Honest John and his sons

Dobroyd Castle, West Yorkshire (2007)

Dobroyd Castle, West Yorkshire (2007)

The Pennine border-town of Todmorden is founded on the acumen and discipline of the Fielden family, and particularly “Honest John” Fielden (1784-1849).  The son of a clothier, he built up the Fielden Brothers’ cotton-spinning business and pursued an energetic political career as MP for Oldham alongside William Cobbett.  As a successful millowner, he argued a powerful case for an eight-hour day, saying that shorter working days would equally benefit factory-owners and workers by restricting production and thereby increasing prices and wages.

He also founded the first Unitarian church in Todmorden, and served as its Sunday School superintendent, exerting a “severe and wholesome discipline”.

He handed on the business, first to his brother Thomas (1790-1869), and then to his three sons, Samuel (1816-1889), John (1822-1893) and Joshua Fielden (1827-1887).

Fielden Brothers became an extremely powerful business, employing at its peak two thousand workers with, in addition to the Todmorden mills, trading offices in Manchester, Liverpool, London and New York.  In the period 1850-65 it generated net profits of around £1.2 million.  During the cotton famine of 1861-5, Fieldens paid half wages to their unemployed workers for road-building and other public works.

Of the three, Joshua was the most prominent.  He became a Conservative MP, retired from the business in 1869 and bought Nutfield Park, Surrey.  There and on his yacht, Zingara, he lived an opulent lifestyle, particularly after giving up his parliamentary seat in 1880.  He died at Cannes, and was brought back to Todmorden for burial:  despite his expensive tastes he left an estate of half a million pounds.

John Jnr lived a quite different lifestyle.  He chose as his wife a mill-girl called Ruth, for whom he built Dobroyd Castle, designed by John Gibson and completed in 1869 at a cost of £71,589.  This sombre, domineering pile on a hill high above the town remained in family ownership until 1942, when it became a Home Office approved school for boys and later an independent boarding school for boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

In 1995 it was purchased for £320,000 by the New Kadampa Buddhist Tradition and opened as the Losang Dragpa Centre for meditational retreats.  The Buddhists peremptorily moved out in August 2007, and the Castle reopened as an outdoor pursuits centre, operated by Robinwood Activity Centres [http://www.robinwood.co.uk/activitycentres/dobroydcastle], in March 2009.

Dobroyd Castle is not open to the public.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

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