Hutton, Catherine, 1756—1846
by Benjamin Colbert
Catherine Hutton was born in 1756 near Birmingham, the daughter of William Hutton (1723-1815; ODNB), Birmingham bookseller and writer, and Sarah Hutton, née Cock (1731-1796). During her childhood, her father’s advancing prosperity enabled the family to undertake annual pleasure journeys, frequently to Derbyshire, a pattern that would continue also in times of adversity when tourism became a means of reviving spirits and health. Catherine Hutton attended a day school in Birmingham from seven until fourteen, but thereafter was educated at home, her reading, as she later recalled, ‘directed by my own choice’ (‘Female Collector’).
In 1769, her father bought a parcel of land at Bennett’s Hill, outside Birmingham, and built the house in which Catherine Hutton would continue to live for most of her life. Keeping house was a task she shared with her mother, but after 1779, when her mother’s health began to be impaired, running the household gradually shifted to her. As a young woman, however, Catherine Hutton participated in the intellectually stimulating environment of the Birmingham dissenting community. She joined Joseph Priestley’s Unitarian congregation in the 1780s, and befriended her father’s business partner, the radical novelist Robert Bage (1728?-1801; ODNB), whose memoir she would later write. Travel, too, continued to feature, with her first trip to London in 1778 and to Wales in 1787.
After the outbreak of the French Revolution, the ‘Church and King’ mob-led attack on leading dissenters in Birmingham (the Birmingham Riots of 1791) targeted William Hutton’s business premises in town as well as the family residence at Bennett’s Hill, forcing them to flee. By this time, Sarah Hutton’s illness had advanced and Catherine Hutton nursed her mother for the last five years of life, under considerable strain. After her mother’s death in 1796, her father took her to Barmouth in Wales, concerned that his daughter’s health had been affected. As Catherine Hutton later recalled of this period, ‘after we had lost my beloved mother, my Father’s affection and mine being less divided, centred more upon each other. On our journey to Barmouth, it was so evident, that we were sometimes taken for lovers, and sometimes for husband and wife’ (Life 288).
In 1797, William Hutton recalled, ‘My daughter lost her health when she lost her mother’ (226) and annual excursions were seen as recuperative therapy. Mostly but not always with her father, Catherine Hutton toured Wales in 1797 and 1800, the Lake District in 1801, Derbyshire in 1802, Scarborough in 1803-06, and North Yorkshire in 1807-10. William Hutton put these excursions to use in publications, including his Remarks on North Wales (1803) and Tour to Scarborough (1804). Catherine Hutton germinated the experiences more slowly, her first embryonic novel when finally published in 1819 bore the title, Oakwood Hall, a Novel; Including a Description of the Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland, and a Part of South Wales. Her other two novels also included travel writing: mid-Wales in The Miser Married (1813) and Scarborough and the Midlands in The Welsh Mountaineer (1817).
In tribute to her father a year after his death, Hutton edited his journals as The Life of William Hutton (1816). Aside from her Miser Married, the bulk of her writings were published after this date, her final book being the three volumes of The Tour of Africa (1819-1821), a redaction for children of the most recent voyages and travels to Africa. She continued thereafter to write for periodicals, collect autographs, sew patchwork, embroider, and quilt. ‘I have been a collector of costumes from eleven years of age’, she wrote in 1844, ‘and I have now 650 English figures and 782 foreign’ comprising ‘eight large folio volumes’, dated, identified by artist, indexed, and supplemented by ‘remarks of my own, which constitute a history of the habits of this country. I consider this as the greatest of my works’ (‘Female Collector’ 477). She died in 1846, aged 90, at Birmingham.
‘A Female Collector’. Gentleman’s Mag., 2nd ser., 25 (May 1846): 476-77. Print.
Hutton, Catherine, ed. The Life of William Hutton, F.A.S.S. Including a Particular Account of the Riots at Birmingham in 1791. To Which Is Subjoined, the History of His Family, Written by Himself, and Published by His Daughter, Catherine Hutton. London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1816. Print.
‘Miss Hutton’. Gentleman’s Mag., 2nd ser., 25 (Apr. 1846): 436-37. Print.
Mitchell, Rosemary. 'Hutton, Catherine (1756–1846), novelist and letter-writer'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 3 Oct. 2013. Oxford University Press. Web. 28 Nov. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/14299
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