John Deakin Heaton
About the Project
John Deakin Heaton

Dr John Deakin Heaton (1817-1880) was the son of a successful bookseller in Leeds, and lived to become one of the town’s most active citizens.  Although he never stood for election to the council, so active was he in the various charities, educational and intellectual institutions of the town that it is almost impossible to list his various posts.  He was physician to the Leeds Infirmary, Leeds House of Recovery and Leeds Dispensary (at one point in the early 1850s he held all three posts simultaneously); a Justice of the Peace (magistrate) for the West Riding of Yorkshire; four times President of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society; chairman of the Yorkshire Council for Education; the first chairman of the Council of the Yorkshire College (later Leeds University); and a member of the first Leeds School Board - the only time he stood for a publicly elected position.  As a member of the exclusive Conversation Club, he had the ear of some of the leading opinion formers in the town, including the editors of the Leeds Mercury and Leeds Intelligencer newspapers.  Out of this came an involvement in the Leeds Improvement Society, a lobby group which pressed the local council to deal with nuisances such as smoke pollution, and campaigned for the construction of a town hall which reflected the growing wealth and status of Leeds.

Today, Heaton is a largely forgotten figure, although he does have a short entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by Dr Tristram Hunt, M.P., and a biography was compiled shortly after his death by Thomas Wemyss Reid, newspaper editor and biographer also of the Bradford M.P. William Edward Forster.  Heaton’s sister Ellen (1816-94) is better remembered, both as a feminist who, with Heaton’s wife Fanny, collected signatures in support of John Stuart Mill’s motion on women’s suffrage in 1866, and as a patron of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, under the guidance of her mentor, John Ruskin.  Heaton’s wife, Fanny, is perhaps even more unsung than Heaton himself.  Although she spent much of the 1870s as an invalid, in the previous decade she had combined regular pregnancies with being an active campaigner for women’s education.  Fanny was a vital force behind the Ladies Committee of the Yorkshire Council for Education, which campaigned for women’s access to higher education.  In the course of her activities she mixed with many notable women including Josephine Butler, Elizabeth Garret Anderson, and Emily Davies.

Heaton’s journals (part of the Yorkshire Archaological Society archive) are a wonderful source for his life.  They have been used by scholars such as John Tosh and Simon Morgan to gain insights into the public and private lives of the Victorian middle classes. This project aims to bring their existence to a much wider audience, to generate interest in this fascinating character, and to reconnect visitors and residents of Leeds with a little known aspect of the city’s heritage.

Further Reading: 

Hunt, Tristram (2006) ‘Heaton, John Deakin (1817–1880)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Macleod, Dianne Sachko (2004), ‘Heaton, Ellen (1816–1894)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Morgan, Simon (2007), A Victorian Woman’s Place: Public Culture in the Nineteenth Century. London: I.B. Tauris.
Reid, T. Wemyss (1888), A Memoir of John Deakin Heaton M.D. of Leeds. London: Longmans, Green & Co.
Tosh, John (1999), A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian England. London: Yale University Press.