Benjamin Heywood

Benjamin Heywood (1793-1865) was a partner in the family bank Heywood Brothers & Co and a prominent Manchester philanthropist and politician.

Background, education and early life

Benjamin Heywood was born on 12 December 1793 in Manchester. His father was Nathaniel Heywood, partner in Benjamin Heywood, Sons & Co. His mother was Ann, daughter of Thomas Percival. He had four younger brothers, two of whom also joined the family bank, and one younger sister.

Heywood was educated at various schools and at Glasgow University (1809-11).

Banking career

In 1814, at the age of 21, Benjamin joined his father Nathaniel and uncle Benjamin Arthur Heywood as a partner in the family bank. Nathaniel died the following year, and in 1818 and 1820 two of Benjamin’s younger brothers joined the firm.

In 1828 Benjamin Arthur died. The following year the two younger brothers retired from the firm, leaving Benjamin as sole partner.

From the 1840s onwards four of Benjamin’s sons successively became partners as they came of age, and Benjamin himself retired from banking at the end of 1860.

In Manchester Banks and Bankers (1877), Leo Grindon wrote: ‘No-one ever heard of anything greedy or sensational in connection with the Heywoods, of their making heavy bad debts, or drawing down on themselves any species of disaster. The very air of the place was significant. In Heywoods, there was always, on going in, a certain sense of tranquillity and refinement.’

Other activities

Benjamin Heywood was a leader of, or prominent contributor to, numerous social improvement projects in Manchester.

Manchester Mechanics’ Institute

Heywood was a founder of Manchester Mechanics’ Institute. He served as its president for 15 years from its foundation in 1825 until 1840. The Institute aimed to provide educational opportunities to working men so that they could improve their future prospects: ‘At a small expense, the Workman may not only acquire a more thorough knowledge of his business, and a greater degree of skill in the practice of it; but he will also be better qualified to advance himself in the world, and be better enabled to secure to himself and his family the means of comfort and enjoyment.’

Member of Parliament

In 1831 Heywood was elected a whig member of parliament for Lancashire, to support the government’s Reform Bill. The Bill aimed to make parliamentary representation fairer, not least by giving new industrial cities such as Manchester parliamentary representation for the first time. The Act also expanded the electorate, making one in six men entitled to vote.

Just after Heywood’s election, the Manchester Guardian described his qualifications for the role as: ‘personal affability and kindness of disposition, steadiness of purpose, consistency of conduct, a sound judgment and a cultivated mind.’

After the Reform Act was successfully passed in 1832 parliament was dissolved and an election called. Heywood chose not to stand again. His health had suffered as a result of the long hours, and particularly the late sittings, of parliamentary life.

Speaking to an audience at Manchester Mechanics’ Institute, Heywood referred to the fight to pass the Reform Bill as ‘one of the most memorable struggles in the history of our country.’

Manchester Statistical Society

In 1833 Benjamin Heywood was a founder and first president of Manchester Statistical Society, said to be the first organisation in Britain to study social problems systematically and to collect statistics for social purposes. Its founders recognised the problems that Manchester’s poor population faced at that time, and were convinced that the first step towards solving such problems had to be understanding the facts properly. To this end, in 1834 the Society became the first organisation to carry out a house-to-house social survey.

Miles Platting

Around the early 1830s Heywood acquired (in part payment of a bad debt) a block of cottage property in Miles Platting, a fast-growing area to the east of Manchester. There, he undertook numerous projects to improve the living conditions of the residents, including establishing a day school, Sunday school, Mechanics’ Institute, savings bank and public baths and wash-houses. He eventually also paid for a church to be built there.

Heywood’s work in Miles Platting had something in common with other welfare schemes to improve conditions for working people in the 19th century. These schemes were, however, usually tied to the workplace, and were said to provide reciprocal economic benefits for employers through the increased efficiency of a healthier, better-educated workforce. Heywood’s role in Miles Platting, in contrast, was solely as a landlord, where he had less to gain by his efforts, besides the knowledge of having improved living conditions for his tenants.

Public parks

In 1844 a movement started to establish public parks in Manchester, to be paid for by public subscription. Benjamin Heywood’s name was first on the list of local people supporting the plan, and he started the fundraising efforts by putting forward the opening donation of £1,000. The first three parks, Peel Park, Philips Park and Queen’s Park, opened in 1846.

Support for education

In addition to his work providing schools in Miles Platting, Heywood was a subscriber to the British and Foreign Schools Society, and a life member of Manchester Society for Promoting National Education. This organisation was formed in 1837 to campaign for a government-organised system of basic education for all children.


Benjamin Heywood was created a baronet on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1838. In 1843 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Family life

In 1816 Benjamin Heywood married Sophia Ann Robinson. Together they had 14 children, eight of whom survived into adulthood:

  • Thomas Percival (born 1823. Inherited the baronetcy)
  • Elizabeth
  • Sarah
  • Oliver (born 1825. Became a partner in the family bank)
  • Arthur Henry (born 1826. Became a partner in the family bank)
  • Edward Stanley (born 1829. Became a partner in the family bank)
  • Henry Robinson (born 1833. Became a clergyman)
  • Charles James (born 1835. Became a partner in the family bank)

Three children – Samuel, Mary and William – died in infancy. Three others died of fever, all in 1836: Sophie Caroline, Benjamin and Annie.

Benjamin’s wife Sophia died in 1852.

Benjamin Heywood died at his home at Claremont, on the outskirts of Manchester, in 1865.