Joshua Fielden (politician)

Joshua Fielden JP (8 March 1827 – 9 March 1887) was a British cotton manufacturer and Conservative politician.

Joshua Fielden

Member of Parliament for Eastern Division of the West Riding of Yorkshire
In office
1868  1880
Preceded byNew constituency
Succeeded byAndrew Fairbairn
Sir John Ramsden, Bt
Personal details
Born(1827-03-08)8 March 1827
Todmorden, Calderdale, West Yorkshire, England
Died9 March 1887(1887-03-09) (aged 60)
Cannes, France
Political partyConservative
Ellen Brocklehurst
(m. 1851; his death 1887)
ParentsJohn Fielden
Anne Grindrod
ResidenceNutfield Priory

Early life

Fielden was born in Todmorden on 8 March 1827. He was the son of the Radical politician John Fielden of Todmorden, and his first wife, Anne Grindrod of Rochdale.[1][2]

In 1869, Fielden's uncle Thomas died; his will (proved in 1870) divided an estate of £1.3m equally amongst his three nephews.[3]


After education at a Unitarian school in Switzerland, returned to England to act as his father's private secretary,[4] and to work in the family textile firm, Fielden Brothers. He became a partner in the firm in 1852.[1] The business was very successful and profitable, and the Fielden family dominated public life in Todmorden, controlling the town's local board and preventing the erection of a workhouse in Todmorden until the 1870s.[1][2] He was a justice of the peace for both Lancashire and Yorkshire (Todmorden being divided between the two counties).[2]

Joshua played a part in the opposition to the Factory Act of 1850 which added two hours to the working week in order to secure an end to the relay system. By the 1860s Fielden was again becoming involved in national politics, notably by his campaign against the Malt Tax. He also continued to argue for shorter working hours for labourers, while seeking cuts in government expenditure and (although a Dissenter) was opposed to the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland.[5]

After receiving his inheritance from his uncle in 1869, Joshua retired from the family business and purchased the 300-acre (120-hectare) Nutfield Priory Estate, near Redhill, Surrey.[1] He rebuilt Nutfield Priory as a Gothic mansion, employing John Gibson as his architect. Gibson had already worked for Fielden in Todmorden: he was responsible for the Town Hall, the Unitarian church and for extending Stansfield Hall.[1][6] He moved from Stansfield Hall to Nutfield in 1872, hiring a special train to move his possessions.[1] In 1885 he became a JP for Surrey.[7] He led an increasingly extravagant lifestyle, having withdrawn his capital from the family firm in 1879.

He was a director of the South Eastern Railway from 1874[8] to 1879.[9] in 1877 he led the Board in passing a vote of censure on the chairman (Sir Edward Watkin) and requiring the resignation of Watkin's son Alfred Watkin from the SER's employment.[10][lower-alpha 1] When the shareholders voted to give Sir Edward extraordinary powers, Fielden resigned; he was replaced on the board by Alfred Watkin.[12]

Member of Parliament

In August 1868, he was selected along with Christopher Denison as Conservative candidates for the two-seat Eastern Division of the West Riding of Yorkshire in the general election of that year.[13] Accused of betraying his father’s principles, he "defended his father from the imputation of being a Liberal",[14] noting that Conservative MPs such as Lord John Manners and Benjamin Disraeli had supported John Fielden's Ten Hours Act.[lower-alpha 2] He supported extension of the Factory Acts and opposed centralising 'reforms' which took power away from local bodies; the New Poor Law showed how much evil they could bring about.[16] Both Conservatives were elected to serve in the Commons, and Fielden was a Member of Parliament for 12 years. In 1871, he was described as "one of those obstinately independent members whom nobody and nothing can move".[17] That year he declared himself to be, like the rest of his family, a Cobbettite Radical and hence wishing to defend and purify the existing Constitution, not (like those now calling themselves Radicals: Sir Charles Dilke, John Bright, and indeed Mr Gladstone himself) to make dangerous innovations on theoretical grounds.[18]

He was in poor health from April 1876 onwards,[19] being absent from Parliament for most of the next year[20] and in later years thinking it imprudent to attend when there was a heavy fog.[21] He took up yachting for his health and in 1879[22] indicated he would not stand at the 1880 general election,[1][23] subsequently spending much of his time sailing in his yacht Zingara.[1]

Personal life

In 1851, he married Ellen Brocklehurst (1830–1929), the daughter of Thomas Brocklehurst and a niece of John Brocklehurst, MP for Macclesfield. In the same year of his marriage, he purchased Stansfield Hall outside Todmorden as his residence.[1][2] Two of Joshua Fielden's sons were to have parliamentary careers. Their children included:[24]

Joshua Fielden died in March 1887 at the Hotel Monte Carlo, Cannes, France.[23][28] In spite of his lavish spending, he left an estate in excess of half a million pounds. He left Nutfield Priory and an annual income to his wife. The remainder of his property was divided between his 4 sons and 8 daughters. This included Stansfield Hall, estates at Hollins, Middletown Towers, Walsden and Rochdale, and Smithyholme and Rochdale Mills.[28] He was buried in the churchyard of the church he and his brothers had built in Todmorden on 15 March.[1]


In 1865, Joshua and his brothers provided funds for the building of Todmorden Unitarian Church.;[1] they later paid for the building of the town hall.[1] Joshua was a strong Unitarian, and together with his older brother Samuel, helped to sustain the denomination in northern England by the paying of salaries to ministers.


  1. Alfred had been appointed locomotive superintendent of the SER on condition that he would treat it as a full-time job; he had continued to hold directorships in other railway companys controlled by his father; with the support of his father (who had commandeered the SER's company secretary to run the election campaign) Alfred had been elected MP for Great Grimsby but saw this not as reason to resign, but rather one to ask for a deputy to assist him with his SER duties.[11]
  2. To a modern reader, Lord Shaftesbury might seem the most obvious Conservative supporter to cite, but he was out of favour with the Fieldens.[15] The Liberals had originated the 'Compromise Act' Factory Act of 1850 which (slightly) undid the Ten Hour Act; Manners (and Disraeli) had opposed it, but Shaftesbury had insisted on the Ten Hour Movement accepting it.


  1. "Fielden, Joshua (1827–1887)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 2004. Retrieved 23 May 2009.
  2. Mair, Robert Henry (1870). Debrett's Illustrated House of Commons and the Judicial Bench (PDF). London: Dean & Son. p. 100. Retrieved 12 May 2009.
  3. "Will of the Late Mr Thomas Fielden". Manchester Times. 5 March 1870.
  4. Letter from Fielden 24 January 1872, published as"Mr Isaac Holden and the Ten Hours Bill". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. 26 January 1872.
  5. "To the Electors of the Eastern Division of the West Riding of Yorkshire". Bradford Daily Telegraph. 20 August 1868.
  6. "Nutfield Priory Estate, Deeds and Papers 1536 - 1920". Exploring Surrey's Past. Surrey History Centre. Retrieved 23 May 2009.
  7. "Nutfield". Surrey Mirror. 16 May 1885.
  8. "Railway Intelligence: The South-Eastern". Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser. 31 January 1874.
  9. "The South-Eastern Railway". London Standard. 13 February 1879.
  10. "Sir Edward Watkin and the South-Eastern Railway". Exeter and Plymouth Gazette. 9 October 1877.
  11. "The South-Eastern Railway and Mr Watkin MP". Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser. 29 October 1877.
  12. (advertisement) "South-Eastern Railway Company". London Standard. 5 January 1880.
  13. "Election Intelligence". The Times. 4 August 1868. p. 7.
  14. "The Eastern Division of the West Riding. Mr Denison and Mr Fielden at Baildon and Yeadon". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. 14 November 1868.
  15. Letter from Joshua Fielden 21 May 1869 printed as "The Oastler Monument". London Standard. 24 May 1869.
  16. ". The Eastern Division of the West Riding Conservative Meeting at Leeds". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. 14 October 1868.
  17. "Political". Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette. 24 August 1871. which reused the facetious soubriquet of 'self-acting mule' applied to his father
  18. "Todmorden Working Men's Conservative Association : Speech of Mr Joshua Fielden MP". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. 7 December 1871.
  19. "Mr Fielden MP". Leeds Mercury. 24 August 1876.
  20. letter from Fielden dated Hotel Belleview,Cannes, 19th February 1877 printed as "Copy of letter from Joshua Fielden Esq MP to Peter Rylands Esq MP on the Prisons Bill". Burnley Gazette. 3 March 1877.
  21. "Mr Fielden MP". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. 9 February 1878.
  22. "Election Intelligence: Retirement of Mr Joshua Fielden MP". Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser. 29 October 1879.
  23. "Obituaries". The Times. 10 March 1887. p. 6.
  24. Fishwick, Henry (1889). The History of the Parish of Rochdale in the County of Lancaster. J. Clegg. p. 464. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  25. Burke, Sir Bernard (1898). A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain & Ireland. Harrison & Sons. p. 514. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  26. "Sargent - The Complete Works - Portrait of Beatrice Alice Fielden". Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  27. Who's Who 1910: An Annual Biographical Dictionary. Sixty-Second Year of Issue. London: A. & C. Black. 1910. p. 985. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  28. "The Late Mr. Joshua Fielden". The Times. 28 April 1887. p. 4.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for
Eastern Division of the West Riding of Yorkshire

With: Christopher Beckett Denison
Succeeded by
Andrew Fairbairn and
Sir John Ramsden, Bt
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