Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Death and the monument

(Keen observers should note the irony of the tram name in this photograph)

When I saw two men urinating on The Great Stone, oblivious to it's dedication to 'The Glorious Dead' last October I should have realised the extent of the threat to the city's memorial to its war dead. The news splashed gleefully across yesterday's Manchester Evening News that the city fathers are considering moving the cenotaph in St.Peter's Square to make way for more efficient tramlines follows in a long and tragic line of municipal waste when it comes to their judgements about the public realm. Who can forget such previous  triumphs for the council as the mysteriously vanished Market Street obelisk, the similarly vanished 'B of the Bang' or the continuing calamity which is Piccadilly Gardens?

In the Cenotaph's current arrangement one has a rare ensemble of monument and civic buildings which work to dignify the public realm and to lead citizens through their city. The current siting of the tram stops is a problem, but fails to fundamentally impair the beauty of the relationships between the Lutyens monument and Harris's library, with Library Walk, and with the broader confluence of Oxford Street, Peter Street and Lower Mosley Street. The more sensitive projects displayed for St.Peter's Square last summer recognised the importance of this piece of grand urban composition. The obvious solution is to move the tram stops closer to Princess Street, since there is a large ill-defined territory designated as the Peace Gardens, but hardly shown any respect as such.

Would Liverpool consider moving its memorial from outside St.George's Hall, or Sheffield consider moving its memorial from the beautifully restored City Hall? So why should Manchester even contemplate it? Do it's echoes provide some problem to potential investors in the office scheme to replace Elizabeth House? We should be told, but are unlikely to hear that from the MEN or the city council. At least presently the Cenotaph is spared the indignity of being exiled to Spinningfields, but I might come to regret that suggestion.