Honest John? What of him?


Land amassed. What what the Fielden interest in Ogley Hay, and were their motives pure?

Well – that’s Christmas and New Year over, back to business, as it were…

Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler has been musing on this interesting point over the holiday. He noted that in the work of Gerald Reece on the subject of the development of Ogley Hay, reproduced here a few weeks ago, the Fielden empire was noted as being involved in the wheeler-dealing over the Ogley farm lands.

Gerald notes:

[Around 1866, the Ogley Farm Lands were] acquired by the firm of Fielden Brothers of Todmorden in Yorkshire. The four Directors of the Company were not brothers at all but were in fact the two brothers and two sons of John Fielden the self made millionaire industrialist who had transformed the cotton industry in the North of England. In a round-about way he had a link with the people of Brownhills. It was partly through his efforts that the exploitation of women and children in the Coal Mining Industry was abolished. Although a ‘Big Boss’ himself he introduced and backed several Acts into Parliament for the improvement of working conditions in factories and mines. The Fielden Brothers held the estate as security on a loan until March 1868 when it became theirs by right through default. They quickly sold it on for £8,500 to Thomas and William Henry Hill, brothers, of Walsall.

Peter is interested in reader thoughts on the following, in which he makes some very intriguing observations. Please comment here, or mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

Peter wrote:

Hi Bob,

Thanks to Gerald and yourself for the sections of the book that deal with Ogley Square, it sheds more light on the discussions that took place in the articles.

Intrigued by Gerald’s tenuous link between ‘Honest John’, John Fielden (1784-1849) and the people of Brownhills, I tried to dig a bit deeper. Why were the Big Boys speculating around Ogley Hay, in what, to them, would seem to be small beer?

The Fielden family started business in a small way when Joshua Fielden (1745-1803), the father of ‘Honest John’, moved his farm in the hillside above Todmorden down into the Vale and took over three cottages. At first he was engaged in the hand spinning and weaving of woollen cloth, and after his death in 1803 the firm changed from Joshua Fielden and Sons to Fielden Bros, and the business was steadily built up over the years to become one of the biggest in the country. In 1833 they had assets of £300,000, and by 1858 they employed 1700 people.

‘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.’

In 1912 they had 100,000 spindles and 1,600 looms.

There were five brothers, Samuel (who died early in 1822), Thomas, Joshua, ‘Honest John’ and James. Joshua was the mechanic, James the manager of the work people, ‘Honest John’ the system man in all arrangements, and Thomas the merchant. The brothers, and indeed their successors, all seem to have been of the same political and generous persuasion. 

Thomas was the last survivor of the five brothers and died in 1869, just after the time refered to by Gerald, and the “Brothers” were the three sons of “Honest John”. Thomas had based himself in Manchester, and in 1835 established a house in Liverpool called Wildes, Pickergill and Co, which became Fielden Bros and Co in 1842. He also established WC Pickersgill and Co in New York.

In 1966 Fielden Bros Ltd changed its name to Waterside Plastics Limited, and endures to the present as Waterside Plastics Holdings Limited.

So why were they involved in the smallish land deal of Ogley Hay? Just before his death in 1869 Thomas remarked to a friend ‘I saw it in (the business), and I think I will see it out.’ Was the business having problems at the time? There is a mention that in 1879 one of the brothers, Joshua, to the disgust of the other brothers, took his money out of a ‘declining firm’, and spent more time in the South of France.

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