Sculpture celebrating Salford's historic firsts is unveiled

A sculpture of a bronze horse and lamppost capturing Salford's history has been unveiled.

The city had England’s first public library, first public park, and first horse drawn tram service, all of which is referenced in the new artwork.

The sculture by world-renowned artist Emma Rodgers stands in in Bexley Square, off Chapel Street.

Salford was the first city to have horse drawn trams which ran along Chapel Street and horses also worked underground in coal mines and along the canal system.

The horse’s veins mirror the Bridgewater Canal which began in Worsley in 1761, and was a pivotal part of the Industrial Revolution.

Salford sculture close-up Credit: Salford City Council

Train tracks run along the bridle symbolising the first public railway through Eccles and across Chat Moss in 1830 and books run through the mane as England’s first free public library opened in Salford in 1850.

Each book represents a piece of Salford’s history and remembers famous sons and daughters such as Emmeline Pankhurst and scientist James Prescott Joules who lived locally.

A poppy has been added to honour the Salford Pals who died in World War One and there is a tribute to Vimto as the first factory was in Chapel Street.

Artist Emma Rodgers with musician Peter Hook and the Ceremonial Mayor of Salford Councillor John Mullen.

The sculpture was unveiled by Salford musician Peter Hook and the Ceremonial Mayor of Salford Councillor John Mullen.


Funding for the sculpture came from developers X1 who transformed nearby former Salford Town Hall into apartments.

Emma Rodgers said: "I wanted to bring together and celebrate these firsts in one piece, offering an opportunity to discover, explore and reflect on Salford’s fascinating and inspiring stories.”


Emma also added a dog cocking its leg against the lamp-post in tribute to Salford artist Harold Riley and his famous sketches of dogs.


Messages and sayings from famous Salfordians also adorn the sculpture, including poet John Cooper Clark, musicians Graham Nash and Peter Hook (Hooky) and actor Albert Finney.


Salford’s elected City Mayor Paul Dennett said: “Salford men and women pioneered social and scientific advances, made personal sacrifices in war, helped women win the right to vote, invented Vimto and created music, films and art which are renowned throughout the world.


“We wanted to capture and celebrate that rich history of Salford firsts – many of which happened in Chapel Street and add another exciting element to the bars, restaurants, businesses and homes which are breathing new life into the area.” 


Peter Hook said:

The horse sculpture stands two and a half metres high. Emma studied a friend’s horses - Louis, a Hanoverian which is one of the oldest horse breeds in the world and Monty, a Welsh Cob to capture their spirit and personality in her design.

Chester Racecourse also invited Emma to study racehorses closely which helped her understanding of horse bone and muscle structure.

The lamppost is three and a half metres high and transforms into willow trees at the top; Salford’s name comes from Old English Sealhford meaning a ford by the willow trees.

Salford’s firsts and famous folk

  •  1761 Bridgewater Canal – England’s first canal, totally independent of rivers, built at Worsley to transport coal to local factories. Illiterate designer James Brindley carved a model in a wheel of cheese to convince Parliament to back it.

  • 1805 Chapel Street becomes first street in England to be lit by gas.

  • 1818 James Prescott Joule born in Salford. His research led to the law of conservation of energy, the development of the first law of thermodynamics and the creation of the Kelvin scale.

  • 1824 First horse drawn bus route between Salford and Manchester ran along Chapel Street.

  • 1830 World’s first passenger railway the Liverpool to Manchester railway opened. Sadly William Huskisson, MP for Liverpool, was killed at Eccles on the opening day, the first person in the world to die in a rail accident.

  • 1846 Peel Park became the country’s first public park open to everyone.

  • 1850 Library Salford opens England’s first free, public library.

  • 1879 Emmeline Pankhurst, campaigner for votes for women married at St Luke’s, Pendleton, Salford.

  • 1893 swing aqueduct -the world’s first and only swing aqueduct was built at Barton, Salford to carry the Bridgewater Canal over the Manchester Ship Canal.

  • 1936 Albert Finney actor, was born in Salford. He received five Academy Award, 13 BAFTA nominations (won two) and nine Golden Globe nominations (won three) and won an Emmy award.

  • 2011 Media City - Salford Quays now houses the largest cluster of digital and technology businesses outside London.

  • 2021 RHS Garden Bridgewater - RHS opens its fifth national garden in Salford – Europe’s biggest gardening project.