Heys, William H Ward (1836-1911)

Heys, William H Ward (1836-1911)

William H Ward Heys was a British painter of naturalistic landscapes in watercolours and oils.

The jagged stone facade of a degraded ruin juts towards a graduated sea. Weary cattle meander across a picturesque river. A lonesome shepherd leans against a desolate stone cottage. Heys was honest, capturing nature’s sprawl, best he could, with fiddly draughtsmanship and carefully transposed colouring.

Bookish polymath John Ruskin (1819-1900) urged artists to paint the truth and abandon whims of fancy, idealisation and romantic stereotypes. Heys took note, producing numerous works over a twenty-year exhibition career, which respected the complexity of the natural world. To achieve this, he needed to sketch from life, work within the environment itself. Perched upon a coastal ledge or battered by the elements on a broad inland heath. His attention to detail leading to precise draughtsmanship, almost nervous at times and overly respectful.

Selling this approach to the public however was less than straightforward. The aristocracy still generally favoured the old masters while the rising middle class frequented London in search of the leading contemporary lights. So, armed with his father’s financial shrewdness, Heys worked extensively on developing the arts scene in Manchester.

The details of his early tuition are unknown but he possibly attended either the Manchester School of Art or undertook classes at the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts. Both were formal affairs with the latter somewhat more progressive in its approach. His father worked as a pawnbroker and Heys managed five properties, perhaps linked to the family business. His expertise with ledgers and accounting formed an important aspect of his future endeavours.

By the early 1870s, local exhibitions beckoned - the Royal Manchester Institution, the Manchester Academy and Whaite’s Art Gallery all opening their doors. He brought views from popular British haunts such as the Lake District and North Wales but also regional subjects. The critics were favourable, remarking on his ‘vividness of colouring’ and ‘sympathetic spirit’.

Indeed, the name of Ward Heys crops up frequently in the mid-Victorian press as he was also a keen correspondent. Drafting elaborate letters regarding community issues, such as the pitfalls of allowing a local butcher to slaughter pigs in his backyard.

“If thus the Board decides, we shall be driven back to the pestiferous condition of two or three years ago, and the whole of the property in the immediate neighbourhood will be depreciated in value by an act that can only result in benefiting one man and injuring scores.”

His unflinching sense of duty coupled with his mastery of numbers soon led to the role of Treasurer at the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts. At each committee meeting, he’d present the figures, visitor numbers, financial fluctuations and so on. He was also an integral member of the Manchester Literary Society.

In 1877, Heys played his part in founding the Manchester Art Museum, which evolved to become the Manchester Art Gallery. Perhaps again inspired by Ruskin, one of its aims was to bring art to a wider, more diverse, working-class audience. This involved loaning collections to local schools and providing better art tuition.

The details of Ward Heys' life beyond 1890 are tricky to fathom. He’d moved to Sale in Cheshire by 1901 and, following his wife’s passing, lived out his final years in a modest home with another widower. His quiet legacy is the development of Manchester’s flourishing art scene. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he was never tempted by the prestige of London’s Royal Academy. Instead devoting his time and spirit to the evolution of his local community.


Royal Manchester Institution, Manchester Academy of Fine Arts, Whaite’s Art Gallery.


Born in Preston, Lancashire, to Edward, a pawnbroker, and Dorothy.


Residing at the family home in Hulme, Chorlton. Occupation recorded as ‘Landscape Painter’.


Married Margaret (probably Gledhill).


Shown at the Royal Manchester Institution.


Shown at the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts where he continued to exhibit regularly until around 1890.

Shown at Whaite’s Annual Exhibition where he continued to exhibit until around 1887.


Reviewed following an exhibition at the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts.

“Mr. Ward Heys, a gentleman whose valuable services as literary secretary of the Academy have earned for him the gratitude and esteem of his colleagues, as well as of the public generally, is most noticeably represented by a remarkably fine work conspicuously placed in the first: ‘Borrowdale Yews’. The picture is distinguished by great breadth and effective treatment, as well as vividness of colouring. In subject as well as handling it forcibly recalls the free bold style of Sam Bough, although in justice to Mr. Heys it should be added that his work displays more care and labour than are usually manifest on the canvases of the eminent scenic artist.”


Formed an integral part of the committee that founded the Manchester Art Museum.


Appointed Treasurer of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts.


Reviewed following an exhibition at the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts.

“Mr. Ward Heys is represented by several pictures, which all possess a certain interest and importance. The honesty and sobriety which has marked his previous work are again conspicuous. His happy hunting grounds have been Borrowdale. Derwentwater, and Thirlmere. In the selection of the latter subject the artist has not only the advantage of a scene of great natural beauty and aesthetic charm, but of popular interest. This bright scene is now the property of Manchester, and ere long the artist will have lost all chance of transcribing its beauties. We hope that from the transformation to be effected a greater beauty and magnificence will arise. Meanwhile the dweller in our murky city will do well to refresh his mind by the contemplation of the bright and beautiful scene that Mr. Heys has, with a fine union of sympathetic spirit and technical skill, placed before him."

Drafted a stern letter to the ‘The Examiner’ regarding the issue of local abattoirs.

“…a neighbouring pig butcher has lately conceived the idea, certainly highly advantageous from his point of view, of having a slaughter house in his own backyard... This gentleman's application to the Local Board for the privilege of resuscitating a departed nuisance has been protested against both by deputation and requisition. Yet, I have good authority for saying it, the committee appointed by the Stretford Local Board has resolved to grant the privilege, subject to the decision of the Board. If thus the Board decides, we shall be driven back to the pestiferous condition of two or three years ago, and the whole of the property in the immediate neighbourhood will be depreciated in value by an act that can only result in benefiting one man and injuring scores. If, in spite of all protests, this injustice should be perpetrated, the consequential remorse will lie heavy on the conscience of our Local Board.”


Residing at Stretford, Barton Upon Irwell, Lancashire.


Reviewed following an exhibition.

“Mr. Ward Heys is an industrious and painstaking artist; and we may be certain he will give us a faithful rendering of any scene he elects to represent. In this exhibition Mr. Heys is present with several drawings of Welsh landscape combined with picturesque and ruinous architecture. The drawings of Harlech Castle are especially good and truthful; the panoramic view of the Snowdon range, with the venerable castellated pile on the right is one of the best drawings this artist has yet produced.”


Reviewed following an exhibition at the Whaite’s Art Gallery.

“The 23rd exhibition of paintings in oil, watercolour drawings, sketches, &c., has been opened in Whaite's Art Gallery, Bridgestreet, in this city. It is the most extensive of the kind which has been held there, consisting of between 600 and 700 works, including a large number of striking excellence. Local artists are well represented, and there is a goodly number from Italian and other continental schools. Ward Heys gives a fine view of the famed ‘Castle Rock & Mill’ in St. John's Vale, Cumberland. The curiously contorted rock is faithfully depicted, and the whole work is bold and effective. The same artist's ‘Downe Castle’ is a charming autumn scene, as is also his ‘Thirlmere Evening’. This lake and its surroundings seems to be a great favourite with Mr. Ward Heys, as he has another view of the lake from the north, including Raven's Crag and the so-called Roman bridge, and another drawing of the view from Dumail Raise.”


Reviewed following an exhibition at the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts.

"Mr. Ward Heys is another unassuming, conscientious artist, whose work always furnishes one with much quiet pleasure. This year he is seen very well in his capital oil painting, ‘Bit of Thirlmere’, and in his charming drawing (among other excellent examples) ‘Melrose Abbey’.”

Advertised his services as an art tutor.

“Landscape Painting in Oil and Water Colour. Lessons by Ward Heys; Studio, 14, Ridgefield, John Dalton Street, 10 to 4 daily, except Saturday.”


Residing at Stretford, Barton Upon Irwell, Lancashire. Recorded in the census under his full name of William H Ward Heys.
Shown at Ambleside Art Gallery in the Lake District, Cumbria.


Residing at Sale, Bucklow, Cheshire. Recorded in the census as Henry Ward Heyes.


Died. Last recorded address of Hope Road, Sale, Bucklow, Cheshire.

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