Joseph Gutteridge (1816–99)

Joseph Gutteridge represents the tradition of educational self-help displayed by working men throughout Europe during the nineteenth century, and his career had remarkable European dimensions.

His father served in the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars and settled in Coventry when he was demobilised. Gutteridge was apprenticed as a silk weaver, initially to his father, but displayed more interest in the working of looms than in the manufacture of fabrics. He became a repairer of Jacquard looms, introduced in Coventry in 1820-21, and fell from the top of a loom when adjusting its mechanisms, which made him partially disabled. He was granted a week’s holiday by his employer in order to visit the Great Exhibition of 1851, about which he wrote ‘It seemed almost a realisation of one of the gorgeous pictures of the Arabian Nights’.

From the mid-1850s he developed an interest in geology, and visited railway construction sites in Leicestershire and iron ore quarries in Northamptonshire to collect fossils revealed by excavations. The Coventry silk weaving industry suffered severely after Richard Cobden’s treaty of 1860 allowed the free import of French ribbons, and higher tariffs in the United States restricted imports from Britain, but Gutteridge was given charge of the introduction into one of the city’s factories of French-designed looms from St Etienne.

In 1867 he was one of four British working men commissioned by the Society of Arts to visit the Paris Exhibition, and to report on their findings. He left Coventry for Paris on 8 September 1867, and took the opportunity to travel more extensively, studying the textile industry in St Etienne, Lyons, Geneva, Basle and Rouen.

Three years later Thomas Stevens, inventor of Stevengraph woven pictures, appointed Guttereidge to superintend his display at a textile exhibition at Great Horton near Bradford. He demonstrated a loom on which six different colours of silk could be woven.

While in Yorkshire he studied the geology of the coalfield, visited many textile mills including Manningham Mill at Bradford and Sir Francis Crossley’s carpet mills at Halifax, and went to the Low Moor Ironworks to search for fossils amongst ores waiting to be charged to the furnaces.  He worked until 1890, and published an autobiography, Light and Shadows in the Life of an Artisan, in 1893.

He remained a working man throughout his life, but had wide intellectual interests, in music, astronomy and botany, and acknowledged the influences on his thinking of Robert Owen, spiritualism and Charles Darwin.