John Fielden

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John Fielden (17 January 1784 – 29 May 1849), also known as Honest John Fielden, was a British social reformer and benefactor.

Family Life[edit]

Fielden was the third son of Joshua Fielden, and began working in his father's mill at the age of 9. With his brothers, he expanded the family cotton business at Todmorden to become a wealthy businessman. In 1811, he married Ann Grindrod of Rochdale, and bought and converted the "Coach and Horses" public house as a family home named Dawson Weir. They had 7 children: Jane (1814), Samuel (1816), Mary (1817), Ann (1819), John (1822), Joshua (1827) and Ellen (1829).[1]

Fielden was in turn a Quaker, Methodist, and Unitarian. In 1865, with the help of architect John Gibson, he built a Unitarian church in Todmorden with a huge spire and colorful glass windows.


The Fieldens owned many mills, including one in Todmorden called Robinwood Mill. They spent £34,000 on the latest cotton-spinning equipment, and it created thousands of jobs. The mill consumed more raw cotton than any other firm in the country at the time.

In 1825, Fielden helped a company which planned to build a railway, so that it passed through Todmorden. This brought customers and trade to the growing village and its mill. This also included a viaduct, to provide Robinwood with water.

In 1829, Fielden Brothers introduced the power loom to the Calder Valley. Their Waterside Mill was the largest in the area. Fielden fought for shorter working hours, promoting the Ten Hours Act also known as the Factories Act 1847. He also protested against the new Poor Law. In 1833, he seconded a resolution to remove Sir Robert Peel from the Privy Council.


John Fielden was a Radical Member of Parliament for Oldham from 1832 to 1847, first elected alongside William Cobbett with whom he had been a key figure in the campaign leading to the Reform Act 1832.

In 1832, he published his The Mischiefs and Iniquities of Paper Money, and, in 1836, a pamphlet The Curse of the Factory System of which the preamble reads:

"A Short Account of the Origin of Factory Cruelties; of the Attempts to Protect the Children by Law; of Their Present Sufferings; Our Duty Towards Them; Injustice of Mr Thomson's Bill; the Folly of the Political Economists; a Warning Against Sending the Children of the South into the Factories of the North"

Following local riots, the government sent a group to investigate whether he had incited, encouraged or supported the rioters. He is buried at Todmorden Unitarian Chapel. During the Cotton famine of the 1860s, his family paid unemployed workers to build roads and buildings in the Todmorden district. In 18??, he married Elizabeth Dearden.


In 1880, the Fieldens built a hotel which didn’t serve alcohol, known as the Temperance Hotel. They tried to encourage the people of Todmorden to drink tea, coffee and chocolate instead.

Children's Lives[edit]

His eldest son Samuel (Black Sam)) became the senior partner in the business. His second son John built Dobroyd Castle in 1869, bought Grimston Park near Tadcaster in 1872 and was High Sheriff of Yorkshire for 1885. His third son Joshua moved to Nutfield Priory, Surrey in 1870 and was MP for the Eastern Division of the West Riding from 1868 to 1880.[1]


External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Oldham
With: William Cobbett 1832–1835
John Frederick Lees 1835-1837
William Augustus Johnson 1837–1847
Succeeded by
John Duncuft and
William Johnson Fox