(1860-1935) Born in Middleton on the 17th May 1860, the son of a mill owner, and sixth of eight children, Edgar Wood went on to become an internationally famous architect having designed and built many hotels, churches, schools, shops and homes in the region – many still exist in the Rochdale and Middleton area today. Wood’s father was also a Unitarian, a Liberal and a strict disciplinarian. Edgar was educated at the local Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and his father expected that Edgar would follow him into cotton business – but Edgar had an ambition to become an artist. This, however, was far too revolutionary for his father to accept, and after much argument a compromise was agreed and Edgar began training as an architect at the Mills and Murgatroyd practice in Manchester. He went on to work as a designer and architect and was active in the Manchester area for over twenty years, though the majority of his work is in nearby towns, such as Rochdale, Oldham and Middleton as well as some outlying districts like Bramhall and Hale. Edgar became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1885 and set up his own office in Middleton shortly thereafter. He was also one of the founders of the Northern Art Workers’ Guild (in 1896) who were devotees of the so-called English Arts and Crafts Movement. He became president of the Manchester Society of Architects from 1911. By 1892 his practice was flourishing and he moved into new premises at 78 Cross Street in central Manchester. He also became a prolific designer in various other crafts, including furniture, jewellery and metalwork in which the influences of the Arts and Crafts Movement and of Art Nouveau are apparent – his work exhibits a fairly clean break with the excesses of Victorian design. He went on to design around 100 buildings in Middleton and around Manchester, ranging from small, simply-built terraced cottages to banks and schools. His First Church of Christ Scientist in Daisy Bank Road, Rusholme is still an outstanding example Arts & Crafts design and of his own personal design capabilities. He also designed the Methodist Church in Long Street, Middleton, and Almshouses Wood’s own house, Redcroft, was built in 1895 on Rochdale Road. Edgar wood died in 1935, by which time he had achieved international notoriety and world-wide recognition.
Worthington’s Albert Memorial in Albert Square
(1826-1909) Thomas Worthington was the architect and designer of Manchester’s Albert Memorial which dominates the square in front of the Town Hall. He was born in The Crescent in Salford, the son of an affluent local businessman. A talented young man, he worked for the architects Bowman and Crowther from the age of 14, and had already by the age of 18 won a Society of Arts Gold Medal for one of his designs. He had already contributed many drawings to the book “The Churches of the Middle Ages”. In 1845, at the age of 19, he was given his first complete project, and he designed “Broomfield”, a large house in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. Later he married the daughter of this house, and was to live there himself from 1869 until he died in 1909. He worked with the notable Sir William Tite, accompanying him on a tour of Italy to see and draw some of its architectural splendours. Shortly after arriving back in England, he set up his own small company in Manchester, which was highly successful and received many large and important commissions. A strong moral purist and socialist, Worthington attended the Unitarian church and was to be associated with other local social reformers like Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell, the novelist. Whenever possible, he sought to secure “social” commissions, and wrote a book “Dwellings of the Poor” in 1857. In this connection he designed the Manchester & Salford Baths and Laundries in 1857, and the Chorlton Union Hospital in 1865 ( later to become part of Withington Hospital). His pioneering hospital design won the praise of no less a figure than Florence Nightingale. In 1861, on the death of Prince Albert, was perceived as a great national tragedy, and Memorial Funds to build monuments to his memory sprang up all over Britain. Manchester was no exception. The Mayor donated a statue of Prince Albert to the city, and in 1862 Worthington was commissioned to design a suitable place in which to stand it. His design was the first in Britain, and its better known London counterpart designed 15 months later by Sir George Gilbert Scott borrowed a great deal from Worthington’s style and concept. The monument is, naturally, “Gothic”, a style in which Worthington excelled; it takes the form of a medieval canopy ( or “ciborium”), which is decorated with representations of Art, Science, Commerce and Agriculture, in keeping with Prince Albert’s wide interests, as well as portrait heads and heraldic motifs and finials. As yet, the present Town Hall was to built – it was to be erected 15 years later – and Worthington’s monument dominated Albert square. Worthington had many other architectural successes in Manchester. The City Police & Sessions Court, built in Minshull Street in the city centre in 1868 is, in many ways, one of his greatest planning achievements. On a more modest scale, he also designed many Unitarian chapels on the outskirts of the city. “The Towers”, in Didsbury was a collaborative effort between him and his partner John Elgood. It was here, the home of engineer Daniel Adamson, that the very first meeting of the promoters of the Manchester Ship Canal Company met in June 1882.
The Theatre Royal Building in Quay Street
(1810-1880) John Knowles was responsible for the building of the Theatre Royal in St Peter’s Street in Manchester and was its manager for some thirty years. Knowles was born in Chapel Street, London Road in Manchester, the son of a successful businessman, whose interests included being a coal merchant and a manufacturer of decorative stone fireplaces. His father also ran the Peacock Coach office which ran coaches from Manchester to London. Knowles had been manager of the former Theatre Royal in Fountain Street, when in 1844, it was burnt down by fire. He bought the rights to the theatre and purchased the present site, formerly where the Wellington Hotel and Concert Room had stood. His new �23,000 Theatre Royal was completed in 1844. He had commissioned the architectural firm, Irwell and Chester, to design the theatre, and insured against future fire by having a tank holding 20,000 gallons of water permanently placed on its roof. The theatre opened on 29th September 1845 to an audience of 2,500, and the programme included a performance of Weber’s “Oberon” and an elaborate ballet “The Court Ball in 1740”. Knowles became well known for his own Christmas pantomime spectaculars. Many famous people acted there, including Charles Dickens on one occasion. In 1860, Henry Irving joined the theatre company. Other famous Victorian actors to tread its boards included Charles Calvert, Edmund Kean, Barry Sullivan and Jenny Lind. In 1875, Knowles left the theatre and it became a limited company. He was always a shrewd businessman and clever financier, and had, amongst many other business dealings, significant holdings in His Majesty’s Theatre in the Haymarket, London. In recent years the Theatre Royal has suffered a rather chequered history, having been a cinema, stood vacant, been a bingo hall, and currently it serves as a discotheque and nightclub.
(Born 1934) Born in Salford on 21st December 1934, this celebrated local artist has painted portraits of a long list of celebrities and dignitaries, including American President Gerald Ford, Pope John Paul, Nelson Mandela, the Duke of Edinburgh and the golfer Jack Nicklaus. Like his friend and mentor, L S Lowry, he also extensively painted the local northern scene. Riley showed very early promise, being only 19 when his first one man show was exhibited at Salford Art Gallery, and being selected to attend the Slade Drawing School where he studied for six years before further studies for two years in Europe. This was followed by two years in the army doing national service under conscription. He was also a keen footballer, and was actually selected to play for the Manchester United Youth Team, and played alongside Duncan Edwards. However, Riley eventually chose to follow his career as an artist and has remained in his native Salford and continued to paint his beloved northern people.
(1789-1833) Although born in Scotland in 1789, John Ralston is nowadays a little known Manchester-based artist who was much celebrated in the early 1800s. Some of our best records of late 18th and early 19th century Manchester rely on drawings made by Ralston, including his many studies of Market Sted Lane (now Market Street), Dr White’s house in King Street (later a branch of NatWest Bank and currently a Virgin store) as well as views of Blackfriars Bridge. Ralston also made an extensive record of the people of Manchester, offering a first hand insight into ladies and gentlemen’s fashions of the period. Details of his life are very scant, other than a few records of his being the son of a calico printer’s engraver, and that his family moved to live in Strines (near Marple) in Derbyshire. At the age of 17 he became a student at Manchester School of Art, under various tutors including Parry and Rathbone. For much of his adult life he lived at number 26 Brazennose Street near Manchester Town Hall. Apart from the smarter buildings of Manchester, he was also attracted to make drawings of inner city dereliction and slum dwellings. He was also an accomplished violinist and helped found the orchestra of the Manchester Gentlemen’s Concert. A poor businessman, and much forgotten in later life, he died in poverty, aged 44 in 1833.
(1917-1989) James Lawrence Isherwood was an acclaimed world class artist who was born in Wigan in 1917, a contemporary of Salford artist L.S. Lowry. John Berger, the notable art critic, ranked him among ” the best English painters of our time’. Isherwood was a rather private and introverted man who rarely allowed his paintings to be sold. His most typical work was in representing the northern English industrial landscape. However, he first came to a wider public attention in the 1960s when he created somewhat controversial paintings of celebrities. Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales bought one of his works. He is widely regarded as one of the best impressionist-expressionist painters that Britain has ever produced. He was a prolific painter whose best work was perhaps produced from the late 1950s to the late 1980s. His work is now represented in art collections throughout the world, including the USA , Canada, South Africa, Spain, Australia, Portugal, Italy and many other European countries.
(1890-1979) Russian-born Joe Sunlight was the Manchester-based pioneering architect and at one time one of the city’s wealthiest citizens. Born into a Jewish family on the 2nd January 1890, his family fled from Russia and settled in Manchester around 1902. Joe was to become a prolific architect, having designed 1000 houses in the Prestwich district alone. His greatest landmark is the 14 storey Sunlight House in Quay Street – it was Manchester’s first high rise office block as well as its tallest building when it was erected in the depressed 1930s. It was also very forward looking with its high speed lifts and its unique vacuum cleaning system which was designed to keep its 3000 windows dust-free. Sunlight planned an even taller building on the adjacent plot in Gartside Street, next to the Opera House, some 40 storeys high, inspired by a visit he had made to Chicago, but the local planning authority’s short-sightedness caused the plan to be rejected, and a carpark, regrettably, now stands on the site. An inveterate gambler and racehorse owner he was reputed to spend around �1 million a year on horse racing. Later, he became a Liberal Member of Parliament, had the distinction of being Manchester’s biggest taxpayer and when he died, in 1979 left a (then) fortune of nearly �6 million.
(1903-1985) Harry Rutherford was born in Market Street in Denton, the son of a local hatter, the third of four brothers. The family made several moves during his childhood, including New Mills and Hadfield in Derbyshire, before finally settling in Hyde. His father William was already a gifted artist and had helped form the Hyde Arts Group – Harry received much encouragement and teaching at his father’s knee. While still at school, he also attended the local Hyde School of Art on Saturday mornings, and on leaving school went to the Manchester School of Art, a contemporary of Lowry. On leaving, he worked at a lithographic printers in Manchester and learned the printing and illuminating trade as well as becoming proficient in calligraphy and lettering. He formed a close friendship with leading British artist Walter Sickert and was substantially influenced by Sickert’s style, philosophy and subject matter. Shortly after Sickert’s departure from Manchester, Rutherford was employed as an artist by a Manchester Advertising Agency and subsequently as a topical cartoonist by the Manchester Evening News. In 1930 his painting entitled “Penzance” was accepted at the Royal Academy. On the strength of this numerous commissions followed, included the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth, for whom Rutherford made several watercolour paintings of the estate. Later, in London, he did freelance work in Fleet Street and his work appeared in many magazines. Some of the work he produced for The Listener magazine gave him an introduction to television and film. By the outbreak of war in 1939, Rutherford was employed to design camouflage patterns for aircraft and aerodromes. Meantime, he continued his own more serious painting. After the war he had his own childrens’ television show called “Sketchbook” in which he visited various towns and villages to paint – it ran from 1950 to 1956. He had also continued to submit paintings regularly to the Royal Academy Shows, including “Northern Saturday” in 1948 – one of his best known works. On his return to live in Hyde in the late 1952, he was employed as a teacher of Art at the Regional College of Art in Manchester until his retirement in 1968. Hyde Town Hall still proudly displays his Festival of Britain mural, painted in 1951. In 1961 he was elected president of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts. His work can be found in galleries in Manchester, Salford and Oldham, and the Borough of Tameside owns more than 30 of Rutherford’s paintings, which can be seen at the Astley Chetham Art Gallery in Stalybridge. Harry Rutherford died at his home in Nelson Street in Hyde in April 1985.