Though it was touched upon in our second A Long Weekender post, I felt that the Ford Madox Brown murals – which decorate a chamber on the first floor of Manchester Town Hall, and depict the history of our city in a series of twelve scenes – deserved a post all of their own.
As something of a history lover, I’ve often wondered what Manchester was like in the Middle Ages; there’s ample evidence of the city in the 19th century – you can’t help but notice all the mills and factories dotted about the place – and the Roman fort in Castlefield is testament to the city’s longstanding history. But what about all that time in between then and now?
If, like me, you’ve ever asked yourself these questions, then these murals provide a very concise introduction. Each is painted in the vaguely romantic style, which is technically a Hogarthian version of Pre-Raphaelite. Apparently.
The story begins with The Romans Building a Fort at Mancenion, with a Roman general and his wife inspecting the work being carried out (detail showing a solider inspecting the plans below).
The next image shows the baptism of the pagan King Edwin to Christianity. Though this took place in York the conversion brought Christianity to Manchester.
The Expulsion of the Danes from Manchester portrays Mancunians, rather than Saxon soldiers, expelling Danish invaders. From there we move on to The Trial of Wycliffe A.D. 1377, a man who is credited with brining non-conformism to the North of England.
Wycliffe was an unfortunate bloke who was tried for heresy in London in 1377; however, through his protector – John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster – he became linked to the origins of non-conformism. In the full scale image Chaucer is pictured taking notes. I liked the detail of these two gossiping in the foreground about the drama taking place behind them.
Next, The Proclamation Regarding Weights and Measures A.D. 1556 shows that streamlining the system of general measurements was as unpopular in the 16th century as it was in 2000, when UK law compelled traders to sell in metric measurements.
Crabtree Watching the Transit of Venus A.D. 1639 depicts William Crabtree, from Broughton, observing the transit of Venus, before Chetham’s Life’s Dream A.D. 1640 shows the origins of the current Chetham’s School of Music.
Next, Bradshaw’s Defence of Manchester A.D. 1642 presents a Manchester under siege as Royalist troops surround the town. This was the last murial to be completed before Brown died; having lost the use of his right hand after a stroke, he had to complete it with his left.
We then move on to more familiar times with John Kay, Inventor of the Fly Shuttle A.D. 1753. As Kay tests his invention rioters try to break into his workshop and break it. We stay with the origins of the Industrial Revolution with The Opening of the Bridgewater Canal A.D. 1761, before finally moving on to Dalton Collecting Marsh-Fire Gas, where we see Dalton collecting bubbles of gas from the water of a pond. His experimentation with gas led to the him developing atomic theory.
And there we have it; some of the key events that have help shaped Manchester history over the ages. I’m not really sure how accurate the murals are as a historical record, but regardless they are lovely to look at, and before we saw them as part of our Weekender events I had no idea they were even there.
If you would like to find out more from the comfort of your computer screen you can take a look at the Manchester Government website. Or you can go down to Manchester Town Hall Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm.
Part four of a four part series in conjunction with All Points North, providing coverage of Manchester Weekender and other regional festivals.