This site celebrates the life and work of sculptor John
Cassidy (1860 - 1939).
April 2011: Unfortunately, 'Adrift' has again been removed from
public view due to the building works going on in the area to
refrurbish the Town Hall extension and the Library. The end of 2013
looks like a possible date for its re-appearance.
Update March 2013: see our News page
27 March 2009 was a historic day for students of John
as his major allegorical work 'Humanity Adrift on the Sea of Life'
returned to public display.
The new location is the north-west corner of St Peters Square, near the
Central Library; the site where in 1988 a sculpture by Philip
Jackson entitled 'Struggle for Peace and Freedom' was installed in
1988, winner of national competition which attracted 46 entries.
This work (above) seems to have been dogged with misfortune from the
start: its planned site at the end of the nearby 'peace garden' was
appropriated for a children's playground, the budget allocated
(£15,000) meant that 'cold-cast' bronze (more fragile than hot
casting) had to be used, and when unveiled it was reported that the
sculptor's name was wrongly spelled on the plinth.
The figures were mounted at ground level, rendering the figures prone
to graffiti and other damage. Its unfinished appearance made it
unpopular with some, and after it began to deteriorate badly, 'The
Burghers of Manchester' as some called it after its resemblance to
Rodin's 'Burghers of Calais' has been removed, and faces an uncertain
future. We believe that 'Adrift' will be installed in its place.
Philip Jackson, meanwhile, has gone on to many successes: in 2008
created a a statue of three football heroes for Manchester United
Football Ground, and he was chosen to model the late Queen Elizabeth
the Queen Mother for a new memorial in London, unveiled in February
The following list is from a Manchester City Council report (PDF
version) entitled 'Update on the maintenance of war
memorials, civic statues and public art' dated 2 September 2008.'
The report notes, accurately that renovation of Cassidy's other
major Manchester outdoor work, King Edward
VII, was completed according to plan in 2008.
The revenue budget for war memorials, civic statues and public art
currently stands at £172,080 for 2008/09, £127,120 for
2009/10 and £127,210 for 2010/11,
as approved in the 2008/09 business planning process. Planned for
- Conservation of Peel and the Wellington group, Piccadilly
- Conservation of the Jubilee Fountain, Albert Square
- Installation of Adrift, St Peter’s Square
- Phase 2 Conservation of Oliver Cromwell, Wythenshawe Park
- Steam cleaning and re-gilding of busts in the Sculpture
Hall, Town Hall
- De-installation of Mediterranea, Castlefield basin
- Conservation and possible relocation of Joseph Brotherton
- Phase 2 of Queen Victoria, Piccadilly Gardens
Detail of the wife and baby.
The head of the family tries to summon assistance. In his new position
he is facing across the square towards Manchester's war memorial
Cenotaph, designed by Edwin Lutyens, where the Remembrance Service is
held every November.
Detail abounds. In the background is the terracotta facade of the
Midland Hotel, designed by Charles Trubshaw and opened in 1903.
St Peters Square in the 1960s, from an old postcard. The Cenotaph in
the foreground; the new site for 'Adrift' is near where the red
telephone box was, left of centre.
Come and Gone ...
At the site on 21 March 2009, workers could be seen
... and by 25 March it was ready - just the place for the author to
make an appearance.
2010: a look at 'Adrift' - with its plaque
March 2011: Gone again. We are assured it is in safe storage and will
The four Victorian statues, all memorials, dating back to the days of
the Royal Infirmary, along the eastern periphery of Piccadilly Gardens,
survived the makeover. Links are given to the Public Monuments and
Sculptures Association record for each:
Wellington Monument (1856), by Matthew Noble
Victoria Monument, (1901) by Edward Onslow Ford
(1853), by William Calder Marshall.
(1857), by William Theed the Younger
Here is a link to a
very interesting article about these works, written by Bob Speel.
Links and references:
Awful' : Manchester
Evening News, 2007
very fine photograph of 'Adrift' in its new location, by Steven
Square, by Manchester City Council
Buildings on Wikipedia:
J.J. Parkinson-Bailey, Manchester:
an architectural history. Manchester University Press, 2000.
Derek Brumhead and Terry Wyke. A
walk round Manchester sculptures. Walkround Books, 1990.
Elisabeth House in St Peters Square about to be pulled down, 2011.
'Adrift' - City of Manchester
To describe this striking work, we can do no better than to
quote the Public
Association National Recording Project, descibing
' 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 movement.
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, the City's Art Gallery remaining in
Mosley Street, but the statue did come to grace the site, becoming the
centrepiece of the 'sunken garden' which was created there after World
War I, 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 1930s. 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
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 ones destroyed by enemy bombing at Christmas 1940. It
was here that our main heading 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
Tragically, 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 (sorry, we cannot resist the inverted
commas), completed in 2002, involved filling them in 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 buiding
(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
The original plinth of 1908 is said to have carried a plaque with the
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 firsr
re-appeared. It also includes a brief biographical note on Cassidy and
a Credit to Gresham.
The new location is 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 above in the distance. Visitors to the Gallery
should alight here from the Metrolink tram.
The work seen from all four sides. The tent-like structure in the
background is part of a children's play area,
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
in Albert Square. (See our Albert Square
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 one to the left,
Elisabeth House (1960) apparently should have had stone facing, but the
developers ran out of money. It looked forlorn, and almost empty in
2009; a new redevelopment
has begin in 2011 and demolition was completed in Spring 2012. The
developers are the same group who put the bland new office
block on Piccadilly Gardens where 'Adrift' used to be: let us hope for
Cassidy has signed 'Adrift' in his usual way. 'John Cassidy
1907.' 'Fecit' is Latin for 'he made it' and was used my many artists
and sculptors in older times.
Written by Charlie
Hulme, Updated May 2012.