John Nowell


John Nowell was born at Springs, above Harley Wood, Todmorden [28th September 1802].

Illegitimate son of Miriam Nowell and William Midgley.

At the age of 9, he was a handloom weaver, and continued to be until Fieldens opened their Waterside weaving shed around 1829. He worked there for the rest of his life.

He was a twister of warps (cotton) [1851].

He attended grammar classes run by the Rev John Midgley.

He lived at Dungeon Top, Whirlaw.

He was taught botany by Edmund Holt. He went on to become an amateur botanist who – with Abraham Stansfield – founded the Todmorden Botanical Society. He was vice-president of the Society for 15 years.

He studied flowering plants, rare plants and alpines. Around 1850 – since he had no garden of his own – he began to study mosses. He discovered a mosscinclidium stygium – at Malham Tarn.

He was invited to become the curator of Kew Gardens, London, but declined the offer.

In 1866, Abraham Stansfield and John started to write a book entitled The Flora of Todmorden, to which was added a list of The Birds of Todmorden compiled by Walter Greaves. The book was completed, edited and published about 1908/1911 – when both authors were dead – by Abraham Stansfield jnr of Higher Broughton, Manchester.

On 17th September 1827, he married Hannah Clegg [1803-18??] at the Church of Saint Thomas à Becket, Heptonstall.


  1. John [b 1828]
  2. Ann [b 1830]
  3. Ashton [b 1832]
  4. Mary [b 1834]
  5. Simon [b 1836]
  6. William [b 1839]

They lived at

Living with them [in 1851] were John's mother Miriam [b  1781], and their nephew Andrew Nowell [b 1833]

John died 28th October 1887.

He was buried at St Paul's Church, Cross Stone

On 9th January 1869, a monument in his memory was inaugurated at St Mary's Parish Church, Todmorden. The Scottish red-granite obelisk stands 13 ft in height, and was executed by A. Macdonald of Aberdeen. The base is inscribed

In memory of John Nowell, a working man, and vice-president of the
Todmorden Botanical Society for fifteen years.

His unassuming manners, kind disposition, as well as his extensive
knowledge of cryptogamic botany, endeared him to a wide circle of
admiring friends.

Died October 28th, 1887, and was interred at St Paul's Church, Cross Stone.

Erected by the members and friends of the Todmorden Botanical Society, 1868

In 1870, a liverwort, nowellia curvifolia, was named in his honour

© Malcolm Bull 2018
Revised 18:06 /1st April 2018 / mmn102 / 6713

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