Thursday, 1 June 2017

Going to the Art Gallery in Piccadilly Gardens in 1929 ........ the one we never got

Now what do you do with a big hole in the ground in the centre of Manchester?

Today of course it would be sold for development and pretty soon a tall less than elegant tower would fill the spot “offering a mix of commercial and residential opportunities for our times.”

But not so in the early decades of the last century when the Corporation decided to do something bold and innovative with the hole that was the Manchester Infirmary and is now Piccadilly Gardens.

Yesterday I wrote about the plans to turn it in to a civic garden which came to fruition in 1921 and while there were also plans for an art gallery these never happened.*

I must admit I never followed up on the art gallery project so I was pleased when my friend Neil Simpson sent me a picture of the proposed new gallery along with a description from How Manchester is Managed which were issued yearly by the City Council and described what they did.

The books are a wonderful resource for anyone interested in the history of the City.   I plundered them back in the early 1970s but had since pretty much forgotten about them.

So Neil’s discovery reunited me with an old set of friends and in the 1935 edition was this article on the new proposed art gallery.

The Corporation was well aware that “the space available in the Central Gallery had become overcrowded and great difficulty was experienced in finding accommodation for displaying the treasures to advantage,”**

And so having purchased the old Infirmary site in 1918 the “City Council concurred in the views expressed by the Art Gallery Committee that the site was the best place for the New Gallery.”

In 1925 after an open competition had been launched the design by Mr. E. Berry Webber was selected.  He was “29 years old, has designed a building which in all essentials admirably fulfil its functions as a Gallery and Museum of Applied Art and will at the same time , be a building in which the public can see what is to be seen easily and methodically. “

It was to be a building “in which clarity of design is essential [and one which] with its simple and dignified elevation and its freedom from irrelevant ornament will look what it is namely a, a place for the exhibition and study of Art.”

But it never happened.  The financial crash in 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression meant that on grounds of economy the City Council took the decision in 1931 to defer its construction for five years.

And the rest as they say is history and to the diligence of Neil Simpson who is currently working on the Town Hall Photographer's Collection Digitisation Project, in the Central Library, which is Volunteer led and Volunteer staffed.

The negatives in the collection are dated from 1956 to 2007 and there are approximately 200,000 negatives to be digitised at three minutes a scan.

The plan is to gradually make the scanned  images available online - initially on the Archives+ Flikr entry about the Town Hall Photographer's Collection.***

Picture; the proposed new Art Gallery, 1935 from How Manchester is Managed, Manchester City Council, 1935, page 73

*Piccadilly Gardens ....... the early years nu 3 a plan for a new civic attraction.... 1920,

**How Manchester is Managed, Manchester City Council, 1935, pages 72-73

***Archives+ Flikr entry about the Town Hall Photographer's Collection.

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