Early Sheffield Socialists

March 2, 2015

John Furniss – b 1852 Carters Lane, Ecklington Ringinglow Derbyshire, d 1922 Rangiwahia New Zealand

George Pearson – b 1829 Totley Derbyshire

According to Edward Carpenter’s autobiography, “My Days and Dream”, (Sheffield Socialists, 1916, p133, George Allen and Unwin), John Furniss was a remarkable man and perhaps the very first to preach the modern socialism in the streets of Sheffield. A quarryman by trade, keen and wiry both in body and in mind, a thorough going Christian Socialist and originally a bit of a local preacher, he had somehow got hold of the main ideas of socialism and, in the 1880s, used to stride – he and his companion George Pearson – five or six miles over the moors, in order to speak at the Pump or the Monolith, and then stride back in the middle of the night. This he kept up for years and years and later, when he migrated to another quarry some distance from Chesterfield, he did exactly the same thing there for perhaps twenty years, with marvellous energy and perseverance. He must have kept up with this propaganda: and the amount of effective influence he must have exercised would be hard to reckon.

The Totley Colony and John Ruskin

In 1871, the visionary John Ruskin established the Guild of St George as a means of transforming a declining and corrupt Britain into a place of beauty and justice. His utopian vision involved working the land and encouraging traditional crafts. Ruskin was a hater of rapacious capitalism, modern technology and saved special invective for the railways.

An area of 13 acres was bought at Totley in 1877 by the Guild of St George. The land was first used as allotments for a group of Sheffield workmen. Ruskin must have been irritated when the 3.5 mile Totley tunnel was completed in 1892 for the main Manchester to Sheffield railway line.

Following the allotments, the land was run as a land colony with around 12 members. Edward Carpenter describes the men as Communists and great talkers. The installation of William Harrison Riley as custodian or Master of the Totley communitarian experiment was not a popular move and signalled the beginning of the numerous arguments and disagreements that finally sank the colony, though the severe weather, poor soil, the lack of mechanisation and the labourers lack of agricultural expertise must have contributed to the failure of the scheme.

St George’s farm was taken over by Ruskin’s own head gardener at Brantwood (David Downs) who set up “Mickley Botanical Gardens” to try to show the best methods of cultivating fruit trees as well as strawberries, currants and gooseberries. When this failed, even John Ruskin lost faith and could not wait to unload his 13 acres of poor land at Totley.

Edward Carpenter, George Pearson and the Totley Colony

Edward Carpenter, who stayed at St George’s farm for a few months in 1880, was philosophical about the failure of the Totley colony though appreciated the efforts of those involved, “They have kept the sacred fire alight through a long dark night”. Through the influence of Carpenter, George Pearson, a quarryman and a miner, was allowed to lease the land. Pearson’s father already farmed 100 acres at Totley. At this time George Pearson was aided by his friend John Furniss who had set up a small utopian community farm at Moor Hay farm Wigley near Chesterfield. In 1882, Carpenter moved to Millthorpe to set up a gardening business of his own.

John Furniss religious dissenter and roadside burials

Not everyone was allowed to be buried in a churchyard and a reference back to 1510 tells of quiet crossroads used for burials. This practice was banned by an Act of Parliament in 1823.

Even following this, the increasing intolerances of non conformists saw them carry out their own arrangements.

In 1888, John Furniss senior, of Moor Hay farm Wigley near Chesterfield, chose to bury his wife Elizabeth beneath a cairn of stones on the land where they had farmed rather than the parish church of St Peter and St Paul in Old Brampton.

Early life

John had an aunt and uncle who had a farm in the neighbouring Loxley Valley and as a relaxation in summer and autumn George Pearson and John Furniss would go to the farm at Broadhead Flats – and help with the hay making, harvest and milking.[1]

The farmer, name of Helliwell, had among his children, a daughter named Elizabeth. She eventually married George Pearson. Elizabeth’s mother was a Miss Furniss (now Elizabeth Helliwell). The Furniss line was descended from the Bagshawes of Hazelbadge Hall (1575) Bradwell, Derbyshire.

Elizabeth was probably John’s mother – John was born in 1852 – and the eldest Helliwell child was born in 1847. John was born out of wedlock and was to spend his childhood with aunts and uncles.

For the local Furniss family, Bastardy Accounts record George Furniss, 1828, a child with Sarah Helliwell, and Matthew Furniss in 1832, with Ann Grayson.

Census Years

In 1861, aged 9 yrs, John was living with his uncle Heald Unwin at a farm of 74 acres at Moor Side farm Dore with his cousins, Sarah, 7, and Ann, 13. Name spelt Furness.

In 1871, aged 19 yrs, he was living with his uncle George Furness and his cousins at Threebird Brampton. Name spelt Furness.

In 1881, aged 29 yrs, John was a lodger living at Cresswell Street, Nether Hallam, Sheffield with his friend George Pearson (b 1858 Baslow). Both title themselves Quarrymen.

In 1891, aged 39 yrs, he was living at Moor Hay farm Old Brampton with his family. He styles himself as a Farmer and Quarryman. John gives his birthplace as Ecklington, Derbyshire, and he is living with his wife, Mary Ann (b 1864 Sheffield) and two children – John Hoyle (b 1887 Wadsley Yorkshire) and James (b 1891 Brampton). John’s widowed sister Ann White (b 1848 Dore) and nephew George White (b 1879 Brampton) are also enumerated with the family. Name spelt Furniss.

In 1901, aged 49 yrs, John is still at Moor Hay Farm but he now styles himself as a farmer born Ecklington Derbyshire. Mary Ann is still alive and they have 7 children – all of whom were born at Brampton with the exception of John Hoyle, the eldest child. James b 1887, James b1 891, Annie b 1892, George b 1893, Mary Hannah b 1896 and Grace b 1898. Name spelt Furniss.

All of the children are entered in the Wigley school records with their birth dates. A final remark states all left England on 10.10.1902 for New Zealand where John established a homestead on virgin land, clearing trees and diverting waterways. The land was brought into cultivation and transformed into a thriving dairy farm.

[1] www.totleyhistorygroup.org.uk

John Furniss

Member 1211

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