DescriptionWilliam Heelas senior moved to Wokingham in the 1790s and was a wool stapler. In 1799 he married Ann Shorter of Wokingham and they had two sons. William junior who became a woolfactor and John who was a draper. John then purchased Buckhurst Farm in the early 1840s, and farmed around 200 acres.
William senior served as an alderman in 1832, 1839 and 1846 following the 1828 repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts which had prevented anyone who was a Baptist taking up that role. He also held the positions of Inspector of Lighting and Watching, treasurer of Wokingham Savings Bank and treasurer of the Literacy Institution.
Between 1816 and 1827 William senior opened William Heelas & Sons, a draper shop in the Market Place next to the Bush Hotel. The date, Established in 1785 that appeared on the front of the store was misleading, although they may have been a previous draper on the same site.
John Heelas’ son Tyndale William succeeded his father in the company and the business flourished such that the premises extended into Rose Street. The premises became a departmental store in which clothing, carpets, furniture and miscellaneous household goods were sold. It also became a bank and an undertaker, the mortuary was in the Rose Street premises behind which was a workshop where the coffins were made.
The upper floor of Heelas was seriously damaged by a fire on 27th June 1956. In December 1965 the company was given notice to quit the corner store and closed down the 14th January 1966.
William junior followed his father’s footsteps by serving as an alderman of Wokingham during the years 1848, 1852, 1855, 1856 and 1863 and also held the positions of burgess, Justice of the Peace and Chief Magistrate.
John Senior married Dorothy Ann Wheeler in 1825 and they had a large family of nine boys and four daughters. They resided in the Market Place (where the Edinburgh Woollen Mill is now located) then in the mid-eighteen fifties the family moved to the Holt, which they leased from the Crutchley family. He became a member of Wokingham Council serving at first as Inspector of Lighting and Watching and Chief Magistrate and later as an alderman in 1869 and 1876. He was head of Heelas, Sons & Co. and he inherited the family business in the Market Place as his elder brother had no surviving sons. John purchased the Holt Estate and died on 9th September, aged eighty.
In April 1854, two of John senior’s sons, John junior and Daniel assisted by their farther purchased Albion House, 33 Minster Street, Reading which became Heelas, Sons & Company, Reading. Over the years the company expanded into adjacent properties including 32 Minster Street, the Chapel and School in Sales Yard and the site of the Black Boy Inn with stables in Broad Street, then 24 to 27 Minster Street and 110 to 112 Broad Street. The now Department store had grown from a staff of 3 to 150. In 1897 the business became a Limited Company.
After the deaths of John and Daniel, the latter’s son Edward became managing director with a Charles Hayes in 1910. Expansion continued including adding Funeral Directors. Heelas of Reading was first sold in 1947 and eventually became part of the John Lewis Partnership in 1953.
John junior also served as an alderman of Wokingham in 1865, 1873 and 1880 and was also a Justice of the Peace and chairman of the old Wargrave Schools. He was a benefactor to the church and various institutions in Earley. He was chairman of the company for many years until retiring because of ill health and he died on 9th July 1910 aged 85, and was buried in St. Paul’s churchyard, Wokingham.
Daniel was one of the directors of Heeles, Sons & Co and married Elizabeth Josephine Denton in 1860 and they had seven children. In the early 1880s they moved to Sydney House at Shute End before moving to the Holt. He was a member of the Reading Town Council for 25 years, He died at the Holt on 12th January 1910 and was buries in St. Paul’s churchyard beside Elizabeth who had died in 1898.
Tyndale William married Amelia Mary Ann Hipp in 1867 and first resided in their house in the Market Place before moving to No. 1, Murdoch Road which they named Weston House (now Murdoch House) in 1905. They had eight children. He was elected to the first Wokingham Borough Council, formed in 1885 after the granting of the Charter by Queen Victoria. He served as an alderman for many years and in 1891 was elected mayor. He and his wife were closely associated with St. Paul’s Church, he was also a trustee and member of the committee of St. Paul’s Schools.
Tyndale died at home on 24th October 1919 and was buried in St. Paul’s churchyard. Later that year Amelia moved to 54 Sturgess Road which she renamed Weston House. She died on 16th December and was buried beside her husband.
Arthur Tyndale, the eldest son of Tyndale William entered the family business in Wokingham as drapery proprietor and was also an agent for Sun Alliance. Arthur’s main pastime was local history and he became one of the greatest authorities of the history of Wokingham. Some of the results of his researches into the history of the town can be found in Wokingham’s Reference Library.
Arthur was a keen cyclist being president of the local branch of the National Cyclists’ Union and member of the Reading Athletic Club. He took part in the judging of the cycling events at the Olympic Games in 1900.
He was elected to the Wokingham Town Council in 1909 and served as treasurer of the Wokingham Savings Bank. He served as special constable during both World Wars and was a member of the voluntary Wokingham Fire Brigade. He was also chairman of the National Trust for the Finchampstead Ridges. Arthur died at home, Oakleigh in Fairview Road, Wokingham, was cremated and had his ashes scattered on Finchampstead Ridges.
Frank Charles who was the fourth son of Tyndale William acquired the Embrook flour mill, near to what is now the Woosehill Roundabout in 1904, from John Wescott. Frank changed the course of the Emm Brook and created a mill-run to obtain deeper water for the mill. In 1916 he married Charlotte Mary Elizabeth Wescott a niece of Thomas Manley Wescott, former mayor of Wokingham. There were no children and they resided in the Mill House.
Frank and Charlotte made numerous donations to Embrook Mission Room and to St. Paul’s Church. Charlotte died in 1961 and Frank then moved to Fernleigh at No. 39, The Terrace. He died in 1964, having retired about 1962 from the Mill. His funeral service was held at St. Paul’s Church after which, like Charlotte he was cremated. Part of the mill was taken over by Metalair, a company that manufactured aircraft components during the Second World War. The other part became a garage. Later Clifford Dairies took over the premises.
The Holt Estate remained in possession of the family until 1930, although it was unoccupied for some time before being sold to Berkshire County Council for £7,000. The then “dilapidated” building was refurbished before opening on 15th July 1931 as the Holt School.
SourceA Short History of Five Wokingham Families by Jim Bell
“Heelas Family,” Wokingham's Virtual Museum, accessed September 20, 2020, https://www.wokingham-tc.gov.uk/museum/document/WTH0322.