This keystone bears the head of Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom, known as Athena by the Greeks. Minerva, who here wears her helmet pushed back above her eyes, was a complex deity with martial origins in Mesopotamia. Her helmet is of the Perikles type, familiar from the Perikles bust [a 2nd c B.C. Roman copy of the Greek original] now in the Charles Towneley collection of marbles in the British Museum. This has two eye slits and relates to other sculpture in major collections. Charles Towneley (1737-1805) was, by coincidence, a major Burnley landowner. Full length statues showing a similar helmet include Athena Giustiani (The Vatican Museum); Pallas (Athena) de Velletri (The Louvre) and among Minerva busts is that at the Altes Museum, Berlin. Her helmet also has a spiral detail on each side, her face is youthful and is framed by jagged hair. Her shoulders are covered asymmetrically: on one side with drapery and on the other with overlapping metal links, further evidence of her martiality. Though a relatively simple design, this keystone does not relate precisely to the precursors above and may be an original design produced by the architect James Green of Todmorden (1822-1886) or the sculptor he employed. The clerk of works was Thomas Birtwistle.
Accrington Town Hall was originally built as Peel Hall as a memorial to Sir Robert Peel Bt. (1788-1850), the prime minister, who originated in Bury in Lancashire but whose forbears lived at Peel Fold in Oswaldtwistle, much nearer Accrington. The Peel family, among the wealthiest industrialists in Engand, had a calico printing business in Blackburn which was one of the biggest employers in the district. Both Sir Robert, and his father the first baronet, were inter alia concerned with improving factory conditions. Soon after his death in 1850, a subscription fund was opened in Accrington and a total of £1,056 was raised. The money was incorporated into a company called the Peel Institution, Market and Baths Company. With the aid of a mortgage, the company raised £11,000 which was sufficient to build the Peel Institution but the market and baths plans were shelved. The building was originally leased to the Mechanics Institution, for social and educational purposes, but it also served as the Public Hall and News Room in the town. In 1878, upon the incorporation of the Borough, it became the new Town Hall. Unlike the adjacent Market Hall, the Town Hall is sparsely decorated but for this fine helmeted head of Minerva. The keystone is of the central arch of the porte cochere, which prominently enhances the facade and also has six large Corinthian columns, numerous small lion masks, the borough arms and, flanking Minerva, two large foliate wreaths. It seems likely that the motif was chosen to celebrate the wisdom of Sir Robert Peel.
Related works : James Green also designed the Mechanics Institute at Burneley. There is a keystone of Athena (Minerva) on the facade of the Athenaeum Club, Church Alley, Liverpool by G.H.Tyson-Smith
Keystone above the Town Hall doorway.
PMSA recording information