Thomas Woolner in Manchester

[This page has been kindly contributed by Paul Barlow, an authority on Woolner.]

Woolner's most important works in Manchester were statues of kings and law-givers commissioned from him to decorate the Assize courts built by the architect Alfred Waterhouse. Sadly, the building was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War, but most of Woolner's statues were rescued and are now housed in the new buildings. The most effective designs draw on late Gothic sculpture, making dramatic use of deeply cut drapery for graphic visual effect at a distance. They can be seen by appointment with Mr Francis Law on application to the courts.

Equally interesting are carvings by the O'Shea brothers, who worked with Woolner at the courts, and earlier at the Oxford Museum of Natural History. The O'Sheas carved 'gothic' decorations on Ruskinian principles. In Manchester, they decorated two column-capitals with historical scenes of punishments, including various forms of torture, a scold's bridle, stocks and pillory. The subjects are treated with lively black humour. In Manchester's Albert Square, which extends from Waterhouse's town hall building, can be seen Woolner's statue of Bishop Frazer (1818-1885), the second Bishop of Manchester. Local legend has it that the Bishop's back is turned to the town hall because of his objection to spending eternity staring at a building he disliked. At the base of the statue are reliefs depicting his charitable activities.

[Paul Barlow adds that Mr Law is keen to solicit support for the restoration of Woolner's sculptures, some of which have suffered water damage. He wishes to place the most important works on public display, should funding become available.]

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