Oliver Heywood


Oliver Heywood (Little Lever, Bolton, Lancashire, England; March 5, 1630 - Northowram, Yorkshire, England; May 4, 1702) was a British nonconformist minister, expelled for his beliefs.


Oliver Heywood was the son of Alice Critchlaw (1590-1657), a native of Little Lever, Lancashire, and Richard Heywood (1596-1677), a landowner and owner of Little Lever who prospered by weaving Fustians.

His parents were strong Puritans, they married in 1615 in Bolton, Lancashire, England, and together they had 13 children: John Heywood (1616-1618), Hannah Heywood (1618-?), James John Heywood, Mary Heywood (1622-1648), John Heywood (1624-1664), Hannah Heywood (1623-1673), Esther Heywood (1627-1695), Oliver Heywood (1630-1702), Alice Heywood (1631-1677), Mary Heywood (1633-1634), Nathaniel Heywood (1633-1677), Josiah Heywood (1638-1664) and John Heywood (1634-1688).

One of the sons, Nathaniel Heywood (1633-1677), was Ormskirk's minister until his expulsion in 1662 after unsuccessful attempts to prosecute him under the Five Mile Act, an act of the Parliament of England passed in 1665 to prevent non-conformists from living in corporations. His older brother, Oliver Heywood, described Nathaniel as "the flower of our family for his wisdom, talent and piety."

Oliver Heywood was married for the first time, on April 24, 1655 in Denton, Lancashire, England, with Elizabeth Angier (1634-1661) and together they had 3 children: John Heywood (1656-1704), Eliezer Heywood (1657-1730) and Nathaniel Heywood (1659-1659). John was minister at Rotherham and Pontefract, and his brother Eliezer at Wallingwells, Notthinghamshire and Dronfield, Derbyshire.

He then married again on June 27, 1667 at Salford, to Abigail Crompton (1632-1707), a native of Breightmet, and they had no children.

It should be noted that Oliver Heywood was a great-grandson of John Heywood (1533-1600), of Heywood Mill, near Bolton, a younger branch of the Heywood family, of Heywood Hall, between Rochdale and Bury. It's conjectured that he is the descendant of a younger brother of a Heywood (Hall) Heywood, but of course such assumptions are always possible and do not prove anything. The closest to indicative evidence is that Oliver's father, Richard Oliver (1596-1677), was called a cousin by Robert Heywood of Heywood, who could have been his third cousin at best.

If he could not boast of descent from the great and noble of the earth, he could rejoice in the number of his relatives distinguished by their piety. His grandfather, Oliver Heywood (1556-1628), for whom he was named, 'was famous for his zeal, meekness, humility, love, and growth in grace', although he was not familiar with the salvation gospel before the sixty years of age.

His father and mother, Richard and Alice Heywood, were both truly godly esteemed before marriage, and were greatly influenced by his attachment to true godliness in their choice for each other.


After passing through Bolton School and other schools, Oliver Heywood was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, on July 9, 1647, with Akehurst being his tutor, who later became a Quaker.

In religious matters, he was greatly influenced by the preaching of Samuel Hammond, and he joined the students in a kind of religious club that met in the 'attic' of Thomas Jollie (1629-1703).

In 1650 he graduated and soon began to preach; his first sermon was delivered in a village near Preston, Lancashire. His uncle, Francis Critchlaw, recommended him as a preacher at Coley Chapel, near the town of Northowram, in the parish of Halifax, West Riding. He accepted the post, with a stipend of £ 30, on November 26, 1650, and turned down an offer from Houghton Chapel, Lancashire. Although he was less than the regular age, on August 4, 1662, he was ordained at Bury, Lancashire, by the second presbytery of that county.

His younger brother, Nathaniel Heywood, was a minister at Illingworth Chapel, in the same parish as Halifax, and the two lived together in 1654 at Godley House.

Heywood moved to Northowram after marrying in 1655. For many years prior to his arrival, communion had not been administered at Coley; he restored the monthly celebration in 1655, relating it in 1657 to the introduction of ecclesiastical discipline in the Presbyterian manner. Until then, his parishioners had been attached to his ministry; but discipline divided them and 'sincere Christians' became their 'biggest problem'; his list of communions reached seventy-three names. He persevered against the opposition, rejecting calls to one of the two churches in St. Martin, York, and to the Preston vicarage.

Cornered & Silenced

Heywood was a Presbyterian royalist, and although he did not participate in the insurrection under George Booth (1566-1652), the first Baron Delamer, he disobeyed the order requiring a public thanksgiving for its suppression and was consequently arrested and threatened with kidnapping in August 1659.

At the news that Monck had declared for the king, he explodes in his diary in a psalm of praise. With the restoration, however, serious problems began. Richard Hooke, the new vicar of Halifax, banned baptism in outlying chapels. Heywood continued to baptize, amend, and send the usual gratuities to the vicar.

On January 23, 1661, the authority stopped his "private fast." Among its parishioners, an influential group, led by Stephen Ellis of Hipperholme, the most important man in the chapel, favored the resumption of the prayer book. Consequently, a copy was placed on the pulpit cushion on August 25, 1661. Heywood silently set her aside. At Ellis's urging, Heywood was summoned to York on September 13, after several hearings, his suspension from ministry in the Diocese of York was published on June 29, 1662 in the Halifax Church. For two or three Sundays he persisted in preaching; One month after the Uniformity Act came into effect on August 24, 1662, and he was excommunicated, the sentence of excommunication was read publicly in Halifax Church on November 2, at Bolton Parish Church, Lancashire, the January 4, 1663, and again in Halifax on December 3, 1663.

Therefore, an attempt was made to exclude him from the churches, even as a listener; while, on the other hand, Ellis, as guardian of the church, claimed fines for his non-attendance at Coley Chapel, under the Elizabeth statute. John Angier (1605-1677), his father-in-law, admitted him to communion at Denton Chapel, Lancashire, and on June 5, 1664, he preached at the invitation of the vicar at the parish church at Mottram-in-Longdendale, Cheshire; on August 13, 1665 at Shadwell Chapel, near Leeds, Hardcastle, the minister, who was then in prison for dissent.

His Ministry

Although by law he was a silenced minister, Heywood constantly held conventicles in the homes of the Presbyterian nobility and farmers, openly defying the law of 1664. Following the passage of the Five Mile Act in 1665, he left his residence at Coley Hall, but only to become a traveling evangelist through the northern counties.

In his opinion, this act, by moving the expelled ministers to new places, promoted rather than hindered the nonconformist cause. Taking advantage of the absence of his successor, he preached at Coley Chapel on the first Sunday of 1668 before a large assembly; his appearances in the pulpits of parish churches were frequent at this time.

Finally, on March 13, 1670, he was arrested after preaching at Little Woodhouse, near Leeds, but was released two days later. However, his assets were seized on July 13 to face the fine under the new Conventicles Law, which took effect on May 10.

Under the royal indulgence of 1672, he obtained two licenses as a Presbyterian 'teacher', one on April 20 for his own home in Northowram, the other on July 25 for John Butterworth's home at Warley in Halifax parish. More than a hundred of his former parishioners entered with Heywood on June 12, in an ecclesiastical covenant without Presbyterian peculiarities, and thus joined members of a congregational church meeting in Sowerby Chapel Parish on June 18. in Halifax, by Henry Root on October 20, 1669.

On 29 October 1672 he participated in the first ordination of Northern Presbyterians since the Restoration, held at Deansgate, Manchester, in the home of Robert Eaton, an expelled theologian, then Minister of Stand, Lancashire. When the licenses were withdrawn in February 1675, Oliver Heywood resumed his itinerant labors.

It's said that in a single year he traveled 1,400 miles, preached 105 times in addition to Sunday duty, and observed fifty days of fasting and nine of thanksgiving. He attended the first Presbyterian ordination in Yorkshire, at Richard Mitchel's home in Craven, on July 8, 1678.

On January 16, 1685, he was condemned at the Wakefield sessions by a riotous assembly at his home. Refusing to pay a fine of £ 50 and to ensure his good behavior, he was imprisoned in York Castle until the end of the year.

He approved James' declaration for freedom of conscience in 1687 and immediately set about building a meeting house at Northowram beginning in 1688, to which he later added a school.

The first teacher was David Hartley (1705-1757), father of the philosopher David Hartley (1732-1813), and his meeting house was licensed under the Law of Tolerance on July 18, 1689.

Oliver Heywood was one of many nonconformist theologians who attended solemn fasts in September 1689, in connection with the case of Richard Dugdale, known as the "Surey Demon." It's clear that he originally believed in the reality of Dugdale's possession, but in the subsequent defense of the ministers involved he did not participate.

London Agreement

The London agreement in 1691 between the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists, known as the "happy union", was introduced in Yorkshire mainly through the influence of Oliver Heywood. 

On September 2, 1691, he preached at Mrs. Kirby's home in Wakefield to twenty ordained preachers and four graduates from the two denominations, naming themselves the 'heads of the settlement'. The meeting was the first in a series of West Riding nonconformist theologian assemblies in which preaching licenses were granted and ordinations established.

The Nonconformist Register by Oliver Heywood

The Nonconformist Register, of Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths: 1644-1702, 1702-1752, generally known as the Northowram of Coley Register, comprises numerous notices from Puritans and anti-Puritans in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, London and the surrounding areas. The record was started by Heywood in 1644 and continued by Reverend Thomas Dickenson (1669-1743) until 1743.

His records of baptisms, marriages and deaths, edited with those of his successor, Thomas Dickenson, are of great biographical value.

Mr. Dickenson continued this remarkable record which his worthy predecessor had begun, for forty years, and numerous entries from the Heywood private record or 'Yellum Book' as he called it were copied into this public record.

Thomas Dickenson: Successor to Reverend Oliver Heywood

On June 12, 1673, Oliver Heywood opened a licensed chapel in the finest hall of his own home at Northowram and continued there until the Tolerance Act of 1689. He built a new chapel on earth and with stone, donated by William Clay, laying the first stone on April 23, 1688. Against much opposition, the chapel was finally inaugurated on July 8, 1688.

Following Oliver Heywood's death in 1702, the Reverend Thomas Dickenson (1669-1743) became the second minister of the Heywood Chapel from 1702 to 1743 and in 1710, during his ministry, the chapel was expanded to accommodate the large congregation.

Thomas Dickenson was born on April 14, 1669 in Heaton, Lancashire, near Manchester, and was educated at the Frankland Academy. He served in Gorton, Manchester from 1694 before succeeding Oliver Heywood. He was the youngest son of Mary Dickenson (1628-1708) and John Dickenson (1626-1706), both from Lancashire, England.

His parents were married around 1660 in Shuttleworthhall, Lancashire, England, and together they had 3 children: John Dickenson (1661-1731), Hannah Dickenson (1668-1705) and Thomas Dickenson (1669-1743).

Thomas Dickenson married Hannah Foster (1674-1763) on October 24, 1705 in Ossett, Yorkshire, England and together they had 12 children: Thomas Dickenson (1706-1736), Joseph Dickenson (1707-1741), Elizabeth Dickenson (1709-?), Hannah Dickenson (1712-?), John Dickenson (1714-1764), Richard Dickenson (1715-1718), Mary Dickenson (1717-1804), Benjamin Dickenson (1719-?), Anne Dickenson (1721-1797), Nathanael Dickenson (1722-1741), Richard Dickenson (1724-1726) and Joshua Dickenson (1727-?). Several of his children died in infancy.

It should be noted that his wife, Hannah Foster, was the daughter of Hannah Jackson (1658-1727), a native of Bilston, and Richard Foster (1648-1730), an independent dissident from Ossett who died in 1730 after suffering severe strangulation pains during considerable time. Hannah's grandparents were Dame Foster (1614-1709) and Richard Foster (1623-1710), who rest in Horbury Cemetery in West Yorkshire, England.

Following Dickenson's death in 1743, his widow moved to Clerkenwell, died on July 28, 1765, and was buried in the nonconformist Bunhill Fields Cemetery in London, England.

Mr. Thomas Dickenson, a worthy minister of the Gospel, "was eminent and exemplary in his piety and usefulness," behaved well in all stages of life, with meekness and universal charity, and continued to shine a bright light in that place for more 40 years old, compiling The Northowram Nonconformist Register, after Oliver Heywood's death.

He became ill while preaching Psalm 110: 19, on September 4, 1743, and died on December 2, 1743, at the age of 74.

Of his death, the book records:

'The Reverend Mr. Thomas Dickenson, minister in Northowram, died on December 26, 1743 at the age of 73 about one in the morning. Nature was very depleted, around July or August a visible decline appeared which gradually increased until the moment of his death.'

The Rev. Thomas Dickenson preached for more than 40 years at Oliver Heywood Chapel, where he kept a diary of the births, marriages, and deaths of his own family.

'He was an eminent, helpful and faithful minister of God's word, meek and humble, a loving and tender father, a loving husband. A sincere friend and social neighbor, a cheerful companion, very temperate, had an unusual memory, lived well and did his best to seek the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternity.'


The last ten years of Heywood's life were somewhat troubled by symptoms of declining orthodoxy in some of his coadjutors. He maintained his own evangelistic work with incomparable vigor until late 1699, but in 1700 his health failed and asthma confined him to Northowram.

As of December 5, 1701, he was transferred to his meeting house in a chair. He died in Northowram on Monday, May 4, 1702, and was buried in a side chapel of the Halifax church, known as the Holdsworth Works, in his mother's grave.

There is no memorial to his memory, but at Northgate End Chapel, Halifax, there is a memorial slab erected by a descendant.


Most of his books deal with practical religion and he sent them in bulk to his friends for free distribution. For his inner life, the best authority is the series of his diaries, edited, with other articles. His records of baptisms, marriages, and deaths, edited with those of his successor, Thomas Dickenson, by J. Horsfall Turner, under the title The Nonconformist Register, Brighouse, 1881, are of great biographical value.

Other of his books include biographical notes on nonconformist theologians.


  1. ^ "Heywood, Oliver (HWT647O)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. ^ Gordon, Alexander (1891). "Heywood, Oliver (1630-1702), nonconformist divine". Dictionary of National Biography Vol. XXVI. Smith, Elder & Co. Retrieved 18 March 2009. The first edition of this text is available at Wikisource: "Heywood, Oliver". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885-1900.
  3. ^ Sheils, W. (2004-09-23). Heywood, Oliver (bap. 1630, d. 1702), clergyman and ejected minister. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 28 Dec. 2017.
  4. ^ Awty, B. (2004-09-23). Cotton family (per. c. 1650-1802), ironmasters. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 28 Dec. 2017.

Direct Quote

'For the love of you, dear friends, I dare to appear again in public to be your faithful monitor to propel you towards your duty and promote the work of God in your souls and the worship of God in your families.

And I do not know how a minister can better use his name, his studies and write (in addition to the conviction and conversion of particular souls) than imposing himself on the heads of the family who take care of the souls that are in his charge.

This has a direct impact on public reform.

The Christian faith begins with individuals and is passed on to their relatives, and the smaller relational spheres compose a larger entity: churches and communities are made up of families.

There is widespread complaint about the decline of the power of godliness and the flood of profane things, and rightly so. I know of no better remedy than domestic piety:

Did the governors teach their subordinates with advice and example?

Did they severely discourage and restrain the enormities, zealously fostering holiness, crying out to God in unity and fervor, asking Him to act effectively and do what they could not do, being able to tell what blessed alteration would come next?

In vain do they complain to magistrates and ministers, while parents are unfaithful to their duty. You complain that the world is in bad shape: what do you do to remedy it?

Do not complain so much about others, but about yourself, and do not complain so much about men, but about God.

Ask God to make a reform and also support your prayers with earnest effort, take care of your own home and act for God within this area. The more opportunities you have to become acquainted with the people who live within your home, the more authority they will have over them because they will depend on you to influence them.

And if you do not perfect this talent, you will have to give terrible accounts, especially when your hands have to answer for their blood, because the sin they committed will be borne on your negligence. '

Excerpt from a remedy for the decline of the Christian faith, by Oliver Heywood.