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 [1806-1868] 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]

Hannah died 10th April 1868 (aged 62).

John died in 1867.

The couple were buried at St Paul's Church, Cross Stone.

On January 1869, the Nowell Memorial was inaugurated in his memory at St Mary's Parish Church, Todmorden.

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

© Malcolm Bull 2023
Revised 09:35 / 27th March 2023 / 4768

Page Ref: MMN102

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