Background and early life
Oliver Heywood was born on 9 September 1825 at Irlams o’ th’ Height near Manchester, the son of the banker Sir Benjamin Heywood and his wife Sophia Ann Robinson.
He was educated at St Domingo House, Liverpool; Mr Mertz’s school, Manchester; and Eton. On leaving school he travelled abroad.
In 1845 Oliver Heywood went to work for his father’s firm Sir Benjamin Heywood & Co. In 1847, after coming of age the previous year, he became a partner. His three younger brothers also subsequently became partners in the bank.
Benjamin Heywood retired at the end of 1860. Oliver succeeded him as senior partner, and the firm became known as Heywood Brothers & Co. Under Oliver’s leadership, the bank maintained the reputation it had earned for prudence and reliability. Such qualities were particularly valuable in the financial crisis of 1866, when the collapse of the finance firm Overend, Gurney & Co provoked panic throughout the banking sector. Heywood, who was in London when the crisis began, witnessed much of the panic at first hand, and hurried back to Manchester to ensure that calm was maintained at Heywood Brothers. The bank survived the crisis almost unscathed, thanks in no small part to Oliver Heywood’s steady management.
Oliver remained senior partner until 1876, when the firm was acquired by Manchester & Salford Bank. As part of the arrangements for the acquisition both Oliver and his younger brother Charles became directors of Manchester & Salford Bank.
In 1878 Oliver Heywood stopped attending the board (and was subsequently not re-elected) due to his lack of confidence in the bank’s general manager Thomas Read Wilkinson over the purchase of the Bolton bank Hardcastle, Cross & Co.
Contribution to Manchester life
It was said of Oliver Heywood that ‘he took the deepest interest in all that made for the social, intellectual, material and moral welfare’ of Manchester. After his death, one obituary remarked that ‘it would be difficult to find a charity subscription list connected with any considerable institution in which his name is not represented.’ As well as donating money, he served on the governing bodies of numerous charities.
He had a particular interest in education, and provided support for Victoria University; Owens College; Manchester Grammar School; Manchester High School for Girls; Hulme Grammar School; Manchester Technical School; Manchester School Board; Salford School Board; and the Association for the Promotion of Technical Education in the Manchester District.
He also supported numerous medical institutions, including the Hospital for Sick Children; St Mary’s Hospital; Manchester Royal Infirmary; Salford Royal Hospital; the Royal Eye Hospital, Manchester; the Royal Asylum; and the Provident Dispensaries Association.
He was also involved with the District Provident Society, the Manchester Adult Deaf and Dumb Institute and the Manchester and Salford Penny Savings Bank Association.
In 1888 he was made Manchester's first honorary freeman, in recognition of all he had done for the city.
He served as Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire and in 1888 was made High Sheriff of Lancashire.
Political views and character
Oliver Heywood was a lifelong political Liberal, but unlike his father, who served as a Member of Parliament in the 1830s, he had no interest in a parliamentary career. He was asked on more than one occasion to stand as the Liberal candidate for Salford, but rejected the idea.
According to his obituaries, ‘he was naturally of a retiring disposition and cared nothing for mere display or ostentatiousness; he loved that which was simple, natural, real and earnest’; ‘unassuming and unaffected at all times, he had natural abilities and qualities which fairly entitled him to be ranked among the brightest and most accomplished of our leading citizens.’
On 7 September 1847 Oliver Heywood married Eleanor Barton, daughter of the Pendlebury merchant Richard Watson Barton. They initially lived at Acresfield, the house in Irlams o’ th’ Height where Heywood had been born. After Benjamin Heywood’s death in 1865 they moved to his house, Claremont, nearby. They had no children.
Oliver and Eleanor were married for 30 years, until her death in September 1877.
Death and legacy
Oliver Heywood died at home on 17 March 1892.
He was buried at St John's, Pendlebury, where his funeral service was conducted by the Bishops of Manchester and Guildford. Around 150 carriages took part in his funeral procession. Thousands of people turned out to see it, with 50 or 60 policemen on duty to manage the crowds. On the afternoon of his funeral, shops in Pendlebury and Irlams o’ th’ Height were closed as a mark of respect.
Within weeks of his death, arrangements were made in both Manchester and Salford to erect memorials in his honour. In Manchester, the memorial committee raised £2,665 from 332 subscribers to pay for a marble statue by the Irish sculptor Albert Bruce-Joy. It was erected in Albert Square in December 1894. The Salford memorial, a red granite obelisk by J & H Patteson, was also paid for through public donations. It was installed on Cross Lane, Pendleton in October 1893.
- ’Oliver Heywood and the Overend Gurney Crisis’, Three Banks Review, December 1951, vol. 12, pp. 29-40
- Williams Deacon’s, 1771-1970 (Manchester: privately published by Williams & Glyn’s Bank Ltd, 1971)
- T P Heywood, Reminiscences, Letters and Journals of Thomas Percival Heywood, Baronet. Arranged by his eldest daughter (Isabel Mary). With a preface by the Rev. George Body. (Manchester: printed for private circulation, 1899)
- E Edwards, Manchester Worthies and their Foundations (Manchester: J. Galt & Co, 1855)
- Notice of death, Supplement to the Manchester Courier, 19 March 1882
- Report of death, The Manchester Evening News, 17 March 1892
- Report of funeral of Oliver Heywood, Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 22 March 1892