The American Civil War and the Lancashire cotton famine

Cotton Bud Fountain, St Ann's Square, Manchester

This fountain was commissioned by Manchester City Council in 1996. It was officially switched on by then Leader of the Opposition, Tony Blair.

St Ann’s Square

A major pedestrianisation scheme for St Ann’s Square was agreed in 1993. Manchester City Council decided that a fountain would be the focal point of the scheme, located in the centre of what would become, once again, a vibrant and attractive public space in the city centre.

Sculpture competition

Seven sculptors were invited to submit designs in a limited competition. The winner was Peter Randall-Page who proposed a fountain based on a stylised flower bud surmounting a circular granite base. His inspiration was drawn from the plant forms that had long influenced his work as well as a recognition that plants featured frequently in the architectural decoration in Manchester. Initially, Randall-Page explored the possibility of using the cotton plant – gossypium – but rejected it, believing that its form was not suitable for a stone sculpture. However, he returned to the idea, incorporating elements of an opening cotton boll into the final design of the fountain.

Significance of cotton

The aptness of a design based on the cotton plant in Manchester, not least in a space facing the former Cotton Exchange, requires little comment. The light red granite stone selected for the bud echoed the red sandstone of St Ann’s church. The fountain was completed in June 1996. Fortunately, it was undamaged by the IRA bomb which devastated this part of the city in the same month.

Manchester’s connections to the cotton industry are acknowledged in other examples of architectural sculpture.  These range from the cotton bales in the sculptural panels on the front of the Free Trade Hall (now the Radisson Edwardian Hotel) in Peter Street to the figures and cotton flowers which are part of the architectural decoration of the town hall extension, architect Vincent Harris.

This information was provided by Terry Wyke.

Photo credit: derivative of photo Creative Commons Wendy Mann