William Hutton: The Birmingham Man From Derby who succeeded in Life Solely Through The Love Of Books And Books Alone.

Much has been written about William Hutton, including a range of works by William Hutton himself. My aim is to highlight a few of his inspiring achievements and a little more.

I first stumbled upon a quote from William Hutton on a plaque on Central Library, which read;

‘Descending a hill of eminence, I had a full view, under a bright sun, of Cader Idris. If I was asked what length would be a line drawn from the eye to the summit? I should answer, “To the best of my judgement one mile.” I believe the space is more than five; so fallacious is the vision when it takes in only one object and that elevated. William Hutton 1803’.

This quote was taken from his book called “Remarks Upon North Wales”. The text following this quote was something more understandable. It read;


From the hill which I was now descending is a delightful view of a large valley, consisting of meadows, water, bridges and the town in the centre, which had an agreeable effect, and all this surrounded with rocks, woods and mountains.

There was an accompanying artwork on the adjacent wall but I was so struck by the statement by William Hutton that I cannot remember the colourful image of the metal artwork. The plaque is, I believe, now in the Collections Centre of Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery. So back in 2002 when I started work in the Central Library, I encountered this written quote but it wasn’t until I started working in Archives and Collections, that I discovered more about him. Here is what I have learnt so far:

William Hutton’s House    [WK/W6/5A]

William Hutton was born on 30th September 1723 in Derby but spent most of his life in Birmingham. He started work at the age of seven as an apprentice in a Derby silk mill, followed by a second apprenticeship as a stocking maker for his uncle in Nottingham. After his uncle died, he taught himself the art of book binding and proceeded to open a bookshop in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, and later opened a new bookshop in Birmingham. In 1756, he opened the first paper warehouse in Birmingham. Such was his success, he was able to build a country house in Washwood Heath and also bought a house in High Street. He published his book “History of Birmingham” in 1781. This book was the first of its kind.  He was subsequently elected a Fellow of The Antiquarian Society of Scotland which allowed him to add the letters F.A.S.S to his name, and became an overseer of the poor. In 1787, he was appointed to the Court of Requests which was a small claims court. He continued this role for 19 years and handled over 100,000 claims.

What a remarkable rise to the ranks, respectability and ability to do good but his achievements got better and better. Setting out from Birmingham on foot, he walked the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall before returning to Birmingham on foot, a journey which totalled 600 miles. This walk was more of a leisurely walk of exploration, although I would say that he must have been very tired afterwards! He also explains in his biography how he walked to London and back, lodging at a few guest houses. This walk was done just to purchase a small handful of book binding materials.What a mission this must have been and what a plan of action. Who would walk to London and back in the present times? I frequently complain about the 2-3 hour drive to London just to get there, never mind coming back. But I suppose if we ponder his original quote about Cader Idris then maybe we could all achieve this very easily.

William Hutton’s remarkable achievements do not end here. They get bigger and better because he was instrumental in creating Birmingham’s first circulating library, as you can read in the footnote in the image below:

Background to the Public Library of Birmingham, noted in the footnote on p.218 of The Life of William Hutton and the history of the Hutton family by William Hutton.


For images of Cader Idris, please visit http://www.geograph.org.uk.

You can view images of the artwork on Central Library at the following: www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=15897753

For more information about the artwork and the de-install please visit: http://www.stillwalking.org/unpacking-caderidris/

For further reading and research, please visit www.libraryofbirmingham.com and go to the library catalogue as well as the Archives and Heritage catalogue. There is so much more for you to discover and learn about this wonderful person!

Saley Uddin Ahmed
Senior Archives Assistant


2 thoughts on “William Hutton: The Birmingham Man From Derby who succeeded in Life Solely Through The Love Of Books And Books Alone.”

    1. Well-spotted, thank you! The distance refers to the total distance walked from Birmingham. We’ve amended the text to say this.

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