Whitworth Art Gallery Archive

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 WAG
  • Dates of Creation
      Ca. 1887-1993
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      5 linear metres
  • Location
      Collection available at University Archive and Records Centre, main University Library.

Scope and Content

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.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Whitworth Art Galley was established in 1887 as the Manchester Whitworth Institute. It owes its existence to the local industrialist, Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887).

Whitworth was born in Stockport, the son of a school master. Aged fourteen he was apprenticed to his uncle, a cotton spinner in Derbyshire. In 1821 he became employed as a mechanic by Crighton of Manchester, a prominent firm of textile machine makers and in 1825 he married Fanny Ankers (1800-1870), from Tarvin, Cheshire. He then was employed by Maudsley and Field of London and later worked for Holzapffel and Joseph Clement, where he helped create parts for Charles Babbage's counting machine. He returned to Manchester in 1833 to establish his own engineering business. Some of his patented designs for inventions and machine tools were displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851, winning awards. Besides his designs for machine tools, he established a standard for screw threads that was adopted internationally. A great believer in technical education, in 1868 Whitworth funded thirty mechanical engineering scholarships of £100 and the following year was knighted. He became estranged from his first wife, who died in 1870, and the following year he married Maria Louisa (1829-1896), settling in Darley Dale, Derbyshire. On his death in 1887, he left £100, 000 for permanently endowing thirty scholarships and £594 416 for educational and charitable purposes. He sought the establishment in Manchester of a technical school and school of art alongside a technical museum and art gallery.

Whitworth's fortune was administered by his legatees. Besides his second wife, these were his close friends. Robert Darbishire (1826-1908), a Manchester solicitor and Richard Copley Christie (1830-1908), lawyer and former professor at Owens College (predecessor to the University of Manchester). Christie was also chairman of Whitworth's company until 1897 and President of the Whitworth Institute 1890-1895. However, it was Darbishire who was most influential in the establishment of the Manchester Whitworth Institute, and who determined that the art gallery should receive priority; responsibility for the technical and art schools soon passed to Manchester Corporation. The gallery was originally known as the Manchester Whitworth Institute to distinguish it from the Whitworth Institute, established at Whitworth's adoptive home of Darley Dale (a hospital bearing his name was also established there).

A committee of local public figures was established to oversee the establishment of the Institute, members including C. P. Scott, (1846-1932), editor of the Manchester Guardian, the businessman William Mather M.P. (1838-1920) and William Agnew (1825-1910), the noted art dealer. Interestingly, the Institute benefited greatly from the proceeds raised by the Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1887, administered by Agnew. A sum of £42 000 was given to the gallery, allowing the purchase of forty important British watercolours. The Whitworth Committee having completed its work, a board of governors was then established to oversee the Institute. This was made up of around sixty local public figures. The Manchester Whitworth Institute was incorporated by Royal Charter, such was the significance placed upon it by its founders.

Originally, the Whitworth Institute was housed in a large Regency villa, Grove House, close to Owens College. The grounds of the House were used for a new public amenity, Whitworth Park. A purpose-built gallery was then built on the site between 1894 and 1908. A competition was held for its design, judged by the renowned architect, Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905). The winning design was by local architect, James William Beaumont (1848-1931), who had earlier designed Hyde town hall.

Besides Darbishire, two other names stand out as having particularly long and significant influences on the gallery. Firstly, Margaret Pilkington (1891-1974) of the Pilkingtons pottery and tile firm. She was a recognised artist in her own right, studying wood engraving at The Slade. She was a founder of the Red Rose Guild of Designer Craftsmen (1920), becoming Chairman in 1926. Her association with the gallery began in 1925, when she joined the Whitworth Council. This was a difficult time for the Institute because it was still recovering from being requisitioned during the First World War. From 1936 to 1959 she was Honorary Director of the Institute, refusing a salary to help with the Institute's finances. Pilkington was very influential with planning exhibitions and seeing that important works of art were gifted or bequeathed to the gallery. During the Second World War, the Gallery was once again requisitioned and Pilkington oversaw the move of art treasures to safe keeping at the National Library of Wales and helped with the running of the gallery building as a shelter for those made homeless as the result of air raids.

The second influential person was C. Reginald Dodwell (1922-1994), a leading historian of medieval art. In 1966 he was appointed professor of the history of art at Manchester University (a position endowed by Pilkington) and also Director of the Whitworth Art Gallery. After many years of struggling financially, the Whitworth Institute was taken over by the University in 195 , when it was renamed the Whitworth Art Gallery. Dodwell remained director for twenty three years. Although not a specialist in modern art, he ensured that some important examples of contemporary art were acquired, including Francis Bacon's portrait of fellow painter Lucian Freud, and early Pop Art works by Peter Blake and others. Today these are part of an internationally significant collection. During his tenure the Gallery developed a renowned wallpaper collection, receiving donations from manufacturers and individuals.

During the 1960s the Gallery was extensively remodelled internally by John Bickerdike and was given a plain contemporary look in contrast to the more elaborate Edwardian interiors. The Gallery was altered again in 1993 by architects, Ahrends, Burton and Koralek, infilling a central courtyard to create a large, open new gallery space. The most recent refurbishment took place between 2013 and 2015, when architects MUMA again reconfigured the interiors, returning some of the spaces to their Edwardian look and created an extension at the rear. Mainly built of glass, it sought to forge closer links between Gallery and Park. Again, this was a design won in competition and the much expanded Gallery reopened in February 2015.


The archive has been separated into three subfonds. The first two reflect changes in the name and ownership of the Gallery in 1958 also reflected in the different types of records produced: WAG/1 for the Manchester Whitworth Institute and WAG/2 for the Whitworth Art Gallery. However, a small amount of correspondence has been placed in WAG/1 with other correspondence, for convenience, despite its post 1958 date. WAG/3 refers to the minutes of another organisation, the short-lived Salford and Manchester Friends of Art. Its reason for being present in the archive is unknown, save from its related theme and so it has been retained within the archive. The system of arrangement files of documents have been retained as they were found on transfer to the Archives unless otherwise stated. The numbers in square brackets are archival measurements.

The subfonds and series are as follows:

  • WAG/1: Whitworth Institute Records
  • WAG/1/1: Establishment and Incorporation
  • WAG/1/2: Governance Records
  • WAG/1/3: Administrative Records
  • WAG/2 Records of the Whitworth Art Gallery
  • WAG/2/1: Governance Records
  • WAG/2/2: Administrative Records
  • WAG/3: Records of the Manchester and Salford Friends of Art

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader unless otherwise stated.

The collection includes material which is subject to the Data Protection Act 1998. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The University of Manchester Library (UML) holds the right to process personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the UML to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, UML has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately. Users of the archive are expected to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, and will be required to sign a form acknowledging that they will abide by the requirements of the Act in any further processing of the material by themselves.

Open parts of this collection, and the catalogue descriptions, may contain personal data about living individuals. Some items in this collection may be closed to public inspection in line with the requirements of the DPA. Restrictions/closures of specific items will be indicated in the catalogue.

Acquisition Information

The archive was formerly kept by the Whitworth Art Gallery and was transferred to the University Archives in November 2012; an accrual of material was received in October 2013.

Separated Material

Certain legal documents and records relating specifically to objects in the Gallery's collections are retained by the Gallery.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Appraisal Information

The archive has been weeded for duplicates and a small amount of unassociated material has been removed. Please refer to the appraisal file.


Further accruals are expected

Related Material

The minutes of the University's Whitworth Art Gallery are maintained as part of the Council/Senate Committees archive, USC/39

The Papers of Margaret Pilkington (PIL); B. R. Faunthorpe Papers relating Joseph Whitworth(JFW); the University of Manchester Vice Chancellor's Archive contains files on the Gallery from the 1950s onwards: VCA/7/311, VCA/7/579 and VCA/7/906 as well as a Vice Chancellor's Student Society Files for the Whitworth Art Society VSS/1/168.


  • C. R. Dodwell ed. The Whitworth Art Gallery: The First Sundered Years (Manchester, 1988)
  • C. Hartwell, M Hyde and N. Pevsner, Lancashire: Manchester and the South East Pevsner Guide (Newhaven (Con. and London, 2004)
  • C. M. Kaufmann Obit. Professor C. R. Dodwell, The Independent, 30 April 1994
  • E Morris, Public Art Collections in North West England: A History and Guide (Liverpool, 2001) pp 125-130
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online: T. Seccombe rev R. Angus, Whitworth, Sir Joseph, baronet (1803-1887) http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/29339; A. W. Ward rev. M. C. Curthoys, Christie, Richard Copley (1830-1901)http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/32408; S. Hyde Pilkington, Margaret (1891-1974) http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/64826 accessed 1 February 2015

Geographical Names