| This site
celebrates the life and work of sculptor John
Cassidy (1860 - 1939).
Cassidy's model for the statue, as shown at the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts exhibition,
Ben Brierley (1825-1896), son of a hand-loom weaver, wrote poems
and stories in the Lancashire dialect style, became a journalist and
founded his own magazine Ben
Brierley's Journal which was published from 1869 to 1891, and
served on Manchester City Council.
Much has been written about him, including a Wikipedia article,
a page on the marvellous website www.failsworth.info
by local Councillor and
historian Jim McMahon, who plays a large part in our story.
Much of our information here comes from the excellent book Ben Brierley, 1825-1896, by David
by the indispensible Neil Richardson in 1995. Many thanks to both of
Acknowledgements as always to Terry Wyke, whose book Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester (Liverpool
Press, 2005) is the authoritative work on its subject.
Brierley wrote many tales about his character Ab O'th' Yate, many set
the fictional rural area he called Daisy Nook.
Brierley asked his friend Charles Potter, an Oldham artist, to draw an
imaginary place called Daisy Nook. Potter came to nearby Waterhouses, a
rural part of Failsworth, to complete his drawing - and from then on
the area was known as Daisy Nook, and is now officially Daisy
Nook Country Park.
Failsworth's modern branch library building, opened in 1962, was
financed by Robert Sidlow, a Failsworth businessman then living in
retirement in Southport, who had owned a chain of 28 shops in the area.
Special Thanks to the Library staff who welcomed me on my visit and
kindly allowed me to take the photograph of the bust.
Plaque on 'The Rocks.'
The Failsworth Pole.
Denise Dutton's statue.
The plaster bust.
This page written and photographed by Charlie Hulme. Comments invited
Website created and compiled by Charlie Hulme and Lis
Nicholson, with the invaluable assistance of the John Cassidy
Slane Historical Society.
In Search of Ben Brierley - by Charlie Hulme
Picture from Manchester Faces and Places, 1898. See
also our Faces and Places feature
Of all Cassidy's major works, this one has perhaps suffered
the greatest humiliation. Created over the few weeks from February to
April 1898 from a five-ton block of white Portland stone, a material
which the statue's sponsors apparently thought (mistakenly, as it
turned out) would be immune to the polluted atmosphere of Manchester,
it was unveiled by George Milner on 30 April 1898. It was approximately
2.36 metres high, and stood on a pedestal 2.44 metres high.
Brierley had died in 1896, and Cassidy, who had met him only once, had
to work from photographs. It was generally agreed, however, that the
statue was an excellent likeness, and featured the man in
characteristic pose in the act of giving one of his public recitals of
dialect poetry. The cost of £350 was raised by a committee
chaired by George
Milner, the president of the Manchester Literary Club, and there were
many small donations from the working people who had seen him as their
Unfortunately, the statue suffered considerable weathering, and had to
be restored in 1929. By the 1970s, however, David Huk tells us that
'Owd Ben' had 'a blank expression and an apparent shortage of waistcoat
Sadly, despite bring a 'working-class hero', Brierley was not so
revered by the local people as time passed. The lower left arm
and the sheets of lead representing paper were missing by 1977 when a
Ben Brierley celebration was held in Queen's Park, and late one night
in the summer of 1980 (some sources have different dates) the statue
was 'pulled down by the use of ropes' from its pedestal, breaking into
pieces. Later, the fragments were stored in the boathouse in
Heaton Park, where they suffered
more damage in an arson attack on the building. Reportedly, the
contractors clearing up the damage, failing to realise what they were,
sent the remains to be dumped.
However, there are people in Failsworth, birthplace of Ben Brierley,
who care about his memory, and I travelled there on a rainy day in
January 2008 to see what has been achieved.
The view above shows the old houses known as 'The Rocks' next to the
bridge over the Rochdale Canal which have survived even though the
bridge has been very much enlarged and the road widened since
Brierley's time to carry the heavy traffic on the Manchester - Oldham
Road. Brierley was born in the further of the white buildings in the
distance; you can see how these houses have been rebuilt at some time
with an extra floor to bring their front doors to the level of the road
instead of the canal towpath.
The same row from the other direction and the other side of the busy
road, looking from the top of the bridge. The white building on the
right, 466 Oldham Road, between the Bridge Inn and the cycle
shop, locates Brierley's birthplace, marked by a stone plaque placed
there by a previous owner, and more recently by an official blue
version, unveiled by the mayor of Oldham, in which Greater Manchester
borough Failsworth now lies, in his centenary year of 1996.
The brick-built clock tower in our pictures is the Failsworth Pole,
marking the next point of our walk. A pole has been a traditional
adornment of the town since 1793, several successive Poles having been
blown down in gales before the current version, comprising a shorter
pole than before, on a brick base, was erected in 1953 to celebrate the
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Returning to the subject of Ben Brierley, when funds recently became
available through a European Union grant and the Government’s 'Housing
Market Renewal' programme to improve the area, the plans included a
statue inspired by
the lost Cassidy version, and Staffordshire sculptor Denise Dutton was
commissioned to create the work, this time in Bronze. The statue is
opposite the Pole, fronting a pleasant garden.
It was unveiled on 14 June 2006: the Failsworth Historical Society
published an interesting booklet to mark the occasion, which can be downloaded
as a PDF. Above is our picture of the statue in 2008 with
Cassidy's statue for comparison on the right (shown here at the same
although the Cassidy was rather larger.) Ms Dutton, whose main
speciality is equestrian statuary, has done a fine job, working from
photographs, and also from a surviving Cassidy plaster head which is
displayed in Failsworth Public Library, the building in the left
background of our view....
... and here it is, surrounded by books, as Brierley himself surely
was, and modern computers which I'm sure he would have welcomed when
slaving over the production of Ben
Brierley's Journal. It has suffered some mistreatment over the
years ('chewing gum in the eyes, rude remarks on the forehead'
according to David Huk), but has lasted well considering its history.
The explanation on the pedestal reads:
A plaster bust of Ben Brierley
now stands as a permanent reminder of his birthplace to the people of
Failsworth. The bust was a "mock-up" by the sculptor prior to him doing
the memorial statue in Queens Park, Manchester ... the bust which
stands on a wooden pedestal was donated by Sim Schofield to the Library
after having stood at a number of previous locations, including
the stairway of the Failsworth Liberal Club, in the Council Chambers on
Oldham Road (at least there is a photograph dated circa 1949) and at
one point in Sim's front room at Auburn Bank, New Moston.'
Sim Schofield was a friend of Brierley, and a fellow self-taught writer
about local life.
As for me, I made my way back to the station after a successful trip,
feeling rather sad that Failsworth, like to many towns, is dominated by
road traffic. Oh yes - and if you go to Queen's Park, you can still
admire the original plinth.
Footnote: there also exists a painted portrait of Brierley by George
Perkins, who, like John Cassidy, studied at the Manchester School of
Art. When David Huk published his book in 1995, he commented that the
location of this work was unknown and it might have been destroyed:
soon afterwards it was discovered to have been preserved in a loft in
This page updated May 2010.