John and Joseph Fielden were the owners of textile mills at Todmorden, Yorkshire. John Fielden was also an MP who was responsible for the 1847 Factory Act. The brothers opposed the implementation of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act and did all in their power to ensure that it was not imposed on their town. The following account is of one incident when the Fieldens refused to co-operate with the Poor Law authorities. [Source: the Fifth annual Report of the Poor Law Commissioners, 1838. Transcribed and added by Marjie Bloy Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore. ]

decorated initial 'W' n Todmorden Union, immediately on the introduction of the new system, an attempt was made by the partners of the manufactory, as stated in our last Report, to prevent the peaceful operation of the law, by throwing the whole of their workpeople at once out of employment, and closing their works. This attempt to intimidate the guardians by endangering the peace of the neighbourhood, having been defeated by the promptitude of the magistrates, and the steady determination of the guardians, Messrs Fielden, on the 16th day of July re-opened their works.

On the guardians proceeding to assume the administration of relief, and to demand from the overseers of the several townships the sums necessary for this purpose, the overseers of Todmorden and Langfield (the townships in which Messrs Fielden's works are chiefly situate) adopted a course of passive resistance and disobedience to the law, in which they have persevered up to the present time. The overseers of the other townships having supplied the necessary funds, the guardians at once assumed the administration of relief to the poor of those townships; but the poor of Todmorden and Langfield have not been relieved by the Board of Guardians for want of necessary funds.

In the meantime the powers of the law have been exerted against the overseers of the two townships making default. The overseers of Todmorden have been convicted of a first and second offence on the 98th section of the Poor Law Amendment Act, and the fines of 5 in the first instance and of 20 in the second have been levied by distress upon the goods of one of them.

On the 16th November last two constables from Halifax, who were employed in executing a warrant of distress upon the overseer of Langfield, were violently assaulted and overpowered by a concourse of persons, the first assembling of which was accompanied by the ringing of a bell in one of Messrs Fielden's factories, from which a large number of workpeople issued, and took part in a riot which ensued. The two officers were stripped of their clothes, and otherwise brutally treated, and had great difficulty in escaping with their lives into the adjoining township of Stanfield: and here a further riot took place, accompanied by some destruction of property and an attack upon the building in which the guardians were accustomed to meet.

Such was the state of excitement and alarm occasioned by these unfortunate proceedings, that the magistrates, in their subsequent active exertions to apprehend the rioters, deemed it expedient on two occasions to call out a military force in support of the constables while engaged in making prisoners of some of the workmen in Messrs Fielden's mills. It has also appeared essential to the security of the neighbourhood that a combined force of infantry and cavalry should be stationed at Todmorden for the present.


Victorian History Poor Law

Last modified 12 November 2002