Dawson Weir

There was once a very old inn in the Dobroyd area of Todmorden known as the Coach and Horses. 'Honest' John Fielden (1784-1849) bought the inn on his marriage to Ann Grindrod in 1811 and converted it to a family home, naming the house Dawson Weir. John and his brothers, in partnership, were busy developing the Fieldens' cotton business in what was then a small spinning factory opposite Dawson Weir at Laneside. There was little else there at the time but fields, a few cottages, and a stretch of canal.
Over the coming years, the area grew and developed. The lane along the side of the house led to a couple of small mills and a roller-makers works owned by the Marland family. George Cockcroft had a slaughterhouse there. The canal ran along the back and there were several old cottages by the canal yard, not to mention a couple of shops - a butcher, a grocer, and a clogger.
On the other side of the road, the Fielden's factory had grown into the largest in the area, possibly in the country. It was by then known as WATERSIDE MILL. Further along the road were the offices, the Fielden Factory School, a large timber yard and a sawpit.

Waterside Mill about 1860


Dawson Weir was fixed firmly amidst the mill workers' cottages and local tradesmen, on the edge of the increasingly busy main road. The Fieldens acquired the small mills behind Dawson Weir and the area became built up with industry and overcrowded housing. There was little to show that the householder was a self-made man of substance.

John and Ann produced and raised seven children in this home, an eighth child died in infancy. The children were: Jane (1814), Samuel (1816), Mary (1817), Ann (1819), John (1822), Joshua (1827) and Ellen (1829 ).


Unitarian school and original chapel

The seven children were born in to a privileged life, the proverbial silver spoons in their mouths. However, their father who had deep religious convictions raised them within the working community. He brought them up as Unitarians, and the UNITARIAN CHURCH and Sunday school that he founded played an important role in their early lives.

John Fielden junior was the middle of the three sons of John and Ann. He was born in 1822 at Dawson Weir. He was known as Jack in his younger days, and when he reached an appropriate age, he was sent away to a private school. This was St. Domingo's House in Everton, Liverpool; a school run by a Swiss by the name of Voelker, who catered mainly for the sons of Non-Conformist Lancashire businessmen. In 1839, Voelker returned to Switzerland and some of his pupils went with him, including John.

He was outgoing, approachable, gregarious, and well liked by all people. His father made use of these qualities by starting him in the Fielden firm as a salesman in the Manchester warehouse. For John and his brothers, life was not all work as it had been for earlier generations of the family. They learnt to ride and shoot. John was very keen on horses and owned several himself.


By about 1840, the seven children had finished their education and it became time for them to find suitable marriage partners. This was not an easy task in the confines of Todmorden. John senior was now a man of property, substantial wealth and standing in the community, not to mention Member of Parliament, and in order to find suitable partners for his children he took them to London to meet his own influential friends.

John junior

The girls then wanted parties and dances back at their home in Todmorden, and John himself needed somewhere suitable for entertaining his political allies. Dawson Weir had outlived its purpose.

Centre Vale

John senior was persuaded to move. In 1842, he acquired Centre Vale House from the executors of Thomas Ramsbottom. Built in 1826, this house was comfortable yet prestigious, set within parkland reclaimed from farmland, it was no mansion, but a family home for a successful businessman. The family moved out of Dawson Weir, which was then given over to successive managers of WATERSIDE MILL.
John junior was not like his two brothers. Sam, the eldest, was overbearing and ill-tempered, intolerant of the views of others and had few friends. He was known locally as Black Sam. He remained at Centre Vale to the end. He had an unsurpassed sense of public duty and was a great philanthropist. He was the senior partner of the firm and took most of the control on his own shoulders. The youngest brother was Joshua. He was unfulfilled with what he described as the pettiness of local politics in Todmorden and the mundane running of his family business. He was self-important, vain, and openly insulted working men for their poverty. In 1870, he left Todmorden and his beautiful home at Stansfield Hall to live at Nutfield Priory in Surrey. Todmorden was too unfashionable for him and his political ambitions.
John on the other hand had no airs or graces. at this point in his life, although this was to change later. He enjoyed his local importance but always appeared to be a modest and simple man and his geniality endeared him to all those who met him. He shied away from absolute authority and was liked and respected by the Fielden employees and townspeople. He was happy to spend his time as a Magistrate and as Chairman of the Local Board and had no other ambitions. He was happy to leave the major business decisions to Sam and the political arena to Joshua.

John about 1870

The family's move to Centre Vale has to be the turning point in the life of John junior. Try as he did, he had been unsuccessful at finding a wife. It is recorded that he clearly enjoyed the company of young ladies, but none had captured his heart , that is until he moved to Centre Vale. There he met a beautiful young girl by the name of Ruth Stansfield. By this time, his father was dead, John was a full partner in the Fielden business and a man of means. He was living at Centre Vale and Ruth lived next door in a lowly farm cottage, Carr Barn.

Carr Barn

Ruth was born in this cottage in 1827. They were an ordinary working class family of dubious means. her father was a labourer. Ruth was poorly educated, and she worked as a power loom weaver in one of John's mills in Todmorden.
However, John was smitten. He commissioned a portrait of her in 1851, which shows her beauty and simplicity. I can only imagine that there was family objection to the relationship because they took another 6 years before they finally married. In the meantime, John continued to live in Centre Vale and Ruth continued to live with her parents at Carr Barn and carried on working in the mill.

Ruth's portrait of 1851


Ruth after her marriage

They did eventually marry in February 1857, but it was a quiet affair in Hammersmith, London. John's sisters, Mary and Ellen, were the witnesses. Ruth was aged 30, and John was aged 35. A sum of £69 was distributed as a gift to the workers in the Fielden mills to mark the marriage, but otherwise, there was no big ceremony in Todmorden or elsewhere.
John and Ruth set up home at Ashenhurst House, an old property on the Yorkshire side of the border. They set to work on improving the house and John ensured his bride would live the life of a lady by employing a live-in cook and housemaid, with a coachman in a neighbouring cottage.



Dobroyd House

After a few years at Ashenhurst, Ruth and John moved to Dobroyd House, which was more convenient to the factory at Waterside and larger than Ashenhurst.

Whilst they were living at Dobroyd House, there was an accident involving one of John's horses that would not have best pleased him. It was reported in the Manchester Times on August 28th 1852:

A serious accident occurred on Sunday morning last to a young man about 18 years of age, named Marshall, the son of Mr. Fielden’s groom of Dobroyd, Todmorden. The young man, in company with a companion about his own age, were riding the carriage horses belonging to Mr. Fielden near to Jacklee Gate in Langfield, and were racing, when Marshall by some means lost his seat and fell off, one foot sticking in the stirrup, and was dragged a short distance. Fortunately, the girth of the saddle broke, which liberated him. The youth was conveyed to a neighbouring cottage in a state of insensibility, being much bruised about his head, where he still remains, and great doubts are entertained of his recovery.

It is said that when they were courting, Ruth had said to John: "Build me a castle and I'll marry you." Whatever the truth, he did build her a castle. In 1865, John's uncle Thomas bought the Stones Estate and promptly sold it to John, who then put plans in to action to build a castle for his Ruth.

In 1866 John commissioned the family's favourite architect, John Gibson, to design his castle. The building was started in the May and on 11th October, Ruth laid the corner stone. The drawing opposite is the illustration produced by the architect for John's approval.

by kind permission of Roger Birch


On 16th May 1868 the rearing dinner was held at the Masons' Arms, Gauxholme. The event is described on page 395 of 'The Builder', 30th May 1868, kindly submitted by Alan Longbottom:

"Mr. John Fielden, as at the laying of the foundation stone of the castle, ordered to be provided at his expense a substantial dinner, with beer etc. to celebrate the rearing of Dobroyd Castle. The arrangements were made by Mr. W. Glover, clerk of works at the castle. At the Masons' Arms, Gauxholme, the entertainment was prepared and it was served up in an empty loom-shed near to the inn. The room was almost draped with evergreens. The company were upwards of 240 in number. At the head of the room was a platform or dais on which a pianoforte was placed, and a party from among the men at the castle sang various glees to enlighten the feast, and a song on the occasion by Mr. Morgan, one of the joiners, was sung by the composer. Mr. A. Stansfield of the masons. Mr. G. Carpenter of the carvers, Mr. J. Bruorton, clerk to Mr. Davis, and Mr. J. Pickles, mason, were the glee party. Two presentations were made during the evening, one to Mr. W. Glover, clerk of works, and another to Mr. Edwin Long, foreman over the masons. The proceedings were altogether orderly. Mr. Glover was in the Chair, assisted by Mr. Davis in the Vice-Chair."

The following summer the building was ready for Ruth and John to move in, which they did on July 1st 1869. The following week there was a monster treat for upwards of 300 workmen at the Lake Hotel, Hollingworth Lake. The party went by a special train accompanied by Todmorden Brass Band. A fortnight later, the treat was repeated at the Crown Hotel in Dulwich, London, for those of the workers who had returned to London before the official treat at Hollingworth Lake.

The event was again recorded in 'The Builder', kindly submitted by Alan Longbottom:

The Builder 1869 Vol XXVII
27th November 1869 page 945    

Dobroyd Castle, Todmorden

"At the dinner which Mr Fielden, on taking possession of the building, gave the workmen who had been engaged there, a song written for the occasion by one of the joiners, Mr. Morgan, was sung by the whole company. We are tempted to print it less by its poetical merits than by the good feeling it displays.

Tune - The Lass o' Gowrie".

When gratitude commands the tongue,
It may as well break forth in song;
May happiness continue long
With our sterling friend JOHN FIELDEN.

At Dobroyd Castle, may he prove
Through lengthen'd years the joys of love;
Pure as angels from above,
The love of MRS FIELDEN.

the fireplace then

His splendid Castle, well design'd,
Peerless, methinks, is of its kind -
The product of the master mind
Of the Architect, JOHN GIBSON.
To carry out a plan so vast
Required a man of no mean caste;
He has done it well from first to last,

An honest British workman here,
The Builder of this Castle fair -
There is no man, nor far or near,
Deserves success like DAVIS

the fireplace now


the salon

I feel a meed of praise is due
To all good masons, staunch and true;
Who, led by Love, have brought to view
This splendid Dobroyd Castle.
The carpenters and joiners too,
We know their work will bear review;
Led on by JENKINS, firm and true,
They've finish'd Dobroyd Castle. The carvers, too, have play'd their part;
Theirs truly is a work of art,
Almost enough to make you start,
On viewing Dobroyd Castle.

the lantern light above the salon


The decorations, rich and rare, -
You seldom see a scene so fair
As TROLLOPE & SON'S could show you there,
Inside fair Dobroyd Castle.

The gardeners, too, a sturdy band,
With KEMP'S good taste and CRAIG'S command,
Have made it seem a fairy land,
Around fair Dobroyd Castle.


With gladness did we hail the day,
We saw JOHN FIELDEN wend his way,
To take, possess,and make his stay,
At his fair Dobroyd Castle.

Now I must conclude my song,
For I fear 'tis rather long,
Wishing nothing bad or wrong
May come near Dobroyd Castle.



The Salon, or entrance hall , as shown in 'The Builder' in 1869. Submitted by Alan Longbottom

The saloon has changed hardly at all since it was built. It is lit from above by double lantern lights. The inner one is glazed with stained glass. The fireplace is magnificent, made with selected marbles in a rose pink, incorporating a mantle clock and arched mirror. The staircase, made of Spinkwell stone, is very imposing, with an oak handrail, gilded balusters. There are carvings depicting various English national sports, and of course, the cotton industry; picking cotton, packing it, working it in the mill. Everywhere you look there are carved shields, each bearing the intertwined initials of Ruth and John. It does seem to have been a true love affair between the couple.

The Castle boasted 66 rooms and large stables for 17 horses. The total cost of construction was £71,589.

The 1871 census shows us that Ruth and John were at the Castle with five maids, a footman, a porter and a groom. A gardener, coachman and butler were with their families in cottages on the estate. Shortly after that, John and Ruth fostered the 2 youngest children of John's sister, Ann Brocklehurst. Both Ann and her husband died in 1870, leaving 5 children. John was their executor. The eldest three were virtual adults, but Ernest and Constance Brocklehurst were just nine and seven respectively. The youngsters moved to live at Dobroyd with their uncle and aunt, who themselves were childless.

photo by kind permission of Frank Woolrych


Over the next few years, Ruth and John lived at their castle with their two adopted children. Ruth's social life centred round the Unitarian Church where she had many friends. John was also a committed Unitarian, and they held many fetes and fund raising events for their church in the grounds of the castle. By 1870, John's wealth increased significantly following the death of his uncle Thomas, and he was becoming restless. The comments in the press following the completion of his castle had hurt John; "ostentatious" and showing a "lack of taste" being amongst the comments.


His uncle Joshua married Else Mallinson way back in 1817. She was the daughter of a Lancashire farmer and sister of the Revd. Richard Mallinson, who from 1828 was the vicar of Arkholme in the Lune Valley. The family was wealthy and staunch Anglicans. The Fieldens and the Mallinsons continued their friendship throughout the rest of the century. The young John had spent many a holiday with these folk, hunting, shooting and riding with the gentlemen of the county and no doubt continued this into later life.

The Revd. Richard Mallinson had a daughter, Ellen, who was the same age as Ruth, and a son, John. The Fielden brothers employed John to manage their property interests. Ellen Mallinson was very close to both Ruth and John during their marriage, although of a very different breed than Ruth. Ellen was a Conservative in her politics, Anglican in her religion and very "establishment". I believe that Ellen and the rest of the Mallinson clan influenced John, perhaps persuading him that he needed to bolster his status, and become one of the landed gentry with a country estate. It would not have been hard to influence this genial and easy-going man.

Ruth on the other hand was finding it increasingly difficult to cope with being the wife of a prominent figure. Running a large household of servants and playing hostess at important functions was taking its toll on her.

Notwithstanding his wife's concerns, John pressed ahead with his plans. On July 1st 1872, he purchased the Grimston Estate near Tadcaster in the Vale of York. The Todmorden almanac reported:

"John Fielden Esq. Dobroyd Castle, purchased by auction the Grimston Park Estate for £265,000. The bidding commenced at £106,000 and in the short space of 12 minutes advanced £160,000, when it was knocked down to Mr. Fielden."

Ruth in 1870.


Grimston 1890

It was perfect for John. The house, situated in 600 acres of parkland, had several tenanted farms and cottages, making the whole estate some 2,875 acres. It was set close to several other country seats of the nobility and gentry, and was prestigious and convenient for Todmorden.

I imagine that Ruth hated it, and probably felt out of her depth amongst the Anglican county set and away from her Unitarian friends. She would be expected to host parties and dinners for the most prominent citizens in the knowledge that her guests were fully aware of her background, and would be watching her every move.

Their relationship during this period of their marriage must have deteriorated. There was vague gossip and rumour that Ruth spent much of her time away from John in her brother's house in Langfield, and that she took to the bottle as some sort of comfort. John would have found his wife's attitude to the enhanced status very difficult. He was anxious to impress the new society he had joined, and needed his wife by his side. Despite her problems and her unwillingness to participate in his new world, he still loved her and supported her.

Ruth was still attending the UNITARIAN CHURCH and associating with her friends there. When the church gained a license for marriages in 1873, she was present for the first ceremony. The Todmorden almanac reported:


"The first marriage celebration performed at the Unitarian Church between Mr. Joseph Sutcliffe, one of the bell ringers, and Miss Ann Holt, both of Cobden. Mrs. John Fielden, Dobroyd Castle, presented the newly married pair with a handsome Family Bible, a copy of Martineau's 'Hymns for the Christian Church and Home', and the service book used at the church."

Unitarian Church by kind permission of

Frank Woolrych

John was eager to share his new home with the people of Todmorden. He invited parties of his employees, of members of the Unitarian Church, and of other organisations such as the Todmorden Botanical Society to picnics and other festivities in the grounds, and the cricket club played matches there. He did not forsake Dobroyd Castle, dividing his time between the two houses, and he continued with his work as Chairman of the Todmorden Local Board and as a Magistrate.
Tragedy struck on the 18th April 1873. John was out riding with the Bedale Hunt on Catterick Racecourse when his horse kicked him. This left him permanently crippled and mostly reliant on a wheelchair. Not even this could stop him enjoying his life as Todmorden's most prominent citizen at Dobroyd, and as a country gentleman at Grimston.

It is widely rumoured that Ruth became an alcoholic. She and John were certainly estranged, which is a sad end to a fairy tale beginning. She spent a lot of time at Horsewood Farm in Langfield with her younger brother John Stansfield, and died on February 2nd. 1877 at Dobroyd Castle. She was aged 50. According to the doctor, she died of jaundice.

She is buried in the old Unitarian Chapel yard in an unmarked grave. The funeral, reported as 'a quiet and spontaneous display of respect', was attended by most of the family. The Rev. Lindsay Taplin, a long time friend of the family and minister at the church, officiated at the funeral service. The following Sunday, he described her as "one whose noble simplicity and unaffected tenderness and truthfulness, it was a privilege to know." He said that she had a heart full of goodness, charity and unassuming modesty.


After Ruth's death, it was Ellen Mallinson who consoled John, and within eight months, they were married. She was aged 50 and a spinster. She was fiercely ambitious and the driving force of the partnership.

The wedding was not a quiet affair like John's first. The couple chose St. George's Church in Hanover Square, London, a fashionable church for society weddings. The Fieldens were there in force, and brother Sam even signed the register as a witness. They must have been delighted that at last John had found a lady they thought would be a suitable wife.

St. George's. Drawing by

Thomas Shepherd



Ellen and John divided their time between Dobroyd and Grimston. She continued to have influence over him, persuading him to change his politics and his religion. They worshipped together at St. Mary's. his father would have turned in his grave. Ellen was efficient, managing both households perfectly, and taking care of the adopted niece and nephew.

In addition to her establishment outlook on life, she was a dedicated temperance advocate. In her honour, John had the Fielden Coffee Tavern built at a cost of £4,000. Erected in Fielden Square, or Pavement, it opened in December 1880.

The tavern in 1905


The Todmorden almanac reported on 30th December 1880:

"The Fielden Coffee Tavern, Pavement, Todmorden, was opened by the Bishop of Manchester. He and Mrs. Fraser were met at the station by John Fielden Esq. of Dobroyd Castle, at 12-05pm. After inspecting the tavern and declaring it open, the Bishop gave an address in the Town Hall on the advantages of coffee taverns."


In the event, the tavern fared poorly and within 4 years, the Conservative Association rented part of it and later bought the whole building, turning it into the Conservative Club in 1913.

No doubt at Ellen's insistence, the couple spent increasingly more time at Grimston where they hosted grand parties, shoots, and other events. The couple are resident at Grimston for the 1881 census along with Constance, two nephews and a couple of visitors. There are seven servants also in residence.


In 1882, his niece Constance Brocklehurst, was married at St. George's, Hanover Square, to Charles Fitzwilliam, a son of the Earl Fitzwilliam of Wentworth Woodhouse, and a captain in the Royal Horse Guards. John gave her away in the presence of both his brothers. The union was certainly a result of John's socialising at Grimston.


Despite his evident success in being accepted in to aristocratic society, John did continue with his work in Todmorden. He carried on with his duties at the mill, mainly the personnel matters, and continued with his work as Chairman of the Local Board and as a Magistrate. He presided at local events where he was always received warmly. However, criticism was creeping in about the amount of time he spent away from the town and the lifestyle he had adopted since his second marriage.

On the 5th March 1885, much to his delight, John was made the High Sheriff of Yorkshire, an unpaid job with no allowable expenses. It was a great honour, which would have pleased Ellen. It would not have suited Ruth at all. John had finally made it in high society.

In his last years, John became increasingly feeble. He died at Dobroyd Castle on 4th July 1893 aged 71. The Todmorden almanac announced:

"At 7 o'clock this morning, Mr. John Fielden JP., DL., of Dobroyd Castle, our foremost citizen, one whose name was a household word to us all, and who was honoured and beloved by all who knew him, died at his residence in his 71st year. He was the second son of the late John Fielden MP and the last surviving partner of the original firm of Fielden Bros."

John's last decision was an odd one. He always spoke of Todmorden as being his home and of his pleasure at being amongst his own people. So why did he decide to be buried at Grimston rather than near his brothers and his father in his hometown? Could this have been to please his rather overbearing wife? Probably.

His coffin went from Dobroyd to the railway station in Todmorden, passing lines of grief-stricken people. He is buried at the Parish Church at Kirkby Wharfe, near Grimston. The inscription on his headstone says:

In Memory Of John Fielden

Born July 8th 1822, died July 4th 1893

Also Ellen his wife

Born Sept. 14th 1827, died May 29th 1909.

Waiting for the coming of

Our Lord Jesus Christ

Ellen was well provided for in John's will, including a life interest in Dobroyd Castle. The estate at Grimston went to his brother Joshua's eldest son, Thomas. John also remembered Ruth's family, leaving small legacies to her brother and sister. Ellen lived on at Dobroyd, dying there in 1909. After her death, the family used the castle very infrequently and in 1942 it was sold for £10,000.

The building became registered as a Home Office approved school. Young males aged between 15 and 18 were sent by the courts to learn skills such as carpentry and building as well as continuing their education. In September 1979, the School closed but re-opened three months later as a privately run school for twenty boys with emotional and behavioural problems.

In 1995, monks from the New Kadampa Buddhist Tradition bought the Castle for £320,000 and the Losang Dragpa Centre was established. The centre offers meditation courses, weekend retreats and holds an annual open day. Proceeds and sponsorship from local businesses are used to raise funds for the repairs and restoration of the Castle.

The monks closed the centre in August 2007 and currently (March 2008), the castle is on the market with a guide price of excess £2.25M. Any takers?


I am indebted to Brian R. Law and his book 'Fieldens of Todmorden, a Nineteenth Century Business Dynasty', to Alan Longbottom for sending me the extracts from 'The Builder', and to Roger Birch and Robert Priestley for allowing the use of their photographs.