Page detailing donations towards the cost of land and building the Manchester Mechanics' Institution.
Collections Founders and Funders

The Heywoods

A blog by Nancy Adams as part of the Founders and Funders exhibition.

The Heywood family was “eminent and historically conspicuous”, occupying a prominent position in Liverpool and Manchester. Sir Benjamin Heywood (1793-1865) was born in St. Ann’s Square in 1793. He attended the prestigious Warrington Academy, followed by Glasgow University (1809–11).  In 1814 he became a partner in the family bank, and married Sophia Ann Robinson two years later. By 1828, he was the sole proprietor of the Bank and in 1838 he received his baronetcy. [1] 

The Heywoods’ investment in the slave trade began with brothers Arthur and Benjamin, (grandfather of Sir Benjamin Heywood) who individually or as a partnership invested directly in the ownership of 82 expeditions and acted as suppliers to an uncounted number of additional voyages. When we include Benjamin Arthur and Nathaniel, sons of Benjamin Sr., the total of slave trading voyages with direct Heywood ownership totals 133. This involved the transportation of an estimated 42,000 people, 6,000 of whom died before reaching the Americas. William Davenport was a merchant, slave trader and co-investor in thirty-six of these voyages with the Heywoods.  On average, Davenport’s investments made 10% profit, so it is likely the Heywoods made similarly high returns. [2] 

Table listing Liverpool slave trading voyages with investment from Heywood family members. Information drawn from the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database 

Lancaster and Manchester business directories list the Heywoods as partners with the Robinsons as Manchester-based manufacturers of Linen and ‘Africa Goods’. For Robinson and Heywood this meant supplying textiles to slave traders, particularly in Liverpool but also those operating from other ports like London and Bristol. The vast profits from investment in Transatlantic slave economy gave the brothers the means to establish a bank in in Liverpool. Manchester customers encouraged the Heywoods to establish a bank in the town, and by the 1780s most of their credit was committed to cotton merchants. Those slave trading profits were fundamental to Manchester’s economic development and the growing demand for slave-grown cotton. [3] 

Benjamin Heywood’s family tree is littered with connections to Transatlantic slavery, including his cousin Richard, a “West India Merchant”. Benjamin (the elder) and Arthur Heywood married the heiresses of John Pemberton, a wealthy Liverpool merchant who invested in at least ten slaving voyages. This allowed the Heywoods ‘to take rank with the oldest and richest of the Liverpool Merchants’.  Sir Benjamin Heywood’s great-grandfather, Samuel Ogden, also had ties to the slave trade and was an investor in 23 slave trading expedition, including co-investing in voyages with Arthur Heywood. [4] 

Similarly, Benjamin’s wife Sophia Ann was the daughter of Thomas Robinson, business partner of the Heywood’s in the firm of Robinson & Heywood “African goods manufacturers” who supplied Manchester-made textiles to the slave trade. This marriage facilitated the flow of slave-derived wealth and integrated Benjamin into the Hibbert and Phillips clans, two powerful families, each with their own connections to the slave trade. The “eminence” of the Heywood family was a legacy of five generations of investment in Transatlantic slavery. [5] 

Sir Benjamin Heywood and the Manchester Mechanics’ Institution

The Manchester Mechanic’s Institution was a precursor to the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, which merged with the Victoria University in 2004 to form the University of Manchester. As a founder and president (1824-1840) of the Institution Benjamin was heavily involved in the development of the Institution, and made substantial donations to it.  His status within the Institution is illustrated by the portrait (below) which hung in its reading room. [6] 

Benjamin Heywood listed as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Manchester Mechanics’ Institution from List of Directors of Manchester Mechanics’ Institution, 1828 (MMI/2/1)

Sir Benjamin Heywood, Bt by William Bradley, 1844. Courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery (1903.17)

The below image shows that Sir Benjamin, his uncle, and his brother each contributed £634 15s, worth £59,430.00 today, to the MMI for the construction of a new building for the Institution. His uncle by marriage, Robert Phillips, matched this sum, and ‘the bankers’ (Heywood brothers and Co.) paid £37 4s 2d interest, worth £3,483 today. Altogether Benjamin’s extended family, with their wealth derived from profits from slavery, contributed £1904 5s (£178,300 today) to this building fund. Benjamin made a life donation of £21 (£1,966) in 1829 and is listed as a ‘life member’ in 1850, contributing a further £10 10s (£983).  An annual subscription of £10 10s is also noted in the Manchester Guardian in 1833. [7] 

Sums given by major named donors and founders to the building fund of the Manchester Mechanics’ Institution by December 1827 from An account of the cost of land and building for the Manchester Mechanics Institution, 1827. (MMI/2/1)

Heywood further supported the development of the Institution by raising subscriptions and building popular support. His public addresses also promoted the importance of technological advances in the textile industry; celebrating the increased importation of raw cotton into Manchester, and the city’s exports of cotton products. Heywood also presented 42 books to the Manchester Mechanics’ Institution in 1829, including four volumes of the “life and works” of his grandfather, Dr Percival. The first two volumes can be found in the University’s collection today, alongside many other books on the list, which continue to hold significant financial value. [8] 

This illustrates how, not just as a funder but also a founder, Heywood’s values and material interests were intertwined with those of the Institution as well as providing a legacy of his influence in the production of knowledge within its walls. 


[1] Leo Hartley Grindon, Manchester Banks and Bankers: Historical, Biographical, and Anecdotal (Manchester, 1878), p.43. Thomas Heywood, A Memoir of Sir Benjamin Heywood, Baronet (Manchester, 1888), pp.14-31.

[2] H.R.F. Bourne, English Merchants: Memoirs in Illustration of the Progress of British Commerce (R. Bentley, 1866), pp. 321-325. David Richardson, ‘Davenport, William (1725–1797), Merchant and Slave-Trader’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, David Richardson, ‘Profitability in the Bristol-Liverpool Slave Trade’, Outre-Mers. Revue d’histoire, Vol. 62 (1975), pp. 301-08. 

[3] William Bailey, Bailey’s Western and Midland Directory, for the Year 1783 (Birmingham, 1783). John Scholes, Scholes’s Manchester and Salford Directory (Manchester, 1794). Bancks, G., Bancks’s Manchester and Salford Directory (Manchester, 1800). Joseph Inikori, “Market Structure and the Profits of the British African Trade in the Late Eighteenth Century”, Journal of Economic History, Vol. 41 (1981), pp. 745-76. Stanley Chapman, “Financial Restraints on the Growth of Firms in the Cotton Industry, 1790-1850”, Economic History Review, Vol. 32 (1979), pp. 50-69. 

[4] Legacies of British Slavery database ‘Richard Heywood’, H.R.F. Bourne, English Merchants: Memoirs in Illustration of the Progress of British Commerce (R. Bentley, 1866), p.63. ; Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade database –  

[5] Katie Donington, The Bonds of Family: Slavery, Commerce and Culture in the British Atlantic World (Manchester, 2019). 

[6] ‘History of UMIST’, University of Manchester Anita McConnell, ‘Heywood, Sir Benjamin, First Baronet (1793–1865), Banker’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography;jsessionid=D3CFC9766D471660EFEC17D24F5CEF0D Grindon, Manchester Banks and Bankers, p.195.

[7] Report – Manchester Mechanics’ Institution’, Manchester, 1832. MMI 2/1 George William Wood, “Mechanics’ Institution” , Manchester Guardian, 10th April, 1824. “Life members for 1849-1850”, Manchester, 1850, The University of Manchester Library. E Sweetlove, ‘Mechanics’ Institution¬- Cooper Street, Manchester Guardian, 6th April 1833. 

[8] Report – Manchester Mechanics’ Institution, ‘List of Books’, Manchester, 1832. “Manchester Mechanics’ Institute”, Manchester Guardian, 31/7/1824. Benjamin Heywood, ‘Address delivered at the Manchester Mechanics Institution’, Manchester, 1843, p.30-31.

Explore more blogs from the Founders and Funders series by using the links below.

0 comments on “The Heywoods

Leave a Reply