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British Industrial History

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John Fielden

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Fielden, John (1784–1849), of Fielden Brothers industrialist and politician

1784 Born the third son of Joshua Fielden,a Quaker who about the time of John's birth set up as a cotton spinner in Todmorden. Joshua started cotton spinning in a small way, but by his exertions and those of his sons Fielden Brothers grew to be one of the largest cotton manufacturers in England.

1832 According to William Cobbett they were involved in spinning weaving and printing and employing over 2,500 persons. Cobbett also stressed that the brothers were "famed for their goodness to every creature who is in their employ ...let others do what they may, these gentlemen have preferred a little profit, and even no profit, to great gains from half starvation of the people from whose labour they derive those gains"

John began working in the family mill "when I was little more than ten years old", and was therefore able in later life to speak from personal experience of the unsuitability for children of that age of even a ten-hour day. When slightly older, he assisted his father with the purchase of raw materials and sale of finished goods - attending market in Manchester involved a round trip of 40 miles on foot, and a twenty-hour day.

1811 After the death of his father in 1811, and of his eldest brother Samuel in 1822, John was responsible for purchasing and sales, his brother Thomas looked after a permanent warehouse Fieldens set up in Manchester, James looked after production, and the eldest surviving brother (Joshua) was responsible for machinery.

Whilst Todmorden was at some distance from ports and home markets, the firm's main site at Waterside lay in a narrow valley used first by the Rochdale Canal and then by the Manchester and Leeds Railway (which the Fieldens helped establish, John being a member of the company's provisional committee) as part of an indirect but relatively low-level route between Manchester and Leeds, and the firms' expansion was helped by the consequent improvement in communications. In addition to the establishments owned by Fielden Brothers in and around Todmorden, individual members of the family also owned mills in their own right; for example in 1844 Robinwood Mill was bought (largely built, but unglazed and without motive power) by John Fielden - however he did not operate it as a separate concern, but let it to the family firm.

In 1846, the firm was said to be processing 200,000 pounds of cotton per week; thought then to be the largest weekly consumption of cotton of any firm in the world. A correspondent for the Morning Post reported that within 2 miles of Todmorden there were thirty-three mills, eight of them operated by Fielden Brothers :

Owing to the excellent example of the Messrs. Fielden, who employ upwards of 2,000 hands, the factories here are much better regulated, and greater regard paid to the health and morals of the workpeople than in most other places which I have visited. This firm have always worked their mills less time than that sanctioned by the Legislature, and have done their utmost to sustain the wages and mitigate the toil of their workpeople. Whenever a man meets with an accident they give him half wages during his illness, and pay for medical aid. They also change to less laborious and more healthy employment those who have become incapacitated for great exertion.

In 1811, he married Ann Grindrod of Rochdale, and bought and converted the "Coach and Horses" public house (opposite the Fieldens' Waterside Mill) as a family home named Dawson Weir. They had 7 children:

  • Jane (1814),
  • Samuel Fielden (1816),
  • Mary (1817),
  • Ann (1819),
  • John (1822),
  • Joshua (1827-1887) and
  • Ellen (1829).

Alice (Ann) died in 1831;John remarried Elizabeth Dearden of Halifax in 1834; she survived him, dying in 1851.

1849 Obituary [1]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser - Saturday 16 June 1849