It was Banksy who said, “If you want someone to be ignored, then build a life-sized bronze statue of them and stick it in the middle of town.” I hope to prove him wrong with this article on the statues and street art of Manchester.
Despite what Banksy said, I think a good look at the monuments in a city can really help you get to know how a place defines itself and what has shaped it over time. I chose to start with the above photo as, being a “leftie”, I think it shows one of Manchester’s best aspects. As the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution Manchester conjures up images of polluted skies and rivers, exploited works, and greedy mill owners. However, the socialist philanthropist Robert Owen (depicted in the above statue) goes against all this. He campaigned for workers’ rights and better standards of education, and his likeness stands in Manchester as a reminder that the city was home not only to the exploited, but also to people who sought to end exploitation, such as Marx and Engels who worked on the Communist Manifesto in Manchester, the founders of the Suffragette Movement and the victims of the Peterloo Massacre.
Here are some other monuments that will tell you a bit about Manchester.
First up, it’s Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Manchester is a Victorian city, so it’s not surprising that this royal couple should be featured. Queen Vic looks a bit weary to be honest and interestingly, it has been said that the Manchester Prince Albert memorial was the inspiration for the similar monument in London outside Albert Hall. Secondly, there is Queen Victoria’s son, Edward VII, who visited Manchester University. Then, there is the Victorian Prime Minister and Lancashire lad Robert Peel who introduced the policeman (AKA the Bobby) to the UK and made various labor reforms. He was, however, a Conservative after all and never actually abolished child labor and was very slow to act against the Irish Famine.
Manchester has produced some big names in the science world. From the first computer, the atom, and more recently, the invention of the graphene (a single-atom-thick layer of carbon in its graphite form). It all happened in Manchester and the Statue of Archimedes in the centre of the University’s science campus celebrates its great achievements. Another great, yet tragic figure is Alan Turing. Significant in his role developing the modern computer, this is often overshadowed by his suicide. Convicted of homosexuality and unable to cope, he took his own life biting into an apple laced with cyanide. His statue shows him holding the apple – the symbol of forbidden love, the fruit of the tree of knowledge, the means of Turing’s own death and coincidentally, the symbol of a well-known computer company. Lastly, Vimto was first brewed in Manchester in 1908. The drink is said to be the most popular beverage in some Arabic countries during Ramadan.
War and Peace:
Manchester has provided a great many soldiers and was bombed heavily in the Second World War. The cenotaph in St. Peter’s Square stands as tribute to the lives lost. In Piccadilly Gardens there is a statue of the Irish born Duke of Wellington, defeater of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Another memorial exists specifically to the Boar War. A reminder of British Colonial activity and a war in which a Great Power first used concentration camps against an enemy. Rather progressively, outside the People’s History Museum, in place of another war memorial, there is a peace memorial: a beautiful spiral of doves.
Two wire stick men can be seen climbing the side of the Arthur Building on Chorlton Street in this fun sculpture. The last two statues in this article are to be found in the trendy Northern Quarter. The first photo is of the ‘Tib Street Horn’. But is it a horn or a serpent? Depending on the angle, it can be difficult to say. The last is titled ‘New Broom’ and commemorates the clean-up of the then derelict Smithfields, now the shiny Northern Quarter area.