Albert Square started life in 1860s when the Manchester Bricklayers’ Protection Society donated 50,000 bricks towards a monument “as an expression of sympathy towards our beloved Queen”. When construction problems arose (the site was found to be riddled with drains and culverts) and the bricks were used up on the foundations alone, a public subscription was launched in 1865 and a further £6,249 was raised, in spite of the hardships of the Cotton Trade which was suffering around this time due to overproduction in a time of contracting world markets. It coincided with the interruption of baled cotton imports caused by the American Civil War.
Clearing the site began in 1864, and required the demolition of over 100 buildings, including the Engraver’s Arms pub, a Smithy, a coal yard and various warehouses. The project was encouraged by the visit of the Prince of Wales to open the Albert Monument in 1869.
It was decided to construct a new town hall for Manchester around the same time, as the old building at the corner in King Street had become too small. Following an architectural competition, Gothic designs for a building with a high bell tower by Sir Alfred Waterhouse were selected, and the Town Hall was begun in 1868 and completed in 1877.
Early last century the working class people of Manchester would use Albert Square as a starting point for political demonstrations usually against Asquith Governments treatment of workers. The Socialist Democratic Federation which was founded in 1884 was Britains first socialist extreme left party, and was usually at the forefront of campaigns for better housing, free and compulsory education for children, free school meals and shorter working hours. The first demos in London ended in riots and fighting with police, but around 1900, Manchester workers ever fearful of another Peterloo, tried to peacefully organise demonstrations in the city and surrounding districts. Boggart Hole Clough was a popular speakers corner and Emily Pankhurst would defiantly speak there on a Sunday with Keir Hardie in close attendance.
Protests were a large feature around both Albert Square and Stevenson Square where Ellen Wilkinson would usually hold court just after the Great War in her fight for better pay and conditions for women.
Nowadays, I am always amazed at the array of tents nowadays in Albert Square which usually holds concerts, beer and food festivals or the German xmas markets, and just wandering around the vicinity its easy to miss monuments dedicated to Prince Albert, Bishop James Fraser, Oliver Heywood, William Gladstone, and John Bright, and it’s hard to imagine now how many working class struggles started there.
Thanks go to Michala Hulme great book “Bloody British History, Manchester” for facts and Inspiration for this post. Visit www.michalahulme.com for more information