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Fielden, John

Fielden, John (1784–1849). Factory reformer, whose career illustrates the sometimes paradoxical nature of early Victorian radicalism. A wealthy cotton-spinner, whose mills dominated Todmorden (then in Lancs.), Fielden was a friend and admirer of Cobbett. He held that the welfare of labouring people should be the primary aim of all political endeavour, to be promoted by legislation in Parliament and by local action in the community. As MP for Oldham from 1832 he tirelessly sponsored bills to regulate minimum wages and hours of child labour in mills, and supported Oastler and the operatives' short time committees. In 1833–4 he collaborated with Robert Owen in the National Regeneration Society for an eight-hour day. His pamphlet The Curse of the Factory System was published in 1836, but it was not until 1847 that his Ten Hours Bill was finally passed. Fielden fought hard against the New Poor Law and by his encouragement of direct action delayed its introduction into Todmorden. He supported chartism, though withdrew from a position of leadership in 1839.

John F. C. Harrison

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