The Manchester Murals
The Manchester Murals are a series of twelve paintings by Ford Madox Brown
Ford Madox Brown
Ford Madox Brown was an English painter of moral and historical subjects, notable for his distinctively graphic and often Hogarthian version of the Pre-Raphaelite style. Arguably, his most notable painting was Work...

 on the history of Manchester
History of Manchester
The history of Manchester encompasses its change from a minor Lancastrian township into the pre-eminent industrial metropolis of the United Kingdom and the world. Manchester began expanding "at an astonishing rate" around the turn of the 19th century as part of a process of unplanned urbanisation...

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 in Manchester Town Hall
Manchester Town Hall
Manchester Town Hall is a Victorian-era, Neo-gothic municipal building in Manchester, England. The building functions as the ceremonial headquarters of Manchester City Council and houses a number of local government departments....

. Following the success of Brown's painting Work
Work (painting)
Work is a painting by Ford Madox Brown, which is generally considered to be his most important achievement. It attempts to portray, both literally and analytically, the totality of the Victorian social system and the transition from a rural to an urban economy...

he was commissioned to paint six murals for the Great Hall of the new building. Another six murals were to be completed by a local artist, Frederic Shields
Frederic Shields
Frederic James Shields , was a British artist, illustrator and designer closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelites through Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown.-Early years:...

. Shields eventually withdrew, leaving Brown to complete all twelve works. The murals were begun in 1879, towards the end of Brown's career, but were not completed until 1893, the year he died. During this period he moved from London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 to Manchester
Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. According to the Office for National Statistics, the 2010 mid-year population estimate for Manchester was 498,800. Manchester lies within one of the UK's largest metropolitan areas, the metropolitan county of Greater...

 with his family, first living at Crumpsall
Crumpsall is a suburban area and electoral ward of the city of Manchester, in Greater Manchester, England. It is about north of Manchester city centre...

 and then at Victoria Park
Victoria Park, Manchester
Victoria Park is an suburban area of Manchester, England. Victoria Park lies approximately 3 kilometres south of Manchester city centre, between Rusholme and Longsight.It is east of Wilmslow Road and west of Anson Road.-History and description:...



The murals were intended to form part of the decoration of the Great Hall, the central room in the new town hall designed by Alfred Waterhouse
Alfred Waterhouse
Alfred Waterhouse was a British architect, particularly associated with the Victorian Gothic Revival architecture. He is perhaps best known for his design for the Natural History Museum in London, and Manchester Town Hall, although he also built a wide variety of other buildings throughout the...

. Entering the room, the first six murals are on the left hand wall; the second six are on the right hand wall. They progress chronologically from the left wall nearest the entrance to the right wall opposite. This basic scheme repeats that of William Bell Scott
William Bell Scott
William Bell Scott was a Scottish poet and artist.-Life:The son of Robert Scott , the engraver, and brother of David Scott, the painter, he was born in Edinburgh. While a young man he studied art and assisted his father, and he published verses in the Scottish magazines...

's murals on the history of Northumbria
Northumbria was a medieval kingdom of the Angles, in what is now Northern England and South-East Scotland, becoming subsequently an earldom in a united Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The name reflects the approximate southern limit to the kingdom's territory, the Humber Estuary.Northumbria was...

 in Wallington Hall
Wallington Hall
Wallington is a country house and gardens located about west of Morpeth, Northumberland, England, near the village of Cambo. It has been owned by the National Trust since 1942, after it was donated by Sir Charles Philips Trevelyan, the first donation of its kind...


Subjects and meaning

The subjects chosen reflect the Victorian ideals through which the history of Manchester was seen, focusing on Christianity, commerce and the textile industry. Brown did a great deal of research to check the details for accuracy and he wrote the descriptions himself.

Recent commentators on the murals have identified satirical and critical features in the compositions which complicate any simple explanation of the paintings as expressions of the "Victorian ideals" that the chosen subjects imply. The art historian Julie F. Codell refers to these as the "pratfalls and penultimates" of history, as opposed to its stately progress.

Most of the paintings contain Hogarthian satire (in contrast to Bell Scott's works). In the first picture the wife of the Roman general wearing a blond wig distracts him from his work; their son — a Caligula in the making — kicks an African servant. The painting that seems to celebrate industrial technology, John Kay: Inventor of the Fly Shuttle, depicts the hysterical inventor fleeing from an unruly mob which is bent on destroying the machine. Instead of culminating in the achievement of modern Manchester, the sequence concludes with a rustic scene in a small village. According to Codell, history is portrayed as fragmented, contested, and as ending in a "penultimate" moment.

This may be related to Brown's interest in anarchism and William Morris
William Morris
William Morris 24 March 18343 October 1896 was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts Movement...

's utopian socialism
Utopian socialism
Utopian socialism is a term used to define the first currents of modern socialist thought as exemplified by the work of Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, and Robert Owen which inspired Karl Marx and other early socialists and were looked on favorably...

 at the time. However, it also arises from disputes about the more modern subjects. Paintings depicting the Peterloo Massacre
Peterloo Massacre
The Peterloo Massacre occurred at St Peter's Field, Manchester, England, on 16 August 1819, when cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 that had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation....

 in 1819 and the end of the Lancashire Cotton Famine in 1865 had been proposed, but both were rejected by the council's committee as too controversial.


All but the last four murals were painted directly on to the wall. They were not created using the true fresco
Fresco is any of several related mural painting types, executed on plaster on walls or ceilings. The word fresco comes from the Greek word affresca which derives from the Latin word for "fresh". Frescoes first developed in the ancient world and continued to be popular through the Renaissance...

 process but taking advantage of a Victorian technique, the Gambier Parry process
Gambier Parry process
The Gambier Parry process is a development of the classical technique of fresco for painting murals, named for Thomas Gambier Parry.In some environments, conventional fresco colours can rapidly accumulate dirt and grime. Gambier Parry developed a spirit medium for use on a specially prepared...

, which being "spirit"
In chemistry, an alcohol is an organic compound in which the hydroxy functional group is bound to a carbon atom. In particular, this carbon center should be saturated, having single bonds to three other atoms....

 based produced a more hard wearing image. Brown completed the last four murals on canvas, after he had returned to London.


Image Description
The Romans Building a Fort at Mancenion
The mural depicts the building of a Roman fort by enslaved Britons while a Roman general gives the orders. The fort, now known as Mamucium, was at what is now the area of Castlefield
Castlefield is an inner city area of Manchester, in North West England. The conservation area which bears its name is bounded by the River Irwell, Quay Street, Deansgate and the Chester Road. It was the site of the Roman era fort of Mamucium or Mancunium which gave its name to Manchester...

, near the centre of Manchester.
The Baptism of Edwin
The mural depicts the baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

 of Edwin of Northumbria
Edwin of Northumbria
Edwin , also known as Eadwine or Æduini, was the King of Deira and Bernicia – which later became known as Northumbria – from about 616 until his death. He converted to Christianity and was baptised in 627; after he fell at the Battle of Hatfield Chase, he was venerated as a saint.Edwin was the son...

, who was also king of Deira which included the region where Manchester is located, at York
York is a walled city, situated at the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss in North Yorkshire, England. The city has a rich heritage and has provided the backdrop to major political events throughout much of its two millennia of existence...

, watched by his Christian wife Ethelburga and family.
The Expulsion of the Danes from Manchester
The mural depicts the retreat of the Danes
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the "Danes" held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. It is contrasted with "West Saxon law" and "Mercian law". The term has been extended by modern historians to...

 from Manchester - showing soldiers carrying their general on a stretcher.
The Establishment of Flemish Weavers in Manchester A.D. 1363
Queen Philippa of Hainault
Philippa of Hainault
Philippa of Hainault, or, Philippe de Hainaut was the Queen consort of King Edward III of England. Edward, Duke of Guyenne, her future husband, promised in 1326 to marry her within the following two years...

 greets Flemish weavers who were invited to England under Edward III of England
Edward III of England
Edward III was King of England from 1327 until his death and is noted for his military success. Restoring royal authority after the disastrous reign of his father, Edward II, Edward III went on to transform the Kingdom of England into one of the most formidable military powers in Europe...

's act of 1337.
The Trial of Wycliffe A.D. 1377

John Wycliffe
John Wycliffe
John Wycliffe was an English Scholastic philosopher, theologian, lay preacher, translator, reformer and university teacher who was known as an early dissident in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th century. His followers were known as Lollards, a somewhat rebellious movement, which preached...

 is depicted on trial, defended by his patron, John of Gaunt. Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey...

, another protegé of Gaunt's, acts as recorder.
The Proclamation regarding Weights and Measures A.D. 1556
In 1556, Manchester's Court passed an edict directing that "The Burgess and others of the Town of Manchester shall send in all manner of Weights and Measures to be tried by their Majesties standard."
Crabtree watching the Transit of Venus A.D. 1639
William Crabtree
William Crabtree
William Crabtree was an astronomer, mathematician, and merchant from Broughton, then a township near Manchester, which is now part of Salford, Greater Manchester, England...

, a draper who lived at Broughton
Broughton, Greater Manchester
Broughton is an inner city area of Salford, in Greater Manchester, England. It lies on the east bank of the River Irwell and A56 road, in the northeastern part of the City of Salford, north-northwest of Manchester city centre and south of Prestwich. Broughton consists of Broughton Park, Higher...

, was asked by a curate friend, Jeremiah Horrocks
Jeremiah Horrocks
Jeremiah Horrocks , sometimes given as Jeremiah Horrox , was an English astronomer who was the only person to predict, and one of only two people to observe and record, the transit of Venus of 1639.- Life and work :Horrocks was born in Lower Lodge, in...

, to observe the Transit of Venus
Venus is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. The planet is named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. After the Moon, it is the brightest natural object in the night sky, reaching an apparent magnitude of −4.6, bright enough to cast shadows...

, on 24 November 1639. Crabtree's diligence and rigour enabled him to correct Horrocks' faulty calculations and to observe the transit on 4 December.
Chetham's Life's Dream A.D. 1640
The mural depicts merchant philanthropist Humphrey Chetham
Humphrey Chetham
Sir Humphrey Chetham was an English merchant, responsible for the creation of Chetham's Hospital and Chetham's Library, the oldest public library in the English-speaking world.- Life :...

's dream of the charity school for poor boys eventually founded in his will of 1653, which was converted into the present Chetham's School of Music
Chetham's School of Music
Chetham's School of Music , familiarly known as "Chets", is a specialist independent co-educational music school, situated in Manchester city centre, in North West England. It was established in 1969, incorporating Chetham's Hospital School, founded as a charity school by Humphrey Chetham in 1653...

 in 1969. Chetham is portrayed studying his will to the right of the painting.
Bradshaw's Defence of Manchester A.D. 1642
During the English Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

, Manchester was laid under siege by Royalist troops under the command of Lord Strange. It was, however, John Rosworm
John Rosworm
John Rosworm or Rosworme was a Dutch or German soldier and military engineer who served the Parliamentarian cause during the English Civil War....

, not John Bradshaw
John Bradshaw (judge)
John Bradshaw was an English judge. He is most notable for his role as President of the High Court of Justice for the trial of King Charles I and as the first Lord President of the Council of State of the English Commonwealth....

 as depicted, who defended the town.

Ths was the last of the paintings to be completed. It is not strictly a mural, since Brown was by this time too frail to work in the hall itself. It was painted on canvas and adhered to the wall.
John Kay, Inventor of the Fly Shuttle A.D. 1753
The invention, by John Kay
John Kay (flying shuttle)
John Kay was the inventor of the flying shuttle, which was a key contribution to the Industrial Revolution. He is often confused with his namesake: fellow Lancastrian textile machinery inventor, the unrelated John Kay who built the first "spinning frame".-Life in England:John Kay was born...

, of the flying shuttle revolutionised weaving. The mural depicts rioters, who feared their jobs were in danger, breaking in to destroy the loom
A loom is a device used to weave cloth. The basic purpose of any loom is to hold the warp threads under tension to facilitate the interweaving of the weft threads...

, while Kay is being smuggled to safety.
The Opening of the Bridgewater Canal A.D. 1761
The 3rd Earl of Bridgewater owned coal mines in Worsley , and collaborated with engineer
An engineer is a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical problems. Engineers design materials, structures, machines and systems while considering the limitations imposed by practicality,...

 James Brindley
James Brindley
James Brindley was an English engineer. He was born in Tunstead, Derbyshire, and lived much of his life in Leek, Staffordshire, becoming one of the most notable engineers of the 18th century.-Early life:...

 to build the Bridgewater Canal
Bridgewater Canal
The Bridgewater Canal connects Runcorn, Manchester and Leigh, in North West England. It was commissioned by Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, to transport coal from his mines in Worsley to Manchester...

 to carry coal
Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. The harder forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rock because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure...

 into the heart of Manchester.
Dalton collecting Marsh-Fire Gas
The mural depicts the scientist John Dalton
John Dalton
John Dalton FRS was an English chemist, meteorologist and physicist. He is best known for his pioneering work in the development of modern atomic theory, and his research into colour blindness .-Early life:John Dalton was born into a Quaker family at Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth, Cumberland,...

 collecting gases. His studies led to the development of atomic theory
Atomic theory
In chemistry and physics, atomic theory is a theory of the nature of matter, which states that matter is composed of discrete units called atoms, as opposed to the obsolete notion that matter could be divided into any arbitrarily small quantity...


External links

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