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Ordnance survey map of DOBROYD CASTLE
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Calderdale (Metropolitan Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SD 92962 23809




II* Country house, 1866-9 by John Gibson for John and Ruth Fielden. Minor later-C20 alterations.

EXTERIOR: Pitch-faced local stone with ashlar dressings, bitumen roof (formerly lead). Castle style. 2 storeys with 4-storey entrance tower, embellished with numerous turrets and bay windows. The ground floor projections and four corner towers are battered in many cases, producing a rugged effect, but the windows are uniformly large and practical, being mostly of 2 lights with basket arched heads and all sashes. Plinth, strings and tower which has a battered porch of 2 storeys and a corner turret springing from parapet level. The entrance front is of 9 irregular bays, but the garden front to south is of 3 bays with corner turrets and is symmetrical. The house is prolonged to the north by the service accommodation which ends in a glazed court.

INTERIOR: The most impressive features are the central 2-storey hall and staircase hall, both square in plan and open to one another. The hall has triple arcades to three sides, the grand stair opening to the left, with a linking first floor corridor above. The style is a florid mixture of Romanesque forms with Gothic detail. It is richly endowed with Devonshire marble columns and pilasters of 3 colours, including two large columns framing the staircase. The carved work is in Caen stone, and there is a continuous hoodmould with billet moulding. A heavy string course with corbel table separates the storeys and supports the open gallery, the bays of which, corresponding to the arcades below, have each 2 round headed lights, and are separated by engaged columns. These columns carry a continuous octagonal arcade, the spandrels forming the squinches of a shallow glazed dome. From the centre of this dome hangs a massive pendant with delicate panelling resembling a fan vault. All capitals are heavily foliated and carry minute scenes of hunting, fruit and vegetables and country life. Four of the tympana depict the cotton industry in a progressive sequence. To the right of the stair is the scene of enslaved Africans picking cotton in the Americas, and then loading bales of cotton at port. Opposite the stair, and flanking the main chimneypiece, is Richard Arkwright at his desk, and women working in the mills with line shafting in the background. The initials of John and Ruth Fielden appear below the corbel table, and on the fireplace of red marble incorporating a clock. The staircase hall has the same details above the corbel table but is largely occupied by an imperial staircase with an elaborate cast-iron balustrade incorporating star details. Set into the openings of the blind wall are mirrors which produce a startling effect of depth. The only alteration to this ensemble would appear to be the removal of decorated glass from the hall and staircase domes, the addition of grills to the upper openings, and a heightened staircase balustrade.

The vestibule is lined with Bath stone and has an oak-panelled ceiling and dado of Riga and Pollard oak, also with crenellations; this dado continues into the main hall. Other rooms have undergone intensive decoration in later years, although partial paint removal in 2007 has revealed inlaid panels of walnut and other woods, and there are plaster cornices with passion flower detail, including the main first floor room that is known as 'Mrs.Fielden's boudoir'. When built, the house had sixty-six rooms. Service rooms to north not inspected.

HISTORY: Dobroyd Castle was the home of John Fielden (1822-1893), and his wife Ruth (1826-1877). Fielden was part of a dynasty of cotton manufacturers based in Todmorden. Under the direction of Fielden's father, also John Fielden (1784-1849), the firm had grown into one of the largest concerns of its kind in the country. John Fielden Senior's three brothers were also involved in the business, owning numerous mills in Todmorden, the largest of which was named Waterside. The family was also closely involved with the development of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company.

The family was very much concerned with politics and social issues, both in Todmorden and nationally. In 1832 John Fielden Senior became MP for Oldham, jointly with William Cobbett. Much of his political career was spent in trying to improve conditions for factory workers, campaigning for a minimum wage and a shorter working day; the argument that reduced working hours would increase productivity gained credibility when expressed by a leading textile manufacturer. In 1847 Fielden was instrumental in securing the Ten Hours Act. He was fiercely opposed to the Draconian 1834 amendment of the Poor Law, and he and his descendants resisted the establishment of a workhouse in Todmorden, though one was eventually built in 1878. John Fielden and two of his brothers died within a few years of each other, and throughout the 1850s the next generation - John's sons Samuel, John, and Joshua - worked to expand the business. The American Civil War of 1861-5 led to the principal supply of cotton being stopped, but the foresightful Fieldens managed to lay in stocks and profited hugely by what became known as the Cotton Famine.

From 1865 onwards Samuel, John and Joshua, now very rich indeed, were able to enhance their position in Todmorden through ambitious building projects. They were assisted in this by the architect John Gibson, who showed flexibility of style in building first the Gothic Unitarian Church (1865-9), listed Grade I, and then the Classical town hall (1870-5), also listed Grade I, as well as houses for workers. In addition, Gibson was employed to enlarge Stansfield Hall for Joshua; for John, he built Dobroyd Castle, on a hill overlooking Todmorden, intended to be 'the most commanding object in the neighbourhood'. Ruth Stansfield, who worked in one of Todmorden's mills, agreed to marry John Fielden in 1857, and the initials of the couple are incorporated in an inventive carved scheme. Ruth died in 1877 and John soon married Ellen Mallinson, the daughter of a Lancashire clergyman. Appointed High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1885, Fielden increasingly lived at Grimston Castle, a country estate that he bought in 1872, establishing himself as a country gentleman. He died at Dobroyd Castle in 1893.

The most significant carved feature of Dobroyd Castle's imposing hall is the series of relief sculptures which fill the tympana above four doors. A celebration of the industry on which Fielden's family's position was built, these depict various stages of cotton manufacture: the first shows slaves picking cotton, overseen by a slave-master with a whip; in the second, cotton is packaged in bales to be dispatched by sea; the third has Richard Arkwright at his desk, in the process of inventing his water-powered spinning frame; and the fourth represents women, working at a loom, and displaying the finished cloth.

The depiction of slavery as a necessary part of cotton manufacture addressed a debate which vexed the industry for much of the C19. Parliament had abolished the slave trade in 1807, and the institution of slavery in 1833, but from early in the C18 the cotton which formed the basis of Britain's most profitable industry was largely produced by slave labour in the American south. However, the Fieldens had managed to profit from the war which resulted in American abolition, and this may have a bearing on the interpretation of the carvings. In the second half of the 1860s John Fielden was in the happy situation of being able to distance himself from his former dependence on slavery, confident that he could continue to prosper without it. Seen in this context, the sculptures appear to represent a progressive improvement within the cotton industry, running alongside the refinement of the cotton itself. According to this narrative, the slave scene can be read as embodying the barbaric past of cotton production; the raw product is then transported to England's more enlightened shores. Here, intellect-based developments on the part of Arkwright and others have led to the civilized conditions enjoyed by the factory workers, who take pride in the refined product of their industry - the upright stance of the woman who gestures towards the draped cloth provides a marked contrast with the stooping slaves. The respect with which these women are depicted would have been of special significance in this house, where the mistress was a former mill girl.

John Fielden Senior had campaigned against the payment of compensation to former slave owners following the 1833 emancipation act, but otherwise there is little evidence regarding the family's attitudes towards slavery. Interestingly though, in 1883 a production of Uncle Tom's Cabin, based on the anti-slavery novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, was performed at the Theatre Royal, Todmorden, 'under the distinguished patronage and presence' of John Fielden of Dobroyd Castle. Fielden's enjoyment of the play was probably less mixed than it would have been twenty-five years earlier.

John Fielden's widow, Ellen, continued to live at Dobroyd Castle until 1909. From that time the house was let, with difficulty, until it was sold in 1942. It was a Home Office approved school until 1979, after which it became a privately-run school for boys with emotional and behavioural problems. In 1995 the house was bought by monks from the New Kadampa Buddhist Tradition, and became a residential Buddhist college and meditation centre, known as the Losang Dragpa Centre.

SOURCES: Illustrated in D. Linstrum, West Yorkshire Architects and Architecture, (London, 1978), p.86. N. Pevsner, Yorkshire West Riding, (London, 1979), p.522; John Law, Fieldens of Todmorden (1995); The Builder, (July 24, 1869) pp.582-3; The Builder, (October 23, 1875) pp.953-5; The Builder, (Nov. 27, 1869) pp.945-7 G. McHenry, The Cotton Trade: its bearing upon the prosperity of Great Britain and commerce of the American Republics considered in connection with the system of negro slavery in the Confederate States (1863)

NB The Former Stables and Lodge and Attached Gate Piers are listed separately at Grade II.

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION Dobroyd Castle is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * It is an impressive country house of 1866-9 in local materials and a distinctive castellated style, occupying a prominent hilltop position in this milling town, having been built a major local mill-owning family. * The interior, particularly the entrance hall, is architecturally and materially opulent, representing the ultimate in taste and materials in this period. * The series of 4 Caen stone carved tympana have particular historic interest for the way they represent the entire process of cotton production. These panels artistically and subtly reflect the views that this reforming mid-C19 cotton family held on slavery in the New World and the production of cotton in England. This amendment is written in 2007, the bicentenary year of the 1807 Abolition Act.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Linstrum, D, West Yorkshire Architects and Architecture, (1978), 86
McHenry, G , The Cotton Trade: Its Bearing upon the Prosperity of Great Britain and Commerce of the American Republics Considered in Connection with the System of, (1863)
Pevsner, N, Radcliffe, E, The Buildings of England: Yorkshire: The West Riding, (1967), 522
'The Builder' in 24 July, (1869), 582-583
'The Builder' in 27 November, (1869), 945-947
'The Builder' in 23 October, (1875), 953-955


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 25 Jan 2001
Reference: IOE01/02995/17
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Norman Hurst. Source Historic England Archive
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