Famous Fielden People

Whilst the name of the Fielden family is commonly associated with the development of industry in Todmorden and in other parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, a number of them played a greater role in the development of the social history of the UK and USA.

John Fielden


John Fielden (1784-1849) was born at Todmorden into a Quaker family.  His father owned a business, Joshua Fielden & Sons, and at 10 years old, John began work as an apprentice in their cotton factory.

Based on his early experiences, John Fielden did not agree with 1834 Poor Law Act and supported national public education and reduced working hours for factory children and other workers. This last campaign finally led to the Ten Hours Act of 1847.  This limited women's work to ten hours a day and inevitably, due to the division of labour, also reduced men's and children's working day. Fielden's own preference from the start had been an 8- hour day for all, but he was aware that such an aim could not be achieved overnight.
In memory of his activities a statue was originally erected byTodmorden Town Hall in 1875.   It was then moved to Fielden Square in 1890.  It was moved to its present location in Centre Vale Park in 1939.

 Sam Fielden "The Anarchist" 



Tricia Fielden Knowles stands in front of the memorial to the 'anarchists' in Chicago.

The name Samuel Fielden is among other names on the plaque. The monument in bronze is a tableau of life size human figures around a wagon that is in pieces, standing on the cart is one figure holding up his hand clutching notes.  Samuel Fielden was the speaker when the police arrived to break up the gathering and he shouted ‘this is a peaceful gathering’ before shots were then fired into the crowd.

 Samuel Fielden was born in Todmorden but emigrated to the United States of America.  He became involved in the Labour movements which were fighting for the rights of workers. 

On the night of May 4th 1886, Todmorden born Sam Fielden was speaking at a rally at the Haymarket in Chicago in support of the eight hour working day. A dynamite bomb was thrown into a group of policemen who had just begun to disperse a small crowd of working men still milling about in the Haymarket in Chicago’s West Side.  One policeman was killed and several others were wounded.  The police immediately opened fire, and before the Haymarket Riot had ended several were killed and over 200 wounded.  A wave of hysteria swept Chicago and several Anarchists were indicted.  No sound evidence proved their connection with the actual bomb throwing and at the first hint of trouble.  Sam Fielden the last speaker, held up his notes shouting ‘this is a peaceful demonstration’
The bomb thrower was not identified.  But the police arrested the labour activists and on May 27th, 31 men were charged with being accessories to the murder of a policeman and injuring others. 
Sam,together with the other speakers, was arrested,tried and sentenced to death

Eight were chosen to stand trial: Albert Parsons, August Spies, Oscar Neebe, Louis Lingg, George Engel, Adolf Fischer, Michael Schwab and Samuel Fielden.  On June 21st the jury selection began and the jurors like the public at large have preconceived notions about the defendants' connection with the bombing. 

July 16th 1886 to August 11 1886 the trial testimony began.  The defendants, Fielden, Schwab, Spies and Parsons weree prosecuted as responsible for instigating the violence; a guilty verdict and DEATH SENTENCE was considered inevitable. Over a year later, on November 2nd 1887 The U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal, despite international campaign for clemency. Eight days later on the 10th November Louis Lingg committed suicide in his jail cell and on the following day Parsons, Spies, Engel and Fischer were executed. On the 12th November Fielden and Schwab were transported to Joliet prison where they join Oscar Neebe.

On June 26TH 1893, Illinois governor John Peter Altgeld pardons Neebe, Fielden and Schwab, after they had spent seven years on death row.  Governor Altgeld issued his famous pardon message in which he made it clear that he was not granting the pardon because he thought the men had suffered enough, but because they were "INNOCENT OF THE CRIME FOR WHICH THEY HAD BEEN TRIED" and that they and the hanged men had been victims of hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge. Trade Unions distributed 50.000 copies of the message.

Whilst on death row Samuel Fielden was asked to write the history of his life for publication in a newspaper. The following are selected paragraphs in Sam’s own words. 
"I was born in Todmorden, part of which is in the West Riding of Yorkshire and part in the East Riding of Lancashire.  I was born in the Lancashire part.  The town is like most towns in Lancashire – a manufacturing one. It lies in a beautiful valley, and on the hillsides are small farms; back about a mile are the moorlands, which could be made into fine farms, as the topography of the moors is more level than the enclosed land.  But though thousands of starving Englishmen would be very glad to work them, they must be kept for the grouse and the game keeper and the gentry. The farms are small running from 10 acres to 60 acres, The farms are all dairy, the milk being sold in town. There are numerous large mills in the town, Fielden Bros. being the largest; it contains 2,000 looms.
Here I was born in the year 1847, on the 25th day of February. My father’s name was Abram Fielden, he was one of a family of four sons and three daughters.  They were of very powerful physique; my father stood nearly six feet in height; they were a family of hand loom weavers, until the application of steam to weaving. This occurred when my father was hardly out of his teens.  My Father became a foreman when quite young in the mill of the Fielden Bros. where he worked until incapacitated by infirmities and age.  He was a man of more than ordinary intelligence, and was generally acknowledged to ‘know a thing or two’.   There were very few that cared to cross swords with him in argument among those with whom he came in contact.  My father was a peculiarly eloquent conversationalist, and the recital of the most ordinary incident from his lips bore the charm of romance.  When the Ten Hour movement was being agitated in England my father was on the committee of agitation in my native town, and I have heard him tell of sitting on the platform with Earl Shaftsbury, John Fielden, Richard Otler and other advocates of that cause.  I always thought he put a little sarcasm into the word earl, at any rate he had but little respect for aristocracy and royalty.  He was a Chartist, and I have heard him tell of many incidents connected with the Chartist agitation and movement.
He was also one of the incorporators of the Consumer’s Corporation society in the town of Todmorden and one of the managers of that society for a long time.  I remember that he used to go with the other managers to the warehouse of the store after he came home from work at night.  From a small room where these pioneers first stored and dispensed the few barrels of potatoes, a few barrels of flour, a barrel of molasses, one of sugar and a very limited supply of other items, that society has now risen to owning two stone buildings where they conducted their business until 1880, when I was there last, besides having branch stores in the outskirts of the town.  He also owned shares in some co-operative manufacturing establishments of the vicinity.  He was also one of the managers of a local Odd Fellow Benevolent Society and paid a handsome rate to its sick members and also to the families of its deceased members.
In his family relations my father was very severe, at the same time he was kind hearted in the extreme.  He was a great lover of children, and the children of all the neighbours used to make common property of his knees, but in his own house he was a strict disciplinarian, but, not withstanding this, there was hardly ever a father who was more idolized by his children than ours was.  There was such a sense of justice and right in all his severity that when we grew older we appreciated his motives.
Of my mother I cannot remember so much, as she died when I was a child of ten years.  I can remember her as small in stature, with dark eyes and hair, and with pleasing and regular features.  I remember in the later years of her life she was a very devoted member of the primitive Methodist church.  Her maiden name was Alice Jackson; the family to which she belonged was very poor, I have often heard her and father tell on the cold winter nights, when the wind would shriek around the corners of the house, of the first meeting of her and father. How she was walking in her bare feet through the snow, carrying a basket which contained sand, which she was trying to sell to the poor people to sprinkle on their stone flag floors.  You can imagine how poor a family must be when I tell you that this sand was sold for one half penny [one cent] a quart, and how much a child could carry in a basket, but they were compelled to put their children to this means of earning a few cents.  The sand they procured from refuse piles at quarries and picking out the whitest scraps, then taking them home and with a large stone beating them into fine sand.

I remember how she used to take my father’s rug and wrap it around her on class- meeting nights, and travel down the lonesome road which skirted to the top of the piece of woods which covered the side of the hill, to go on the coldest and roughest of nights to her class meetings. Such was my mother.

I remembered vividly the foreman under whom I worked in the cotton-mill coming to me and telling me that I was wanted at home, one summer afternoon.  I instinctively knew what it was, for my mother was sick when I left home.  With breathless haste and with beating heart I climbed the steep hill to find my mother dying.  My father was walking the floor.  He took me and led me to a chair on which he sat down and took me between his knees, He tried to tell me what I already knew, that my mother was dying.  But the words would not come, and he laid his cheek against mine until I released myself from him and rushed upstairs to the bedside of one who to every man’s best and truest friend and I saw the pale face of my mother. She was unconscious.  She gasped for breath.  Her breast heaved in the last throes of life.  Words cannot describe my feelings. It seemed that the bright summer day drew black, but I will not dwell on this painful scene.  But it had a wonderful effect on me, and I have had the scene before my mind in all the pain and anguish I have suffered and  all the changes in my life.  She was laid in the little church yard at Walsden under the hill.
On my visit to England in 1880 I went with an uncle of mine to see the grave. Since my visit home, my father has also found a resting place there.  He died August 27th 1886, the present year.  The Todmorden Adviser contained the following on August 27th 1886: Abraham Fielden of Burnley, formerly of Todmorden, a moral force chartist, died at Burnley on Friday last and was interred at Walsden churchyard.  I undoubtedly inherited from my father that hatred of shame and hypocrisy which I possess to some extent; from my mother that sympathy that I find it impossible not to feel for every form of suffering and which has impelled me to do something toward alleviating it, and I believe now today that I was fortunate in having such a father and mother.  But circumstances over which I had no control placed me under these influences and of my subsequent opinions, the readers will decide for themselves. 

When, I arrived at the mature age of 8 years, I, as was usual with the poor people’s children in Lancashire, went to work in the cotton mill, and if there is any of the exuberance of child hood about the life of a Lancashire mill hands child it is in spite of his surroundings and conditions, and not in consequence of it.   As I look back on my experience at that tender age I am filled with admiration at the wonderful vitality of these children.  I think that if the devil had a particular enemy whom he wished to unmercifully torture he would put his soul into the body of a Lancashire factory child and keep him as a child in the factory the  rest of his days.  The mill into which I was put was the mill established by John Fielden M.P., who fought so valiantly in the ten-hour movement.  It was then and is now conducted by his sons, Samuel, John and Joshua.  I continued to follow this work in the mill until I was 21 years old and in July 1868 I left for America.  I returned home in 1879 to fulfil a matrimonial engagement which I had entered into eleven years before.  We left for the United States in February 1880, the fruit of my marriage being a girl of two and a half and a boy born since my imprisonment.  On my return to America I invested what money I had in a team of horses, so that I became what the Chicago Tribune calls a capitalist. I have earned my living hauling stone from that time to the time of my arrest."


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