William & Joseph Strutt

Though Joseph, the youngest son of the pioneering industrialist Jedediah Strutt, has been the focus of my blogs this week, having funded the Arboretum; his elder brother, William, Is also worth a mention. Both brothers were a force for great social reform in their native Derby, as well as leading the way for improved industry standards worldwide.


William was the eldest son, born in 1756 just as his father’s business, selling innovative machinery to mill owners, was expanding (I will be looking at Jedediah Strutt in more detail tomorrow). He grew up to be the technical mind within the family business. By this time Jedediah Strutt and his sons owned several mills of their own, producing fabrics. His main concern was making mills, originally timber framed, more fireproof. Fire was a major problem for mills because the air was always thick with particles of fabric, the slightest spark was devastating, and many mills burnt to the ground and had to be rebuilt.

As a successful architect he designed many bridges in Derby, using cast iron, a material that was key to his fire proof mill designs. He had the buildings built with cast iron supports, any timbers were covered in thin sheet iron. He rebuilt Belper North Mill, which burnt down in 1803, in this style, which was pioneered by Charles Bage at Ditherington in Shrewsbury.

Perhaps his greatest contribution though, is his design for Derby infirmary in 1819. Partly funded by his youngest brother Joseph and implemented with the help of his friend Charles Sylvester; he incorporated several features for heating and ventilation of air that revolutionised the design of hospitals. Derby infirmary became a leader in European architecture, attracting many important guests from around the world.


At the end of his life Joseph Strutt had the Derby Arboretum constructed for the people of the city, but this was far from the only philanthropic venture he was part of. In fact he spent the majority of his time on projects to benefit the city.

As well as helping his brother George to manage the family business he founded the Mechanics Institution in 1824, became Chief Magistrate, and spent two terms as Mayor of Derby. He even opened his own home and gardens to the public as an art gallery and museum, so that all members of the public could enjoy them. This was an opportunity for the working class to appreciate art and history they were otherwise rarely permitted to see.

His dedication saw his life end in 1844, four years after gifting the Arboretum to the people of Derby, and on the same day he attended a meeting to vote in favour of improving the sanitary conditions of the city.


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