The Founders

Benjamin Outram (1764 – 1805)

Benjamin Outram was born on King Street, Alfreton, the son of Joseph Outram (1732 – 1810) and his wife Elizabeth. Joseph Outram was a highly respected man in the area, being an Estate Agent, Commissioner for Enclosures and Turnpike Trustee. Very little is known of Benjamin’s early life but Francis Beresford, a solicitor and family friend, spotted his early talents and supported him in his technical education. His early career began in his father’s business although it was said that he didn’t get on very well with him.  However, he eventually became an experienced land surveyor and estate agent in his own right. When a Bill for the construction of the Cromford Canal was laid before Parliament with Beresford acting as the canal company’s solicitor (it was passed in 1789), Outram was appointed as assistant to William Jessop, the canal’s surveyor. They both appeared before the House of Lords committee, thus beginning his fruitful but unfortunately short career alongside Jessop, his future partner in Outram & Co. After the formation of the Company, he lived in Butterley Hall, bought by Beresford in 1790 on behalf of the Company.

No portrait exists of Outram, but his wife Margaret wrote of him in later years as “my husband, like so many other men of great talent and comprehensive and generous mind was hasty in his temper, feeling his own superiority over others. Accustomed to command, he had little toleration for stupidity and slowness and none for meanness or littleness of any kind”.

Work to construct the canal’s Butterley Tunnel revealed the full extent of the reserves of coal and iron ore, convincing Outram of the potential to enter into both the coal and iron founding businesses. As a result of this he established Outram & Co in 1790 with Francis Beresford as his partner. Although by 1792 he had two more partners, he managed the Company almost single-handed, but because of the necessity to travel around the country on other projects he became more reliant upon his younger brother, Josias, and Manager George Goodwin to run the day to day affairs of the Company. After suffering several years of declining health, much of it being due to the pressure of over-work, he died of a stroke whilst on a business trip to London on May 15th 1805 and was buried on May 18th in St Paul’s Cathedral churchyard.

Francis Beresford (1737 – 1803)

Francis Beresford was the youngest son of John Beresford and Frances Fitzherbert, the Beresfords being one of the oldest landed families in the county. Francis however became a lawyer, taking up residence in Ashbourne. It is believed that he met the Outrams more on a professional basis than socially. It was he however who recognised Benjamin Outram’s potential and assisted with the cost of his education. Nothing much was known about Beresford’s career before his appointment to represent the Cromford canal’s proprietors in their dealings with Parliament. After the Canal Act was passed, he concentrated upon helping Outram to form Outram and Co and was instrumental in providing capital and acquiring properties and mineral leases essential to the formation and start-up of the Company. He had no involvement in the practical business of running of the Company but provided invaluable support for Outram.  Beresford’s family included a son and three daughters, one of whom, the reputedly very beautiful Elizabeth, married in 1791 a wealthy Nottingham banker, John Wright.  Beresford died in 1803, with John Wright buying up his Company shares in 1806.  As with Benjamin Outram, no portrait is known to exist of Francis Beresford.

John Wright  (1758 – 1840)

John Wright

John Wright was born into a wealthy Nottingham banking and ironmongering family, the son of John Wright and Anne Sherbrooke. The businesses had been established by his grandfather, Ichabod Wright in Long Row Nottingham in 1761. By 1790, the Wright family was one of the wealthiest in Nottingham. Upon the death of his father, John inherited a share in the bank, land near Nottingham, and estates at Ripley, Riddings and Hartshay. He ran the bank with his cousin Ichabod, (presumably named after their grandfather). In 1791 he married Francis Beresford’s daughter, Elizabeth, becoming Beresford and Outram’s partner in Outram & Co soon after their marriage.

He became a very valuable partner, providing both capital and mineral rich land. In particular, he owned Butterley Park and Knowts Hall, both very rich in coal and iron ore, lying approximately one mile east of their ironworks at the Eastern Portal of the Cromford Canal’s Butterley Tunnel. This immensely benefitted the early development of Outram & Co.  Upon his retirement in 1830, he passed his shares, (by then representing two thirds of the total capital in what had by then become the Butterley Company) to his son Francis. After ten years of retirement, he died in 1840.


William Jessop (1745 – 1814)

William Jessop

William Jessop was born on January 23rd 1745 at Plymouth Dock to parents Josias Jessop and Elizabeth Foot. He was educated at Devonport where he proved to be an excellent scholar, becoming fluent in French and also gaining an excellent appreciation of mathematics and science. He was also very adept at making things in both wood and metal. His father, Josias was a shipwright who had been in charge of the first Eddystone lighthouse, destroyed by fire in a storm in December 1755.

The famous engineer John Smeaton was asked to build a new lighthouse for which he employed Josias to supervise the work yard at Millbay, employing twenty six men.  In 1759, Smeaton took on young Jessop as an apprentice to serve a ‘clerkship’.  In 1761, Josias died and William’s mother ran into financial problems trying to support him. His apprenticeship was rescued by one of Smeaton’s friends who agreed to further support him which resulted in him moving to Smeaton’s home at Austhorpe Lodge near Leeds. He continued as an apprentice until 1767 then an assistant until 1772. After taking up his apprenticeship in 1759, he became involved in many of Smeaton’s projects, gaining valuable experience which eventually led him to become in his own right a renowned engineer in the fields of canal, river and harbour construction as well as drainage and bridge construction.

In 1788, after many years of working with Smeaton and branching out with his own projects, he was appointed by Arkwright of Cromford to make a survey of the proposed Cromford Canal. The committee’s secretary was one Benjamin Outram.  Jessop’s proposal for the canal was accepted by the committee on December 18th, one signatory on the acceptance report being that of Francis Beresford. Jessop was then appointed as the canal’s principal engineer with Outram as his full time superintendent. During the construction of the canal, Jessop in 1791 (along with John Wright) became a partner in Outram & Co, the Deed of Partnership being signed on December 10th 1792. He did not however become involved in the day to day running of the Company, but used many of the Company’s products such as rails and pumps in his many projects such as the West India Docks on the River Thames and the Bristol Floating Dock.

In 1777, he married Sarah Sawyer, with whom he had seven sons and one daughter and moved to Newark in 1783. After Outram’s death in 1805, he took up residence in Butterley Hall. Their eldest son John was a military man, who lived the life of a country gentleman after the Battle of Waterloo. His second son Josias was also an engineer and surveyor, but died at an early age after surveying the route for the Cromford & High Peak Railway. This resulted in William Jessop (becoming known as ‘Jessop the Younger’) taking over his father’s involvement in the Butterley Company after his death on November 18th 1814 (the name was changed in 1807 from Outram & Co). He ran the Company with John Wright and later John’s son, Francis Wright, until his death in 1852. William Jessop (Senior) was buried in Pentrich churchyard, his wife Sarah following him on December 21st 1816.