Thomas Worthington is best known as the architect responsible for Manchester's Albert Memorial, an iconic structure both protecting and showcasing a statue of Prince Albert by the sculptor Matthew Noble. This was officially unveiled in the newly laid out Albert Square in January 1867, the year before Alfred Waterhouse was commissioned to design the new town hall on the north side of the square.
Born in Salford as the fourth son of a Manchester business man, Worthington was articled at fourteen to local architect Henry Bowman, and in 1844 won a Society of Arts Gold Medal for his design for a Gothic chancel. He contributed many drawings to Bowman's Specimens of Ecclesiastical Architecture (1846) and Bowman and J. S. Crowther's Churches of the Middle Ages (1853). By now he had also won a silver medal from the Institute of Architects (later RIBA) for an essay. His first full project was a large house in Cheshire called Broomfield: the daughter of the house, Elizabeth, was to be his first wife, and the house was to become his family home from 1869-1909.
After completing his articles, Worthington worked with Sir William Tite, the architect of London's Royal Exchange, and made a second architectural tour of Italy before opening his highly successful practice in Manchester. John Archer writes that a "pronounced Italian influence is evident in much of Worthington's architecture," adding that in this respect he was "a versatile pluralist, equally at ease with the Renaissance palazzo mode as with Venetian Gothic." Another influence on his life's work was his religion: a committed Unitarian, he had a special interest in social reform, encouraged in him early on by J.P. Kay (later Kay-Shuttleworth) and Mrs Gaskell and her husband, William, a Unitarian minister in Manchester (see Pass 72). Housing and amenities for the poor were important concerns. In his book of 1857, entitled Dwellings of the Poor, Worthington roundly condemns back-to-back housing, and cautions against "mere cleansing, painting, and whitewashing" of such properties, recommending instead "improved drainage and structural alterations" (49). A hospital design that he published in 1865 proved particularly influential, earning him the praise of Florence Nightingale herself.
Although his proposed design for the Great Exhibition of 1851 was unsuccessful, it was well regarded, and Worthington was appointed secretary to the local commission for the exhibition. Thus, when Prince Albert died, and the Mayor offered to donate a statue of Prince Albert to the city, Worthington was asked to design a fine canopy to protect and enhance it. Chronologically, his design followed that of the Scott Monument in Edinburgh, but it was the first such monument in England, preceding Sir George Gilbert Scott's Albert Memorial in London by about ten years. Local sources often claim that the latter borrowed much from "Worthington's style and concept" (e.g., see "Manchester Artists and Architects"), though Clare Hartwell points out in a footnote that "Scott's design for the London Memorial was accepted on 22 April 1863" (144), long before Worthington's was completed. In fact, Worthington's design had already been published by then, in the Builder of 27 September 1862 (p. 699, see Wyke, 15, n.). Nevertheless, Scott does seem to have arrived at his design in his own way (see Read 155-56). Whether or not it influenced developments in London, the Manchester monument, placed in a previously "neglected part of the city" (Pass 158), led to important civic developments in Manchester. Worthington himself was one of those invited to submit plans for a new town hall on what was now christened "Albert Square." However, Waterhouse's design was selected instead. The Albert Memorial would eventually face this new landmark building, which was compteted in 1877.
Amongst Worthington's other works are the impressive City Police & Sessions Court in Minshull Street (1867-73), and the Jubilee Fountain in Albert Square (1896-97). He also designed many Unitarian chapels on the outskirts of the city. He was president of the Manchester Society of Architetcs in 1875, and vice-president of RIBA from 1885-89, as well as becoming president of the Royal Manchester Institution (see Archer). He died at Broomfield on 9 November 1909. His eldest son Percy (1864-1939) and youngest son Hubert (1886-1963) followed him into the profession and became distinguished architects in their own rights: both were knighted. — Jacqueline Banerjee
Archer, John H. G. "Worthington Family (per. 1849-1963)." Oxford Dictionary of National Bibliography. Online ed. Web. 19 March 2012.
Hartwell, Clare. Manchester. Pevsner Architectural Guides. London: Penguin, 2001. Print.
"Manchester Artists & Architects." Papillon Graphics Virtual Encyclopaedia of Greater Manchester. Web. 19 March 2012.
Pass, Anthony. Thomas Worthington: Victorian Architecture and Social Purpose. Manchester Literary and Philosophical Publications, 1988. Print (available at the British Library).
Read, Benedict. Victorian Sculpture. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1982. Print.
Worthington, Thomas Locke. The Dwellings of the Poor and Weekly Wage-Earners in and around Towns. London: Swan Sonnenschien, New York: Charles Scribner & Sons, 1893. Internet Archive. Web. 19 March 2-012.
Wyke, Terry, with Harry Cocks. Sculpture of Greater Manchester. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2004.
Last modified 20 October 2012