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Elizabeth Heyrick & Susannah Watts

Slave Trade by John Raphael Smith, 18th Century
  • Champions of the abolition of slavery in the early 19th Century
  • Leicester women who were friends and contemporaries
  • Undertook door-to-door campaigning to battle against slavery across the British Colonies

Champions of the abolition of slavery

Elizabeth Heyrick (1769-1831)

As the daughter of a Leicester hosiery manufacturer, Elizabeth Coltman was destined for early marriage and motherhood. However, when her husband, John Heyrick died in 1797, Elizabeth faced the challenge with characteristic determination, founding a school in her former home at Bow Bridge.

Later, as she became more deeply involved in Quaker activities, she published a series of pamphlets on topics as diverse as animal cruelty, corporal punishment and most significantly of all – the abolition of slavery.

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The only known image of Elizabeth Heyrick to have survived. Image courtesy of Library of the Society of Friends © Britain Yearly Meeting

In April 1825, Elizabeth Heyrick was appointed Treasurer at the inaugural meeting of the Birmingham Female Society for the Relief of British Slaves. No doubt under her influence, a Leicester branch was formed a month later. It was in her relentless campaign for the immediate abolition of slavery - as opposed to the gradual abolition favoured by most male abolitionists - that she was to exert most influence. Her pamphlet advocating immediate abolition in 1824 was eagerly distributed in this country and America and even quoted in Parliament as ‘the work of some gentleman’.

Sadly, Elizabeth did not live to see the abolition of slavery in 1834. However, her role was not forgotten by women or men... The American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison gave a public speech in Glasgow in 1833 in which he singled out her contribution for especial praise:

‘Who first gave the world the doctrine of immediate emancipation? It was a woman of England – Elizabeth Heyrick… Mrs Heyrick was the highly respected, talented and uncompromising friend of liberty…’

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Elizabeth Heyrick’s pamphlet promoting the immediate abolition of slavery

Susannah Watts (1768-1842)

When her father died in 1769, Susannah and her mother were forced to leave their family home at Danetts Hall. A gifted linguist, Susannah relied upon her earnings from writing and translation work in order to supplement her family’s income. Many of her poems appeared in local newspapers and her publication ‘A Walk Through Leicester’ in 1804 is now recognised as the first guide book to the town.

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Self portrait of Susannah Watts

She also taught French in Elizabeth Heyrick’s School and the two women were close friends, working together to campaign against slavery. In 1824, the pair joined forces to go from door to door in Leicester urging the populace to stop buying sugar produced by the slave plantations of the West Indies and buy instead sugar from the East Indies, in what must have been one of the first ‘fair trade’ campaigns.

By June 1825, they proudly declared the results of their campaign:

‘In the Town of Leicester, by the zeal and activity of a very few individuals alone, nearly one fourth of the population viz 1500 families have been so impressed by the subject, as to engage themselves to abstain from the use of West - Indian sugar’

Anti-Slavery Petition

Even after her friend’s death in 1831, Susannah Watts campaigned steadfastly against slavery. Just before the Emancipation Act in 1833 finally abolished slavery throughout the British Colonies from 1st August 1834, she was involved in collecting local signatures for the London Female Anti-Slavery Society’s national petition.


Thanks and credit to the Leicester and Leicestershire Record Office

Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Victorian Leicester

(1837 – 1901) The industrial revolution had a huge effect on Leicester resulting in the population growing from 40,000 to 212,000 during this period. Many of Leicester's most iconic buildings were erected during this time as wealthy Victorians made their mark on the town.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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