How did money from slavery help develop Greater Manchester?

Bolton Town Hall, Victoria Square, Bolton

Sculptures representing slavery

The Leeds architect, William Hill, was the winner of the competition to design a new town hall for Bolton. The foundation stone was laid in 1867 and the building was opened with great ceremony in 1873. The principal external decoration was a symbolic group of life size figures representing the trade and industry of the town, the work of the London sculptor, William Calder Marshall.

The group was carved in Portland stone, not marble, possibly reflecting the concerns of economy minded councillors over what they regarded as unnecessary decoration. The central figure in the group is a female representing Bolton, her left hand resting on the shield bearing the borough’s coat of arms. To her left is a group symbolising commerce whilst on her right is a group symbolising manufacture. In the latter group, the female figure holds a distaff for spinning whilst by her side is a young African boy carrying a basket of cotton.

Black presence

The direct reference to cotton in the work is unsurprising given that Bolton was one of Lancashire’s most important cotton spinning towns. The depiction of a black child, however, raised no comment when the building was officially opened in 1873, though it was a reminder that in the textile towns of Lancashire, even after slavery was abolished in the USA, cotton continued to be cultivated and picked by former enslaved Africans.

Unlike Liverpool, where the city has apologised for its role in the transatlantic slave trade and criticisms have been made of sculptural references to the transatlantic trade on civic buildings, this particular representation of Bolton’s staple industry has raised little comment.

This information was provided by Terry Wyke.