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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. In time the five brothers of the family came to be partners in Fielden Brothers, based at Waterside Mill, Todmorden, and one of the largest textile companies in Britain.

From childhood, and his experience in his father's mill, John developed a keen concern for improving the welfare of workers, especially children, and his sympathies were broadly shared by his brothers. The fluctuating economic fortunes of the turn of the 19th century, which had a severe effect on the poor around Todmorden and contributed to the movements of Luddism and Chartism, confirmed his radicalism and over the years he earned himself the local nickname of 'Honest John' and his statue today stands in Centre Vale Park, Todmorden.

The Fielden Brothers petitioned Parliament to legislate for the protection of child workers in 1816, and began advocating a minimum wage when declining incomes took their toll on poorer livelihoods in the early 19th century. Active in the Manchester Political Union, agitating for adult male suffrage, by 1831 he had co-founded the Todmorden Political Union. In 1832 he and William Cobbett were elected Radical MPs for the Oldham constituency. These two had been key figures in the campaign leading to the 1832 Reform Act and became leaders of the parliamentary reform movement.

Fielden bitterly opposed the 1834 Poor Law Act and compensation payments to former slave-owners, and supported national public education (voting against measures giving financial aid to church schools) and reduced working hours for factory children and other workers. This last campaign finally led to the Ten Hours Act of 1847, which 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 only be realised incrementally.

John Fielden was a practising Unitarian and in 1824 funded the construction of the first Unitarian Chapel in Todmorden, where he was buried following his death at Skeynes in Kent. The present Grade 1 Listed Unitarian Church, built in 1865-69, was financed in their father's memory by his three sons.

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