Thomas Horsfall was a Victorian philanthropist and son of a wealthy cotton manufacturer, in Manchester. Due to ill health, he was unable to work for the family business, and this allowed him to commit his time to charitable works.
In 1884, Horsfall opened an art museum in Ancoats to promote wellbeing and social change through contact with art and nature. Established to “alleviate the miserable dullness and emptiness of the life lived by a very large proportion of the inhabitants of Manchester.”
He believed, along with friend John Ruskin, that art and nature could stimulate the character, the morals and the skills of the working classes. His art museum brought both art and nature to the people of Ancoats – a very industrial and dirty area of the city. It was quite likely that the residents of Ancoats at this time had never or rarely even seen green spaces or wildlife.
Walking into the Art Museum, the visitor was first confronted with a grand, wooden staircase. On either side, rooms were dedicated to painting, sculpture, architecture, and domestic arts.
Horsfall also installed a Model Workmen’s Room and Mother’s Room with the aim of influencing the working man and woman to improve their surroundings. Classes in skills such as woodwork and embroidery were provided so that workers could make these objects for themselves. (A Different Spirit, n.d.)