William Beadon Heathcote was born on 12th December, 1812. He was the son of Ven Gilbert Heathcote, Archdeacon of Gloucester, and his wife Anne Beadon, daughter of Rev. Edwards Beadon. Gilbert Heathcote held the living of Hursley, Hampshire until his death in 1829. When he died his cousin, Sir William Heathcote, 5th Bt., offered the living to his former college tutor, John Keble. Keble refused it at that time, but accepted in 1836, and continued in the parish for the remainder of his life, and “it was from the relative obscurity of the country parish, an obscurity admittedly somewhat ‘cultivated’, that Keble achieved his fame both as poet and as protagonist in the ecclesiastical events of the day.” (ODNB). William Beadon Heathcote was closely connected with Keble and influenced by the latter’s views on pastoral care.
Heathcote was a family friend of the Sewells, was educated at Winchester College, and had been a Fellow and Tutor of New College, Oxford, since 1832. He became Sub-Warden of New College in 1840 and Bursar in 1845. He was consulted over the founding of Radley College on several occasions by both Singleton and Sewell, and the depth of regard for him is demonstrated by the actions of Charles Marriott, Radley College Prior Fellow, who approached Heathcote during the crisis of 1851, during which the Fellows rebelled against the Statutes and Singleton’s authority, as the best candidate to replace Singleton as Warden. Heathcote initially declined, but after Singleton had actually resigned, he was appointed Warden by election of the Fellows on 8th October, 1851.
Since Heathcote intended to marry, the Statute prohibiting a married Warden was suspended on his behalf, although he did not eventually marry until August 1852. He was described by Elizabeth Sewell as “a most honourable, single-minded man” and by William Sewell as “earnest, religious-minded and able.” The boys at the school also approved of him: “we like Mr Heathcote because he allows us to climb and have mustard.” Only four out of the seventeen Fellows appointed under Singleton survived the turmoils of 1850 and 1851: Monk, Haskoll, Savory and JH Wanklyn, so Heathcote had to recruit a virtually new staff, appointing seven new Fellows and one Prior Fellow during his two years in office.
Heathcote carried through several reforms: he divided the school into Upper and Lower schools (crucial since the boys ranged in age from 8 or younger to 18); he fitted up a separate dormitory for the younger boys and appointed a junior matron; he also heated the dormitory with hot pipes “which would ultimately save much expense and remove the danger of fires.” He also gave the Prefects specific duties, the Senior Prefect being Prefect of Hall and Bounds and the others of School, Dormitory, Chapel (2), Games, Gardens and Library. He revived rowing and started river bathing, appointing a man called Hounslow as swimming instructor: Hounslow continued this function at Radley until his death in 1887. Heathcote also introduced an Easter vacation in 1852, from 14th until 28th April.
However, Heathcote was not fully informed of the serious financial situation the school was under when he took office, nor that there was still no formal lease on the property. During the course of 1851-2, attempts were made to sort out the confusion, and particularly to pay back Singleton’s loans to the school, which finally amounted to £4,875. A complete impasse was reached, both Singleton and the bank proving unwilling to negotiate. Heathcote announced at a College meeting on 13th November, 1852, that he must resign at Christmas. The meeting decided that, as there was no possible chance of getting anyone else to be Warden, that William Sewell must take control of the entire College.
Heathcote became a Prebendary and Precentor of Salisbury Cathedral and Vicar of Sturminster Marsall, then Rector of Compton Bassett, from 1855 until his death in 1862. He married Elizabeth Mary, daughter of Rev George Deane, on 3rd August, 1852. They had two children: Cecil Hamilton, born 1856, who died unmarried in 1896, and Agnes Mary, who became a nun.
Heathcote was involved in the reform of liturgical music also advocated and practised by Singleton and Edwin Monk. His published works included settings of Gregorian chant/’tones’, published in 1844, 1845 and 1849: The Canticles in the Prayer-Book, with the Gregorian Tones adapted to them: as also the 114th and 115th Psalms, and the Creed of St. Athanasius. [With a preface signed: W. B. H.] Oxford, J. H. Parker, 1844; The Psalter with the Gregorian tones adapted to the several Psalms, etc. [With a preface signed: W. B. H] Oxford, J. H. Parker, 1845. Harmonised G.T. for “the Psalter” etc, edited by W.B.H. Oxford, 1849; and studies on doctrine: Documentary illustrations of the principles to be kept in view in the interpretation of the Thirty-Nine Articles. Oxford, 1841, and The laws of our knowledge of doctrinal truth. A sermon [on John, Gospel of, vii. 17.] Oxford, 1850. In 1846 he published Prayers for Children; with a morning and evening hymn. Oxford, 1846, which included the Trinitarian hymn “O Father, who didst all things make”
O Father, who didst all things make
That Heav’n and earth might do Thy will,
Bless us this night for Jesus’ sake
And for Thy work preserve us still.
O Son, who didst redeem mankind,
And set the captive sinner free,
Keep us this night with peaceful mind,
That we may safe abide in Thee.
O Holy Ghost, who by Thy power
The church elect dost sanctify,
Seal us this night, and hour by hour
Our hearts and members purify.
To Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
The God Whom Heav’n and earth adore,
From men and from the angel host
Be praise and glory evermore.
At Radley College, he is commemorated in the Heathcote Prize, a Scholarship for Classics, later for Classics and Mathematics, founded in his honour in 1863.