The tympanum - the group of sculptures inside the pediment above the portico that forms part of the main entrance to the Town Hall - was commissioned from the Scottish sculptor William Calder Marshall (1813-1894), best known for his contribution to the Albert Memorial in London.
His own contemporary description of the work is as follows:
"The central figure represents Bolton, with a mural crown, and holding a shield on which is emblazoned the borough arms. The figures to the right and left (of the principal figure) represent 'Manufactures' and 'Commerce'; the former holds a distaff and leans upon a bale of goods, whilst near her are a cylinder and wheel, symbolical of machinery; a negro boy [sic] bears a basket of cotton, and 'Earth' in the angle pours her gifts from a cornucopia. On the left of the principal figure is 'Commerce' holding the caduceus and a helm; a boy holds a boat by the bow, and in the angle is 'Ocean', typical of the wide extent over which the manufactures of the town have spread. The figures are of Portland stone, and upon a scale of eight feet if standing."
It has been suggested that the inclusion of a black child bearing cotton is in some way a tacit contemporary endorsement of slavery. Not true. Slavery had been effectively abolished in the British Empire 40 years earlier. The extreme hardships suffered by the mill workers of Bolton as a result of the Lancashire Cotton Famine during the American Civil War of 1861-65 had actually increased popular support in the region for the United States and for the anti-slavery movement.
The figures are an allegorical representation of how Bolton saw
itself in the world of 1873: industrious, prosperous,
forward-looking and connected through
its products and trade to a wider,
The 'borough arms' used for the central figure's shield is the town's elephant and castle emblem.
Surprisingly, the only other example of Bolton's favourite animal to have been incorporated into the exterior of the building can be found (with difficulty) beneath the pediment, high above the main doors. In fact, many other elephant details were included in in the original drawings for the exterior of the building but were struck out at the design stage.
The other sculptural embellishments surrounding the entrance include human and lion heads, caducei and two slightly alarming putti (child figures - see right) at either side of the doors, holding up date stones for 1873.
| Originally serving as the main entrance to Bolton Town Hall, the doors at the top of steps now lead to the Hall of Remembrance and are only used on ceremonial occasions and during civic events.
The large windows above the main doors look out from the Blue Room.
Click for larger image
The much loved lions that stand guard at the top of the steps were supplied by Burstall & Taylor of Leeds. They were not ready in time for the day of the Grand opening ceremony so potted shrubs were substituted.