Fielden family of Todmorden

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This is a backup of the West Yorkshire Archive Service's "Off the Record" wiki from 2015. The live went offline in 2016 and remains unavailable.

The following source list was originally available only on paper in one of the West Yorkshire Archive Service offices. It may have been compiled many years ago and could be out of date. It was designed to act as a signpost to records of interest on a particular historical subject, but may relate only to one West Yorkshire district, or be an incomplete list of sources available. Please feel free to add or update with any additional information.

Fielden family of Todmorden

Joshua Fielden (1748-1811) was the founder of the Todmorden cotton-manufacturing firm which played such an important part in the town's development. He was a farmer-woollen weaver at Edge End Farm, Walsden, but when he saw the potential of cotton he moved to 3 cottages at Laneside, Walsden, by the turnpike and river. Here he began preparing and spinning cotton yarn. A 5-storey mill was later built, and in 1794 Lumbutts Mill was tenanted. He died in 1811 and in 1816 the name of the Firm was changed from Joshua Fielden and Sons to Fielden Brothers. The Family acquired further mills at Robinwood, Dobroyd, Stoneswood, Causey, Smithyholme, Waterstalls, etc.

John Fielden

John Fielden was the 3rd son of Joshua Fielden and was born in Todmorden on 17 Jan 1784. At the age of ten John was required to work in his family's cotton factory for ten hours a day. When he had served his apprenticeship his father made John and his four brothers partners in Joshua Fielden & Sons. When Joshua Fielden died in 1811, the business was still fairly small. Joshua left £200 in cash and the property and machinery was estimated to be worth £5000. Jointly run by John and his four brothers, Samuel, Joshua, James and Thomas, the business expanded rapidly over the next few years. John married Ann Grindrod, the daughter of a Rochdale grocer in 1811. The couple had seven children: Jane (1814), Samuel (1816), Mary (1817), Ann (1819), John (1822), Joshua (1827) and Ellen (1829). John Fielden's wife died of a heart attack in 1831 after seeing a child drown in the local canal. When the wages of factory workers began to fall in the 1820s, Fielden started advocating the introduction of a minimum wage. Fielden argued that if workers were paid a decent wage, this would be good for the British economy as it was increase spending on manufactured goods. He also believed that low wages and long hours had a disastrous effect on the health of the workers. As an employer Fielden practiced what he preached and paid good wages to his workers. In an attempt to improve wages Fielden gave support to John Doherty and his Grand Union of Operative Spinners. Fielden also worked with Doherty in the formation of the Society for the Protection of Children Employed in Cotton Factories.

Business history

By 1832 Fielden Brothers was one of the largest textile companies in Britain and their assets stood at £300,000. The company owned 684 power looms and was responsible for about one per cent of the total cloth being produced in Yorkshire and Lancashire. By the 1840s, Samuel Fielden, John's son, had become the dominant figure in the Fielden Brothers Company. In 1845 John Fielden purchased a small country estate, Skeynes, near Edenbridge in Kent. He died there on 29th May 1849 and he is buried in a simple grave at Todmorden Unitarian Chapel. By 1850, the firm employed 1,700 factory hands at their 11 Todmorden Mills (including Waterside, Robinwood, Lumbutts, Jumb, Smithy Holme, Waterstalls, Causeway and Dobroyd) and another 200 at their mill in Mytholmroyd. In 1889, they became Fielden Brothers Ltd, and in 1956 a subsidiary "Waterside Plastics Ltd" was established. In 1966, Fielden Brothers Ltd changed their name to Waterside Plastics Ltd.

Political reform

Brought up as a Quaker, John Fielden had been taught at an early age to be concerned about the welfare of the people the company employed. John Fielden's main political activity concerned factory legislation. Although Fielden personally believed that a ten-hour day was too long for children, he supported the campaign for a ten-hour day, as he was aware this was the only thing that Parliament would accept. In 1816 the four brothers presented a petition to Parliament that argued for factory legislation to protect child workers. It was a long hard struggle and it was not until 1847 that Parliament passed the Ten Hours Act. As Lord Ashley had been defeated in the General Election earlier that year, John Fielden had the task of taking the Act through Parliament. Although Ashley had been the official leader of the factory reformers, no one had done more than Fielden to obtain this reform. John Fielden believed that adult men should have the vote and was active in the Manchester Political Union. He established the Todmorden Political Union and in 1831 Fielden and William Cobbett were selected as Radical candidates for Oldham in the election that followed the passing of the 1832 Reform Act. Cobbett and Fielden both won easily and became the leaders of the reform movement in the House of Commons. After the death of Cobbett in 1835, reformers relied heavily on John Fielden to put their case in the House of Commons. Campaigns supported by Fielden included the six demands of the Chartist movement and opposition to the 1834 Poor Law Act. Fielden also campaigned against the payment of compensation to slave owners and supported revision of the Corn Laws. Fielden was also in favour of a national system of education under public control and always voted against measures that attempted to give financial aid to church schools.

Local influence

Apart from being Todmorden's largest employers, the family also contributed to the town's development in many ways. Waterside Mill had its own gas works from 1830, the first to be established by a private company, and the surplus gas was sold to houses near the mill. John Fielden was a Director of the Leeds to Manchester Railway and helped to ensure that the railway came through Todmorden, close to Waterside Mill. In 1822 Fielden was a founding member of the Todmorden Unitarian Society, a religious group active in the social reform movement. Two years later, Fielden funded the building of the Unitarian Chapel. Fielden also established and taught at the Unitarian School in the village. For further information on the Fielden Family see "Fieldens of Todmorden. A Nineteenth Century Business Dynasty" by Brian R Kaw, 1995. Available at the Central Library, Halifax.