Open main menu

CUTLER, Sir JOHN (1608?–1693), a wealthy merchant of London, whose avarice, handed down by tradition and anecdote to Pope, has become immortal, was the son of Thomas Cutler, a member of the Grocers' Company, and was born in or about 1608. Though little scrupulous in his business dealings, he appears to have been ‘one of those contradictory but by no means rare characters who with habits of petty personal parsimony combine large benevolence and public spirit.’ In 1657, when Lord Strafford was obliged to part with his estate and manor of Harewood and Gawthorpe in Yorkshire, Cutler, along with Sir John Lewys, bart., became a joint purchaser, and soon afterwards the sole possessor. He chose to reside for a while at Gawthorpe Hall, where, tradition says, he lived in miserly seclusion. He would seem, however, to have had his difficulties, for on the few occasions of his venturing abroad he was laid in wait for, and once nearly seized by the well-known freebooter John Nevison. His narrow escape, and the fact of his enormous wealth having attracted Nevison to the neighbourhood, induced him to quit the hall and take a cottage in the village, where, attended by his servant, a man of similar habits to his own, he lived secure from the dread of attack. At the approach of the Restoration Cutler took an active part in promoting the subscriptions raised by the city of London for the use of Charles II. His services were duly appreciated by the king, who created him a knight on 17 June 1660, and a baronet on the following 9 Nov. His election to the treasurership of St. Paul's in April 1663 proved very unpopular, for, as his acquaintance and admirer Pepys tells us, ‘it seems he did give 1,500l. upon condition that he might be treasurer for the work, which, they say, will be worth three times as much money, and talk as if his being chosen to the office will make people backward to give.’ In June 1664, having founded a lectureship on mechanics at Gresham College with a salary of 50l. a year, he settled it upon Dr. Robert Hooke for life, the president, council, and fellows of the Royal Society being entrusted to appoint both the subject and the number of lectures. The society thereupon elected him an honorary fellow on 9 Nov. An influential member of the Grocers' Company for many years, Cutler on 6 Feb. 1668 intimated to the court through Mr. Warden Edwards his intention of rebuilding at his own expense the parlour and dining-room, which had been destroyed in the great fire. As the company was at this time suffering the greatest inconvenience, arising from its inability to discharge the debts contracted under its seal for the service of the government and the city in 1640, 1641, and 1643, he suggested at the same time, as a measure of precaution, that the ground should be conveyed to him under a peppercorn rent for securing it when built on against extent or seizure. This proposal met with the company's approbation, and an indenture of sale and demise of the grounds and buildings about the hall was made to Cutler and sixteen other members who had contributed and subscribed 20l. and upwards, according to the direction of the committee, for five hundred years at a peppercorn rent. Upon the completion of the work a cordial vote of thanks to Cutler was passed in January 1669, when it was resolved that his statue and picture should be placed in the upper and lower rooms of his buildings, ‘to remain as a lasting monument of his unexampled kindness.’ The restoration of the hall, towards which Cutler again contributed liberally, was not finished until Michaelmas 1681. Seven years later an inscription recounting Cutler's benefactions was placed in the hall, wherein it is stated that having been fined for sheriff and alderman some forty years previously, he was chosen master warden of the company in 1652–3, and again in 1685–6; was assistant and locum tenens to the master warden (Sir Thomas Chicheley) in 1686–7; and in 1688, at a period when all the members shrank from the charge, as one involving risk and responsibility besides a great loss of time, he consented to be elected master warden for the fourth time. To the College of Physicians he also proved a liberal friend. On 13 May 1674 it was announced at a college meeting by Dr. Whistler that Cutler had it in contemplation to erect an anatomical theatre in the college at his own sole charge. In compliance with his wish this noble addition, which was opened on 21 Jan. 1678–9, was placed on the east and abutting on Warwick Lane. The whole of this, the eastern side of the college, was erected at Cutler's expense, and the theatre itself was named after him the Cutlerian Theatre, and bore on its front towards Warwick Lane, in bold letters, its title ‘Theatrum Cutlerianum.’ In a niche on the outside of the building, and looking west into the courtyard, was a full-length statue of Cutler, placed there in obedience to a vote of the college on 8 Oct. 1680 (Munk, Coll. of Phys. 1878, iii. p. 328). Pennant, however, asserts, on the authority of Dr. Richard Warren, that in 1699 Cutler's executors made a demand on the college of 7,000l., which sum was supposed to include the money actually lent, the money pretended to be given but set down as a debt in Cutler's books, and the interest on both. The executors were prevailed on to accept 2,000l. from the college, and remitted the other five. The college afterwards obliterated the inscription which in the warmth of its gratitude it had placed beneath the figure, ‘Omnis Cutleri cedat labor Amphitheatro’ (Pennant, Some Account of London, 3rd edit. pp. 372–3). One of his last acts was to rebuild in 1682 the north gallery in the church of St. Margaret, Westminster, his own parish, for the benefit of the poor. He also gave an annual sum of 37l. to the parish for their relief. He was M.P. for Bodmin from 1689 till his death. After a long illness Cutler died on 15 April 1693, aged 85, worth 300,000l. according to Luttrell. He was buried at St. Margaret's, Westminster, and although he himself desired ‘to be buryed without any sort of pompe,’ the almost incredible sum of 7,666l. is said to have been expended on his funeral. His will is not wanting in philanthropy. By his first wife, Elicia, daughter of Sir Thomas Tipping, knt., of Wheatfield, Oxfordshire (marriage license dated 26 July 1669), he had an only daughter Elizabeth, who married Charles Bodville Robartes, earl of Radnor, and died issueless on 13 Jan. 1696. She had married without her father's consent, but two days before his death he sent for her and her husband and ‘told them he freely forgave them and had settled his estate to their satisfaction.’ He married secondly Elizabeth, daughter and coheiress of Sir Thomas Foote, lord mayor of London in 1650, and one of Cromwell's knights. The only child of this marriage, a daughter named also Elizabeth, became the wife of Sir William Portman, bart., K.B., of Orchard, Somersetshire, and brought him a fortune of 30,000l. She died before her father, leaving no children. The portrait of Cutler at Grocers' Hall is that of a good-looking man in a black wig. Arbuthnot's anecdote of his stockings is well known: ‘Sir John Cutler had a pair of black worsted stockings which his maid darned so often with silk that they become at last a pair of silk stockings.’ Wycherley, his contemporary and possibly his debtor, has addressed a copy of verses to him, called ‘The Praise of Avarice.’

[Heath's Some Account of the Company of Grocers, 2nd edit. pp. 24–5, 29, 134, 298–307; Le Neve's Pedigrees of Knights, Harl. Soc. viii. 75; Burke's Extinct Baronetage, p. 147; Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), iii. 154; Monk's Coll. of Phys. (1878), i. 250–1, iii. 328; Pennant's Some Account of London, 3rd edit. pp. 372–3, 441–2; Brayley's Londiniana, iv. 138; Ward's Lives of the Professors of Gresham College, i. 174; Birch's Hist. of the Royal Society, i. 484–5; Boyle's Works, v. 322; Jones's Hist. of Harewood, pp. 61, 66, 149, 150, 200, 270–79; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. ii. 16; Lysons's Magna Britannia, Cambridgeshire, vol. ii. pt. i. pp. 286–7; Stow's Survey (Strype), vol. i. bk. i. p. 289; Brayley and Britton's Beauties of England and Wales, vol. x. pt. iii. p. 416; Pepys's Diary (Bright), ii. 132, 162, 349, 388; Evelyn's Diary (1850–2), i. 331, ii. 69, 73; Thoresby's Diary, i. 233, 300; Luttrell's Relation of State Affairs (1857), ii. 608, iii. 23, 76, 78, 81, 87, 94, 125, 126; Will reg. in P. C. C. 42, Coker; Cal. State Papers (Dom. 1660–1), p. 429, (Dom. 1663–4), p. 115; Lysons's Environs, iii. 454, iv. 257, 371, 388; Wycherley's Posthumous Works (1728), pt. ii. pp. 200–6; Chester's London Marriage Licenses, ed. Foster, 369; Household Words, xii. 427–9.]

G. G.