Isabel Heywood circa 1900.

Isabel Mary Heywood OBE (1851-1940) was the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Percival Heywood and Margaret Heywood. Isabel spent her early life at Dove Leys the family home in Staffordshire, making occasional visits to Heywood houses in Pendleton and London. We do not know much about Isabel during her first 40 years; it is unclear how she was educated and where her interests lay but we do know that she was present when a fire swept through Dove Leys in 1874, a fire which almost took the life of her sister Etheldred. The house was later rebuilt and the family continued to use Dove Leys as their main residence but it is likely that many family photographs and personal papers were lost which may have later shed light on Isabel’s early years.

DESTRUCTION OF SIR PERCIVAL HEYWOOD’S RESIDENCE. With great regret, we have to announce that early on Saturday morning the beautiful mansion of Doveleys, the residence of Sir Percival Heywood, Bart. was almost totally destroyed by fire. The first discovery was about four o’clock by a person in the house…….At half-past six the fire had gained complete mastery of the stately building, which now presents a melancholy mass of ruins. The servants’ apartments and the lower basement story escaped. The roof fell in about seven o’clock, but before that time some of the furniture and other valuables had been saved. The damage done, however, is considerable, and has been roughly estimated at £50,000……..As it is, the loss cannot be estimated by mere money, as not only a most valuable library has become prey to the flames, but some most magnificent paintings and objects of art, and family relics have been lost for ever.  Staffordshire Sentinel -Monday 06 July 1874

On the death of their father in 1897 Isabel and her sisters, Ethedred and Monica moved to Claremont, the main Heywood family residence in Pendleton. When the house was demolished around 1924 the sisters moved to nearby Chaseley, later renamed Claremont in memory of the Heywood baronetage. Isabel lived there until 1937 when she moved to Much Wenlock, where she died in 1940. During the Heywood sisters’ residency their two Claremont homes became the centre for many local garden parties and events for Isabel’s two pet projects, the support of the blind and the building of Holy Angels Church. These two endeavours consumed Isabel up to her death at the age of 89.  

Isabel, Etheldred and Monica Heywood pictured on the entrance portico of ‘old’ Claremont.
The Society’s ‘medallion’ designed at the Manchester School of Art in 1928.

The Manchester & Salford Blind Aid Society Very soon after arriving in Pendleton, Isabel began to devote her time to the Manchester and Salford blind. Initially she read the newspapers to blind persons at Henshaw’s Manchester workshop at 146 Deansgate. By 1899 Isabel had assumed the role of honorary secretary for the Lancashire Mutual Aid Society for the Blind, organising trips to St Anne’s where the organisation had a convalescent home. In the absence of any official data on blind people in Manchester and Salford her chief concern during these early years was to establish a clear understanding of the numbers of blind people locally and their circumstances. She did this by using census returns, placing adverts in the papers, approaching ministers and clergy, poor law inspectors, the police and from the blind themselves.  Isabel’s great great grandfather Thomas Percival was an early advocate of using data to understand issues such as cholera and living conditions. Isabel’s grandfather Benjamin Heywood followed this tradition  hosting the early meetings of the Manchester Statistical Society at his Claremont home in Pendleton and becoming the first president. 

On Behalf of the Blind’, published in 1902, can be regarded at Isabel Heywood’s practical manifesto for change in the support of blind people.

From her experiences Isabel Heywood soon developed a new model of care for the blind, one that enabled able bodied blind people to earn a living and thereby develop independence and self-esteem. Alongside this she fostered the idea that blind people, wherever possible, should have the opportunity to have a home life commensurate with that of the general population. In 1900, with Alice Mather, she established the Manchester and Salford Blind Aid Society in accommodation on John Street recently vacated by the Manchester Eye Hospital which had moved to their new building on Oxford Road.  Soon after the Manchester and Salford Blind Aid Society founded its first house at 1 Hulme Place on The Crescent in Salford.  Nine blind women lived there at a charge of 5 shillings a week all in. These two main components of the Society: a central office with workshops, library, meeting rooms, offices and residential homes with supportive care would remain the Society’s core structure throughout its history.

The 1901 census for 1 Hulme Place shows that John Astin, (40), from Ashley Staffordshire, a visitor for the blind and also registered blind , was the superintendent living there with his wife Sarah Ann, who was the matron, and their children Frances Emily, a costume machinist aged 19, and Charles, an apprentice mechanic aged 17.

No 1 Hulme Place, The Crescent, Salford. The first Manchester & Salford Blind Aid Society home.

The blind female residents of this first home were Esther Alice Duffy (39) from Besses o’ th’ Barn, Mary Jane Gill (37) from Manchester, Ellen Casey (23) from Salford who was employed as a masseuse. Charlotte Cherry (22) from Rawtenstall, Harriet Johnson (32) from Southport, Margaret M Shaw (17) from Stretford, Harriett A Rothwell (17) from Newton Heath and Beatrice E Pasey (16) from Oxford were all registered as blind from birth. Selina Fish (14) from Salford was their sighted servant.

Isabel was a particularly resourceful networker, using her social connections to garner support for her ideas and making use of the newspapers to promote the Society. In January 1901 the society’s first party was reported in the press; 

MANCHESTER AND SALFORD BLIND AID SOCIETY. About 230 blind and women, with their guides and friends had tea party and social gathering Tuesday at the new Central Rooms, Artillery street, Deansgate. It was the first annual event of the kind held under the auspices the Manchester and Salford Blind Aid Society, which has only had limited existence under this title, but which is conducting spirited and widespread operations in the city and borough. The Society comprises the Lancashire Mutual Aid Society for the Blind, twenty-two year old, amalgamated with the Blind Relief Society, founded early last year, and the means by which it is sought to improve the condition of more than blind men and women of Manchester and Salford are various. They include a sick and benefit club, a home at St. Annes-on-the-Sea. a library of the Braille and Moon types, provision for finding employment for those able and willing to work, and for finding a sale of their handiwork. The new Central Rooms have been made available at a low rent by the authorities of the Royal Eye Hospital, who had not used this portion of the building – fronting upon St. John street since the new hospital was opened in Oxford-street. The rent of these premises is going to be paid by Mr. W. G. Groves, of Windermere. The cost of putting them into condition for their new uses is being largely or wholly defrayed by Mr. Grove, Mr. W. Mather, M.P., and Mr. Samuel Armitage, while Mr. John Brooke has kindly given his services to the Society as an architect in the necessary adaptation of the building. Tuesday night’s gathering, which was mainly of a social character, was presided over by Stuart Garnett. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Thursday 31 January 1901

Godfrey Ermen Convalescent home, Southport, 1905 (above and below) With the help of the Trustees of Godfrey Ermen, the sewing cotton manufacturer, who had left a large bequest to charitable trusts in the area of Manchester and Eccles, Isabel was able to build a purpose built convalescent home at Southport. Laying the foundation stone in 1904 Isabel Heywood took an active involvement in the design of the building working with the architect John Brooke. The house still exists today as a care home. 

REST FOR THE BLIND.  NEW MANCHESTER HOUSE. The Godfrey Ermen Memorial Home of Rest for the Blind, a branch of the work of the Manchester and Salford Blind Aid Society, was opened at Roe-lane, Southport, yesterday afternoon, by the Bishop of Liverpool, Dr. Chavasse. Mr. Gerald Peel, chairman of the society, presided over a large attendance, which included many ladies. Among those present were Miss Isabel M. Heywood, Pendleton, hon. secretary………. The Bishop of Liverpool opened the main door with a silver key presented by the architect, and subsequently dedicated the home. The Chairman said when the committee made it known that they urgently required a home of their own the residuary legatees of the late Mr. Godfrey Ermen responded most nobly to that appeal, and they undertook not only to buy the site but to defray the entire cost, some £6,003, of the home, which would accommodate thirty inmates. ………. The home was a beautiful idea beautifully carried out, and would bring brightness to the lives of those who would be its inmates. Reference was made to the splendid work of Miss Heywood. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Wednesday 17 May 1905

The second Triennial Conference of the Blind in Manchester and Salford In 1908 Isabel was influential in bringing an international conference on the blind to Manchester and Salford during which she gave a presentation on her ideas for the housing of blind persons. A garden party for the delegates, hosted by the Mayor of Salford, Alderman Isidor Frankenburg, was held at Buile Hill Park. The group photograph shows the delegates assembled in front of the Natural History Museum at Buile Hill. The conference report commented on the ‘beautiful park’ and the the succesful photograph of the entire party.

The second triennial international Conference of the blind was opened at Manchester yesterday afternoon. Delegates are present from all parts of the United Kingdom , and there are also present representatives from Japan, New Zealand, and the United States. The delegates were welcomed to Manchester by Alderman Royle, chairman of Henshaw’s Blind Asylum, who said he hoped the Conference would result in largely benefiting the blind everywhere ……. Miss Isabel M. Heywood read a paper on various methods adopted for aiding the blind. She said that in Manchester and Salford the Blind Aid Society had a complete register of five hundred blind persons living outside the institutions, and they were in touch with all of them. The whole question of the blind was fraught with difficulty and they wanted to nourish every spark of independence and to encourage every effort to live a natural home life. The workhouse was not the place for intelligent and respectable blind, of whatever age, nor blind children. She advocated small homes for blind people rather than large ones. The Scotsman – Tuesday 28 July 1908

The Pendleton Homes In 1908, Isabel was able to secure the Elms, a large villa residence on Eccles Old Road as a home for blind women. Thirteen women were moved to the Elms from Thornhil, also on Eccles Old Road, when the lease ran out. The Elms was the first of a cluster of four homes: large substantial villa style houses previously built for the wealthy professional class. They were ideal for Isabel’s project of accommodating a community of blind people in spacious houses surrounded by pleasant, leafy gardens situated within a residential area amongst sighted people. The accounts for the society reveal how she was able to raise the money to purchase, sustain and staff these homes through applications to the Ministry of Health, holding fund raising events and through legacies and trusts. The Elms was followed by Oaklands in 1923, Elmbank in 1925 and Oakhurst in 1929. Together with the Godfrey Ermen home in Southport (1905) these homes eventually accommodated 162 people permanently and provided convalescence for 40 people. Work for the society continued throughout the next two decades culminating in Isobel being awarded an OBE for her work on behalf of blind people.

The Elms, the Manchester & Salford Blind Aid Society’s home on Eccles Old Road, was opened in 1908. Blind women were transferred to the Elms from Thornhill, a house at Pendleton which had replaced I Hulme Place around 1904.
Oaklands and Oakhurst, the Manchester & Salford Blind Aid Society’s homes on Eccles Old Road around 1930.
Photograph of Isabel Heywood to commemorate her OBE, awarded in 1930 for services to blind people.

In 1931 the Society commissioned a short film to publicise its work and appeal for funds. The Grosvenor Cinemas chain distributed the film across the Manchester area. ’Shuttered Windows’, later converted into a talkie and adapted for a miniature cinema projector shows the Society’s headquarters in Tonman Street, Manchester, the Ermen convalescent home and the Pendleton homes on Eccles Old Road. ’Shuttered Windows’ is preserved in the North West Film Archive and can be viewed online at https://vimeo.com/192786454.  1931 was also the year of the death of Alice Mather, co-founder of the Society in 1900 and later honorary superintendent at The Elms. Alice Mather was responsible for the mammoth task of typing the thirty-five volumes of Nuttalls Dictionary into Braille.

Isabel Heywood retained her connection with the society up to her death, making her last report around 1936. The society survived until 1980 when it merged with Henshaw’s.

Holy Angels Church, Claremont Alongside her work for blind people Isabel Heywood and her sister Monica campaigned for a church in Claremont to be built on Heywood land. Building Anglican churches was in the Heywood’s DNA. Family members had previously built St Augustines, Pendlebury (Grade I), St Peter, Swinton (GradeII*), St John, Pendlebury and St Anne, Brindleheath (lost) within the locality and others had been endowed elsewhere. The first step in Claremont was taken in 1915 when a small temporary mission church (below) was opened on Sumner Road, Irlams o’ th’ Height on land provided by the Heywood sisters’ brother, Arthur Percival Heywood. The precursor to Holy Angels this later became the church hall and survived in that form until 1965 when it was finally demolished.  

The first Holy Angels, facing Sumner Road, was built in 1915. It became the parish hall once the new church was opened. Estimated to have a 25 year life, the hall survived until 1965 when it was demolished. Below: the first performance at the new parish hall in 1928.

CHURCH EXTENSION IN PENDLETON. DEDICATION BY THE BISHOP. The Bishop of Manchester last evening dedicated the mission church of the Holy Angels, of the conventional parish of Claremont, in the neighbourhood of Irlams-o’-th’-Height. This district has during the past 10 or 15 years developed rapidly, and in due course application was made for its constitution as a separate ecclesiastical parish. That application succeeded, and slices were taken out of the parishes of St. John’s, Pendlebury; St. Thomas’s. Pendleton; and St. James’s, Hope; the Rev. Arthur Boddington being appointed the vicar-designate. The new parish has a population of about 4,000 souls, but house-building is proceeding rapidly, and soon that figure will have been left, in the rear. A site for the permanent church has been secured, but some time will elapse before building operations are commenced. The present structure has been erected and furnished at a cost of about, £1,000. The gifts of friends have been numerous, and were much appreciated. Miss Heywood, of Claremont, has taken a great interest the organisation the new parish and its temporary parochial structure, and so have many other residents of the neighbourhood. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Thursday 11 November 1915

Early on Isabel had approached the celebrated church architect John Ninian Comper for designs for a new permanent church on land between Acresfield and Moorfield Roads. Comper had met Isabel through mutual friends before the First World War, confirmed by letters in the Comper archives in the RIBA. No doubt Isabel was aware of St Mary in the Baum, Rochdale designed by Comper in 1911 in a style sympathetic to an urban environment. In the end the new parish was unable to raise sufficient money to fund a Comper church and the Bolton firm of Bradshaw, Gass and Hope, were eventually appointed as Holy Angels’ architects. In 1923 Graham Percival Heywood provided the land for the new church, valued at £2,350, at a knock down price of £800, also giving ten stained glass panels from the chapel at Dove Leys, for the windows. These were later removed when Holy Angels was demolished in 1995 and reinstated in its nearby replacement where they remain to this day. 

Bradshaw, Gass and Hope’s plan for Holy Angels (above) was approved in 1924 . The design, by Arthur John Hope, was described as ‘ in the early Norman style and in keeping with the surrounding district is built of brick with roof of red tiles’.

In 1921 the charismatic Richard Leonard Hussey was appointed Holy Angel’s second vicar and fund-raising for a new church began in earnest. Parish magazines during the 1920s record the successful campaign involving fetes, jumble sales, performances and regular  ‘free will giving’ from the largely middle-class congregation populating the substantial terraced and semi-detached houses of Claremont and Irlams o th Height.  The Heywood sisters frequently threw open their Claremont home in support of the venture and their brother, Arthur Percival Heywood regularly contributed sums to the campaign and raised funds through his theatrical group which performed on several occasions at Pendleton Town Hall. 

Isabel performed  the ‘breaking of the ground’ in November 1925 on the site of the future altar. The foundation stone was laid in June 1926, delayed by a month as a result of the general strike.  Holy Angels was consecrated in June 1928 becoming a familiar landmark in Claremont for 65 years. The total cost was £17,679. In 1995 the decision to demolish Holy Angels was taken. It was replaced with the current church, a small octagonal structure built on adjacent land, which was dedicated on 23 June 1997.  Many of the furnishings were moved to the new church including the Lady Chapel holy table, lectern, wooden font, the festal altar frontal, banner, original foundation stone and stained glass windows originally from Dove Leys in Staffordshire. 

The design for a banner of silk applique which was commissioned for Holy Angels in 1929. The banner was used for Whit walks for many years and still exists.
The East windows at the 1928 Holy Angels with the Festal high altar frontal which is still in use.
Monica and Isabel in the grounds of Claremont in the late 1930s.

Isabel Heywood’s Will On her death Isabel’s estate was valued at £16,750. There were two bequests to Holy Angels.  £1,000 to the Diocesan Board was to provide an endowment for the church and a further £1,000 went directly to the church with various suggestions for its use. These included a Madonna window for the Lady Chapel and an organ case. The residue of her estate, after several family bequests, was to be invested to provide an income for Isabel’s sister Monica Heywood.