Strutt’s of Belper
George Herbert Strutt was born in 1854 in the town of Belper, Derbyshire as the only son and youngest child in a family that held great influence over the town. At the turn of the century Strutt would enjoy plenty of wealth and success; in 1902 he bought the estates of Glensanda and Kingairloch in Scotland with his wife Emily and his son but his heart and career would remain in his home town of Belper, where he enjoyed the position of county council chairman and High Sheriff of Derbyshire. This early career move showed that George Herbert was clearly a man that cared about his county and community but in 1909 he went a step further and presented Belper with a building that would aid the town immensely and ensure he would be remembered fondly.
The Herbet Strutt School.
In 1909, George Herbert took £20,000 of his own money and built a school opposite the local workhouse complete with playing fields. Once the building was officially opened by the Duke of Devonshire and firmly in the hands of the teachers there was still no getting away from the man that had worked so hard to create it. The stained glass window that illuminated the library held the Strutt coat of arms and the bust he was awarded in 1910, a token of gratitude from 1,500 townspeople, was kept in the school. That same year, George gave the town a public swimming pool and he continued to poor money into the school over the next four years to ensure it was the best possible institution for Belper. As time went on the schools merged and developed and simply became know as Belper School.
George Herbert Strutt clearly took after his father and grandfathers.
George’s school was a undoubtedly a welcome addition to the town of Belper and its pupils and teachers would be forever grateful to him for his contribution; however, it can be argued that a gesture such as this could almost be expected. This expectation is all due to the family name because George Herbert was a direct descendant of one of the town’s founders, Jedediah Strutt. Jedediah came to Belper in 1776, when it was little more than a small hamlet that focused on knitting and nails, and he transformed it into an industrial town. With the inclusion of the Milford Mill and increased production Belper flourished into large, prosperous town. In the 1870s George Henry – Herbert’s father – took the reigns and continued to transform the town with facilities and leisure opportunities. Among his contributions were the Cottage Hospital, a fund for a Derbyshire children’s hospital and a town fire engine. George Herbert had a lot to live up to match the efforts of his ancestors but he did them all proud and gave Belper far more than just the school.
George Herbert Strutt’s other gifts to the town of Belper.
Like his predecessors, George had no problem with donating his time and money to worthy causes and he added some other features to the town between 1905 and his death, many of which are still enjoyed by Belper residents today. The Belper War Memorial, which was founded by Strutt for the First World War, can still be found and continues to carries the names of fallen soldiers from later conflicts. The part of Belper that saw Strutt’s influence the most, however, was the Belper River Gardens.
These gardens were opened in 1906 – three years prior to the school – as a boating lake and recreational area in the heart of the thriving town. The idea began when Strutt realised the popularity of boating and sought to dredge part of the river to create a lake for the use of the local association and public. Over the years, much like with the school, Strutt continued to fund the project to make improvements and add features and eventually the area was transformed into an welcoming garden and ideal venue for social events. Among these improvements were an arboretum, a Swiss-style tearoom that was reminiscent of the thatched huts on his estate, a bandstand and a pavilion. The venture proved so successful that people happily paid a shilling to enter it on the grand opening and the lake required a boatkeeper on staff – a man who happened to be none other than Dame Ellen MacArthurs great-great-grandfather.
It was creative ventures such as this that really captured the commitment and spirit of this Belper-born philanthropist but sadly he would be the last of the Strutts to make such an important impact on the history of the town.
George Herbert Strutt’s death and the end of the Strutts in Belper.
George Herbert Strutt died at the age of 74 in 1928 and, although he was survived by his son, it appears that Arthur only acquired the estate in the highlands and the long history of the Strutts in Belper ended on that day. Interestingly, Arthur would suffer a mysterious death in Glensanda in the 1970s because he disappeared and was not seen again until his clothed skeleton was discovered five years later – the day after his family had given up hope and held a memorial.
The legacy of this great man and generous philanthropist lives on in Belper and the town still respects his achievements and influence to this day. The Herbert Strutt school may have moved and changed hand over the decades but the town refuses to let go of the name and the original building is grade 2 listed to ensure its protection. During his lifetime, George Herbert was seemingly aware of the potential changes that would happen to the town – perhaps remembering the transformations his own family has put in place – and wrote a clause that the school should be held in a trust that would keep it in use by Belper residents who needed it. On February 13th a blue plaque was unveiled at Makeney Hall – a former home – by his grandaughter Lin. It may seem like an odd choice when it is so far from the centre of town but hopefully the school building and river gardens will act as a permanent reminder of the efforts of this particular Strutt.