It has long been part of our family’s oral history that the Fielden family in England were farmers. Uncle Jim explained that before the family immigrated to Canada, William Fielden was a “crofter”, a term used for a tenant farmer. It’s an interesting tidbit about the Fielden’s life. But it’s simply not true.
Before coming to Canada, the Fieldens lived in the town of Todmorden, England. In 1821, William Cobbett wrote the following description of Todmorden while on a horseback tour of the area.
“Here are never ending chains of hillocks; hill after hill, and hill upon hill, the deep valleys winding about in every direction, and every valley having a river or run of water, greater or less. By the side of the river or rivulet, where it is of any considerable size, which is the case here, there is a canal.”
“The water is made use of for all the various purposes of machinery; for the conveyance of goods of all sorts, so that you see no such thing as a team of horses or a wagon; and the land being a bed of stone, one bed of solid stone, with a little slight covering of earth upon it, and there being not the slightest appearance of corn field, barns or ricks; not the slightest appearance of cattle being kept; I having seen with my own eyes more corn collected together, and more sheep folded on one single farm in Wiltshire than I have seen, put all together, in all the miles and miles that I have ridden in Lancashire and Yorkshire.” (From – Cobbett, William, “A Description of the Scenery and People of Todmorden in 1821”, The Hull Packet and Humber Mercury; (Hull, England), Tuesday February 2, 1830; Issue 2359.)
While Todmorden is a beautiful town in England, it’s geography simply did not support farming. Instead, Todmorden was the site of a number of cotton mills and most residents made their living working in those mills.
The attached England Census documents show the Fieldens working in the mills in both 1851 and 1861. William was the first of three generations of mill workers. William in England, son James in Canada, and grandchildren Alice and Retta in America – all spent a good deal of their lives in mills.