National Recording Project


Detail from: Memorial to 158 Squadron by Peter W. Naylor, 2009



Type Statue

     Bronze statue on granite pedestal... Cobden, dressed in long coat, standing in act of addressing an audience. His left leg is forward, the foot slightly over the plinth. His right arm is outstretched with the index finger of hand raised. His left hand is inside his waistcoat.
     In the weeks following Cobden's funeral a number of Lancashire towns announced schemes to erect public monuments to the "Apostle of Free Trade". At Manchester's first public meeting, called by the mayor, John Marsland Bennett, on 18 April, rich tributes were paid to Cobden by fellow Liberals and free traders including Henry Ashworth, Thomas Bayley Potter and Edward Watkin. The need to raise a statue was accepted though Potter, who had been at Cobden's deathbed, did point out that Cobden himself would not have wanted a statue, rather he would have said: 'Establish some institution, establish some chair of political economy, or some scholarship, by which the doctrines I have preached and held forth may be spread throughout the length and breadth of the land.' But the overwhelming feeling was that Manchester should raise a statue, with any surplus money being used for educational purposes. A subscription list was opened to all classes. The commission for the statue was given to the Manchester- born sculptor, Marshall Wood, whose bust of Cobden had been enthusiastically praised by the Manchester Guardian when displayed at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. Wood showed Cobden addressing the House of Commons in a 'an argumentative rather than declamatory attitude.' The committee explored a number of possible sites. The idea that Cobden ought to stand between Peel and Wellington in Piccadilly was turned down by the Infirmary trustees, who indicated that this site should be kept for a memorial to royalty. Other locations were considered before it was decided that the statue would be sited in St Ann's Square, looking towards the Royal Exchange. The Corporation agreed to the committee's request. Raising the necessary funds proved relatively easy. The major part of the £4,460 was subscribed by over 800 'commercial men and firms', though the committee drew attention to the £85 collected in local factories and warehouses as well as from among the pupils of the Manchester Grammar School. Wood appears to have encountered few problems in producing the statue which was cast at Henry Prince's foundry, Southwark. The unveiling of the Cobden statue on Easter Monday, 1867 was a carefully choreographed political occasion in which the Liberals from Manchester and the surrounding towns celebrated their beliefs and Cobden's contribution to them. An enormous procession - trade societies, friendly societies, co-operative societies, temperance societies and political societies - made their way around the town before converging on St Ann's Square. The presence of the Reform League and the National Reform Union spoke of ongoing political campaigns. But none of the banners and symbols carried that day spoke more to the crowd than two imitation loaves of bread: one, an enormous loaf bearing the message "Free Trade" contrasting with a smaller one labelled "Protection". The memorial committee had hoped Gladstone would unveil the statue but in his absence the honour was given to George Wilson, the ever efficient chairman of the Anti- Corn Law League, who had worked closely with Cobden. Speakers remembered Cobden's achievements and his connections to Manchester though, understandably, no reference was made to those occasions when Cobden's politics had not found favour in the city. It was difficult to sum up the career of one of the century's most important politicians but Wilson, having reminded the crowd that Cobden's monument was not only in St Ann's Square and other Manchester buildings - the Free Trade Hall and the Athenaeum - declaimed that his real monument was 'to be seen three times a day in the homes and on the tables of the working men of this country.' Although many of the region's leading Liberals were present at the unveiling, a notable absentee was John Bright but this did not stop the huge crowd giving him three cheers. In welcoming Manchester's statue to the "Apostle of Free Trade" the Manchester Guardian agreed that the city 'had done no more than justice to its own intelligence and gratitude.' The subscription fund easily covered the £2,300 cost of the statue, leaving the memorial committee with the task of disposing of the surplus. Of the remaining funds it was the city's education system that benefited: £1,250 was given to establish a chair of political economy at Owens College whilst the remaining money went to provide prizes for teachers. Cobden was also memorialised by a marble medallion (by Theed) in the Manchester Athenaeum, a tribute to his role in establishing the institution in 1836. The Cobden statue remained in its original position, in the centre of the square near to the Royal Cotton Exchange, until 1984 when the landscaping and further pedestrianisation of the square resulted in it being moved nearer to St Ann's church.
     Richard Cobden, was born in Heyshott, near Midhurst, Sussex, on 3 June 1804, the son of an unsuccessful small farmer. Cobden received little formal schooling and at the age of fourteen became a clerk in the cloth trade. He later started his own business selling calico prints. He moved to Manchester where in the 1830s he emerged as one of the leading figures in the campaign to establish a democratically elected local council. The new borough of Manchester was established in 1838 and Cobden was elected as one of the first alderman. At the same time as campaigning for political reform Cobden was also supporting economic reform. His involvement in the emerging campaign to remove the corn laws led in 1839 to the establishment of the Anti-Corn Law League. Cobden and John Bright, who he recruited to the League, became the most famous of those who organised the campaign. In 1841 he was elected MP for Stockport, and already a national figure. The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 saw Cobden fêted as a hero in Lancashire. Cobden continued to campaign for Liberal causes especially parliamentary reform and education. Cobden's house in Quay Street was to become the first home of Owens' College, the forerunner of the University of Manchester. His determined opposition towards an aggressive foreign policy especially during the Crimean War saw public opinion turn against Cobden and Bright. Both men lost their seats in the general election of 1857. Cobden re- entered parliament as the member for Rochdale in 1859. In 1860 he was instrumental in negotiating a new commercial treaty with France that reduced the tariff on a variety of goods. Cobden was an admirer of American democracy and supporter of Abraham Lincoln but he did not live to see the Union victory. On 2 April 1865, Richard Cobden died of bronchitis.


The centre of the granite pedestal has polished panel on which the inscription in incised letters reads: COBDEN

Related works : Cobden statue in Stockport

Contributor details

Contributor Role
Wood, Marshall Sculptor

Element details

Part of work Material Dimensions
Statue Bronze 304cm high
Pedestal Stone with granite facings 226cm square (at base)

PMSA recording information

Reference Region
General condition Good
Surface condition
  • Bird guano
Structural condition
  • None
  • None
Road St. Ann's Square
Precise location Next to St. Ann's Church
A-Z ref p.158 F1
OS ref SJ835980
Date of design 1865-67
Year of unveiling 1867
Unveiling details 22 April 1867
Commissioned by Cobden Memorial Committee
Duty of care Manchester City Council
Listing status II
At risk? Not at risk

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