(1767-1848) Thomas Fleming was a Tory politician, and an influential figure in local Manchester politics for some thirty years from about 1810 onwards. He played an important role in the civic redevelopment of the city in the early to mid-1800s, having been involved in such schemes as the widening of Market Street and the building of the present Blackfriars Bridge which separates Manchester from Salford across the River Irwell. He was also a motivating force in setting up the municipal gas works, which he advocated as a shrewd business move which would save a great deal of money to the city and the ratepayers. Fleming was less than honoured by more radical left wing politicians, amongst whom he was known as the “uncrowned king of Manchester”. The statue to his memory stands in Manchester Cathedral, and was made by Edward Baily, celebrated sculptor of the famous statue of Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square in London. Its siting in the Cathedral was always controversial, particularly since several ancient tombstones were damaged during its installation.
Sir Robert Peel MP
(1788-1850) Sir Robert Peel is possibly one of Greater Manchester’s most celebrated historic figures. Manchester’s first ever outdoor statue raised by public subscription was the Peel Monument in Piccadilly, Manchester, erected to honour Sir Robert Peel following his unexpected death in 1850, following a fall from his horse while riding in Hyde Park in London. Peel was Prime Minister at that time, and the whole nation mourned his death, and especially his native town of Bury, where a town centre statue was installed. Another tribute to Peel is the dominating Peel Tower overlooking the whole of Bury from the top of Holcombe Hill nearby. Peel was born in 1788 at Chamber Hall in Bury, the eldest son of the first Sir Robert Peel, whole calico printing business had made him one of the richest industrialists in Britain. The younger Peel was educated at Harrow School and at Oxford University, before becoming a Member of Parliament at the age of 21. He went on to hold a number of important government posts, including that of Home Secretary, when he laid the foundations of the Metropolitan Police Force. Until relatively recent times, policemen were still known affectionately as “Bobbies” or “Peelers”. As Prime Minister, it was he who was responsible, despite great opposition from many of his party, for the Repeal of the Corn Laws. This brought him great popularity with the common people. Manchester’s Peel Memorial Committee collected over �3,000 in 4 days from the town’s people, so that the best possible monument could be raised to his memory. The sculptor William Calder Marshall was commissioned to create the work, which was unveiled on 12th October 1853. Statues to commemorate Peel were raised in towns throughout Great Britain, including London, and, of course, in his native town of Bury.
Mark Philips MP
(1800-1873) Born at The Park, Whitefield , in 1800, the son of a prosperous local merchant, Mark Philips was to become one of Manchester’s 2 new Members of Parliament, directly elected by democratic free elections under the 1832 Reform Act. Philips represented the city in parliament for 15 years (1832-1847). During this time he was closely associated with the Anti-Corn Law League, and was an active voice in the eventual abolition of this tax on corn and bread. Like his father, the owner of J & N Philips & Company, he was successful in business, and went into the commercial world of Manchester as Chairman of the New Quay Company. He was also a fierce supporter and advocate of education as an essential factor in the improvement of social conditions in Britain. In 1837 he chaired a meeting in the Theatre Royal in St Peter’s Street in Manchester, which eventually led to the establishment of the Lancashire Public Schools’ Association. The Association was instrumental in changing the funding of popular education, by suggesting that free non-sectarian schools could be set up for all, by levying a local tax to pay for it (a system still in use throughout Britain today). Philips was also active in the Free Library Movement, and was an important figure in the setting up of the first free library in England, opened in 1852 at Campfield. He also supported many good causes by generous donations of money, which included �1,000 (then a great deal of money) towards the fund for the provision of open spaces and parks for the City of Manchester. This resulted in many estates being purchased by the city, including Lark Hill in Salford (which became Peel Park), and the Bradford Estate (which became Philips Park). Philips retired from his public duties in 1847 to live in Warwickshire, though he frequently made return visits to Manchester to attend functions. He died in 1873. There is a statue of Mark Philips in Manchester Town Hall.
(1810-1893) Abel Heywood was born in 1810 to a poor family in Prestwich. His father’s death when Heywood was only 5 resulted in him having received very little formal education, and at the age of 9 years he was apprenticed to the Thomas Worthington warehouse in High Street in Manchester for the princely sum of 1s.6d (about 7½ pence) a week. He would, nevertheless, go on to become a prominent figure in the local government of Manchester and in the establishment of its free press. What education he did receive came largely from his attendance at the Bennett Street Sunday School, later the Mechanics’ Institute, of which he was one of the first members. By the time he was 20, Heywood had opened a “penny newsroom”, and acquired the agency for the sale of the “Poor Man’s Guardian”, a working man’s newspaper which sold for one penny. Its editors refused to pay the stamp duty which was then due on all newspapers, regarding it as a tax on knowledge which kept newspapers as the prerogative of the wealthy. By 1832 Heywood had opened a shop in Oldham Street in Manchester. He was prosecuted several times for selling this “illegal” newspaper, serving one 4 month jail sentence for the offence. He continued in business however, and when, in 1837, the government reduced stamp duty from four pence to one penny, the need for such defiance of the law was removed. His business flourished, and the number of newspapers he could sell increased to 18,000 copies a week by 1840. He came into conflict with the law again at this time, with accusations that he has sold material containing “blasphemous” matter took him into court and raised great local sympathy for his “free” press principles. His reputation and business acumen had so grown by 1835, that he was appointed as Commissioner of Police in that year, and later elected as a member of the new Manchester Corporation. Meanwhile he continued newspaper printing and sales, opening his own paper mill in Stockport, and publishing journals such as “The Northern Star”, “Ben Brierley’s Journal”, and his own publication, the “Manchester Spectator”. A follower of Robert Owen’s philosophies on social reform, he actively promoted educational expansion for the city. He was elected and served as Alderman for the city, and was twice made Mayor between 18662-1877, though his bid to be elected as a Member of Parliament failed in 1859. As Chairman of the Paving, Sewering and Highways Committee for 47 years, he presided over the laying out of Albert Square in 1862, and the erection of Manchester Town Hall, opened in 1877, for which occasion Heywood was first elected Mayor. He was most particular in his supervision, having taken personal interest in every facet and stage of the construction, so that it should be perfect in every detail and no inferior workmanship was tolerated. Abel Heywood died in 1893 aged 84 years, and is buried at his residence “Summerfield” in Rose Hill, Bowden, There is a statue of him in Manchester Town Hall.