Mosaics at Cottonopolis

Busy bees in Cottonopolis

Facing Manchester Albert Square is Manchester Town Hall. A grand municipal building looking like a jumbled up Houses of Parliament; it was acknowledged for its beauty by John Ruskin. This imposing Neo-gothic  structure was designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1877. Manchester is known for its hard working ethos; the factories formed during the Industrial Revolution generated cotton for the nation. Like many northern cities, all the civic buildings are within one area of the city; museums often mock the architecture of Roman temples, banks, grand structures and entrance doorways with slender columns.

Let’s talk about its décor and opulence. The central clock tower has a psalm inscribed on it and for me, the main focus of the building.  Inside needs a lot of restoration, restrained stained glass windows were designed to allow as much light in to the building in order to counteract the Manchester gloomy weather. Sorry Manchester.

The opulence continues through the building, murals by Ford Maddox Brown, a sculpture hall of busts of significant people and the floors!

Cue the bees! There are 67 of them interspersed with a cotton flower design, set within a black and white tiled mosaic floor. The bees are worker bees, the symbol of Manchester.

You will find bees on the city coat of arms, in murals, rubbish bins, on metal bollards; the Ariana Grande disaster has created a resurgence of the bee symbol.

This mosaic would have been made in reverse, on sheets of brown paper to be able to transport it in to sections and set in to a screed on site. The wings and body of the bees are emphasised with opus vermiculatum, weaving around their outer edge. The floor has a large crack along the floor, which rather spoils the effect but shows its age and wear. It is stated that the mosaics are Venetian, however Waterhouse had a strong alliance with Jesse Rust who provided mosaics for Waterhouse’s buildings. I wonder why he didn’t use Rust to make these?

There is a big ongoing renovation project costing £330M to restore and update the building and keep the integrity of the design for future Mancunians. I can’t wait to see the final project which is due to finish in 2024. Perhaps my friend Tracy may share her wonderful mosaic bee.

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