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Abel Heywood



With credits to The Abel Heywood Hotel in NQ Manchester and Michael Herbert


As the population of Manchester surged with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, Heywood’s widowed mother Betty brought her four children from what was then “the pretty village of Prestwich” in the hope of finding work. Abel Heywood was born in 1810 into this poor family in Prestwich. His father's death when Abel was only 5 resulted in him having received very little formal education, he is said to have attended the National school on Bury New Road, and and at the age of 9 years he was apprenticed to the Thomas Worthington warehouse in High Street in Manchester for the princely sum of 1s.6d (about 72 pence) a week. His family by this time had moved to live in Angel Meadow, a notorious slum area of back-back properties riddled with poverty, disease, vice and crime.

He would, nevertheless, go on to become a prominent figure in the local government of Manchester and in the establishment of its free press. After beign educated at The National School in Prestwich, he attended the Bennett Street Sunday School, later the Mechanics' Institute, of which he was one of the first members, along with Sir William Fairbairn (buried in St Mary's).By the time he was 20, Heywood had opened a "penny newsroom”, and acquired the agency for the sale of the “Poor Man's Guardian", a working man's newspaper which sold for one penny, and had the strapline: 'Published in Defiance of the Law to try the power of Might against Right'

Its editors refused to pay the stamp duty which was then due on all newspapers, regarding it as a tax on knowledge which kept newspapers as the prerogative of the wealthy. He was prosecuted several times for selling this “illegal" newspaper, serving one 4 month jail sentence, at the New Baily,Salford in 1832, for failing to pay the fine.

He was fined again in 1834 and 1836. He was prosecuted yet again in 1840 for selling allegedly "blasphemous material". The book in question was C. J. Halam's Letters to the Clergy, mild indeed by the standards of today.[ref]

Abel was not without controversy, despite being an active Chartist, he tipped off Sir Charles Shaw of a Chartist rising in Bolton in 1840 (to avoid serving a sentence for the alledged blasphemy). He also supported the middle class directorship of the Mechanics' Institute, where £10 would secure a position of director, and that allowed you to then select your replacement - The New Mechanics' Institute was set up in protest to this arrangement and also the pricey £1 membership fee.

Ben Brierley's Journal

Due to his reputation and business acumen he was appointed as Commissioner of Police in 1855 and later elected as a member of the new Manchester Corporation.

Meanwhile he continued newspaper and wallpaper printing and sales, opening his own paper mill in Stockport, publishing journals such as the Chartists' "The Northern Star”, “Ben Brierley's Journal", and his own publication, the "Manchester Spectator".

Heywood remained an active Chartist (no one knew of his deal with Shaw) printing much of the movement's material and Heywood had opened a shop at 60 Oldham Street in Manchester.

Heywoods printshop

In the late 1860's, Abel realised that people were using the railways more and more and he created the penny guides for many UK seaside and holiday destinations, by 1912, there were over 100 guides in circulation.

Heywoods Gudies

He wanted working men to have the vote; he campaigned for free, compulsory education; he supported the right of women to join professions and, one day, to vote. His first term as Mayor was in 1862-1863, during the cotton famine, and became Mayor again in 1876-1877. A major achievement was his role in guiding Manchester Town Hall to its completion. The townhall itself was design by architect Alfred Waterhouse in the then fashionable neo-Gothic style, and is one of the jewels in the city's architectural crown. Waterhouse had designed the Venetian Gothic Chest Tomb to John Slagg, merchant, justice of the peace, and friend of John Cobden of the Anti-Corn Law League, who resides in St Mary's churchyard.

Abel Heywood visited the building site of Manchester Town Hall every day for more than 10 years and, when he was 65, climbed to the top of the tower and laid the last stone.

The ceremony was surrounded in controvesy, as Queen Victoria was invited to perform the opneing, and refused. Many rumours circvulated that Abel had published, not blashpemous, but obscene material.

He need fear no scrutiny of the past, for his conduct has been that of a steady and consistent friend of progress and popular rights. He was not afraid of espousing the right when it was unpopular. He has suffered fine and imprisonment in defence of that liberty of speech which all now enjoy. If the Crown deliberately abstains from honouring the man who has made his way in the world by sheer force of character; the man who has not flinched to make heavy sacrifices for the causes he deems to be right; the man who has earned the respect of his fellow-citizens by his long labours on their behalf, then the discredit attaches itself not to the victim but to the Minister who allows himself to become the tool of party spite or personal malice.

In this era most people worked all day on Saturdays, so the committee placed advertisments in the press asking employers to give their workers time off to take part in the procession.

On the 15 September, 1877, the procession assemble at Piccadilly, Stevenson Square and Oldham Road. In total, 69 trade societies took part, with 50,000 people, and the procession was reported as being a mile long, taking three hours to pass the Town Hall steps where Abel and his wife received them.

Not a window from which a view of the procession could be had was without its occupants, and no available spot on the tops of the buildings commanding a sight of the display was not utilised. Albert Square was, of course, the centre of the demonstration, and a most animated picture was there presented.

Heywoods bust - Manchester Town Hall

Abel Heywood, resided in "Summerfield" in Bowden. The printer, radical and Mayor of Manchester, was made freeman of the City and died in 1893, buried at Summerfield. The Great Abel bell at the town hall is named after him, and weighs 8 tons 2.5 cwt. It is inscribed with the initials AH and the Tennyson line

"Ring out the false, ring in the true"

Abel...A Bell

Take a trip up the Manchester Town Hall Tower with Martin Zero....





However, in St Mary' churchyard we have the grave of Abel's brother, John.



John Heywood's distinctive grave

A tall, narrow limestone obelisk on a square base was erected “In Memory of JOHN HEYWOOD BOOKSELLER AND PUBLISHER OF MANCHESTER WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE ON THE 7th DAY OF OCTOBER 1864 IN THE 58th YEAR OF HIS AGE AND WHO WAS INTERRED HERE ON THE 12th OF OCTOBER 1864. HE WAS DISTINGUISHED FOR GREAT PERSEVERANCE AND UNTIRING ENERGY GOOD, WITHOUT NOISE; WITHOUT PRETENSION, GREAT.”

[Next to John Heywood lies the famous cabinet maker, James Lamb and his family]