Why is Charles Worsley on Manchester Town Hall?

Manchester town hall is one of the most impressive buildings in the world. This is not just because of its soaring gothic arches and marble pillars. For these reasons it has appeared on Royal Mail stamps and is world-renowned. It is impressive because of what it symbolises. Victorian Manchester erected this huge edifice as a way of telling the world that Manchester was a great city. Contrary to the views of many American tourists, there’s more to England than London. Manchester was a wealthy, powerful regional centre, the first industrialised city. Its city fathers wanted a place to meet that was worthy of their influence and prestige. It is a fine symbol of local democracy and independence.  

Built into the wall in Albert Square is a statue of my hero, Charles Worsley. Why, in 1877, when they constructed this huge town hall, would they pop in a large statue of a puritan soldier and Congregationalist Christian? Many of the town councillors and aldermen would have been Congregationalist- nonconformist Christianity often flourished in northern, industrial towns. But this isn’t the reason, it wasn’t mere tribalism. It was because Worsley was Manchester’s first MP. Lancashire had always sent two MPs to represent the county, but many larger towns were ignored. MPs were often troublesome to the government; the fewer the better. After Cromwell, Manchester’s representation in Parliament ended. It wasn’t until the Great Reform Act of 1832 that large northern towns like Manchester would again sent delegates to the House of Commons.

There is something about evangelical Christianity that is conducive to fair government, if not democracy itself. It is true that Cromwell was no democrat in the modern sense. Although he fought for Parliament, he also closed it down a couple of times, and opposed the Levellers who wished to extend the franchise (ie give more people the vote). Nevertheless, his own statue outside of Westminster Palace is fittingly deserved. So, how can I demonstrate the truth of this paragraph’s opening gambit?

1)      The value of created individuals. In a congregational church or a democracy, individuals’ views are heard and noted, regardless of their wealth or education.

2)      Limits of human government. Ministers are not priests and kings are not gods. Only God has supreme authority and power; we on earth may have some of this authority vested in us, for a season, but we shall be held to account.

3)      Power is used for the common good or ‘commonweal’, not for the enrichment and aggrandisement of individuals.

4)      Those with power are servants of the people; the people are not their servants.

The Kingdom of God is not democratic, it is an absolute monarchy. But unlike most earthly monarchies, Christ’s rule will be a time of peace and equity. Until His rule is firmly established on the earth, democracy is the least bad alternative. And for that, we must acknowledge the role of Cromwell and Worsley.