Joseph Gutteridge

Joseph Gutteridge (1752-1844) entered the tanning business in 1770, and by 1790 had joined with Samuel Beddome, son of Benjamin Beddome, the popular hymn writer and Baptist minister at Bourton-on-the-Water, to create one of London’s largest and most prosperous tanning operations.  Gutteridge’s business was located in Long Lane, Southwark. Gutteridge was a staunch Particular Baptist, serving as deacon for over forty years in the Baptist congregation at Little Prescot Street, Goodman’s Fields, where Abraham Booth ministered from 1779 until 1806. Besides demonstrating leadership in numerous Baptist endeavors throughout his long life, Gutteridge was also politically active. He supported the efforts of the Protestant Dissenting Deputies to repeal the Test Acts (1787-91) and later served as treasurer of the Deputies from 1805-16 and as vice-chairman from 1816-25, working alongside the Unitarian MP William Smith in the years preceding the eventual repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1828.  

In early 1791, Thomas Poole, Coleridge's later friend and benefactor, joined with Gutteridge as spokesmen for the tanners during a joint appearance before Pitt and the parliamentary committee that largely determined the fate of the tanners that year. Writing to Gutteridge on 7 June 1793, Poole thanked him for showing civilities to his sister Sarah during her recent visit to London, further evidence that Poole established a more than casual friendship with Gutteridge during his visits of 1791 and 1792 (Sandford, Thomas Poole, vol. 1, 77).  Unfortunately, the Poole-Gutteridge letters used by Sandford are no longer extant. Gutteridge’s biographer writes, ‘The contest with the upholders of these injurious restrictions was long and arduous. On their side some of the most eminent men at the English bar were employed.  The Tanners committed their interests to the hands of Mr. Gutteridge, who argued their cause in so masterly a manner, both with the government, and before a Parliamentary Committee, as not only to satisfy his friends, but to elicit also the admiration of his opponents.  In the end they were defeated, and the obnoxious laws repealed.  A handsome piece of plate presented to him on the occasion, at once expresses the sense entertained of the value of his services, and records their success’ (Steane 59).  Mrs. Sandford asserts that Poole also appeared in these same meetings (Thomas Poole, vol. 1, 20-21). 

Poole corresponded often with Gutteridge in the early 1790s, with much of their conversation concerning politics. In the letter of 23 February 1793, Poole described the execution of the King of France as an ‘unnecessary instance of injustice and cruelty’, yet he was convinced it was not the cause of the newly declared war, which to Poole was really the English government’s ‘desire to suppress the glowing spirit of liberty, which, I thank God, pervades the world, and which, I am persuaded, all the powers on earth cannot destroy’ (Thomas Poole, vol. 1, 40-41).  To Poole, the purpose of the war was to return to power ‘arbitrary kings’, not restore justice or freedom to the people of France.  He writes, ‘I consider every Briton who loses his life in the war as much murdered as the King of France, and every one who approves the war, as signing the death-warrant of each soldier or sailor that falls’.  In another letter to Gutteridge, written after the September 1793 massacres, Poole still blames the Empress of Russia more than the French people, believing her to be one of the worst tyrants in history, (Thomas Poole, vol. 1, 42).  He writes, ‘Speaking of a French despot, we naturally turn to French affairs.  What are your sentiments on the present crisis? Are all the horrid excesses and cruelties of which we hear necessary? . . .  but, notwithstanding this, I think they did right in deposing the king, and they have an undoubted right, if they prefer it, to choose a Republican government’ (Thomas Poole, vol. 1, 42-43).  He then adds, ‘The philosophers and friends to mankind that formed the first French constitution I admire and revere, and that constitution, the most beautiful fabrick that was ever erected by the human mind, gained ground and admirers every day; but it is fled like a dream, and I tremble lest the present excesses may not give a greater stab to liberty than the Tyrants of the world who are combined against it. . . .’ (Thomas Poole, vol. 1, 43). Writing to Gutteridge on 7 June 1793, Poole concludes, ‘If the French conquer, will licentiousness instead of liberty prevail? If the French are conquered, Europe is enslaved. I had rather run the risque of the former, than bear the burden of the latter’ (Thomas Poole, vol. 1, 77).

In 1794 Gutteridge became a messenger to the Particular Baptist Fund, and in 1798 became one of its treasurers, a position he held until his death. In 1804 he and Abraham Booth were instrumental in forming the London Baptist Education Society, which eventually led to the founding of Stepney College in 1810, of which Gutteridge served as the first treasurer. Gutteridge spent the last fifty years of his life living in Camberwell at Denmark Hill, where he was instrumental in the formation of the Baptist church there in 1823, providing all the funds for the building of the chapel.  From 1819 to 1844 he served on the committee of the Baptist Missionary Society.  See Universal British Directory of Trade, Commerce, and Manufacture, 5 vols (London: Peter Barfoot and John Wilkes, 1791-98), I, pt. 2, p. 165; Edward Steane, Memoir of the Life of Joseph Gutteridge, Esq. of Denmark Hill, Surrey (London: Jackson and Walford, 1850), pp. 71, 76, 77, 122-23.