The Angel

Until the 1960’s, at the place where Manchester Road has its junction with The Esplanade and at the entrance to Broadfield Park, stood a monument locally known as The Angel. Proud upon a four foot Yorkshire stone base, it stood fifteen feet high against the trees of the park, resplendent in long flowing robes with wings outstretched and with a left arm raised heavenwards. The statue was made from white Sicilian marble and still remembered by many in the town as a once-prominent figure representing something about Rochdale itself. Generations of people will recall The Angel as they walked past it from the park or caught sight of it from passing buses and traffic. It stood as a silent but welcoming spirit of the town.

The statue had been presented to Rochdale in 1899 by Ellen MacKinnon who then lived in Surrey, in dedication to and memory of her mother Augusta. It was a commission for the sculptor Francis John Williamson of Esher, one of Queen Victoria’s favourite artists.

A number of sites close to the town centre had been considered at which to erect The Angel including placing it by The Butts, but this was felt to be inappropriate due to its proximity to the electric tram system. Eventually the corner of Manchester Road was identified as suitable by the town council and this place was agreed as appropriate by Miss MacKinnon herself.

Originally its function was a drinking place as in front of its base stood a large water trough for horses and a smaller, lower one for dogs. In the late 19th century these were important refreshment points for the horses which were employed in drawing hundreds of waggons and other vehicles into and out of the town. When the junction at the bottom of Manchester Road was altered just before the Second World War, the drinking troughs were removed but The Angel remained. The dogs, no doubt, had to go thirsty !

Given the vulnerability of The Angel’s material, there had been calls over time to protect it by re-locating it to a less busy part of town, one suggestion being that it should be placed at the bottom of the main staircase in the Town Hall. None of these suggestions were, in the event, taken up. Consequently, weather erosion and the vibration and pollution effect of ever-increasing traffic into Rochdale caused the statue to deteriorate with reports through the 1950’s that the hands of The Angel were crumbling, the face showing signs of erosion and the wings in danger of falling away. Eventually, in April 1961, it was removed by the Waterworks Department and sent for examination in order to estimate the costs of repair. Following this assessment, the Town Hall committees felt that the price asked to restore it would be too high and it was removed either to a depot at Princess Street or to the Entwistle Road Transport Depot where it was believed to have been destroyed. There is some irony if it was taken to the latter depot near to Entwistle Road, as Augusta MacKinnon (to whom the statue was dedicated) was the sister, and Ellen the niece of John Entwistle who had been not only Rochdale’s first Conservative MP in 1835 and a member of the wealthy landowner family of the Foxholes estate, but the person after whom the road was named !

Letters to the Observer in 1961 reflected the belief by many people in the town that the removal of The Angel rather than its restoration, was a blow to Rochdale and a slight upon the Entwistle family. It was felt to have been too important simply to have been scrapped without plans to replace it in some way. And there have been calls as recently as 2010 to have another Angel designed and erected to welcome people into the town, but as yet, these have fallen upon deaf political ears.

The Angel was reputed to have been, for many years, a regular meeting place for the people of Rochdale but more than anything represented a gateway point into the town centre and a proud artistic and religious statement about Rochdale’s welcoming nature. Perhaps now, more than ever, it is time to revive such symbols of hope and generosity and bring back The Angel and its spirit to the town.