April 29th 2019 is the 120th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone for Bury Art Gallery and Public Library; using items from our archive we want to explore the origins of this beautiful building – why it was built, who designed it and who was chosen to lay that very important foundation stone?
Why an Art Gallery and Public Library?
In 1897 Bury was presented with the art collection of the late Thomas Wrigley by his three surviving children – Emma, Oswald and Frederick to coincide with the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The gift was conditional that the town would provide a building to house these valuable paintings. Thomas Wrigley had made his fortune through the manufacture of paper and was head of the firm at Bridge Hall Mills from 1846 – 1880 – his wealth enabling him to accumulate a considerable collection of oil paintings, water colours and Wedgewood china. This generous gift of a treasured art collection was indicative of a family who had a keen interest in promoting the health, welfare and education of the people who shared their native town. On the day of the foundation stone-laying, The Bury Guardian dedicated a full page to the Wrigley’s – applauding their benevolence, charitable involvement and expressing what a privilege it is to have been gifted such a unique legacy.
Where to build?
In early 1897, shortly after the gift to the town was announced, the Town Council set up an Art Gallery and Public Library Committee. Members of this committee could now begin to administer the huge amount of work which went into the design, construction and overall organisation of erecting such an important public building. The committee minute book opens with a discussion on possible locations and, ‘after carefully considering the advantages of various plots of land’, suggests two suitable sites.
The land on Moss Street and Silver Street, in which years before was the site of Broom Hall (home of another well-known Bury family, the Hutchinsons), was chosen in preference to land adjoining the technical school possibly due to the school considering future extensions to its buildings.
After a survey of the site was made, the Borough Engineer, Mr J Cartwright, prepared the conditions for competitive drawings and architects were invited to submit their designs to the Corporation Offices on Bank Street. Premiums of £75.00, £50.00 and £25.00 were to be awarded for the designs ‘adjudged to be of sufficient merit and placed first, second and third in order’. An assessment of the quantity and dimensions of the artwork (stored at the Wrigley’s family home, Timberhurst) had been carried out so that the set of architects’ instructions were quite specific:
‘The first floor to be devoted entirely to the Art Gallery, with the necessary
conveniences, and to have three galleries of special dimensions: one to contain
not less than 270 lineal feet of wall space; the second to contain not less than
106 lineal feet and the third not less than 90 lineal feet‘.
Instructions for the Public Library were:
‘The ground floor to contain suitable reading and news rooms with a special room
for ladies, as also accommodation for lending and reference library and provision
for librarian, with the necessary offices, lavatories and conveniences‘.
A total of 22 sets of plans were submitted and, after much consideration, the Council decided upon a design in the style of 18th century English Renaissance which boasted a classic portico and carved terminals with friezes of sculpted figures. The architects were Woodhouse and Willoughby of King Street, Manchester.
Who will lay the foundation stone?
The honour would, of course, be granted on the Wrigley family. Sadly, Emma had died just a couple of months after the art collection had been offered to the town. That left the surviving brothers, Frederick and Oswald. In a meeting of March 23rd 1899, the Art Gallery committee chaired by Alderman Walker suggested that ‘Mr O. O. Wrigley should lay the foundation stone on Saturday 29th April’. A further meeting on the 27th April reported that Mr O. O. Wrigley had accepted. The minute book does not detail why he was chosen over his brother Frederick. However, Martin Tillmanns, in his book Bridge Hall Mills: Three Centuries of Paper & Cellulose Film Manufacture suggests that despite his benevolent nature, Frederick ‘was not greatly interested in local affairs and was never persuaded to take part in them’.
In a meeting held on April 20th 1899 a decision was made to honour Mr Oswald Wrigley with Freedom of the Borough which would be conferred on the same day as laying the foundation stone. The Bury Guardian reported this honour was granted to Oswald, ‘in recognition of the esteem in which he and members of the Wrigley family are held by the inhabitants of their native town’.
Saturday 29th April 1899 – How did it go?
The day was to be one of ceremony and celebration; it began at 1pm where members of the Town Council met at the Corporation Offices on Bank Street to begin a procession to the Athenaeum. The streets were decorated with banners and bunting – the Bury Guardian reported that a very large crowd had gathered where ‘the spectators were allowed to gather close to the barriers and the sea of upturned faces presented a very interesting sight’. Members of the public were also invited inside the Athenaeum Hall to witness Mr Wrigley accept the honorary freedom of the borough; the resulting speeches were full of gratitude, designed to arouse a real sense of civic pride amongst those present:
Colonel Walker: ‘It is a happy thing for the people of Bury that our friends, the members of the Wrigley family inherited not only the pictures from their father, but that they inherited also his generous impulses and kindly heart. We honour them, and are grateful to them for the magnificent gift’.
Mr O. O. Wrigley: ‘By conferring on me the freedom of the borough of Bury – a sign of kindliness and esteem from my fellow townsmen which I know is meant to embrace all the members of the Wrigley family. I feel it to include my father … of whose memory we are all proud. It includes my brother and sister, by whose aid it has been possible to give to our native town the collection of pictures which my father brought together at Timberhurst, and which we have been delighted to present in his memory. I am to lay the foundation stone of their new home today and I hope that the pictures may be of use and enjoyment to those who come after us’.
A public luncheon followed at Phillips Hall on Garden Street and afterwards another procession, headed by the 1st Battalion of Lancashire Fusiliers. The procession was led over several streets including Haymarket Street, Fleet Street and Princess Street – the whole of the route lined with spectators.
The final ceremony at the site of the Art Gallery invited architect, Mr Willoughby, to hand over a beautifully designed mallet and trowel to the Mayoress, Mrs Wike, who duly presented this to Oswald Wrigley for laying the stone. Oswald expressed his honour with another heartfelt speech which gave thanks to the town while assuring them that once the building was complete it would be ‘an ornament to our town and when filled with books and works of art, will afford a means of education and enjoyment to both old and young who live here’.
M Tillmans, Bridge Hall Mills: Three Centuries of Paper & Cellulose Film Manufacture (Tisbury, Wiltshire Compton Press, 1978)
Bury Guardian, 29th April 1899
Bury Guardian, 6th May 1899
Corporation of Bury Minute Book: Art Gallery and Library Committee, c1897 (Archives catalogue: ABU/1/1/10/1/1)
Proposed Art Gallery and Public Library: conditions of competition and instructions to architects on competitive drawings, c1897 (Library Catalogue: A78.5)