Memorial rises on stepped granite blocks to a tall square base above which four arches support grand canopy, forming a shrine, in the centre of which stands marble statue of Prince Albert on a polished red and grey granite pedestal. Albert is dressed in the robes of the Order of the Garter, the rules of the Order held in his right hand. The arches are surmounted by lofty gables, each one containing an elaborately pierced circular open panel. In the three triangular spandrils are medallions, containing twelve heads representative of the Arts and Sciences: Michaelangelo, Wren, Inigo Jones, Raphael, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Goethe, Schiller, Milton, Shakespeare, Tasso and Dante. Above the four gables are winged angels holding gilt trumpets. The four piers or buttresses of the monument rise from the base ending in elaborately decorated pinnacles. Each pinnacle has two stages above the springing of the arches, the upper stage being an open canopy supported on polished granite shafts. The canopies contain figures representing Art, Science, Agriculture and Commerce. In the lower stages, beneath the principal figures are four subordinate figures. At the front of the memorial Art is supported by figures representing Music, Sculpture, Painting and Architecture; and Science by Astronomy, Mechanics, Chemistry and Geometry. At the rear Agriculture is supported by Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter; and Commerce by Europe, Asia, Africa and America. On the centre of the piers or buttresses are carved shields representing the Arms of England, Saxony and Prince Albert's own Arms. Each shield is surmounted by the Prince's coronet and encircled by the Garter. These shields are repeated on the panels around the basement. The monument concludes in a highly enriched octagonal spire banded with polished grey granite.
23 January 1867
Sicilian marble statue
[statue 9 feet high; memorial 80 feet, 20 feet square base]
Inscription round base of memorial: IN GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PRIVATE AND PUBLIC VIRTUES / ALBERT, PRINCE OF SAXE COBURG AND GOTHA, CONSORT OF HER MAJESTY, QUEEN VICTORIA / ERECTED BY THE INHABITANTS OF MANCHESTER A.D. 1866 / THIS STATUE WAS PRESENTED TO HIS FELLOW- CITIZENS BY THOMAS GOADSBY, MAYOR OF MANCHESTER 1861-2.
Inscription on pedestal : ALBERT
Status: Grade I
Condition: fair, weathering of stone and algae on memorial
Owned by: Manchester City Council
Following Prince Albert's death in December 1861, a committee of influential Mancunians, chaired by the mayor, Thomas Goadsby, established a fund to provide an appropriate memorial in the city. Numerous suggestions were made about the form of the memorial, including the establishment of a School of Science, an Albert Gallery of Art, a convalescent hospital, a public park and model cottages for the working classes. 'A Working Man' proposed that Manchester should erect a 'monument in the same style as the Scott Monument in Edinburgh.' But in the light of the eventual decision, the discussion at the very first public meeting to establish the fund is noteworthy. The idea of a memorial statue was mentioned by a number of speakers. Joseph Heron, Manchester's ever purposeful town clerk, observed of this idea:
the atmosphere of Manchester might not suit statues, and he was tired of bronze statues. Nothing more beautiful, however, could be seen than the marble statue of the Prince in the Town Hall, and he thought it might be arranged to have a marble statue of the Prince enclosed in a proper temple erected somewhere in this city, like the monument to the poet Burns, enclosed on Carlton Hill, Edinburgh.
The 'statue' Heron was referring to was the large bust, sculpted by Matthew Noble, presented to the city following the Arts Treasures Exhibition of 1857. To what extent the idea of a full-length marble statue had been discussed before the meeting is unclear, but Goadsby responded to Heron's proposal with a pledge of £500 if the statue were marble one. This was not the first time that Goadsby had considered financing a statue, as he had discussed the idea of raising a public statue to Oliver Cromwell. Initially, however, there continued to be a strong feeling that any tribute should be a practical one, a living memorial, representing one of the Prince Consort's many public interests. Such suggestions may also have been made with a view that they would create employment in a community in the grip of the Cotton Famine. But by February such schemes were to be marginalised when Goadsby announced his willingness to present the city with a marble statue of Prince Albert at his own expense, providing that an appropriate building could be supplied to accommodate it. Discussions in the memorial committee turned to the question of providing a suitable canopy for the promised statue and securing an appropriate site. The sculptor of the statue was to be Matthew Noble, whose work in Manchester and Salford must have made him well known to members of the memorial committee. Noble was certainly well known to Goadsby who described him as 'one of his warmest and sincerest personal friends.' Noble's local connections were considerable, and were further strengthened by being awarded the commission to provide a statue of the Prince Consort for Salford. This too was to be in marble and to stand outdoors but, unlike in Manchester, there were no plans to protect it with a canopy. For the Manchester Albert, Noble selected a marble from a 'new quarry in Sicily' rather than Carrara because of its superior weathering properties.
A sub-committee, which included Goadsby, William Fairbairn, Thomas Bazley, Thomas Ashton and the Bishop of Manchester, was left to clarify the Manchester memorial. The question of a canopy was settled relatively quickly with the sub-committee inviting the local architect, Thomas Worthington (a member of the General Committee), to discuss the subject with them and to submit designs. Worthington produced two designs: one based on the Temple of the Winds, Athens and the other on the medieval chapel of Santa Maria della Spina, Pisa. No illustration has survived of the only other design known to have been sent to the committee; a design 'voluntarily submitted' by the Manchester architects, Clegg and Knowles. It was Worthington's Italian Gothic design that the committee selected. Fortunately for the committee, Worthington, drawing on his knowledge of Italian architecture, produced an inspired response in the form of a ciborium, a magnificent shrine-like canopy to house Noble's statue. The appropriateness of the decision was given additional support when it was reported that Queen Victoria, having been shown a drawing of the intended canopy, had studied it carefully and approved of it. Worthington, however, was to make changes to the original design as the project went forward. Matters were progressing rapidly though it was significant that the committee had settled the question of the design of the memorial without having settled the question of the site.
Finding a site for the memorial proved less easy to arrange. Nine sites were identified by the committee though there was a clear preference for Piccadilly, where four statues had been already been erected on the Esplanade in front of the Royal Infirmary. In fact, three possible sites in Piccadilly were suggested: the top of Portland Street, the top of Mosley Street, and, more obviously, the space in front of the Infirmary between the Peel and Wellington monuments. The Memorial Committee and the Corporation approved the latter site but discussions with the Infirmary Trustees began badly, following the council's hasty construction of a fence for the memorial committee on what was apparently the Infirmary's land. The publication in The Builder of a drawing of the intended memorial did not receive the approval that the committee probably anticipated. Strong doubts began to be expressed about the suitability of placing a large Gothic memorial in front of the Infirmary's Ionic façade. The construction of a wooden 'skeleton frame of the memorial' on the site did nothing to reduce these concerns. Although the Infirmary trustees had been generally supportive of the earlier statues and improvements in Piccadilly there was little enthusiasm to erect this particular monument, even if it was honouring the late husband of the Infirmary's patron. In this particular 'Battle of the Styles' the Gothic was not to be triumphant. The attention of the memorial sub-committee turned towards the Portland Street end of Piccadilly. But locating the memorial here also required the co-operation of the Infirmary; more particularly as land would have to be given up. The Infirmary trustees were more sympathetic to this site, indicating their willingness to sell land to the council. However, in examining this site the council's Improvement Committee decided against it, claiming that it was too expensive. Goadsby tried to get decision reversed at the January meeting of the city council arguing that the Portland Street site was suitable, and that, moreover, the Infirmary was willing to sell the land at well below its market value. In what was the first of a series of crucial council votes, the report of the Improvement Committee was accepted by 27 votes to 26. By the winter of 1862-3 the Memorial Committee, which had expected to have completed the memorial's foundations in Piccadilly, was compelled to consider sites in other parts of the town. One correspondent in the local press wondered, not unreasonably, that in the pursuit of architectural harmony whether it was too late for the committee to revise the design.
In February 1863 the Improvement Committee made another decisive intervention. At a meeting with the Memorial Committee the case for locating the memorial in Bancroft Street was made. This was the least promising of all the sites identified, though not one unknown to the memorial sub-committee as they had inspected it in the previous year, after a meeting with Worthington. Bancroft Street was an unremarkable site, land covered by a clutter of buildings in front of the Town Yard; a site which most Mancunians would have had difficulty in locating, let alone envisaging as a public space in which to place a major memorial. Other agendas were at work here. In particular, some councillors had recognised that Manchester would eventually need to build a new town hall, and they had already identified the Town Yard as a probable site. The Improvements sub-committee urged the Albert Memorial Committee to consider the unpromising Bancroft Street site, with the understanding that it would become part of a much grander scheme of civic redevelopment. In February 1863 the Memorial Committee agreed, by six votes to three, to place the Albert Memorial on Bancroft Street, 'subject to the understanding that the present intentions of the Corporation as shown in the accompanying plan to be carried out.' The decision to locate such a princely memorial in the 'backwoods' of the city could not and did not pass without comment. The Improvement Committee had to obtain the approval of the full council for Bancroft Street to become a new public square defined by the Albert Memorial. A substantial number of councillors were unconvinced of the need to spend what appeared to be a considerable and largely unspecified amount of money to acquire the Bancroft Street site. One councillor observed that a sum of £28,000 had been rumoured, somewhat more than the £1,000 mentioned for the purchase of the land in Portland Street. That this would be the first stage of an even grander scheme raised more questions. Goadsby, still disappointed that the memorial was not to be in Piccadilly, indicated that he was willing to accept the Bancroft Street site but only if it was ' the prelude to the erection of a commodious town hall in that neighbourhood.' Alderman Curtis 'hoped that the council would never think of erecting a town hall so far from the centre of the city as Bancroft Street.' The meeting became acrimonious. The vote was tied and it was left to the mayor, Abel Heywood, to vote again to ensure that the site in front of the Town Yard was acquired. The land that would become Albert Square, the city's most prestigious civic space, was determined by the exceptional use of the mayor's casting vote.
Some eighteen months after the Albert Memorial Committee's first meeting, the construction of Manchester's Albert Memorial began. The work did not proceed smoothly as the site, which had included a public house, provided unexpected difficulties. The foundations soon used up the 50,000 bricks gifted by the local Brickmakers' Association. The Manchester firm of J. and H. Patteson were awarded the main contract for the stonework. Soon additional funds were needed but the committee found it increasingly difficult to raise money in a community still in the grip of the Cotton Famine. Canvassing was renewed, potential subscribers being sent carte de visites of the memorial. In an enterprising initiative to boost funds it was agreed to ask ratepayers to pay a voluntary one penny rate towards the memorial. Some £660 was raised by this means. Work on the memorial continued but progress was slow. One of the difficulties was obtaining suitable stone. Reporting in the summer of 1865 Worthington concluded that substantial funds would still be needed if the memorial was to be finished as planned. By November Worthington had revised his estimates of the shortfall to £2,500 if the memorial was to be completed properly.' The re- canvassing of subscribers was proposed. Thomas Ashton and Oliver Heywood argued for an even bolder approach, that of asking the council for money. This direct approach proved successful, the council agreeing to pay £500 into the memorial fund. By Spring 1866 the project was moving forward again, with the committee employing T. R. and E. Williams 'to execute the whole of the sculptures and carving for £767. 17s. 0d.' The Manchester sculptor, Joseph Bonehill, was also hired to assist with the carving of the memorial's upper stages. Even so there still remained a shortfall and the presentation of the larger bills had the potential to embarrass the committee. Throughout the project Worthington remained closely involved, examining stone and checking details; though his absence from one meeting was explained by the fact that he was attending a wedding, his own. Information on the prince's armorials came from the Queen's Librarian at Windsor.
By the autumn of 1866 the project looked as if it might finally be completed. Noble had completed the statue and it was ready to be sent to Manchester. As Thomas Goadsby had died earlier in the year, it was his widow, Elizabeth, who saw that her husband's gift was delivered to the committee. Consideration began to be given to arranging an unveiling ceremony worthy of the memorial. But, once again, the committee saw their plans thwarted. It was assumed that such a splendid memorial would warrant a royal inauguration, but the Prince of Wales proved to be unavailable, whilst the Queen, who had admired Worthington's work, had all but withdrawn from public life. The Prime Minister, Lord Derby, also declined, as did, though somewhat more unexpectedly, the Bishop of Manchester. In the end the memorial committee agreed to hold two ceremonies. The first was in the town hall where Elizabeth Goadsby formally handed over the statue that her late husband had agreed to give to the city some five years before. A procession then walked from the town hall in King Street to what would become known as Albert Square, where the act of unveiling what was (and remains) the city's most substantial and grandest public monument was unveiled by the engineer, William Fairbairn. It was not a ceremony without incident as the large crowd included a number of the city's roughs - 'Deansgate, Angel Meadow and other delectable neighbourhoods', commented the Manchester Courier, 'seemed to have poured forth their full [sic] of the profani vulgi.' - whose behaviour would definitely not have amused 'Albert the Good'.
The Albert Memorial had taken five years from the opening meetings to the final unveiling. The total cost, excluding the statue, was some £6,225, with over half of the money coming from individual subscribers who gave £500 and more to the memorial fund. It was the wealthier members of Manchester's middle classes who had provided the money, some of whom, such as the firm of Ermen and Engels, had German connections. The difficult economic times help to explain the extended financial problems the committee faced though the fact that the memorial was not a more practical one should also be recalled in accounting for the length of the project. The end result was a splendid and distinctive example of Victorian architecture which was widely praised even if the Manchester Guardian's correspondent claimed that two of the buttresses appeared to be falling outwards. To what extent Worthington's Gothic canopy influenced George Gilbert Scott's even more magnificent London memorial remains conjectural, though not for Mancunians.
The Albert Memorial did become, as certain councillors had envisaged, the focal point of an important public space. Construction of Manchester's new town hall on the Town Yard site confirmed Albert Square's civic importance. The memorial was admired, a building to show off to visitors to the city, a civic asset worth repairing and cleaning. Attitudes, however, were to change, and after the First World War the proposal to site the city's war memorial in Albert Square involved the removing the Albert Memorial. This scheme was defeated but it foreshadowed a shift in architectural tastes
that saw works approved of by one generation scorned by the next. The Albert Memorial also came under threat after the Second World War when the new city plan envisaged an Albert Square without its memorial. Attitudes to the Albert Memorial became much more polarised, between those who wished to see it preserved and those who wished to see it moved or even demolished. Its condition also deteriorated - parts of the structure, including the pinnacles, had already been removed for safety reasons - and there was a reluctance to use scarce resources to restore an unfashionable monument. When the memorial was added to the list of Manchester's buildings 'of special architectural or historic interest', the decision was derided by one councillor who described it as 'a very expensive pigeon loft which ought to be demolished forthwith.' But in spite of its listed status the memorial continued to be neglected. In 1968 the council agreed to spend £22,000 on repairing and cleaning it though Councillor M. Taylor's suggestion that the best way to deal with the memorial was with a stick of dynamite was not entirely without public support.' In fact, little was done to stop the memorial's decay, a deterioration that was made all the more obvious when the exterior of the town hall was cleaned. The early 1970s saw conservation groups pressing the council to acknowledge its responsibilities and restore the memorial. Once again, plans to restore it were opposed, and in July 1971 the council, rescinding an earlier resolution, decided to proceed with the removal of the memorial. By 71 votes to 31 it was agreed to dismantle and dispose of the memorial. However, no action was taken following the announcement of plans to construct an underground railway link across Manchester, including a station in Albert Square. This scheme raised wider questions about the future layout of the whole square. The tension between the conservation groups and a council unwilling or unable to carry out its statutory duties remained. By 1973, however, the idea of dismantling the memorial became more problematic as the conservationist began to exert further pressure. An exhibition on Thomas Worthington was held in Manchester and the Victorian Society organised a 2,700- name petition to keep the memorial in the square. Most important of all, the Department of the Environment decided to raise the memorial's listed building status to Grade One. Pressure to restore the memorial mounted. In November 1976 a well organised but still ambitious campaign was launched to raise £50,000 to restore the memorial. The result was the major restoration that some had been calling for over 30 years. The restored memorial was finally unveiled in xx 1979. It re turned the memorial to something like its former glory though the ornate wrought iron grille around the base was not replaced.
In the following years the layout of Albert Square was altered on a number of occasions in an effort to create a more attractive and friendly public space. Among the important changes were the closure of the road in front of the Town Hall, and in 1987-8 the enlarged square was entirely re-laid in granite setts and stone flags. Throughout these alterations the Albert Memorial remained the focal point of the square, a building that along with Waterhouse's town hall became one of the visual symbols of Manchester.
Front (beneath aedicule): ALBERT PRINCE OF SAXE COBURG AND GOTHA/CONSORT OF HER MAJESTY QUEEN VICTORIA
Lhs: ERECTED BY THE INHABITANTS OF MANCHESTEr, A.D. 1866
Above lhs inscription: RESTORED A. D 1977
Rear: THIS STATUE WAS PRESENTED TO HIS FELLOW CITIZENS
BY THOMAS GOADSBY MAYOR OF MANCHESTER 1861-2
Rhs: IN GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT/OF PUBLIC AND PRIVATE VIRTUES
PMSA recording information