Birmingham Women Nᵒ. 1: Catherine Hutton, Writer and Home Crafter (1756-1846)

 Catherine Hutton (11 February 1756 to 13 March 1846) was part of the Birmingham Hutton family, the daughter of stationer, book seller and historian William Hutton and his wife Sarah Cock.* Catherine was a weaver of tales as well as a needlecrafter, and was putting pen to paper right up to her death at the age of 91. She was a particular fan of Jane Austen, as she explains 'I have been going through a course of novels by lady authors, beginning with Mrs Brooke and ending with Miss Austen, who is my especial favourite. I had always wished, not daring to hope, that I might be something like Miss Austen; and, having finished her works, I took to my own, to see if I could find any resemblance'.* In 1813 she published her first novel, The Miser Married (view here)and published two subsequent novels, The Welsh Mountaineer (1817, volume one here) and Oakwell Hall (1819). Catherine published other fiction and articles in magazines, and her published letters outline the life of a middle-class woman at this time. 

The Hutton family business and home were both attacked during the Birmingham riots of 1791, which targeted local dissenters and religious non-conformists, and the Hutton family were Unitarians. Their shop in Birmingham was burnt down and the family had taken shelter at their family home at Bennett's Hill, a few miles from the town. On hearing that rioters were on their way there too, the family had to quickly flee, and leave the house and their possessions to the mob. 

The riots had been very hard for Catherine and she took to company less and less. Two years after the experience she wrote to a friend: 'Last Monday I broke the spell by visiting the Miss Mainwarings, and I was found so rusticated, so antiquated, that the first thing they did was to take my cap to pieces and make it up in a different form. Now, mark my resolution. I visited three families on the three following days, and I have engaged myself for two evenings next week. Be so good when you write to say something about fashion, that I, who used to be an example, may not be quite a scare-crow' [letter to Mrs. André, 2 Sep 1792].* In her isolation, Catherine took joy from tending to her garden, stating in the same letter that 'my inexhaustible fund of amusement is the garden' asking to be sent 'some flower seeds and bulbs. I should particularly like some feathered hyacinths' [ibid].

Catherine's love gardening and flowers probably influenced her production of a patchwork bedcover surrounded with an array of appliqued flowers made in 1804. The design included jasmine, roses, tulips and lilac, and, as historian Elaine Mitchell notes, the 'appliqued plants delivered a cornucopia of botanical specimens from around the globe into the house' (see here).** It also bought some of Catherine's well-loved garden indoors and the needlework would have likely soothed her in the years she spent more isolated after the affects of the riots.

Section of Catherine Hutton's bed cover (335cm by 362cm), 1804.
Birmingham Museum Collections (20015.86.1).
Photograph copyright Elaine Mitchell.

Another of Catherine's surviving creations is a small purse made using simple lace-making techniques:

Part of the Hutton collection at the Library of Birmingham.

Top image: Catherine Hutton age 43 and 83, held at the Library of Birmingham Archive.

All text belongs to the author (
- Reminiscences of A Gentlewoman of the Last Century: Letters of Catherine Hutton, ed. by Catherine Hutton Beale (Birmingham: Cornish Brothers, 1891). 
- William Hutton, The Life of William Hutton (London: Baldwin, Craddock and Joy, 1816).
* Full references on request. 
** Elaine Mitchell, 'The efforts of her needle: unpicking Catherine Hutton's 1804 counterpane', Retail History (Blog post, 2019). This is part of Elaine's PhD thesis at University of Birmingham.

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