Manchester Wholesale Fish Market

A few minutes north of Piccadilly, with its air of commercial prosperity and continual stream of shoppers, is a maze of streets where the impression is of decay, paucity and edginess. Herein lies the remnants of the Wholesale Fish Market, with sculptured panels by a certain Henry Bonehill. Go north up Oldham Street, or Tib Street from Piccadilly, and head west along Thomas Street; or from the westerly continuation of Piccadilly, called Market Street, head up High Street, bearing right to come to Thomas Street directly.

The former Wholesale Fish Market is a shell lying behind a terrace onto Thomas Street at that point – a façade onto High Street, and half a façade onto Salmon Street, and in between a nondescript open space which would have once been roofed over to form the market. The architects were Speakman, Son and Hickson, and one façade is dated 1873. There would have been four such roofs, and it is in the gables onto Market Street, above the iron gates, which have tympana in which are semicircular scenes in stone of fishing by Henry Bonehill; with two surviving repeats on the other side facing Salmon Street.

Wholesale Fish Market, detail from fourth panel.

The sculptor, Henry Bonehill of Manchester, is obscure. His work here is clearly naive, with some lack of sureness in the detail – a few of the heads are slightly large for the bodies, the odd arm is in a position it could not in fact be held. Nevertheless, the overall illustrative effect is good, with the figures large enough for their distance from the viewer, composed in tableaux or pairs, and the artist clearly revels in the detail of the nets, the wickerwork fish baskets, and above all the fish themselves. No figure faces away from the viewer, though there are some in profile, and a mannerism of Bonehill seems to be that his characters stare straight ahead rather than at their companions or what they are doing – a legitimate artifice to give extra dignity and weight to their business.

Detail of Bonehill sculpture from third panel.

We may note en passant that by the fish market, on the corner of Thomas Street and High Street, stands a building with ornamented door and a couple of keystone heads, dated 1878.

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