This site celebrates the life and work of sculptor John
Cassidy (1860 - 1939).
Completed. Exhibited at the New Gallery, London.
'Adrift' - City of Manchester
To describe this striking work, seen above in its new location in 2014, we can do no better than quote the Public Monument and Sculpture Association National Recording Project, describing 'Manchester's first modern figurative outdoor sculpture':
Bronze sculpture of a family clinging to a raft in a stormy sea. The central figure is a half-naked man, holding a sheet aloft in his raised right hand, calling for help. Arranged around him are the figures of his wife and three children. His wife is shown leaning over and kissing their infant son. To the left, is the daughter, her raised arm held in her father's left hand. At the rear is the prone figure of a youth, the elder son, holding his breast. Parts of the raft are visible in the waves which make up the base.
Signed 'John Cassidy fecit 1907' it was exhibited at the New Gallery in London in that year. Rarely since his student days was Cassidy able to create anything other than portraits or memorials, and this is certainly his major work of 'pure' art. Showing the influence of the so-called 'New Sculpture' movement, on his thinking, the scene depicted is full of action.
It was purchased by James Gresham, a wealthy local engineer who collected many works by living artists - perhaps it was also commissioned by him. Gresham offered it as a gift to the City Council with the intention that it would be displayed in the new municipal art gallery that was to be built on the site of the Royal Infirmary in Piccadilly, which was in process of relocating to a new site on Oxford Road. The donation had the proviso that 'my gift of this statuary to become absolute when a permanent home is found for it in your new gallery.'
The new gallery never appeared, and City's Art Gallery remaining in Mosley Street, but the statue did come to grace the site, removed from the Gallery loaned to the Parks department after World War I, and becoming the centrepiece of the 'sunken garden' which was created there, as seen in the postcard view above.
This garden, which gave its name 'Piccadilly Gardens' to the area, with its beautiful floral displays, and seats where weary shoppers could take their rest, was the pride of the City's gardens department and was enjoyed by many people over the years.
This postcard view is later than the one above, probably dating from the the early 1950s. The Rylands & Sons warehouse, designed by Harry S. Fairhurst, and constructed from 1929 to 1932, looms over the far corner of the gardens. (Note the radio mast on the roof.) This building was one of the last of Manchester's great cotton warehouses to be built, and one of the few to use a 'modern' style rather than taking inspiration from the past. Rylands and Sons was the firm established by John Rylands, subject of another Cassidy sculpture. In the 1950s, it was converted to a department store for Paulden's, whose own store, near the Manchester School of Art, had been destroyed by fire. Today it is known as Debenhams - the company had taken over Paulden's business in 1928, but continued to trade in Manchester as Debenhams until about 1970.
Manchester decided to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 with a fountain, which was erected in the centre of the gardens in place of 'Adrift' - as seen in the postcard view above ... which causes waves of nostalgia to wash over the present writer. Wiles' toyshop on the corner across the road from Paulden's was the highlight of any visit to the city, perhaps preceded by lunch in Woolworth's self-service restaurant and a sit in the gardens until near the time for our hourly train home to depart from Piccadilly Gardens.
'Adrift' was relocated, on 21 April 1953, to the grassed ground-level area (in the foreground of the old picture) at the south end of the gardens, where it can be glimpsed towards the bottom left of the view above, against a backdrop of the futuristic buildings erected in the 1960s to replace those destroyed by enemy bombing at Christmas 1940.
It was here that the above picture of 'Adrift' was taken in 1998 by Aidan O'Rourke, who we have to thank for allowing us to include it, and indeed for all the marvellous work he does in compiling a photographic record of the Manchester area, and encouraging discussion about our built environment.
The gardens, and in particular the sunken area with its long benches (which, readers will note from the oldest picture on this page, were not originally present) became seen by the late 1990s as a haunt of so-called 'undesirables'. (Maintenance of flowerbeds no doubt cost money, too.) So in the wake of the 1996 bomb attack on the city centre, and in preparation for the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, it was decided to carry out improvements to the gardens. A competition was held to choose a new design for the area. The winners – announced in 1998 – were the landscape architects EDAW and their partners: the engineers Arup, Japanese architect Tadao Ando, local architects Chapman Robinson, and lighting engineer Peter Fink.
Unfortunately, in order to fund this project, it was decided to allow the speculative building of a new and ugly office block, known as No.1 Piccadilly, on the level area at the south end, thus losing green space, a rare thing in the centre of Manchester. The 'improvements' to the sunken part of the gardens, completed in 2002, involved filling in the sunken area to normal ground level, and creating a large lawn with a geometrical arrangement of paths and water features (by EDAW), and new a long, low curved building (the 'pavilion') on the west side including some eating places, which presents a bare concrete surface reminiscent of the the Berlin Wall to people to passengers at the Metrolink tram station beyond. Not a flower in sight - except on days when a flower market is held nearby. And ... we still read reports of drug dealers and other problems.
The Coronation Fountain of 1953 was rescued and placed in Platt Fields park - in Fallowfield, not far, as it happens, from John Cassidy's last home in Albion Road - with a rose garden planted around it, for the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002.
'Adrift' disappeared into Council storage, but after some years, and discussion about what to do with it, at the end of March 2009 it was back in public view, in a prominent location in St Peters Square (above).
The original plinth of 1908 is said to have carried a plaque with the following inscription:
HUMANITY ADRIFT ON THE SEA OF LIFE, DEPICTING SORROWS AND DANGERS, HOPES AND FEARS AND EMBODYING THE DEPENDENCE OF HUMAN BEINGS UPON ONE ANOTHER, THE RESPONSE OF HUMAN SYMPATHY TO HUMAN NEEDS, AND THE INEVITABLE DEPENDENCE UPON DIVINE AID.
This plaque seems to have vanished many years ago: however, a replacement was created and installed some months after the work first re-appeared. It also includes a brief biographical note on Cassidy and a Credit to Gresham.
The new location was by the busy transport hub of St Peters Square in the centre of Manchester, and a short walk from the city's Art Gallery, the first home of 'Adrift' - just out of the view to the left in the 2009 view above.
A 2015 view of the same area shows the buildings in the background, including the classically-styled Century House, being demolished. The portico to the left of the view belongs to the City Art Gallery.
The work seen from all four sides in 2009. The tent-like structure in the background of the right-hand view was part of a children's play area. The building in the background of the left-hand view, Elisabeth House (1960) apparently should have had stone facing, but the developers ran out of money. It looked forlorn, and almost empty in 2009 and was demolished in 2011-12, to be replaced by a new, larger, bulding.
The square is home to some of Manchester's most memorable buildings: the classical portico in the right-hand view (above) belongs to the Central Library, designed by E. Vincent Harris and completed in 1934.
The arcades are part of the 1930s Town Hall Extension, also designed by Harris, which harmonises with Alfred Waterhouse's adjoining Town Hall in Albert Square. (See our Albert Square page.)
St Peter's Church. built 1788-94 and demolished in 1907 to create the Square, stood in the centre of the square: the buildings in the background here were built after World War II. The developers are the same group who put the bland new office block on Piccadilly Gardens where 'Adrift' used to be: the resulting building has become controversial due to its large size which some see as inappropriate.
Cassidy has signed 'Adrift' in his usual way. 'John Cassidy Fecit ... 1907.' 'Fecit' is Latin for 'he made it' and was used my many artists and sculptors in older times.
The developer's plan of the revised St Peter's Square, showing the former and current locations of 'Adrift'.
The work in place, November 2014.
Written by Charlie Hulme, Updated April 2015.