Manchester Worthies

Oliver Heywood (1825-1892)



The working man who in 1847 laid his hand on the bridle of Mr. Oliver Heywood’s horse, as he was riding home after his first public speech in the Old Town Hall, and in the broad Lancashire dialect of the day said, “ Young mon, tha’st on th’ right road” deserves to rank as a local prophet. Mr. Heywood himself told the story at a notable gathering held a little over twelve months ago, to which we shall presently refer more at length, and honestly admitted that the recollection of that incident had always been with him, and that it had perhaps in some degree influenced the after events of his life. All who know Mr. Heywood-and those who know him best know it most completely admit that having struck” the right road” in his youth, he has travelled it consistently ever since. That it has led to a pinnacle of the highest respect, and which it must be a proud point to achieve, whatever the advantages of birth, culture and station, his fellow citizens have been proud to testify, by making him the first honorary freeman of the City of Manchester.

The Heywood family (as we learn from Mr. Leo Grindon’s interesting historical, biographical and anecdotal work on Manchester Banks and Bankers), is an eminent and historically conspicuous one. The heralds begin with “ John Heywood, gentleman,” of Little Lever, near Bolton, a township which has contributed largely to the worthies of Lancashire, and in which this Mr. Heywood’s ancestors appear to have settled in the time of Edward VI. “John Heywood’s grandson, Richard, was sadly used by Prince Rupert, when crossing Lancashire on his way to York, the house he lived in being pillaged by the soldiers. Richard Heywood’s two elder sons -Oliver, born in 1627, and Nathaniel, born ‘1633, boys at the time of Prince Rupert’s visit, were educated for the Church, and in due time obtained preferment. Oliver was appointed Vicar of Coley, a hamlet two miles north-east of Halifax; Nathaniel became Vicar of Ormskirk. The brothers were men of exemplary piety, and famed for their learning. Two years after the Restoration, the Act of Uniformity was passed, coming into operation August 4th, 1662. This statute required that every beneficed minister in England and Wales, every Fellow of a College, and even every schoolmaster, should give an unfeigned assent to all and everything contained in the Book of Common Prayer. About 2,000 ministers, sixty-seven of whom belonged to Lancashire, refused to sign, and were consequently ejected from their livings, the number including Oliver and Nathaniel Heywood, in whom the High Church party had always found determined and weighty opponents.” The two Heywoods identified themselves with the Presbyterians, to which denomination their descendants long adhered. The present Mr. Oliver Heywood (the subject of this sketch) was named in commemoration of the Old Halifax Vicar, whose life forms the staple of Mr. Hunter’s” Rise of the Old Dissent.” Proceeding to trace the history of the family, we find that Arthur and Benjamin Heywood, two of the three great grandsons of the ejected Vicar of Ormskirk, established themselves in Liverpool. The first-named founded (in 1773) the eminent banking firm of Arthur Heywood, Sons, and Co. Benjamin became a merchant, and had two sons, Benjamin Arthur and Nathaniel, who, in 1788, commenced operations in Manchester under the style of Benjamin Heywood, Sons, and Co. They opened in a block of buildings called the Emporium, the site of which corresponded very nearly with that occupied by shops in the present Exchange Street. They subsequently removed to premises at the corner of Bank Street, and adopted at the same time the title of “The Manchester Bank.” In I 796 they purchased, from Mr. T. B. Bayley, the mansion at the other corner of the square, next to St. Ann’s, long noted as the ancient residence of the Butterworth’s, and after erecting offices behind, made it their permanent headquarters, the entrance being then, as ever since, from St. Ann’s Street. The removal was coincident with the conduct of the business by the two sons of the original founders. Old Mr. Arthur Heywood and his brother Benjamin had both died in the same year (1795), and their two sons (Benjamin Arthur and Nathaniel) were therefore the first to carry on the business at the existing premises under the title of Heywood Brothers and Co. They are described as “scholarly and accomplished men, therefore of good manners, and hence are found in the front of all that in their time possessed and conferred social distinction.” Mr. Benjamin Arthur, who remained single to the end of his days, had a taste for literature and preferred the calmness of home life to the society of which his brother Nathaniel was fond, and for which his culture and attainments eminently fitted him In 1812, Benjamin Arthur became tenant under Mr. Benjamin Gaskell, of Clifton Hall. In 1825, he removed to Claremont, Pendleton, now the residence of Mr. Oliver. In earlier times this place was the residence of Mrs. Ford, mother of the celebrated Colonel Ford, well known in connection with the history of the Manchester volunteers. Nathaniel, the younger brother, married Miss Percival, daughter of the renowned local physician of that day, whose town house was in King Street, and who had a country residence, called Hart Hill, in the Eccles Old Road, nearly opposite Claremont. As illustrating the manners and simplicity of the times, it is worthy of mention that Dr. Percival was one of the only three gentlemen in the community who at the period in question kept a private carriage.” What would our ancestors think could they revisit the busy scenes presented in the Manchester streets at the present time and see the innumerable fine equipages and well-appointed private carriages which roll through the best streets of the city at all hours of the day? Mr. Nathaniel continued to live at the bank, and eventually died there at the comparatively early age of 55, leaving a daughter and five sons. The eldest, Benjamin (afterwards the first baronet), married in 1816 the daughter of Mr. Thomas Robinson, a gentleman of social distinction, residing in the beautiful mansion at Cheetham Hill, called Woodlands. In 1818 and 1820, two other of the sons of the deceased Nathaniel Heywood (Thomas and Richard) were taken into partnership of the firm. By the death of old Mr. Benjamin Arthur Heywood, in 1828, Claremont passed into the possession of the nephew Benjamin, who moved into it from Acres Fields in the following spring, and made many improvements and additions. The retirement from the bank of the younger nephews, Thomas and Richard, about the same time, left Benjamin, the future baronet, in sole possession, and the house then assumed the title of Benjamin Heywood and Co.

In 1831 Mr. Benjamin Heywood was returned to Parliament as one of the members for Lancashire, which then only returned two members to Parliament. A baronetcy was conferred upon him in 1837, shortly after the accession of her present Majesty to the throne. On January 19th, 1843, he was elected F.R.S., the credentials being” distinguished for his acquaintance with political economy, much attached to science, and eminent for his exertions to promote its progress.”

We are tempted to make one other quotation from Mr. Grindon’s work, because of the light it throws upon the origin of the movement for obtaining public parks for the people, and the noble manner in which the Heywood family and others came to the front. “On the 8th of August in that year (1844), the first great public meeting was held in reference to the establishment of public parks for Manchester. It was convened by the Mayor, on the requisition of one hundred and eleven of the leading philanthropists of the town and suburbs, the first name on the list being that of Benjamin Heywood. The remembrance of that celebrated day is now fast fading into the twilight. Who that was present can ever forget that the first thing done by the chairman was to announce a donation from Sir Benjamin Heywood of a thousand pounds? The effect of the announcement was electric. It was followed by one of similar purport in a letter from Mr. Mark Philips. The meeting became enthusiastic, and the ship was launched. A few days afterwards, Lord Francis Egerton gave another thousand pounds, and a fourth came from Mr. Edward Loyd. Both Sir Benjamin and Mr. Loyd were placed upon the committee, chiefly of course in testimony of respect and honour. When the names to be given to the parks were under consideration, it was proposed that one of them should be called Heywood Park. The names eventually adopted, as we are all aware, are Peel Park, Philips Park, and the Queen’s Park. The opening of these three magnificent playgrounds for the people took place on Saturday, August 22nd, 1846.”

We turn now to the not less interesting history of the younger branch of this remarkable family, whose career is so closely associated with the development of many of the best phases of Manchester life. Mr. Oliver Heywood, the second son of the late baronet, was born at Acres Field in the year 1825. He is one of the four sons of Sir Benjamin, who afterwards conducted the affairs of the Bank until, in 1874, it passed to the Manchester and Salford Bank. As it is with him alone we have now to deal, we must content ourselves with that portion of history which has briefly introduced him upon the stage of life, where, as the poet says, each man plays his part, “his acts being seven ages.” Happily it is only with the earlier of these periods we have to deal. Mr. Heywood is still among us, hale and vigorous, and his taIl figure, and genial and pleasant face, are well-known throughout the city, and particularly in those places where good objects are sought after, and good deeds sown, like seed in fructifying soil, to spring up, mayhap, after many days.

A man or woman who has had a pleasant childhood has a heritage of blessing. We should gather that that was Mr. Oliver Heywood’s lot. At any rate he had the pleasure of capital companionship in his early schooldays. These were spent at what was then an educational establishment of some fame, known as St. Domingo House, near Liverpool. It was a veritable nursery of commercial celebrities. The names of Thomas Ashton, John Feilden, Thomas Fairbairn (son of Sir William Fairbairn), Henry Houldsworth, James Worthington, William Rathbone, and other since well- known Lancashire worthies were among those inscribed on the books of St. Domingo House contemporaneously with his own. From this excellent preparatory school Mr. Heywood went to Eton, participating while there in the celebrations which marked the marriage festivities of Her Majesty the Queen. A Continental tour was essential in those days, as in the present, to the completion of a gentleman’s education, and Mr. Heywood, on leaving Eton, travelled abroad until he entered upon his responsibilities at the Bank in 1845. His life since then has been an open volume to the public in Manchester: “Although quite a young man,” says a writer in 1868, “Mr. Oliver Heywood has been so long before the Manchester public, having come before them when quite a stripling, that we feel almost inclined to look upon him as a veteran. His figure is almost as familiar, as he drives his old white horse to town, as used to be Mr. Loyd, the banker, years ago, riding to town on his pony, Moses, or Mr. Sam Brooks, on his fast trotting nag.” Surely no more honourable recognition of a worthy career showing “something attempted, something done,” could overtake a man in life’s journey than that which marked the extraordinary event to which we before alluded in Mr. Oliver Heywood’s recent experience, the presentation of the freedom of the city to him, at the time he held Her Majesty’s Commission as High Sheriff of the County. This event took place in April, 1888, and it was so felicitously conducted by the then Mayor (Sir John James Harwood) and the other distinguished citizens who took part in it, that we are enabled to take a complete retrospective glance, through a pleasant medium, at Mr. Heywood’s career of public usefulness in our midst.

At a specially convened meeting of the City Council held on the 27th April, 1888, the following unanimous resolution was placed upon the city archives :-

“That this Council have for a long period been impressed with the obligations of the Citizens of Manchester to Oliver Heywood, Esquire, and the distinguished family to which he belongs, for their active and zealous participation in all good works affecting the well-being of the community. This Council have deemed the occasion of his having been appointed to the important office of High Sheriff of Lancashire a suitable opportunity for giving expression to the feelings of admiration and gratitude which they entertain for his exalted character and life of public usefulness and benevolence devoted to the promotion of education and the relief of suffering humanity; for the large share taken by him in the direction of numerous valuable institutions, and for his wise and prudent counsels upon public questions. The Council, in recognition of the eminent services which he has rendered to this city, do hereby, in pursuance of the Honorary Freedom of Boroughs Act, 1885, confer upon the said Oliver Heywood, Esquire, the honorary freedom of the city of Manchester, and hereby admit him to be an honorary freeman of the city of Manchester accordingly.”

The ceremony of installation was an impressive one, and was witnessed by a distinguished assembly. The freedom of the city, as set forth in a tastefully illuminated scroll, contained in a silver gilt casket, elaborately embellished, was handed to Mr. Heywood by the Mayor (Sir John James Harwood), who conducted him to a seat of honour on the right of the Mayoral chair. The Mayor supplemented the presentation with the following well chosen words :-” In congratulating you on the fact that upon the roll of free honorary citizens, so chosen by the goodwill of the people, your name will be the first, I may, perhaps, be allowed to congratulate myself, also, that in the history of the mayoralty of Manchester, it should have been my good fortune to be the first occupant of this chair to whom the privilege and pleasure have fallen of bidding welcome to you as the head of this roll of citizens; and I may be permitted to say further, that of all the varied functions which it has been my duty to discharge, during a rather protracted and important tenure of the mayoralty -including the Jubilee Year of her Majesty the Queen, also the Jubilee of the Corporation itself, and the memorable Exhibition of 1887-there has not been one more acceptable to my own feelings than this duty of to-day, in being the mouthpiece of Manchester whilst she tenders to you in this , Freedom of the City ‘-a respectful homage due to one whose civic virtues have been for many years so assiduously displayed in the promotion and sustentation of all measures of public usefulness and of good report in this city. We cannot forget that you bear a name, the honourable traditions of which, in the annals of Lancashire and of Manchester, have been illustrated in the lives of your kinsmen of previous generations.”

The Mayor subsequently enumerated the offices and institutions with which Mr. Heywood was actively associated: a goodly list! A member of the court and council of Victoria University; a governor of Owens College, and a member of council of the same; a governor of the Manchester Grammar School; a trustee of Chetham Hospital; a governor of the High School for Girls; a governor and treasurer of Hulme Hall, in connection with Owens College; the president of the council of the Manchester Technical School, which has its home in the old Mechanics’ Institute, David Street; a governor of the Cotton District Convalescent Fund Hospital at Southport; the president of the committee of the Children’s Hospital, Pendlebury ; the treasurer of St Mary’s Hospital; the president of the Salford Royal Hospital and Dispensary; a member of the board of the Royal Eye Hospital; president of the Association for the Promotion of Technical Education; treasurer of the District Provident Society; treasurer of the Penny Savings’ Bank Association; treasurer of the Provident Dispensaries; treasurer of the Sanitary Association; treasurer of the Schools for the Deaf and Dumb; treasurer of the Sick Poor and Private Nursing Institution; treasurer of the Adult Deaf and Dumb Society; treasurer of Clarke and Marshall’s Charity; treasurer of District Provident Society, Convalescent Home, Southport; trustee of Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges and Children’s Aid Society; vice-president of Ardwick and Ancoats Hospital; trustee of Thomas Hudson’s Charity; trustee of Miss Elizabeth Place’s Charity; trustee of Clifton Hall Colliery Explosion Fund; and president of Pendleton Provident Dispensary. Thus (added the Mayor) we have beautifully illustrated in your life and character the fact that

Peace hath her victories
No less renowned than war.

There are possibly other institutions with which Mr. Heywood is connected not noticed above. Suffice it to say, however, that his sympathies are well known to be elevated and generous, and his charities widespread and discriminating. It may be mentioned, as an additional fact in connection with a recent important phase in the life of the city, that he is Chairman of the large and influential Committee for bringing about an amalgamation between the two great municipalities of Manchester and Salford.

A passage in Mr. Oliver Heywood’s reply to the presentation is significant of the disposition in which he accepted the unique honour conferred upon him. “ Many words,” he said, “will not express more strongly than will the few grateful acknowledgment with which I receive the gift of the honorary freedom of the city, nor the sense of humble pride-the words are not inappropriately linked together-with which I call it mine. To me this freedom and this casket are crowning marks of a more than generous appreciation of such services as I may have been able to render to a community in which I have passed a life of happiness and prosperity, and from the members of which I have received continuing and signal proof of kindly favour. I do not think I have any illusions about myself. I have endeavoured to learn what it is that I am not qualified to do, and, possessed of this important knowledge, to turn to other work, useful, I hope, if not ambitious. Stronger men than I have wrought, and allowed me to take an often unearned share of the reward of acknowledgment. They have accepted willing and sympathetic interest as though it were substantial co-operation. I record now, that all who hear and read my words may know, that in accepting the honour of to-day I am deeply conscious how much of it I owe to others. Mr. Mayor, I have had the priceless advantage of a good inheritance. My father’s health failed immediately after the passing of the first Reform Bill in 1832, and retiring from Parliamentary life, to which only a year before he had been so gratifyingly called, he associated himself actively with that notable company of earnest, energetic men who, 50 years ago and more, startled by the result of their investigations into the condition of the great mass of the people, and with deep conviction that its improvement was matter not only of duty, but of paramount and urgent importance, set themselves to the work and laid the foundations of institutions which, in ever-widening forms of usefulness, have continued to extend their beneficent work.”

Mr. Heywood proceeded to refer to some interesting reminiscences of his career, listened to with the greatest interest and appreciation, and at the banquet which followed the ceremony, he added some further information which will be treasured, relating, among other things, the incident with which we open our present sketch,


Reprinted from Manchester Faces & Places Vol. 1 No. 3 10 December 1889