The Fielding Johnson Family – Founders and Major Benefactors
The largest single founding gift given to the Leicestershire and Rutland University College, now the University of Leicester, was from the Fielding Johnson family.
In 1919, two years after the death of his wife Agnes, Thomas Fielding Johnson secretly purchased the land and existing asylum buildings and gave it for the college and for the two Wyggeston grammar schools (Boys and Girls). The cost was £40,000 – well over a million pounds in today’s money. The Fielding Johnson Building is named in his honour.
They were middle class, very well-off financially from hosiery yarn spinning factories, living in a large house, ‘Brookfield’, with servants. They were socially ‘elite’, but with interests in the academic and nursing world, for the common good. The Fielding Johnson family of Leicester had long been committed to good causes and public service, which continued down the generations.
Agnes Fielding Johnson, née Paget (1840 – 1917), was the second wife of Thomas Fielding Johnson. An active member of the Unitarian Chapel, she was keen on the history of Leicester and author of Glimpses of Ancient Leicester in Six Periods (1891). She was a governor of Wyggeston School for Girls since its founding in 1878 and was a campaigner for the education of girls. The first female on the management board of the Royal Infirmary, she was an early member of the Leicester and Leicestershire Women's Suffrage Society. She was also a member of the Leicester Institution of Trained Nurses (providing nursing to the poor) and fought, with the National Council of Women, to get a registration process for midwives. Additionally, she supported the campaign for the first maternity hospital in Leicester – Bond Street Hospital – and a plaque there was dedicated to her for her help.
Agnes Mabel Bruce, née Fielding Johnson (1864–1943), continued the family’s great interest and support for the university college, among other causes.
Agnes Mabel Fielding Johnson was the first child of Thomas and Agnes Fielding Johnson, growing up at the family house ‘Brookfield’. Her younger brother Harold Paget Fielding Johnson (1866 – 1877) sadly died of measles when at Rugby School.
In 1885, she married William Wallace Bruce (1846 – 1907), who was a merchant of spices and oils in London; his father was a West Indian merchant before him, who also lived in London, with eight children. Although they lived in London, Agnes Mabel’s roots were firmly in Leicester.
Agnes Mabel was also instrumental in helping to establish the university college, and became a committee member of the Board of Governors. She gave many books, including ones from her parents’ collection, to the college library.
She was also instrumental, alongside her mother, for achieving the registration process for midwives. In 1904 she was chairperson for the executive committee for the National Association for the Training and Supply of Midwives. She was instrumental in approaching the Leicester Infirmary and the Leicester Provident Dispensary in May 1904, for which her half-brother Thomas Fielding Johnson Jnr was vice chairperson, to set up the training of midwives. In 1905 the East Bond Street Maternity Hospital came into being, for which she supported and raised funds; she took over her mother’s role as one of the vice presidents of the Hospital Council Committee and in 1933 was invited to become its president.
Thomas Fielding Johnson Jnr, like his father Thomas (1828–1921), continued the family’s great interest and support for the university college, as did his wife Florence.
Thomas Jnr was a trustee of the university college, supported by his wife, who was also involved in fund-raising activities.
Florence Lyne Fielding Johnson, née Paget (1856–1933) was the second child of Edward Humphrey Paget (1825 – 1900) and Mary Anne Paget, née Spurrett (1834 – 1900), the first child having died in infancy. Her grandfather, Thomas Paget, half-brother to Alfred Paget, was a surgeon at Leicester Royal Infirmary. Alfred Paget was the father of Agnes Paget, Thomas Fielding Johnson Sr’s second wife.
In 1883 she married Thomas Fielding Johnson Jnr at the Greet Meeting, Unitarian Church, Leicester. They lived initially at Ivy Lodge on the Narborough Road, but after 1895 at Goscote Hall, Birstall.
Thomas Fielding Johnson continued ownership of the factories for worsted spinning, was Chairman of the Board of the Royal Infirmary (1916–1924), High Sherriff (1918–1919), had the Freedom of the City of Leicester (1925), and founded the Fielding Johnson Hospital in Regent Road (1926). He was educated at Rugby School and at University College Oxford (BA Degree in Modern History and Divinity).
Agnes Paget (1840–1917) was the third child of Alfred Paget (1810–1904) and Eliza, née Smith (1811–1893). Her brothers and sisters were Thomas Edmund, Elizabeth Smith, Clara Jane, Annie Caroline, Louisa, Alfred Henry, and Walter B. The family home was in West Street, just off about halfway down what is now Regent Road.
Agnes Fielding Johnson’s father, solicitor Alfred Paget, was, in 1835, a founder of the Leicester Literary & Philosophical Society, a president of the Leicester School of Art, and a Liberal and Nonconformist committed to radical reform.
Mrs Johnson’s brother, Alfred Henry Paget was an architect and partner of Goddard and a well-known Shakespearian scholar. His wife Jennie, née Clephan, regularly attended Leicester Secular Society lectures and was a member of the Leicester Ladies’ Reading Society. The group met in the home of the renowned Annie Clephan, another founder of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland College. Members of the Reading Society were middle class women with a desire to improve themselves intellectually - novels were not permitted. A fellow member was Florence Fielding Johnson Jnr.
Researched and written by Mike Bates with information drawn from the following sources
Shriley Aucott, Women of Courage, Vision and Talent: Lives in Leicester 1780 to 1925 (2008)
Family tree of Richard Everard
Fielding Johnson family photographs reproduced by kind permission of Mr Richard Everard.