Rev Oliver Heywood


Rev Oliver Heywood was born on 4th March 1630 in Little Lever, Bolton, Lancashire, the third son of Alice [née Critchlaw] and Richard Heywood.

His parents were strong Puritans. He was brother of Nathaniel Heywood.

Oliver was a leader of nonconformity in the north of England, and laid the foundations of Congregational worship.

In 1647/8, he graduated from Trinity College Cambridge. Eli Bentley was a fellow student.

In 1650, he became a Nonconformist Minister of Coley Church. He stayed with Richard Best at Landimere when he arrived in the district.

When he arrived at Coley, he wrote of his new congregation

Oh, what rioting, rebelling, gluttony, drunkenness, abominable beastly luxury, lechery scarce heard of among the heathen

In 1691, he wrote

I have seldom heard of so many young women with child by fornication as lately, and some of them to cover their shame do marry great wickedness

He ran the church on Puritan lines. Some of the worshippers rejected his strict ideas, and tried to stop people supplying him with provisions.

On 25th April 1655, he married (1) Elizabeth Angier [1634-1661].

Elizabeth was the daughter of John Angier a Manchester clergyman who had been ejected from the living of Denton, Lancashire


  1. John
  2. Eliezer
  3. Nathaniel [b 1659] who died in infancy
A genealogy of the Heywood family is given in Oliver Heywood's Diaries.

In 1659, he fell foul of the Act of Uniformity, and was arrested and spent a night in jail.

He and his family stayed at Lower Ox Heys, Shelf, and at Coley Hall for a time when it was leased by Captain John Hodgson.

In 1662, he was excommunicated and deprived of his living for refusing to use the Book of Common Prayer. Because of the Five Mile Act, he went to live and preach in Lancashire, later taking his children and his maid, Martha Bairstow with him. See Rev Richard Hooke

On 27th June 1667, he married (2) Abigail Crompton [1632-1707].

There were no children by this second marriage.

When the Act was repealed, he returned to the area in March 1672 and was given royal license to establish a Nonconformist church at Northowram on the principles of moderate Presbyterianism. However, his license was recalled in 1674.

He lived at Northowram House. The landlady, Mrs Mellen evicted him by raising the rent. In March 1672, Heywood's friend, Jonathan Priestley bought the House on Heywood's account for 100 marks, or £67 13/4d. Heywood returned to live in the house on 8th May 1672. He received his licence to preach here.

In 1685, sentence of excommunication was pronounced upon him in the parish church. He was convicted at Wakefield, on the charge of

having a riotous assembly in his house

fined £50, and ordered to enter into recognisances for his good behaviour; in default of which he was committed to York Castle, but afterwards liberated, on the payment of £30.

When James II had ascended the throne, Heywood resumed his pastoral functions, and his Northowram meeting-house was licensed under the Toleration Act.

In 1688, he built a chapel on land donated by William Clay. In 1693, he built a school – known as the Bell School because of the bell on the roof – on Northowram Green on land given by Jeremiah Hall. Unable to teach – Nonconformist clergy were banned from teaching – he engaged an Anglican – David Hartley – as master of the school.

In 1691, he introduced the happy union to Yorkshire.

He formed an alliance with Henry Root's Sowerby congregation which met at Heywood's house.

He travelled widely on horseback – one estimate says he travelled 10,000 miles in a year – and in September 1680, he is recorded as weighing 245 pounds [17½ stone] and his wife 115 pounds [8¼ stone].

He wrote a great many books and pamphlets.

In 1696/7, he was one of the founders of Northgate End Unitarian Chapel.

He died at his home at Northowram on the 4th May 1702.

He was buried in Holdsworth Chapel in Halifax Parish Church

with great lamentation

The epitaph on his memorial is recorded in the book Monumental & Other Inscriptions.

During his life, he kept careful records of the births, deaths and marriages in his Parish Registers, and he also kept a personal diary. His diaries and notebooks – edited by J. Horsfall Turner – give much detail about life in the district. He was candidly critical of several people in the district – including John Mitchell and John Murgatroyd

See Mrs Judith Higson, The Life & Works of Oliver Heywood, The Rev Oliver Heywood BA 1630-1702 and Poem by Rev John Fawcett

© Malcolm Bull 2020
Revised 11:38 /17th March 2020 / mmh177 / 9883

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