Easily Missed Manchester 1: Jonathan Schofield on city details we miss
Mario Raggi gave four times British Prime Minister the finger. He gave it him back. Otherwise as a sculptor, Raggi knew that posterity would judge him as a man who couldn’t count with his own fingers or anybody else’s. He knew that people who cared to take a second look at Gladstone’s statue in Albert Square in the future might have counted three fingers and one thumb, a fifth below the usual human hand gear.
The man in Albert Square, and the woman in St Peter’s Square, are almost pointing at each other, as if having a row
Raggi had to add the left-hand forefinger because Gladstone had shot it off in an accident in 1842. To avoid people poking fun at him he wore a black leather sheath or fingerstall. In fact, in an age when PMs were supposed to look heroic, it might have been out of respect that Raggio provided the posthumous corrective surgery. Who's going to do the heroic statue of Boris Johnson? Is it possible?
Gladstone was loved in Manchester, despite the fact in this Liberal city he had first stood as a Tory candidate in 1837. He changed his tune and became one of the great Liberal MPs and Prime Ministers, an advocate of progressive policies such as Home Rule for Ireland and a raft of social improvements including elementary schools and a free press.
Gladstone blotted his progressive record over one huge issue. Here was a man, of the Unitarian faith, who would, even as PM, leave Downing Street at night to convince London prostitutes to return to the straight and narrow. Despite this ‘care for welfare of women’ he never once supported calls for the female vote.
It’s curious, then, that the two most pointy statues in Manchester are Gladstone’s and the recent Emmeline Pankhurst piece by Hazel Reeves. Indeed, the man in Albert Square, and the woman in St Peter’s Square, are almost pointing at each other through the Town Hall Extension, as if having a row.
The money for the bronze statue was raised privately and Raggi’s work erected in 1901, three years after Gladstone’s death, by which time the latter was known as ‘GOM’, the ‘Grand Old Man’. Raggi gave back that finger and depicted Gladstone at the dispatch box in the Commons, his written speech rolled in one hand, in full flow, with a gesture Mancs nicknamed, ‘The Man Hailing A Taxi’; apt given its location over the nearby rank.
You might say Raggi’s statue is second hand, or that Gladstone has been digitally enhanced, either way its a bronze curiosity in a square that's about to receive its own physical enhancement.