’ salaries at Oxford and Cambridge, 8 July, and civil list services, 18 July. He was in minorities for swearing the original Dublin committee, 29 July, and to print the Waterford petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug., but divided with ministers against charges of improper interference in the Dublin election, 23 Aug., and for issuing the Liverpool writ, 5 Sept. He cast wayward votes against the truck bill, 12 Sept., and for the total disfranchisement of Aldborough, 14 Sept. Having secured the adjournment, 19 Sept., he spoke the next day of his ‘warm and zealous support’ for the reform bill, which he claimed ‘contains so much substantial good, and offers to the people so important an additional security for good government’. He repudiated all objections to the bill, but regretted the exclusion of ‘more effectual measures’ to extinguish the undue influence of property and believed the people ‘fully competent to select their own representatives’. He voted for the passage of the bill, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish reform bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He attended the Derby meeting at the end of September, when he again hailed the importance of government’s appeal to the strength of favourable public opinion, and the Derbyshire county reform meeting in early October 1831, when he seconded the resolution to petition the Lords for the bill.28

In December 1831 Strutt was described by his friend John Heywood Hawkins*, along with Joseph Hume, Robert Torrens and Henry Warburton, as being among the (radical) ‘economists’ in the Commons who were not always uniformly supporters of government.29 He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and again mostly for its details. However, he was in the minority against retaining the Chandos clause for the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will, 1 Feb. 1832. He divided for the Vestry Act amendment bill, 23 Jan., and was named to the select committee on the renewal of the East India Company’s charter, 28 Jan. He was in government majorities for the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., and on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., but voted for the production of information on military punishments, 16 Feb. He was among the Members invited to dine at the patronage secretary Edward Ellice’s, 18 Feb. ‘That, you see, is what one gets by a patient servility to his Majesty’s ministers’, he joked to his sister, adding that ‘the prospect of the reform bill’s passing is ... generally thought to be improving’. He was at Westminster, 13 Mar., but preferred to remain in the library ‘whilst some of the stupid practice freshmen were talking’. He had to ‘walk down to the House every morning before breakfast for more than a week to put my name on the Speaker’s paper’, before being able to present and endorse the Macclesfield petition against the stamp duties, 2 Apr. He attended the debate on the second reading of the reform bill in the Lords, relishing the ‘complete dusting’ which Lord Grey gave the bishop of Exeter, 13 Apr. 1832.30

Going much further than Ebrington in attacking Wellington and the Tories as unfit to take charge of the reform bill, Strutt seconded the motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May 1832, when he declared:

Let this House come forward and place itself in its proper station at the head of the people; let this House show itself true to its former professions; let it show the people that, as long as they are true to themselves, this House will not desert them; and that, instead of looking for leaders elsewhere, they have only to look to the ranks of the reformers in this House for their real and natural supporters.

He was a teller for the majority that day, his conduct being approved by his proud family and constituents.31 He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against increasing the Scottish county representation, 1 June, when he said that it was absurd to attempt to settle the question of the corn laws on the ‘very eve of parliamentary reform’. He supported the ministerial plan for Irish national education and objected to the stamp duties as taxes on knowledge, 14 June. He voted to reduce the barracks grant, 2 July, but again with ministers for the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16, 20 July. He attended the reform celebrations in Derby that summer and was returned as a Liberal after a contest at the general election of 1832.32

One of the mainstream, if conventional, philosophic radicals in the reformed Parliament, Strutt was thought likely to contribute, perhaps financially, to a new monthly review during the mid-1830s, but Mill later castigated him as an ‘apostate radical’ for his political moderation.33 He increasingly saw himself as independent of his electors, but continued to sit for Derby until unseated in 1848, and retired from the Commons in 1856 to take a seat in the Lords, supposedly as the first mill owner to do so.34 In the words of Henry Taylor, Strutt

was a man of sound knowledge and solid understanding, simple and honest-minded. He had a large fortune, obtained a good position in the House of Commons, became a member of the government, and was eventually raised to the peerage by the title of Lord Belper, which was probably all the success in life to which he aspired, if indeed he was troubled with any aspirations of that kind.35

He died in June 1880, being succeeded by his second son Henry (1840-1914), who was Liberal Member for Derbyshire East, 1868-74, and Berwick, 1880.36

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Stephen Farrell / Simon Harratt


  • 1. See R.S. Fitton and A.P. Wadsworth, The Strutts and the Arkwrights, 1758-1830: A Study of the Early Factory System and Oxford DNB sub Jedediah Strutt.
  • 2. Moore Jnl. i. 342, 344-5; Fitton and Wadsworth, 178-9.
  • 3. Fitton and Wadsworth, 184-91.
  • 4. Ibid. 169-81; C.L. Hacker, ‘William Strutt of Derby’, Derbys. Arch. Jnl. lxxx (1960), 49-70.
  • 5. Derby Local Stud. Lib. Strutt mss, W. to E. Strutt, 23 Jan. 1811, Edgeworth to same, 3 May 1812; Fitton and Wadsworth, 177.
  • 6. Strutt mss, W. to E. Strutt, 1 Oct. 1817; Fitton and Wadsworth, 171-3.
  • 7. Fitzwilliam Mus. Camb. mss 15-1948; W. Thomas, Philosophic Radicals, 189.
  • 8. P. Cradock, Recollections of Camb. Union, 22-23; J. Hamburger, Intellectuals in Politics, 11.
  • 9. Strutt mss, E. to W. Strutt, 21 July 1821; J.F.C. Harrison, Robert Owen and the Owenites, 156; Fitton and Wadsworth, 182-3.
  • 10. Fitton and Wadsworth, 182.
  • 11. Ibid. 186, 189; PP (1835), xxv. 443.
  • 12. The Times, 28 Aug. 1824; Chatsworth mss 6DD 1017, 1020.
  • 13. Derby Mercury, 14 June, 15 Nov. 1826.
  • 14. Bentham Corresp. xii. 379-81; H. Grote, Personal Life of George Grote, 59.
  • 15. Brougham mss, Strutt to Tooke, 24 Feb. 1828.
  • 16. Derby Mercury, 6 Feb. 1828; H.H. Bellot, University of London, 187.
  • 17. Mill Works, xiii. 742.
  • 18. Strutt mss.
  • 19. Derbys. RO, Gresley of Drakelow mss D77/38/5.
  • 20. Strutt mss, E. to W. Strutt, 13 July 1830.
  • 21. Derby Mercury, 30 June, 4 Aug. 1830.
  • 22. Greville Mems. ii. 57.
  • 23. Strutt mss.
  • 24. Fitton and Wadsworth, 179, 184, 191; PROB 11/1782/115; IR26/1271/91.
  • 25. Strutt mss, E. to F. Strutt, 11, 25 Feb., 2, 3, 9, 16, 21 Mar. 1831; J. Wigley, ‘Derby and Derbys. during Great Reform Bill Crisis’, Derbys. Arch. Jnl. ci (1981), 140-1.
  • 26. Strutt mss.
  • 27. Derby Mercury, 27 Apr., 4 May 1831.
  • 28. Ibid. 28 Sept., 5 Oct.; The Times, 10 Oct. 1831.
  • 29. Cornw. RO, Hawkins mss 10/2175.
  • 30. Strutt mss, E to F. Strutt, 20 Feb., 14 Mar., 3, 14 Apr. 1832.
  • 31. Ibid. J. to E. Strutt, 13 May 1832; Le Marchant, Althorp, 426.
  • 32. Wigley, 146-7.
  • 33. Thomas, 3, 189, 206; Hamburger, 115, 207; Mill Works, xii. 198, 202, 211, 246, 333.
  • 34. Wigley, 149.
  • 35. Taylor Autobiog. i. 81.
  • 36. The Times, 1 July, 14 Aug. 1880; DNB; Oxford DNB.