Dr Heaton’s diaries

Dr Heaton’s diaries The Society is indebted to Dorothy Payne, for her recent donation of John Deakin Heaton’s diaries to the Archives, in memory of her late husband, Brian.

Brian and Dorothy Payne wrote about Dr. Heaton in the 1973 volume of the Publications of the Thoresby Society, Miscellany 15. In this they recalled that he was an eminent citizen of Leeds in the nineteenth century, a physician at the General Infirmary, President of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, and one of the founders of the Yorkshire College of Science, now the University of Leeds.

Dr. Heaton and his wife, Fanny, moved to Claremont in 1856 and it was here that he died in 1880, the family home being kept on until April 1894, when the house was sold. His diaries give a vivid insight into life at Claremont in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, and are consequently of particular interest to the YAHS, whose Headquarters were at Claremont between 1968 and 2015. We also know a great deal more than we otherwise would about the many alterations he made to the house itself, for instance when the bay windows were added, how the hall was ventilated, and when the hallway tiles were laid.

The seven diaries cover the years from 1859 until 1880. They are closely written in a reasonably legible hand on distinctive light blue paper and include many inserts. The volumes are half bound in black leather with marbled covers, with the initials J.D.H. embossed in gold on the spines.

As Brian and Dorothy Payne say, strictly speaking they are not diaries, in that they are not a daily account of Dr. Heaton’s life; they are rather an autobiography which he wrote with the aid of another daily record that he apparently kept. The first volume in fact recounts more than forty five years from 1817 till 1863, and include information about his father, John Heaton, book seller of Briggate, his sister Ellen, school and university life, and his qualification as a doctor. From 1863, the diaries become more detailed and more descriptive, but at the time of his death he was a year behind with his entries, indeed the diary in Dr. Heaton’s hand finishes midsentence ‘On
Wednesday, July 16, I attended the annual meeting of..’ Then almost a year later, Fanny writes ‘Devonshire House, Harrogate. Sunday July 11th 1880. I continue the abstract of my beloved husband’s Diary with much hesitation and misgiving ….. but I believe he would wish me to complete it, and I have the materials for doing so.’ She then resumes the narrative from the point he finished, the meeting being the annual meeting of the Medical Council.

The diaries encompass far more that family life at Claremont. They record journeys made in Britain and on the Continent, art galleries and exhibitions attended and meetings such as the British Medical Association, the Royal Society at which he was present. There is also a lot of detail about the development of Leeds in this period and about its leading citizens. His wife, Fanny, also played an important art in the community and the diaries reflect this too.

Robert Frost, Senior Librarian and Archivist