Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hutton, William (1723-1815)

HUTTON, WILLIAM (1723–1815), local historian and topographer, second son of William Hutton, woolcomber (b. 25 July 1691, d. 13 Dec. 1758), by his first wife, Anne (d. 9 March 1733, aged 41), daughter of Matthew Ward of Mountsorrel, Leicestershire, was born in Full Street, Derby, on 30 Sept. 1723. He traced his descent from Thomas Hutton (1586-1656), a hatter at Northallerton, Yorkshire. The characteristics of his ancestors, he says, were 'honesty and supineness;' they were nonconformists from the days of Bishop Hooper. His father failed in 1725, and became a journeyman. After his mother's death his father remarried in 1743, and again in 1752.

In 1728 Hutton went to school at Derby to Thomas Meat, who used to 'jowl' his head against the wall, 'but never could jowl into it any learning.' He was employed in a silk-mill at Derby in 1730, when he was so small that he had to stand on pattens to reach the engine. Here he served seven years' apprenticeship. Being the only dissenting apprentice, the foreman offered him a halfpenny a Sunday if he would go to church; he went, and played there at pushpin. In 1735 he worked at the material 'for a petticoat and gown for Queen Caroline.' His apprenticeship expired in 1738, when he began a second apprenticeship to his uncle, George Hutton, a silk-stockinger at Nottingham, who afterwards (1745) kept him on as journeyman. He had learned some music and made a dulcimer, and in 1746 taught himself to bind books. After journeying to London and back on foot to purchase bookbinders' tools (April 1749), he opened a small bookshop in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, at Michaelmas 1749. Every day through the winter he left Nottingham at five o'clock; in the morning on the five hours' walk to Southwell, and tramped back home after four o'clock in the afternoon. He then lived chiefly on a vegetarian diet, and was cheered by the intelligent sympathy of his sister Catherine.

On 25 May 1750 Hutton settled in Birmingham, which he had first visited on a runaway journey in July 1741. The best part of his stock of books was the 'refuse' of the library of Ambrose Rudsdell (d. 3 April 1754), presbyterian minister (1707-1750) at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, with whom Button's sister Catherine had been domestic servant. He began to write in magazines (chiefly verse), and in 1751 opened the first circulating library in Birmingham. In 1755 he married, and in 1756 went into the paper-trade, opening the first `paper-warehouse' in Birmingham. He was the first to introduce the two-wheeled barrow. A paper-mill which he built at Handsworth Heath in 1759 was less successful than his other businesses, and he relinquished the experiment in 1762, after losing about 1,000l. In 1766 he began to speculate with success in the purchase of farms and other land. He acquired Bennett's Hill, Saltley, Warwickshire, in 1769, and built himself a country-house there. In 1772 he bought a house in High Street, Birmingham, and rebuilt it in 1775. The publication of his 'History of Birmingham' was followed by his election (1782) as fellow of the Antiquarian Society of Scotland. He took an active share in the public business, though not in the politics, of Birmingham, became one of the commissioners of the 'Court of Requests,' a tribunal for the recovery of small debts, and was president of the court (1787). Hence he was led to investigate the origin and nature of this and other local courts, and to publish a 'Dissertation on Juries,' now very rare.

The dinner at Dadley's Hotel, Temple Row, Birmingham, on 14 July 1791, in commemoration of the French revolution, was followed by the local riots directed against Priestley and the nonconformists. Hutton was well known as a dissenter and a friend of Priestley, but he had taken no part in religious or political disputes, and was not present at the obnoxious dinner. The animosity of the mob was directed against him as one who had gained enmity by his firm administration of justice in the Court of Requests. On 15 July his house in High Street was sacked by the rioters. A woman attempted to set fire to the place, but she was stopped out of consideration for the adjoining buildings. Hutton fell into the hands of the mob; he promised them all he could give if they did him no personal injury; they took him to the Fountain Tavern, and made him pay for 329 gallons of ale. On the 16th Bennett's Hill was burned. Caricatures of Hutton were exhibited in a leading print-shop. He estimated his losses at 8,243l. 3s. 2d., and received as compensation 5,390l. 17s., which was paid in September 1793. William Rice and Robert Whitehead, who were tried at Warwick on 20 Aug. 1791 for the destruction of Bennett's Hill, were acquitted. Hutton drew up in August 1791 a very moderate 'Narrative of the Riots,' not printed at the time, but included in his 'Life,' which his daughter published after his death.

No less than seventeen of Hutton's friends (sixteen being churchmen) offered him their houses after the riots. For his wife's health he went to Hotwells, near Bristol. In 1792 he resumed, after forty years, the amusement of writing verse, and published some of his productions. An injury to his leg in 1793 interfered to some extent with his pedestrian habits. He handed over his business to his son, and confined himself to his dealings in land, which continued to prosper. After his wife's death (1796) he travelled much, in company with his daughter, publishing the results of his observations and researches. A regular and simple mode of life preserved his constitution in remarkable vigour. 'At the age of eighty-two,’ he says, 'I considered myself a young man.' On 5 Oct. 1812, in his ninetieth year, he walked into Birmingham for the last time. He died on 20 Sept. 1815. His portrait is in the Union Street Library, Birmingham. He married, on 23 June 1755, Sarah (b. 11 March 1731, d. 23 Jan. 1796), daughter of John Cock of Aston-upon-Trent, Derbyshire, and had issue: (1) Catherine [q.v.]; (2) Thomas, born 17 Feb. 1757, married, on 5 Sept. 1793, Mary Reynolds of Shifnal, Shropshire, died, without issue, 10 Aug. 1845; (3) William, born 2 July 1758, died 19 May 1760; (4) William, born 20 May 1760, died 3 April 1767.

Hutton has been called 'the English Franklin;' but while Hutton and Franklin have some native qualities in common, Hutton as much excels Franklin in geniality as he is Franklin's inferior in grasp of mind. His topographical works are well written, and their information is good. His personal narratives form a graphic record of a life of great industry, and abound in clear and sensible judgments on men and things. His philosophy of life is summed in a saying he quotes, to the effect that there are two kinds of evils which it is folly to lament: those you cannot remedy and those you can. His attitude towards religion struck his friend Priestley as too latitudinarian; ‘every religion upon earth is right, and yet none are perfect.' Though a dissenter, he professed himself 'a firm friend to our present establishment, notwithstanding her blemishes.'

Hutton published: 1. 'A History of Birmingham,' &c., 1781, 8vo (published 22 March 1782); 2nd edit., 1783, 8vo; 3rd edit., 1795, 8vo; 4th edit., 1809, 8vo. 2. 'A Journey … to London,' &c., 1785, 12mo; 2nd edit., 1818, 8vo. 3. 'Courts of Request,' &c., Birmingham, 1787, 8vo. 4. 'The Battle of Bosworth Field,' &c., 1788, 8vo; 2nd edit., edited by John Nichols, F.S.A., 1813, 8vo. 5. 'A Description of Blackpool,' &c., Birmingham, 1789, 8vo (a surreptitious second edition,' 8vo, was printed by Henry Moon at Kirkham, without date or author's name); 2nd edit., 1804, 8vo (this edition was nearly all destroyed by fire at Nicholls's London warehouse); 3rd edit., 1817, 8vo. 6. 'A Dissertation on Juries, with a Description of the Hundred Court,' &c., Birmingham, 1789, 8vo (sometimes a supplement to No. 3). 7. 'History of the Hundred Courts,’ &c., 1790, 8vo. 8. 'A History of Derby,' &c., 1791, 8vo; 2nd edit., 1817, 8vo. 9. 'The Barbers; or, the Road to Riches, a Poem,' &c., 1793, 8vo. 10. ‘Edgar and Elfrida, a Poem,' &c., 1793, 8vo. 11. 'The History of the Roman Wall,' &c., 1802, 8vo; 2nd edit., 1813, 8vo. 12. 'Remarks upon North Wales,’ &c., 1803, 8vo. 13. 'The Scarborough Tour,' &c., 1803, 8vo; 2nd edit, 1817, 8vo. 14. 'Poems, chiefly Tales,' &c., 1804, 8vo. 15. 'A Trip to Coatham,' &c., 1810, 8vo (portrait of Hutton in his eighty-first year, engraved by James Basire [q.v.]) Posthumous was 16. 'Life … written by himself; … to which is subjoined the History of his Family,' &c., 1816, 8vo (portrait, engraved by Ransom; edited by his daughter); 2nd edit., 1817, 8vo (rearranged); 3rd edit., 1841, 12mo (reedited, with additional notes, by his daughter, for Knight's 'English Miscellanies'); 4th edit. [1872], 12mo, ' William Hutton and the Hutton Family ' (full-length portrait, edited by Llewellyn Jewitt, with corrections from Hutton's original manuscript, a folio, written throughout with one pen). His 'Works,' 1817, 8vo, 8 vols., consist of the above, excluding Nos. 6, 9, 10, 14, the editions varying in different sets, with new general title-page to each volume.

[The earliest account of Hutton is in Phillips's Annual History of Public Characters, 1802; Biog. Dict. of Living Authors, 1816, p. 171; Monthly Repository, 1818, p. 368 sq.; Authentic Account of the Riots in Birmingham [1791], p.8; Report of the Trials of the Rioters [1791], pp. 14 sq.; Views of the Ruins, 1792 (view of Bennett's Hill, with narrative); Rutt's Memoirs of Priestley, 1832, ii. 187; notes supplied by S. Timmins, esq.; Hutton's Works.]

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