celebrates the life and work of sculptor John Cassidy (1860
Cassidy's model for the statue, as shown
at the Manchester
Academy of Fine Arts
exhibition, 1898. The
final work showed pages - cast in lead - in his hand.
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.
Brierley wrote many tales about his character Ab O'th' Yate,
many set in 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.
Plaque on 'The Rocks.'
The Failsworth Pole.
Denise Dutton's statue.
The plaster bust.
We returned to Failsworth in 2012, by which date the railway
station has become a tramway station, to view what had been
mentioned to us as a possible Cassidy work.
Failsworth's war memorial is a rather unusual affair,
described in its heritage listing as 'Fluted portland stone
column, tapers and curves anti-clockwise from mid-point to
domed top. Vertical patterning on top part of column of
blue/green medallions and red waves within green border.
Bronze winged figure of Victory holding laurel wreath and
staff surmounts dome. Bronze wreath attached to top of
column and figure.'
It was erected in 1923 to commemorate 235 Failsworth men
lost in World War I, but details of is origin are obscure.
It was renovated and re-dedicated in 2007, which explains
its fine condition.
The 'winged victory' resembles the much larger version used
by Cassidy on other memorials. We can find no direct record
of a Cassidy connection in this case, although the designer
is said to be 'Mr Sellers of Manchester' - James Henry
Sellers, an architect who worked with Cassidy on memorials
including Skipton and Heaton Moor. We are inclined to accept
this as a Cassidy work.
Much of our information here comes from the excellent book Ben
Brierley, 1825-1896, by David Huk, published
by the indispensable Neil Richardson in 1995. Many thanks to
both of them.
Acknowledgements as always to Terry Wyke, whose book
Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester (Liverpool
University Press, 2005) is the authoritative work on its
Thanks are due to Geoff Archer, author of the
essential book The Glorious Dead: Figurative Sculpture
of British War Memorials (Frontier Press, 2009) for
alerting us to the war memorial.
Website created and compiled by Charlie Hulme and Lis
Nicholson, with the invaluable assistance of the John
Cassidy Committee, Slane Historical Society.
Ben Brierley, Queen's Park, Manchester
Picture from Manchester Faces and Places, 1898.
See also our Faces and
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
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 literary hero.
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 buttons.'
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 even
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;
all attempts to recover them have failed.
What has survived, however, was s plaster bust of Brierley,
probably made by Cassidy in preparation for the main work,
as explained on a panel kept by the bust when it was in
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 [ a friend of Brierley, local
writer and historian] 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.'
Change has come to Failsworth since we wrote the piece
below. The modern branch library building I
visited, opened in 1962 with finance from Robert Sidlow, a
Failsworth businessman then living in retirement in
Southport, who had owned a chain of 28 shops in the area,
has been abandoned by the Council and now functions as day
nursery. The Library now operates from the former Town
Hall nearby. (We'd appreciate information about the current
location of the bust, which we understand is in a council
We were surprised to meet the bust again on a hot day in
2013 when we visited Slane, Cassidy's birthplace, to take
part in an exhibition celebrating his life and work. Among
the exhibits was the bust, which had been brought to
Ireland, with permission of the Council, by a former
resident of Slane now living in Failsworth. ( Visit our account of the event.)
In Search of Ben Brierley - by Charlie Hulme
There are people in Failsworth, birthplace of Ben Brierley,
who care about preserving his memory, and I travelled there
on a rainy day in January 2008 to see what had been
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.
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
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 scale, 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 the surviving Cassidy plaster
In the library I found the bust, 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 had 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.
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
This page updated by
Charlie Hulme, January 2019.