Free Trade Hall, Peter Street

West and a little south of the Town Hall, coming off Deansgate lies Peter Street, and here we find the Free Trade Hall, with important decorative allegorical sculpture. A pair of binoculars is needed to appreciate the sculpture fully.

A word first on the architecture. The architect was one of the most prominent of Manchester's architects, Edward Walters, who won the competition in the early 1850s for a building to act as a public hall and dignify a site associated with the repeal of the Corn Laws (which incidentally gave rise to The Economist). The resulting palazzo, much esteemed by Pevsner, was a splendid and most imposing thing, and readers of this site can have nothing but boos and hisses for the incorporation and absorption of the building into a modern structure.

America, and Africa, by J. E. Thomas.

The sculptor was the very prolific John Thomas, and is up to his normal high standard. The principal works are a series of nine half-round panels each with an allegorical female figure and busy surround. These panels lie above the upper floor windows. As well, there are eight full and two half triangles of foliage etc at first floor level, and on the Southmill St side, there survives a few further triangles of foliage, and a little head. The foliage is mostly entwined oak and olive branches, with central motifs showing little shields with various devices relating to towns trading with Manchester. Cornsheafs also feature, recalling the Corn Law repeal. We describe the figural panels individually:

As is usual with John Thomas, the girls are Graeco-Victorian, tending to the muscular, solid of limb and neck and shoulder, big-breasted, and with rather round faces. Idealised and attractive certainly, but neither the hard beauty we might find in the later 19th Century ideal, or the slender girlishness of the New Sculptors.

Free Trade.

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