- How money from slavery made Greater Manchester
- The importance of cotton in north west England
- The Lancashire cotton famine
- Smoking, drinking and the British sweet tooth
- Black presence in Britain and north west England
- Resistance and campaigns for abolition
- The bicentenary of British abolition
Why was cotton so important in north west England?
The Heywood family of Bolton
John Heywood and his son Robert (1786-1868) founded a successful cotton quilt manufacturers firm, John Heywood and Son, in Bolton in 1803. Robert Heywood was born in Bolton after his father moved there from the neighbouring village of Little Lever. The Heywoods purchased yarn from local manufacturers and took it into their warehouse, from which it was collected by handloom weavers for weaving into quilting in their homes.
Bolton Archives and Local Studies holds correspondence between John and Robert Heywood and their nephew/cousin John Fray, a merchant based in Montego Bay, Jamaica. These give details of the different types of cloth supplied for sale in Jamaica, presumably for traders, merchants and slave plantation owners. Although it is not clear whether Fray or the Heywoods had any direct connection with slavery, John Fray writes the following in a letter of 1817, concerning the treatment of enslaved Africans:
'I am candid to tell you they are far better off than any class of peasantry in your country - both as to food, labour and general comforts and this I avow to you in the very strongest and most ungratified terms. I may without being an advocate for the oppression of the slave - which oppression is really rare but sometimes occurs, when 'tis I assure you visited on the white delinquent in a very severe manner by fine imprisonment or pillory - I may I say without being an advocate for oppression avow myself a friend to good order and feel deeply the necessity of keeping the negro in good habits - which experience shows can only be done by imposing restraints, we should feel rather disagreeable but as reliable improvement is making in all classes of slaves - this restraint like the later heritages of our old feudal system is any fact clearing away and better methods are daily coming into use...'
Robert Heywood chaired a public lecture given by James Watkins, an ex-slave who stayed for some time in Bolton. It was common practice for African-American speakers to be paired with a British anti-slavery supporter or, during the American Civil War, with a supporter of the Union. According to the Bolton Chronicle of 13 September 1851:
'R Heywood, Esq., having been called to the chair, offered a few remarks deprecatory of slavery and denouncing as disrespectful the distinctions which he had observed in America between the white and coloured races of that country.'
We also know that Robert Heywood was on the list of subscribers for an anti-slavery publication written by Mr JS Buckingham entitled 'Slave States of America', published in 1842.
This family history demonstrates shifting public opinion towards the institution of slavery during the nineteenth century and how a single family could, at different times, occupy opposing positions.