Manchester Town Hall and Albert Square

Two of the statues by Farmer and Brindley on Manchester Town Hall.

Manchester Town Hall

Manchester Town Hall is one of the greatest town halls in England, and is a major work by the architect Alfred Waterhouse. It was built in 1868-77, though the front is dated 1874. We are most used to Waterhouse working in Gothic style in terra cotta - here, he keeps to the Gothic but eschews terra cotta for a pale sandstone deriving from quarries in Derbyshire. The building stands on a triangular site, and the principal frontage is the longest one, facing onto Albert Square, largely symmetrical with a Big-Ben like central clock tower. The skyline is one of the best, but needs to be seen at rather a distance to be appreciated, as from Albert Square the sheer size of the building makes it difficult to see the full spikiness of the various roofs, turrets, spires and chimneys.

The architectural sculpture includes a series of stone statues by Farmer and Brindley of historical figures deemed to have some especial connection with Manchester. They include Agricola, St George, Henry III and Elizabeth I, all central, and Thomas de Gresley, Thomas de la Warre, John Bradford, Charles Worsley, Humphrey Chetham, Henry, 1st Duke of Lancaster, Edward III, and Edward the Elder. As usual with Farmer and Brindley, the figures are well-posed, strong and heroic in aspect. There is also a roundel entitled Weaving by Thomas Woolner; another roundel, Spinning is no longer to be seen.

The building is visitable, with guided tours to see the Ford Madox Brown murals - alas, there has always been some event on when I have visited the place, and I have not seen them. However, the ground floor has some good sculpture, in the entrance porch and in a hall to the right, and this is generally open. The complex interior of the building, the treatment of the arches and staircases especially, are excellent, and recall Waterhouse's Natural History Museum, and Gilbert Scott's St Pancras Hotel to the visitor from London.

The highly decorated porch has nice mosaics with olive-leaf designs, and pillars with carved eagles, dragons, and foliage. There also are two important statues, of the scientists Joule and Dalton. The excellent Joule is by Alfred Gilbert, and is shown seated cross-legged, leaning on elbow, sadly contemplating a small electrical apparatus, the wide face looking almost orang-like in its seriousness. Chantrey was the sculptor of the rather severe Dalton - note the glassware at his feet.

On the main staircase, an opportunity to see the work of William Theed, in the person of John Bright, the statue dating from 1877.

As noted above, to the right on the ground floor is a collection of busts and other statuary, some modern, but mostly 19th Century. Most notable are busts by Warrington Wood, working from Rome, including the seriously sideburned Romaine Callender (1880) and Sir Joseph Heron. Also notable among many others are a harmless bust of Richard Cobden by E. G. Papworth (1866), a bust of Gladstone in Roman attire, and Rowland Hill and John Potter by Patric Park RSA, who was working in Manchester in the 1850s. And a bust by Henry Leifchild of George Wilson, and Cromwell by Matthew Noble. We may also note the full figure of Fairbairn by Geflowski (1878), and from the 20th Century, a plaque to Alderman Daniel McCabe (1914-15) by John Cassidy.

Albert Square

Albert, by Matthew Noble.

The Square outside the Town Hall has a series of monumental statues, including the shrine-like Albert Memorial, an earlier and smaller inspiration for the London one. The construction is by the Manchester architect Thomas Worthington and dates from 1862-7, and the figure of Albert is by Mathew Noble, whom we met inside the Town Hall and also has work in Picaddilly Gardens. A variety of tiny figures adorn the corner steeples, effective in white against the sand-coloured rock, together with little gargoyles, heads of famous people, and there are friezes with complex helmets around the base of the monument. The figures are somewhat battered, and of variable quality, but for those who wish to look with the aid of some magnification, allegories related to the Arts, Sciences, the Seasons, and the Continents may be discerned.

The best statue in the Square is Woolner's Bishop Fraser of 1887, a decent, simply treated work, with low relief friezes on the base. He faces out of the square towards the Cathedral (another reason suggested here).

The other statues in the Square, like the Albert, face towards the Town Hall. They include Oliver Heywood and a stone John Bright by A. Bruce Joy, and a good declaming Gladstone by Mario Raggi (1879), to be compared with the one inside the Town Hall, very traditional with cloak on pillar behind. The fountain dates from 1897, but what on earth are the small bronze grotesques?

Around the square some interesting buildings. We may note the modest polychrome frontage of Memorial Hall of the mid-1860s, as being by the architect Worthington who we have noted designed the Albert Memorial. Carlton House, which is no. 17, is a mildly Gothic effort with four little portrait heads on the front, sticking out from floral backgrounds. The roundel above the door on the adjoining rather more convinced Gothic building, St Andrews Chambers (1872-74, by G T Redmayne), shows a woman with a box labelled 'fund', kneeling monk receiving and standing boy apparently donating. The building was originally for the Scottish Widows fund life assurance society. A statue of St Andrew is just round the corner on the side of the building.

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