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John Clutton

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John Clutton (1809-1896)

1840 John Clutton became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1896 Obituary [2]

JOHN CLUTTON was born on the 29th of August, 1809, at Hartswood in the parish of Buckland, Surrey, where his father, Mr. William Clutton, carried on a large and successful business as a land agent.

The subject of this notice was educated at a Grammar School at Cuckfield and subsequently at a preparatory school at Clapham. He was originally intended for the law, but his father wanted his assistance and that of his brother Robert at Hartswood, and there he remained ten years, making himself acquainted with every detail of the business and laying the foundations of that knowledge of farming and forestry which was to prove of such great service in his subsequent career.

In 1837 he married and came to London, taking a small house, which served as office also, in the block of buildings on the west side of Parliament Street, pulled down many years ago to widen the roadway and make room for the new public offices. Here he remained until his removal to Whitehall Place in 1844. During these six and a half years he was principally occupied with the land purchases for the construction of various sections of the South Eastern Railway.

In these and other railway surveys and land purchases, together with the conduct of one or two small estates agencies, Mr. Clutton found abundant employment during the first six years of his life in London, but in consequence of the rapid increase of his business it soon afterwards became necessary to take a larger house, and there being a prospect of considerable employment arising from an introduction to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, he determined to remove to No. 8 Whitehall Place, in the immediate vicinity of their offices.

At this time there was vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, chiefly in reversion only, a very considerable quantity of land and other property which had belonged to non-residentiary prebends and to deaneries of cathedral churches of the old foundation, and additional property was constantly falling in as lives lapsed, but the only knowledge which the Commissioners then possessed as to the particular extent, nature and value of these properties, was such account of them as could be furnished by the Chapter Clerks of the respective cathedrals and collegiate churches.

About 1845 it had become manifest to the Board that it was of primary importance to procure, with all possible despatch, particulars, surveys, estimates and reports on the various lands and properties vested in the Board, and that these should be prepared by and obtained from experts on whom the greatest reliance could be placed. This work, throughout the southern half of England and Wales, was entrusted to Messrs. Robert and John Clutton. The business connected with the Ecclesiastical Commission rapidly assumed, to use Mr. Clutton’s own words, 'a gigantic character,' and necessited a large increase of his staff.

Later on, about 1856, his brother, Henry Clutton, joined the firm and took the management of the agencies connected with the Ecclesiastical Commission work.

In March, 1848, a Select Committee was appointed to enquire into the expenditure and management of the Department of Woods and Public Buildings - functions which remained thus strangely assorted until 1851. Mr. Clutton was apparently first invited to report to the Commissioners of Woods, &C., early in 1848, and in conjunction with his brother Robert, in February, 1849, received instructions to proceed to the New Forest, and after viewing the lands, woods, and plantations, to report to the Department the 'best opinion they could form upon such inspection as the time and circumstances would permit.'

Within a few hours of their return and before their report could be written, they were summoned to give evidence before the Committee. Mr. John Clutton only was examined, his brother simply confirming his evidence.

A little later on he was called to give evidence with reference to the Forests of Dean, Bere and Parkhurst. In all this evidence Mr. Clutton’s characteristics were fully displayed. It was clear that he intended to demonstrate, and succeeded in doing so, that wherever the Department had a free hand and was unencumbered by impracticable conditions rendering a sound system of forestry impossible, the management had been both skilful and judicious.

As the result of the enquiry, a change was shortly afterwards made in the constitution of the Department, which became the 'Office of Woods, Forests, and Land Revenues of the Crown.'

The Receivership of Crown rents for the county of Surrey falling vacant a little later on, Mr. Clutton was recommended for the appointment by Mr. Gore, one of the Commissioners, who had been struck with his professional sagacity, especially in questions of wood management.

In 1851 he was made Crown Receiver for all the Midland and Southern counties of England, the Royal Forests excepted.

In 1887 the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk were added to his receiverships. He continued to act as Crown Receiver up to August 1889, when he retired from the position; but, in April 1890, he again gave evidence before the Parliamentary Committee of 1889-90 on the Woods, Forests and Land Revenues, respecting the management of the Crown estates which had been under his charge. Under his advice a great deal was done towards the consolidation of the Crown estates by the sale of outlying or scattered properties and the purchase of compact estates, or of properties adjacent to other Crown estates. The Crown revenue was also largely improved by the development of building estates, notably at Richmond (Surrey), Eltham and Windsor, and the good results of his management may be seen in the present condition of the woods at Esher (Surrey) and at Hazleborough and Salcoy in Northamptonshire.

There remain one or two matters of a more general character to which reference should be made. First among these is the important share which he took in the establishment of the Surveyors’ Institution, on the formation of which, in July, 1868, he was selected as its first President and served the office for two consecutive years. Enough has been said to show the wide range of Mr. Clutton’s activities between the year 1837, when he came to London, and the year 1889, when, owing to advancing age, he retired from active business.

His last years were spent in the neighbourhood of Reigate, to which he turned with affection in his old age, and where he died on the 1st of March, 1896, in his eighty-sixth year.

Conspicuous success in any vocation is usually associated with the possession of striking abilities. Mr. Clutton would have been the first to disclaim any pretensions to special talent. He neither wrote nor spoke with ease, and his expository powers were very inferior to his powers of apprehension. The technicalities of an Act of Parliament were a perfect bugbear to him. What he did possess, and that to an extraordinary degree, was the solid practical business faculty which makes directly for Success in life.

This faculty, in union with a calm temperament, great sobriety of jndgment, a firm will and a large amount of natural caution, were the principal qualities which he brought to the building up of his vast business. But he had other noticeable characteristics allied to these and almost as useful to him. He was chary of speech, but his habitual reticence sat well upon him and never gave the notion of suppression or concealment. He had the art of leading where he appeared to follow. He made no profession of knowledge, but it was dangerous to assume that he was ignorant, for he had a knack of suddenly transposing the roles of teacher and learner.

He possessed in an eminent degree the art of conciliating opposition and allaying jealousies. In his relations with his brother surveyors he was frankness itself. His stores of knowledge were ever at their disposal. No young man hesitated to seek his advice or went away disappointed. To show the reliance placed in his probity instances could be cited in which the surveyor on “ the other side” unreservedly left the determination of price to his decision, in full confidence that he would do nothing unjust, even in his client’s interest.

This imperfect sketch would be incomplete without some reference to Mr. Clutton’s really remarkable powers as an organiser. His ordinary agencies were numerous enough to severely tax the powers of most men, to say nothing of the large general practice as a surveyor which he carried on for many years. Add to this his Crown Receiverships and his work in connection with the Ecclesiastical Commission, and it is to be wondered how a single mind could have borne the weight of so much responsibility.

Indeed, it would have been impossible except for the perfection of the organisation which he created for the purpose, and the sagacity with which he selected the heads of the various departments of his business. He adopted the principle of all but absolute devolution to the persons so selected, treating them as personal friends and social equals, with the result that they regarded his interests as theirs and the credit of the house as their credit. Thus the thousand and one details which entered into each day’s work fell at once into their proper place in a general system where the controlling mind could be constantly felt without being constantly consulted.

Mr. Clutton was remarkably free from ostentation. His personal habits were of the simplest. He loved his home, which was endeared to him by one whom he has himself described as 'a pattern to all women,' and it may be questioned whether he was ever so happy as in the simple rural surroundings amid which he was born and bred, walking about spud in hand over his land or going the round of his farm-buildings at Flanchford.

Mr. Clutton’s connection with the Institution extended over nearly fifty-six years. He was elected an Associate on the 10th of March, 1840, and in the year 1848 he served on the Council. He was also a Member of the Royal Agricultural Society from 1838 and was elected a Foundation Life Governor in 1890.


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