The Manchester Murals

Last updated

Ford Madox Brown, painter of The Manchester Murals Ford madox brown.jpg
Ford Madox Brown, painter of The Manchester Murals

The Manchester Murals are a series of twelve paintings by Ford Madox Brown in the Great Hall of Manchester Town Hall and are based on the history of Manchester. Following the success of Brown's painting Work he was commissioned to paint six murals for its Great Hall. Another six murals were to be completed by Frederic Shields who later 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 to Manchester with his family, first living in Crumpsall and then Victoria Park.



The twelve murals are located on opposite walls in the Great Hall. Manchester Town Hall, Great Hall.jpg
The twelve murals are located on opposite walls in the Great Hall.

The murals form part of the decoration of the Great Hall, the central room designed by Alfred Waterhouse. [1] On entering the hall, six murals are on the left hand wall and six on the right, progressing chronologically from the left wall nearest the entrance to the right wall opposite, repeating the basic structure of the scheme of William Bell Scott's murals on the history of Northumbria in Wallington Hall.

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. The artist did a great deal of research to check the details for accuracy and he wrote their descriptions.

Recent commentators have identified satirical and critical features in the compositions which complicate any simple explanation of the paintings as expressions of "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. [2]

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's utopian socialism at the time, but it also arises from disputes about the more modern subjects. Paintings depicting the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 and the end of the Lancashire Cotton Famine in 1865 had been proposed, but 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 process but taking advantage of a Victorian technique, the Gambier Parry process, which was "spirit" based producing a more hard-wearing image. Brown completed the last four murals on canvas, after he had returned to live in London.


BrownManchesterMuralRomans.jpg 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, near the centre of Manchester.
BrownManchesterMuralEdwin.jpg The Baptism of Edwin
The mural depicts the baptism of Edwin of Northumbria, who was also king of Deira which included the Manchester area, at York, watched by his Christian wife Ethelburga and family.
BrownManchesterMuralDanes.jpg The Expulsion of the Danes from Manchester
The mural depicts the retreat of the Danes from Manchester – showing soldiers carrying their general on a stretcher.
BrownManchesterMuralFlemish.jpg The Establishment of Flemish Weavers in Manchester A.D. 1363
Queen Philippa of Hainault greets Flemish weavers who were invited to England under Edward III of England's act of 1337.
BrownManchesterMuralWyclif.jpg The Trial of Wycliffe A.D. 1377

John Wycliffe is depicted on trial, defended by his patron, John of Gaunt. Geoffrey Chaucer, another protégé of Gaunt's, acts as recorder.

BrownManchesterMuralProclamation.jpg 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."
BrownManchesterMuralCrabtree.jpg Crabtree watching the Transit of Venus A.D. 1639
William Crabtree, a draper who lived in Broughton, was asked by a curate friend, Jeremiah Horrocks, to observe the Transit of Venus, on 24 November 1639. Crabtree's diligence and rigour enabled him to correct Horrocks' faulty calculations and to observe the transit on 4 December.
BrownManchesterMuralChetham.jpg Chetham's Life's Dream A.D. 1640
The mural depicts merchant philanthropist Humphrey Chetham's dream of the charity school for poor boys founded in his will of 1653, which became Chetham's School of Music in 1969. Chetham is portrayed studying his will to the right of the painting.
BrownManchesterMuralBradshaw.jpg Bradshaw's Defence of Manchester A.D. 1642
During the English Civil War, Manchester was besieged by Royalist troops under the command of Lord Strange. It was, however, John Rosworm, not John Bradshaw 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. It was painted on canvas and adhered to the wall.

BrownManchesterMuralJohnKay.jpg John Kay, Inventor of the Fly Shuttle A.D. 1753
The invention, by John Kay, of the flying shuttle revolutionised weaving. The mural depicts rioters, who feared their jobs were in danger, breaking in to destroy the loom, while Kay is being smuggled to safety.
BrownManchesterMuralBridgewater.jpg The Opening of the Bridgewater Canal A.D. 1761
The 3rd Duke of Bridgewater owned coal mines in Worsley, and collaborated with engineer James Brindley to build the Bridgewater Canal to carry coal into Manchester. The Duke is shown standing on a barge decorated with flags of his coat of arms, observing the launch of the first coal barges on his new canal. He is accompanied by Brindley and the Earl and Countess of Stamford. [3]
BrownManchesterMuralDalton.jpg Dalton collecting Marsh-Fire Gas
The mural depicts the scientist John Dalton collecting gases. His studies led to the development of atomic theory.

Related Research Articles

Ford Madox Brown 19th-century English painter

Ford Madox Brown was a British 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 (1852–1865). Brown spent the latter years of his life painting the twelve works known as The Manchester Murals, depicting Mancunian history, for Manchester Town Hall.

Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner who formed a seven-member "Brotherhood" modelled in part on the Nazarene movement. The Brotherhood was only ever a loose association and their principles were shared by other artists of the time, including Ford Madox Brown, Arthur Hughes and Marie Spartali Stillman. Later followers of the principles of the Brotherhood included Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and John William Waterhouse.

Frederic George Stephens English art critic, in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Frederic George Stephens was a British art critic, and one of the two 'non-artistic' members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Manchester Town Hall municipal building in Manchester, England

Manchester Town Hall is a Victorian, Neo-gothic municipal building in Manchester, England. It is the ceremonial headquarters of Manchester City Council and houses a number of local government departments. The building faces Albert Square to the north and St Peter's Square to the south, with Manchester Cenotaph facing its southern entrance.

Gambier Parry process

The Gambier Parry process is a development of the classical technique of fresco for painting murals, named for Thomas Gambier Parry.

Wightwick Manor Grade I listed historic house museum in the United Kingdom

The legacy of a family's passion for Victorian art and design, Wightwick Manor is a Victorian manor house located on Wightwick Bank, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, England. Owned by the National Trust since 1937, the Manor and its grounds are open to the public. It is one of only a few surviving examples of a house built and furnished under the influence of the Aesthetic movement and Arts and Crafts movement. The house is in a grand version of the half-timbered vernacular style, of which the most famous original example is Little Moreton Hall a few miles away.

William Michael Rossetti Pre-Raphaelite writer and critic

William Michael Rossetti was an English writer and critic.

Nazarene movement early 19th century German Romantic painters

The epithet Nazarene was adopted by a group of early 19th century German Romantic painters who aimed to revive spirituality in art. The name Nazarene came from a term of derision used against them for their affectation of a biblical manner of clothing and hair style.

<i>The Last of England</i> (painting) painting by Ford Madox Brown, in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

The Last of England is an 1855 oil-on-panel painting by Ford Madox Brown depicting two emigrants leaving England to start a new life in Australia with their baby. The painting has an oval format and is in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

<i>Work</i> (painting) painting by Ford Madox Brown, 1st. Version (Manchester)

Work (1852–1865) is a painting by Ford Madox Brown that is generally considered to be his most important achievement. It exists in two versions. The painting attempts to portray, both literally and analytically, the totality of the Victorian social system and the transition from a rural to an urban economy. Brown began the painting in 1852 and completed it in 1865, when he set up a special exhibition to show it along with several of his other works. He wrote a detailed catalogue explaining the significance of the picture.

Frederic Shields British artist, illustrator and designer

Frederic James Shields was a British artist, illustrator and designer closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelites through Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown.

<i>Beata Beatrix</i> painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Tate)

Beata Beatrix is a painting completed in several versions by Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The painting depicts Beatrice Portinari from Dante Alighieri's poem La Vita Nuova at the moment of her death. The first version is oil on canvas completed in 1870.

Albert Goodwin (artist) British landscape artist

Albert Goodwin (1845–1932) was a British landscapist specialising in watercolours. His work shows the influences of Turner and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Goodwin was born in Maidstone in Kent, the son of a builder and one of 9 children. After leaving school he became an apprentice draper. His exceptional artistic ability was recognised at an early age and he went on to study with the Pre-Raphaelite artists Arthur Hughes and Ford Madox Brown - the latter predicting that he would become "one of the greatest landscape painters of the age".

Royal Jubilee Exhibition

The Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1887 was held in Old Trafford, Manchester, England, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria's accession. It was opened by Princess Alexandra, the Princess of Wales on 3 May 1887, and remained open for 166 days, during which time there were 4.5 million paying visitors, 74,600 in one day alone.

Tristram and Isoude stained glass panels stained-glass windows made in 1862 by Morris, Marshall, Faulker & Co.

The Tristram and Isoude stained glass panels are a series of 13 small stained-glass windows made in 1862 by Morris, Marshall, Faulker & Co. for Harden Grange, the house of textile merchant Walter Dunlop, near Bingley in Yorkshire, England. Depicting the legend of Tristan and Iseult, they were designed by six of the leading Pre-Raphaelite artists of the day, to an overall design by William Morris. They were acquired in 1917 by Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, which is now part of Bradford Museums & Galleries. They can be seen on display at Cliffe Castle, Keighley.

Peter Paul Marshall British artist

Peter Paul Marshall was a Scottish civil engineer and amateur painter, and a founding partner of the decorative arts firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.

Lucy Madox Brown artist (1843-1894)

Lucy Madox Brown Rossetti was a British artist, author and model associated with the Pre-Raphaelites. She was married to the writer and art critic William Michael Rossetti.

Catherine Madox Brown English artist and model

Catherine Madox Brown Hueffer, also known as Cathy, the first child of Ford Madox Brown and Emma Hill, was an artist and model associated with the Pre-Raphaelites and married to the writer Francis Hueffer.

Fanny Eaton Jamaican British artists model and domestic worker

Fanny Eaton was a Jamaican-born artist's model and domestic worker. She is best known for her work as a model for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their circle between 1859–1867. Her public debut was in Simeon Solomon's painting The Mother of Moses, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1860. She was also featured in works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, Joanna Mary Boyce, Rebecca Solomon, and others.


  1. Art and Architecture in Victorian Manchester, John G. Archer (ed.) xxi + 290 pp., Manchester University Press; Manchester Town Hall
  2. Codell, Julie F., "Ford Madox Brown, Carlyle, Macaulay and Bakhtin: The Pratfalls and Penultimates of History", Art History, Volume 21, Number 3, September 1998, pp. 324–366(43). See also, Ellen Harding, ed., Reframing the Pre-Raphaelites: Historical and Theoretical Essays. Scolar Press, 1998.
  3. Treuherz, Julian (2011). Ford Madox Brown: Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer. Manchester City Art Gallery/Philip Wilson Publishers. pp. 304–305. ISBN   9780856677007 . Retrieved 26 June 2019.