How did money from slavery help develop Greater Manchester?

Manchester Town Hall

Cotton made Manchester one of the great cities of the nineteenth century. The wealth created by the industry was evident in its public buildings, notably the town hall, designed by Alfred Waterhouse and opened in 1877.

Spinning and Weaving

Waterhouse included references to the cotton industry on the exterior, notably two roundels depicting ‘Spinning’ and ‘Weaving’. In keeping with the Gothic design, the sculptural figures are from the pre-industrial period of the textile industry’s history. The roundel representing ‘Weaving’ is on the Princess Street elevation, beneath the oriel window. It depicts a young man seated at a handloom, the costume and the fly shuttle suggesting the eighteenth century.

A companion piece, ‘Spinning’ – a female figure spinning thread by hand – was placed on the Lloyd Street side of the town hall. This roundel was removed during the building of Vincent Harris’s extension to the town hall in the late 1930s, and it is now on display inside the town hall. Both pieces were carved by the London firm of architectural sculptors, Farmer and Brindley. Inside ‘King Cotton’s Palace’, Waterhouse incorporated the cotton plant into the decorative schemes he devised for the public areas of the building.   

Architectural sculpture is less evident on Vincent Harris’s extension though note should be taken of the two figures, representing ‘Spinning’ and ‘Weaving’, high on the gable end of the building facing Princess Street. Included at a time when the industry was in decline, they are possibly an acknowledgment by Harris of the roundels on Waterhouse’s town hall.

What is on the top of the spire?

Many people believe that there is a cotton ball on the top on the town hall spire. However, the official description of the town hall published in 1877 reads: 

‘The finial consists of a ball two feet in diameter, covered with spikes and forms the termination of the lightning conductor, having from below the appearance of the city crest.’

This information was provided by Terry Wyke.