The majority of the material in this archive relates to the governance and administration of the Gallery, and is particularly useful for the establishment of the Whitworth Institute. There is significantly less material on the acquisition, exhibition and physical organisation of the collections.
The earliest records relate to Whitworth's estate and the legatees. This includes property deeds (associated with land at Darley Dale), published pamphlets and memorial volumes about Sir Joseph Whitworth and the building of the Whitworth Institute and Hospital in Darley Dale, Derbyshire. Stamps show that these volumes were formerly kept at the Institute's Library/Archive. The body which took over from the Legatees in the establishment of the Institute, the Whitworth Committee is represented in the archive but unfortunately, no minute books appear to survive (if minutes were kept this way). All that survives in the way of minutes are discrete printed, published minutes of particular early meetings and are to be found variously in WAG/1/1/1/5; WAG/1/1/5/1; WAG/1/1/7 AMD WAG/1/1/10. In addition there are volumes of supporting documents, comprising of agenda, building plans, draft letters, reports and newspaper cuttings. There are also copy letter books.
Other early records include a large file of correspondence associated with the architectural competition and official opening in 1908 and documents associated with the Royal Charter of Incorporation, including a Seal Book. Succeeding the Committee, the role of Governors as the highest body within the Institute is well represented in the archive, with minutes and reports but also more unusual items, such as books reporting the appointment of Governors and also registering their deaths. Below the level of Governors, the Whitworth Council is also documented through minute books, reports and correspondence. There are also the memoranda, minutes and reports of junior committees and sub committees, showing the levels of decision making within the organisation. In contrast to these official records, a file of the personal papers of Sir Joseph Lee (as Chairman of the Whitworth Institute) gives a more personal perspective. These include drafts of official documents, including the Royal Charter, handwritten notes of meetings and a ticket to the opening of Whitworth Park in 1890 and a handbill stating the rules of entry to the park, as put down by the Whitworth Institute Governors.
There are also over thirty letters to Sir Joseph Lee discussing the establishment of the Whitworth Institute and School of Art (which he was also involved with as a separate venture). These are from significant public figures including Herbert Vaughn (1837-1903), Roman Catholic Bishop of Salford, the chemist Henry Roscoe (1833-1915), and Adolphus Ward (1837-1924), the historian and principal of Owens College. Unfortunately, the only record present within the archive associated with the requisitioning of the building during the World Wars is a tenancy agreement with Manchester Corporation, dated 1942. Another interesting item is the Whitworth Institute autograph book, which records the autographs of significant visitors to the gallery, including the poet John Betjeman (1906-1984) and the sculptors Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) and Elizabeth Frink (1930-1993).
Records created after the University's take over of the Gallery are unfortunately more fragmentary, although the minutes of the Whitworth Art Gallery Committee, which is part of the Council/Senate Committees Archive, helps fill in some of the major gaps. A useful source of information in tracing the Gallery's development on an annual basis are the annual reports, published in pamphlet form. These predated the University's acquisition of the Gallery and they cover the dates 1950-1968 but no reports after this date are present in the collection (annual Gallery reports can however be found in the reports of the University Council to Court to 1996).
The minutes of committees are less comprehensive and unlike in earlier times, they are loose rather than being hard-bound. These include the Board Minutes covering 1977-1988 as well as the minutes, agenda and reports of lower committees and sub committees. Also, unlike earlier records, these record types are not differentiated within files and have been archived as found. The reports of the Director, Superintendent and Keeper are more comprehensive and the records of the latter are of interest for recording acquisitions of artworks. There is also material associated with discussions with Manchester University associated with the transfer in ownership to the University in 1958.
There are also a significant amount of correspondence associated with the internal remodelling of the gallery space during the 1960s, with papers being filed on a yearly basis. These papers include discussions with the architects, John Bickerdike and 1960s catalogues for fixtures and fittings. There are also large letter files associated with the reopening of 1968, including correspondence and invitations of academics and heads of galleries and news cuttings from press coverage. In comparison to the early years, when the Institute received private philanthropy, by the 1960s much funding was through public sector grants and another interesting theme in some correspondence files are discussions about funding sources during the 1970s and 1980s. There are also some papers connected to the administration of particular gallery spaces, in particular the Lecture Hall and Textile Room. Also present it the report of 1993 by The architectural firm of Ahrends, Burton and Koralek into the creation of a new gallery space created from the old central courtyard.
Finally an interesting curiosity within the archive are the minutes of a short-lived organisation called the Manchester and Salford Society of the Friends of Art 1906-1908. Membership included the significant architects, Edgar Wood (1860-1935) and Alfred Derbyshire (1839-1908).
The Whitworth Art Gallery Archive is an important source of information, about a leading public art gallery in provincial Britain. The archive records its development from an exercise in Victorian philanthropy to its current status as a University-run cultural institution. The archive demonstrates the prominent role the Gallery and Park have played in the cultural and social life of Manchester and will be of interest to researchers of local history, as well as those interested in the history of art and the history of regional public art collections.