Open main menu

STRUTT, JOSEPH (1749–1802), author, artist, antiquary, and engraver, youngest son of Thomas Strutt by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Ingold, miller, of Woodham Walter, near Maldon, Essex, was born on 27 Oct. 1749 at Springfield Mill, Chelmsford, which then belonged to his father, a wealthy miller. When Joseph was little more than a year old, his father died. His upbringing and that of another son, John, born a year or two earlier, and afterwards a fashionable physician in Westminster, devolved upon his mother. He was educated at King Edward's school, Chelmsford, and at the age of fourteen was apprenticed to the engraver, William Wynne Ryland [q. v.] In 1770, when he had been less than a year a student at the Royal Academy, Strutt carried off one of the first silver medals awarded, and in the following year he took one of the first gold medals. In 1771 he became a student in the reading-room of the British Museum, whence he drew the materials for most of his antiquarian works. His first book, ‘The Regal and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of England,’ appeared in 1773. For it he drew and engraved from ancient manuscripts representations of kings, costumes, armour, seals, and other objects of interest, this being the first work of the kind published in England. He spent the greater part of his life in similar labours, his art becoming little more than a handmaid to his antiquarian and literary researches. Between 1774 and 1776 he published the three volumes of his ‘Manners, Customs, Arms, Habits, &c., of the People of England,’ and in 1777–8 the two volumes of his ‘Chronicle of England,’ both large quarto works, profusely illustrated, and involving a vast amount of research. Of the former a French edition appeared in 1789. The latter Strutt originally intended to extend to six volumes, but he failed to obtain adequate support. At this period he resided partly in London, partly at Chelmsford, but made frequent expeditions for purposes of antiquarian study. In 1774, on his marriage, he took a house in Duke Street, Portland Place. For seven years after the death of his wife in 1778 he devoted his attention to painting, and exhibited nine pictures, mostly classical subjects, in the Royal Academy. From this period date several of his best engravings, executed in the ‘chalk’ or dotted style which had been introduced from the Continent by his master, Ryland.

After 1785 Strutt resumed his antiquarian and literary researches, and brought out his ‘Biographical Dictionary of Engravers’ (2 vols. 1785–6), the basis of all later works of the kind.

In 1790, his health having failed and his affairs having become involved, mainly through the dishonesty of a relative, Strutt took up his residence at Bacon's Farm, Bramfield, Hertfordshire, where he lived in the greatest seclusion, carrying on his work as an engraver, and devoting his spare time with great success to the establishment of a Sunday and evening school, which still exists. At Bramfield he executed several engravings of exceptional merit, including those—thirteen in number, after designs by Stothard—which adorn Bradford's edition (London, 8vo, 1792) of the ‘Pilgrim's Progress.’ He also gathered the materials for more than one posthumously published work of fiction, besides writing a satirical romance relating to the French revolution, which exists in manuscript.

In 1795, having paid his debts and his health having improved, Strutt returned to London and resumed his researches. Almost immediately he brought out his ‘Dresses and Habits of the English People’ (2 vols. 1796–1799), probably the most valuable of his works. This was followed by his well-known ‘Sports and Pastimes of the People of England’ (1801), which has been frequently reprinted.

After this Strutt (now in his fifty-second year) commenced a romance, entitled ‘Queenhoo Hall,’ after an ancient manor-house at Tewin, near Bramfield. It was intended to illustrate the manners, customs, and habits of the people of England in the fifteenth century. Strutt did not live to finish it. After his death the incomplete manuscript was placed by the first John Murray in the hands of Walter Scott, who added a final chapter, bringing the narrative to a somewhat premature and inartistic conclusion. It was published in 1808 in four small volumes. Scott admits in the general preface to the later editions of ‘Waverley’ that his association with Strutt's romance largely suggested to him the publication of his own work.

Strutt died on 16 Oct. 1802 at his house in Charles Street, Hatton Garden, and was buried in St. Andrew's churchyard, Holborn. On 16 Aug. 1774 he married Anne, daughter of Barwell Blower, dyer, of Bocking, Essex. On her death in September 1778 he wrote an elegiac poem to her memory, published anonymously in 1779. Strutt's portrait in crayon by Ozias Humphrey, R.A., is preserved in the National Portrait Gallery (No. 323).

Although the amount of Strutt's work as an engraver is small, apart from that appearing in his books, it is of exceptional merit and is still highly esteemed. In the study of those branches of archæology which he followed he was a pioneer, and all later work on the same lines has been built on the foundations he laid. Besides the works mentioned, two incomplete poems by him, entitled ‘The Test of Guilt’ and ‘The Bumpkin's Disaster,’ were published in one volume in 1808. All his illustrated antiquarian works now fetch higher prices than when published.

Strutt left two sons. The elder, Joseph Strutt (1775–1833), was born on 28 May 1775. He was educated at Christ's Hospital and afterwards trained in Nichols's printing office, but eventually became librarian to the Duke of Northumberland. Besides editing some of his father's posthumous works, he wrote two ‘Commentaries’ on the Holy Scriptures, which ran to several editions. He also contributed a brief sketch of his father's life to Nichols's ‘Literary Anecdotes’ (1812, v. 665–86). He died at Isleworth, aged 58, on 12 Nov. 1833 (Gent. Mag. 1833, ii. 474), leaving a widow and a large family.

Strutt's younger son, William Thomas Strutt (1777–1850), was born on 7 March 1777. He held a position in the bank of England, but won a reputation as a miniature-painter. He died at Writtle, Essex, on 22 Feb. 1850, aged 73, leaving several sons, one being Mr. William Strutt of Wadhurst, Sussex, who, with his son, Mr. Alfred W. Strutt, carries on the artistic profession in this family to the third and fourth generations.

[Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes (as above); private information.]

M. C-y.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.261
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
65 ii 6f.e. Strutt, Joseph: for Robert Younge of Halstead, read John Ingold, miller, of Woodham Walter, near Maldon, Essex,
67 i 5 for Newcastle read Northumberland