National Recording Project

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

JOHN BRIGHT

Summary

Type Statue

     Full-length marble statue of Bright who is shown in attitude of public speaker. He is in modern clothing, waistcoat and topcoat. His right hand is by his side whilst in the left hand held up to his chest he holds a scroll. It surmounts a granite pedestal.
     Bright's death was followed by a number of memorial schemes including a statue in Rochdale and a clock tower in Milnrow. Manchester also decided to honour him even though it had already installed a marble statue of him in the new town hall. The idea for a second statue originated in the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, an association that found much sympathy with Bright's belief in destroying commercial and political monopolies. The scheme was publicly launched at a meeting in October 1899, some six months after Bright's death. Benjamin Armitage, a friend and fellow Liberal, was chairman of the memorial committee. Other committee members included local MPs and prominent public figures including Thomas Ashton, Oliver Heywood and William Agnew. The inclusion of the cotton trade union leader, James Mawdsley, suggested a wider working-class support for the memorial though in the end just over 200 subscribers provided the necessary funds. The selection of the sculptor appears to have caused little debate, it being agreed that the commission should go to Albert Bruce Joy (1842-1924). Bruce Joy had already produced a marble statue of Bright for Birmingham, a representation that Bright was known to have approved of. Moreover, Bruce Joy had taken a copy of Bright's skull after death. The Manchester statue was also to be in marble, a choice of material that did not appear to raise any serious questions even though it was understood that this statue would be positioned out of doors, exposed to the city's smoke-rich atmosphere. In contrast, Rochdale rejected marble for its memorial because of the concern that it would not resist the atmospheric pollution as readily as bronze. There was more debate over the location of the statue. Various sites were considered and, unsurprisingly, there was a feeling that St Ann's Square would be an appropriate location because of the presence of Marshall Wood's statue of Cobden. In spite of prompting from the mayor, John Mark, to choose St Ann's Square, and thus reunite the two men who had made Manchester's politics the nation's politics, it was eventually decided to place the statue in Albert Square. Bruce Joy completed the statue by the autumn of 1891 and it was brought to Manchester where it was placed on a polished grey granite pedestal, supplied by John Freeman and Sons of Penryn, Cornwall, in Albert Square. The public unveiling took place in October 1891. The individual chosen to carry out the unveiling was not a leading Liberal but the natural leader of Lancashire conservatives, Lord Derby; a decision that may have been meant to emphasise the broad support for the memorial statue. Heavy rain shortened the outdoor ceremony but on retiring inside the town hall, Lord Derby praised his political opponent for his moral courage, determination and oratory. Bright, after all, was a Lancashire man.'The name of John Bright is known among all English- speaking people, in America and the colonies as well as here. But we in Lancashire claim him specially, not merely because he was born and bred among us, but because he embodied in a peculiar degree those qualities which are usually held to be characteristic of Lancashire - strong and clear opinions, determined purpose, and plain, uncompromising speech.' A special presentation book recording the deed of transfer of the statue from the committee to the corporation was handed over to the mayor. Bruce Joy's representation of Bright was well received in the local press; the Manchester Courier calling particular attention to the fine head and the expresive features 'depicted with a care which appears to amount almost to affection on the part of the sculptor.'As in his other commissions Bruce Joy was concerned that the statue was positioned so that it could be viewed in the best light. It was for this reason that he had the statue placed so that Bright faced the Albert Memorial, advising that the best time to view it was in the late morning and 'not in afternoon when the sun would be shining obliquely upon it.' However, it was also made clear that this would be a temporary arrangement before the statue was turned to face the town hall. At the unveiling one of the phrases associated with Bright - 'Be just, and fear not' - was painted on the pedestal. However, the intention that it would be permanently inscribed was never realised.
     John Bright (1811-1889), the son of Jacob Bright, a successful cotton manufacturer, was born in Rochdale on 16th November, 1811. He received a Quaker education at schools in Lancashire and Yorkshire. This education helped to develop in Bright a passionate commitment to political and religious equality. Bright worked in the family business in Rochdale and also became involved in local politics including the campaign against the economic privileges of the Anglican Church. In 1839, he joined the Anti-Corn Law League, quickly establishing himself as one of its most forceful and popular public speakers. In his speeches Bright attacked the privileged position of the landed aristocracy and argued that their selfishness was the cause of much working-class suffering. In 1843 he was elected as MP for Durham. Following the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 Bright along with Cobden were political heroes. He used his high standing to campaign for progressive causes. With Cobden he opposed Britain's aggressive foreign policy, a stance that led to their campaign against the Crimean War. The two men were much abused by the press and some MPs even accused them of treason. In the 1857 General Election, both Bright and Cobden lost their parliamentary seats. Five months later, Bright won a by-election in Birmingham. He, however, refused to change his view on Britain's foreign policy. He blamed the Indian Mutiny on British misrule. As a Quaker he was totally opposed to slavery and was a passionate supporter of the union in the American Civil War. A believer in universal suffrage and the secret ballot Bright was an important figure in the Liberal campaign for parliamentary reform. When Gladstone became prime minister in 1868 he appointed Bright President of the Board of Trade. Ill-health forced him to retire from the Cabinet in 1870. Public attitudes to Bright changed, nowhere more so than in Manchester. In 1878 the town which 21 years before had burnt him in effigy, unveiled a life-size statue of him in the new town hall. Bright went on to hold other government offices though he was never slow to criticise what he considered to be the mistaken policies of his own party. He was a vocal opponent of Gladstone's policy of Home Rule for Ireland. When the British fleet attacked Egypt in 1882, he resigned from the Cabinet. Bright was widely acknowledged as one of the great public speakers of the nineteenth century. Tom Mann recalled 'The plainness of his language, the unaffected simplicity of his illustrations, his power to drive home the points of his speech, in conjunction with the mellifluous vocalization of which he was master, made one feel that it was a great privilege to listen to such oratory, and to observe the orator.' He remained MP for Birmingham until his death on 27th March, 1889.

Inscriptions

Front of pedestal: JOHN BRIGHT 1811 - 1889

Contributor details

Contributor Role
Bruce-Joy, Albert Sculptor

Element details

Part of work Material Dimensions
Statue Marble 275 high approx
Pedestal Granite 320cm high x 180cm square (at base)

PMSA recording information

Reference Region
MR/MCR04 MR
General condition Good
Surface condition
  • Biological growth
  • Bird guano
Structural condition
  • None
Vandalism
  • None
Road Albert Square
Precise location Opposite Town Hall
A-Z ref p.158 F1
OS ref SJ835980
Date of design None
Year of unveiling 1891
Unveiling details 10 October 1891
Commissioned by Bright Memorial Committee
Duty of care Manchester City Council
Listing status II
At risk? Not at risk

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