“Good laws make it easier to do right and harder to do wrong.”
– William E Gladstone
Albert Square has witnessed many demonstrations and public protests linked to politics, citizenship and controversial government decisions, including UK military action and public spending cuts.
Historically, Albert Square dates from the late 1800s: a time of great political upheaval and debate in the UK. People, with more diverse religious, political and professional backgrounds than ever before, began to influence social change, forming societies to share and act on new ideas. The Square’s statues represent political thinkers and social reformers, and their efforts to make changes through debate and active participation in political processes:
William Gladstone, Liberal politician Prime Minister four separate times. He was responsible for reforms in voting systems.
Oliver Heywood, a Manchester-born banker, sponsored many charitable causes including Chetham’s Hospital and Manchester Grammar School.
James Fraser, Anglican Bishop of Manchester, played an active role in social issues. He supported the Cooperative movement and, as an arbitrator, helped resolve conflict in several strikes. Known as ‘the bishop of all denominations’, Fraser was honoured by non-Anglican, Jewish and Greek Orthodox congregations when he died. Manchester as a multi-faith city is reflected at various stations in this trail.
John Bright was a Quaker, manufacturer, Liberal statesman and Manchester MP. With Richard Cobden, he was a leading member of the Free Trade movement and ‘Anti-Corn Law League’. The ‘Corn Laws’ deliberately kept bread prices high to protect British landowners and farmers. They had devastating impact on poor citizens until their abolition in 1846. Bright also spoke out against capital punishment and slavery. However, he was disliked by his own millworkers: his social conscience did not drive him to improve their living and working conditions or condemn child labour.
Manchester differs from many European cities: only one of its civic memorials features a military figure, instead remembering those who developed new ideas about working, learning, and social justice – in times of peace as well as conflict and crisis. It’s possible that people leading protests today will be remembered through monuments in Manchester’s’ public spaces in years to come.