STRUTT, John (1727-1816), of Terling Place, Essex
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Family and Education
bap. Nov. 1727, o.s. of Joseph Strutt of Moulsham Mill House, Essex by Mary, da. of Robert Young of Little Dunmow, Essex. educ. Felsted. m. 17 July 1756, Anne, da. of Rev. William Goodday, rector of Strelley, Notts., 3s. 1da. suc. fa 29 May 1772.
John Strutt, the son of a successful miller, was in 1746 apprenticed to his uncle, another John Strutt, at Maldon; ‘but it is doubtful whether he did much milling himself’. On the death of his uncle in 1758 he inherited £4,000 and property in and around Terling; in 1761 bought from Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh the manor of Terling and the neighbouring estate for £18,540; and, starting in 1772, built Terling Place at a cost of over £6,000. Yet he was ‘of a careful and economical disposition’; a progressive farmer, who reinvested his savings in land, and even raised mortgages to buy more. By 1781 he owned over 5,000 acres, with a net rental of almost £3,500; at his death nearly 6,000 acres, while his net estate was valued at £29,000.1
Strutt was active in county business and in the borough of Maldon; he belonged to a group of staunch Tories, and remained one to the end of his life. In parliamentary elections he used his influence in favour of his friends, Bamber Gascoyne and John Conyers, and in 1768 of Eliab Harvey and Jacob Houblon, jun.; in 1763 he offered Conyers to contribute to the expenses of a petition which he encouraged Conyers to present; but he himself was for a long time averse to standing for Parliament, perhaps owing to a certain diffidence. ‘I am amazed you retire from popularity so much’, wrote Gascoyne to Strutt in November 1769. On 29 Oct. 1773 Gascoyne, on hearing from John Robinson that John Huske, M.P. for Maldon, had died in Paris, wrote to Strutt:
Now who is to offer? You may be assured the liberty boys will be ready and the brokers will soon have intelligence from France. It therefore is of much importance to future works that this business should be speedily settled and it is of consequence that Government should not lose a friend. Why not offer yourself? I think it would stop all opposition.
Strutt was still unwilling to stand. But when Gascoyne, now a placeman working with placemen, advised Lord Rochford, the Whig leader in Essex, to put up Charles Rainsford, Strutt and Thomas Berney Bramston seem to have objected; they were loath to support their late opponents and establish their interest in the borough—local antagonisms and suspicions lingered on even after the two sets had come to range themselves on the same side at Westminster.
I will venture to pronounce [wrote Gascoyne on 4 Nov.] that if this scheme takes place with effect, that the borough is again returned to the county, the management must be our own, as those with whom we act have neither talents nor inclinations to direct.
And in a second letter on the same day: in supporting Rochford’s candidate, a man of no consequence, they will not hurt their own future chances—Rochford and his brother are both ‘bad lives’, the nephew will soon succeed to the peerage, and ‘it is a family that has few connexions’. And in another letter: ‘Keep up your spirits and do not let your feelings get the better of you. If we conquer we shall have no more trouble and we ruin no friend if we don’t.’ In the end Strutt seems to have acquiesced in the scheme—on 30 Nov. Gascoyne wrote to him with laboured compliments and banter:
Your letter to Lord Rochford was so well wrote that I was ashamed to see it, it so far excelled mine. Your style was courteous and fashionable in all but being sincere ... As soon as the election is over you will kiss the King’s hand. Sir John is the word and your patent will be made for baronetage at the general election.
But there is no evidence of Strutt having wished for honours (that he was no snob is shown by his first, somewhat negative, reaction, in 1788, to his son’s engagement to a daughter of the Duke of Leinster). He was an independent country gentleman, and such he remained.2
Although the general election was not expected till 1775, negotiations and manoeuvres started in 1774 between the several interests at Maldon: Lord Rochford, John Bullock (one of the sitting Members), and Lord Waltham. Early in August, Strutt was still reluctant to engage in a contest and prepared for a compromise which apparently would have cut him out. Gascoyne, who since the early months of 1774 seems to have negotiated for an arrangement with Rochford whereby the borough would not be ‘put into his hands but brought into the county, that we have one and one’,3 again urged Strutt to stand jointly with Rochford’s brother, R. S. Nassau—thus on 12 Aug. 1774: ‘your interest ... is at present greater than any individual ever possessed—and whatever your own opinion may be as to retirement, remember your son is born to a fortune collected and educated for the world ... Nassau is but a temporary interest which if you live must extinguish and centre in you. If you stand yourself ... all opposition is vain.’ And on 6 Sept.: ‘The sooner you declare the less probability of opposition.’ Gascoyne’s forecasts proved correct: on Nassau’s death in 1780, and Rochford’s in 1781, the interest of their family disappeared at Maldon, while Strutt and his son represented the borough without a break for the next 52 years.
On 19 Sept. 1774 Waltham declared his candidature; whereupon Strutt and Nassau, who had previously agreed ‘to stand as joint candidates at the general election’,4 came forward as such; while on the 29th Bullock declined to seek re-election. Rochford, himself rather impecunious, had secured from Lord North a promise of £2,000 should there be a contest.5 On the 30th the House was dissolved. ‘Keep up your spirits’, wrote Gascoyne to Strutt the same day, ‘you have but short work.’ Strutt topped the poll. Of the election expenses Strutt paid £450, and Rochford £1,050.6 It is not clear where North’s promised contribution came in, but a remark in a letter from Rochford to Strutt, 6 June 1775—‘pray send me word to whom you would have me pay the £1,000 for it burns in my pocket’—can hardly refer to Rochford’s own money.
In the House Strutt was a convinced and steady Government supporter. He achieved prominence by being on 12 Feb. 1779 the only Member to vote against thanking Admiral Keppel for his services, ‘for which he was much reviled’.7 The Public Ledger wrote about him:
Mr. Rigby has the care of his political education, but has not taught him: that of all absurdities in politics or interest, that of voting single in a division, is the greatest.
On the other hand, the Morning Post, of 16 Feb.:
Mr. Strutt ... is known to be a man both of large fortune and consummate integrity. His dissent from other Members of the House of Commons on a late question was the result of steady principle, and by no means arose from a paltry ambition of appearing singular. Mr. Strutt is possessed of strong natural sense, and justly claims a right to think for himself.
And the English Chronicle, though an Opposition paper, wrote in 1781:
Mr. Strutt is much esteemed in the county of Essex, where he is characterized and beloved for an open, ingenuous disposition, and the most scrupulous attention to justice in all his dealings. He ... has now surmounted every danger of defection on the part of his constituents, and ... has established an interest in the county, that it is believed will be hereditary in his family. Mr. Strutt is not distinguished for a superior understanding, though he is esteemed to possess all the talents that are indispensably requisite in the genuine formation of a country gentleman. His conduct on the vote of thanks to Admiral Keppel, in the Lower Assembly, constitutes by far the most conspicuous incident of his life. The world in general considered this singular dissent from the united voice of the British legislature as at least a violent and invidious affectation of peculiarity ... The writer ... is entirely of opinion that it may be referred ... to those principles that have been the hereditary characteristics of a country ‘squire’, namely, considerable ignorance, under the guidance and direction of strong prejudice, without any mixture of deliberate malignity whatever.
On 27 Apr. 1780 Strutt brought in a bill very much in the Tory tradition: ‘for securing the freedom of Parliament, by farther extending the qualification for Members to sit in the House, and for rendering the same more effective’; ‘the papers tell me’, wrote Mason to Walpole, 31 May 1780, ‘it is brought in to disqualify Charles Fox, Burke, etc., from sitting in the next Parliament.’ Of the debate in committee, only James Luttrell’s speech against it is reported;8 the bill was defeated by 47 to 42 on the second reading, 22 June, when Strutt acted as a teller. But there is no record of his having spoken, either on this or on any other occasion.
At the general election of 1780 Strutt stood jointly with Eliab Harvey jun.; they were returned unopposed; and of the combined expense of £850 ‘Strutt for some reason paid one-third and Harvey two-thirds’. In the new Parliament Strutt again voted steadily with the North Administration till its fall. He voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, and in March was classed by Robinson as ‘country gentleman; North’. But by November he and his friends were turning against the Coalition. John Robinson wrote to Charles Jenkinson, 7 Nov.: ‘I shall ... visit Strutt, perhaps Bramston, but certainly also the two Gascoynes, and try to infuse into their minds right principles.’ And Rigby to Strutt, 26 Nov.: ‘When last I saw Bramston in Town, he told me, that you damned the Coalition, Opposition, and all, and would remain quietly at home.’ John Sinclair, in a list prepared for Pitt early in January 1784, noted about Strutt: ‘Voted against the bill and consequently will probably support the new ministers.’ But in the printed lists of the divisions on Fox’s East India bill, Strutt appears as absent, and so does Sinclair in the first two, while voting against the bill in the third. A letter from Robinson to Jenkinson, 3 Dec., explains what happened: ‘Strutt is against the bill but paired off with Sinclair for it.’ Sinclair obviously changed sides while Strutt continued ‘quietly at home’—on 19 Dec. Gascoyne was still pressing him to attend Parliament. He did so in January 1784. In Robinson’s lists of December and January he was classed as a supporter of Pitt, and in a paper compiled shortly before the general election, the entry against Maldon reads: ‘Mr. Robinson to learn Strutt’s situation and wishes about a second man.’ Strutt had been, however, of the St. Alban’s Tavern group, which attempted a union between Fox and Pitt.9
At the general election of 1784 Strutt and Waltham were returned unopposed for Maldon; the election cost Strutt only £350; and he recorded with pride: ‘I stood unconnected and on my own interest: no opposition.’10 In the new Parliament he supported Pitt, voting with the Government over Impey’s impeachment and throughout the Regency crisis. In 1790 he gave up his seat to his son, Joseph Holden Strutt, who retained it till 1826.
John Strutt died 8 Mar. 1816.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. C. R. Strutt, Strutt Fam. of Terling, 1650-1873, pp. 14, 24.
- 2. Strutt mss in possession of Lord Rayleigh at Terling Place, Essex; Strutt Fam. 39.
- 3. Gascoyne to Strutt, n.d. but prob. bet. January and May 1774, Strutt mss.
- 4. Paper on Maldon election of 1774, in Strutt’s handwriting, Strutt mss.
- 5. Gascoyne to Strutt, 15 Sept.; Rochford to Strutt, 17 Sept.; Strutt mss.
- 6. Strutt Fam. 18.
- 7. Walpole, Last Jnls. ii. 249.
- 8. Almon, xvii. 712-15.
- 9. Strutt Fam. 19; Add. 38567, ff. 162-3, 165; Strutt mss; Abergavenny mss.
- 10. Strutt Fam. 19.