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British Industrial History

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John Hutton (of Manchester)

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1876 'A MANCHESTER CENTENARIAN. 'On any Sunday morning when the weather is ordinarily temperate there may be seen in Roby Chapel, seated in a pew near the pulpit, and taking intelligent part in the service, a venerable patriarch, who has been a regular attender there since several years before the beginning of the century. This old man, John Hutton by name, is now in his hundredth year, and on the 18th of August next year he will have completed the century. Though his sense of hearing is somewhat dulled, so that he cannot follow a stranger's voice unless special pains are taken to address him slowly and distinctly, he is in fair possession of all his faculties, enjoys excellent health, and is sustained in his extreme old age by an excellent flow of spirits, which may be stimulated on a little friendly provocation into a pleased hilarity.

'Since 1798 Hutton has been in the employment of Messrs. Thomas Hoyle and Sons, and his name is still on the books of the firm, though, for some years no work has been expected at his hands. He still, however, takes an intelligent interest in the various dyeing processes with which through life he has been familiar; and he especially delights to hear stories repeated of the value of his practical criticism.

'A remarkable circumstance in connection with this instance of longevity is that for four-fifths of his life the venerable dyer has lived within a stone's throw of the Medlock - in a district which might not unnaturally be assumed to be one of the most unhealthy in the city.

'Notwithstanding the very clear evidence which is given in medical works on the subject, there are some specialists who question whether there have been any real instances of centenarians living in modern times. Proofs have been placed in our possession which very clearly authenticate the present case. The following extract from the Register of Births and Baptisms for the Barony Parish, Glasgow, appears to be conclusive upon the point:-
"Baptisms. August, 1777. Robert Hutton and Jean Brash, Calton, had their second child born 18th, and baptised 21th, named John.
John Brash and William Craig, wit."

'Hutton married early in the beginning of his twenty- first year, and the entry of his marriage, which was solemnised in the Old Church, now the Cathedral, on the 7th December, 1797, by Parson Brookes, an old Manchester worthy, of whom an excellent and appreciative sketch is given in Mrs. Linnaeus Banks's recent novel, "The Manchester Man." Under that date, mentioned in the parish archives, any reader curious in the matter may satisfy himself. We have had from old John Hutton's lips, if any further proof were needed, abundant circumstantial evidence of his identity with the lad born to Robert Hutton and Jean Brash, in the Calton of Glasgow, on August 18, 1777. He says that his father died when he was four years old, and his mother being very poor he was sent out at that early age to earn a few pence at rope-spinning to assist in keeping the family pot. Of this time he has naturally little recollection, except that he has an impression that his work hours from the first were very long.

'When he was about ten years old he left his ill-paid employment in Glasgow, and took service as herd on a farm about seven miles from Glasgow. At this time he could not read. He had got no schooling, and knew nothing of the great public events that were then convulsing Europe. But one day, he says, shortly before he left the farm - when he must have been about fourteen years old - the country yokels were all startled by news brought out from Glasgow by a servant lass who had been attending a fair. She had learned that the French had beheaded their King and Queen, and, furthermore, she had been positively assured that they 'were going to invade Scotland’. Hutton says he had never heard of Frenchmen before, and wondered very much what sort of people they were. Shortly afterwards he was re-called to Glasgow by his mother, who in the interval had married again, and he set out with the family to Carlisle. Here he was apprenticed in 1792 or 1793 as a hand-loom weaver to Messrs. Foster and Co., Fisher-street.

'In consequence of some disturbance in the trade he was, three years afterwards, obliged to migrate a second time. He came to Manchester in 1796, and served the remaining year of his apprenticeship at a house in Scholes-street, off Store-street. After a year's employment as a journeyman in this employment he got married, as we have stated, in December, 1797. Trade was dull in these war times, and the slender and precarious income of a handloom weaver made housekeeping difficult for the young couple. It was in a period of depression in the trade that Hutton's first son was born to him, and he was casting about for employment on the day after the christening, when a good- natured neighbour introduced him at Mayfield. He is able to describe very minutely his interview with the then Thomas Hoyle, who gave him a berth, and his general recollections of the works and processes of that time are curiously precise.

'The Medlock, which flows through Mayfield Works, though not even then a pellucid stream, was still so comparatively free from pollution that it was not vainly the young dyers used to set night lines baited to catch snigs. The printworks were surrounded by green fields. Any houses that were within sight stood in their own gardens, and there was an orchard not far off. Ardwick Green was the fashionable suburb. The circus, to which young Hutton, much to the displeasure of his stern stepfather, was a frequent visitor, stood in Piccadilly. Visits to the playhouse, a form of recreation to which the lad had been so much addicted that on this account he was ultimately expelled from his home, and had to seek lodgings in the house from which he married, appear to have been the only attraction outside the works over the young man's mind. Although, while finishing his apprenticeship as a hand-loom weaver with his father, he had learned to read fluently, he took no interest in public events. There were two or three Radicals about the works, he says, with a passing contempt which seems to signify that, to his mind, they might just us well have been pigeon fliers.

'He has a dim recollection about Peterloo, as a time when the military were out and some of the workmen were imprisoned, but the impression is connected in his mind with that of a trade riot that took place many years afterwards. But he will tell you with painstaking minuteness and a chuckling enjoyment of his own cleverness, how he obtained the secret of a cunning thing in the preparation of China blue. Special skill was required in the mixing or application of this dye - once held in high account - and the Messrs. Hoyle employed an adept in the art, to whom they gave Hutton as an assistant. The dyer, however, was fond of his glass of ale and the company of some jovial cronies, and a little inn that stood at the other side of the foot-bridge spanning the Medlock was too great an attraction for him in his working hours. He was accustomed to leave his assistant in charge with the help of certain instructions marked in chalk upon the wall. By diligent use of his opportunities, Hutton was at last able to dispense with leading-strings, and he ultimately took the place of the clever but unsteady dyer. From that day almost to the present China blue has been the old man's specialty and a story is told of him that a few years ago - (though the date is not exactly fixed the event is known to have occurred since the great flood in the Medlock) - he made, for such an old man, a wonderful display of his skill.

'His son, who had succeeded him in the China blue department, and was himself a, very old man, died suddenly, and left no successor in the secret. Messrs Hoyle's chemist, who knew all about the theory of the dye, failed in repeated attempts to get the exact tint which was requisite, and a joking suggestion was made to the old man that his services were still in demand. Scotch to the backbone, he took the suggestion au sérieux, and proceeded to the dye-house, where, seated in a chair, he directed operations for several hours, with an energy which at one stage of the proceedings nearly carried him into the dye-vat, and, what is most notable of all, the brew was a perfect and conspicuous success.

'As we have already stated, John Hutton married early in life, and though he knew little of politics or patriotism, he was able to give a son to the wars. His eldest lad enlisted when a mere youth, and was at Waterloo, where he had his horse shot from under him and had a tooth knocked out in his fall to the ground. After the peace, Tom, being of diminutive stature, was dismissed the service; but afterwards, when he had reached his full stature, he joined an infantry regiment and served a long time in the West Indies. He lived for many years in Sheffield, and was one of the victims of the disastrous flood which occurred there ten or twelve years ago. The old man says that the first time that he ever went into a public house was on his way to Warrington to see his soldier son before his departure for the Continent. He went into a wayside public house to obtain a glass of milk, but, finding none, he had a pint of beer inside. At the same time, he is no ascetic, and does not profess to have ever been a teetotaler, though his life has been remarkable for sobriety and temperance in the largest sense of the terms. Another son, John, to whose death we have referred, followed his father's trade, and was a septuagenarian when he died.

'The old man is still visited by his daughter, Mrs. Jane Preston, a hale old lady of 74. A grand-daughter called on him lately to obtain the patriarch's blessing on her own grandchild, who is now two or three years old. John is saving money out of the pension of 20s. a week which is made him by his old employers, besides giving an occasional present to his daughter. The heads of this firm have been distinguished for their pride in old servants. The late Mr. Alderman Neild, at the annual midsummer gathering of the heads of departments at High Lawn, Bowdon, always proposed, amongst other toasts, the health of George Maxwell, a, very old man, who was Hutton's senior in the works, and John Hutton, who in his reply used to speak of the Alderman in respect of his connection with the works as "but a chicken." To a medical gentleman, who has recently visited the old man, we are indebted for the following jottings, which contain his observations on the old man......'[1]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Manchester Times - Saturday 30 December 1876