Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Libraries of Manchester

Few people realise the importance of Manchester's historic libraries. The collections exceed a total of two milllion volumes and a significant number of ancient works are of worldwide importance.

Chetham's Library

The oldest library is Chetham's which has been a free public library since 1653, the oldest in the U.K. The collection contains over 100,000 books, the majority published before the mid 19th century

The Chethams complex includes one of Manchester's oldest buildings dating from 1422. Built as a manor house, this became a priest's hostel, being alongside the Collegiate Church, now Manchester Cathedral. During the Civil War, it served first as a gunpowder factory and later a prison.

Sir Humphrey Chetham 1580 - 1653 was a successful cotton merchant. He had been educated at Manchester Free Grammar School which was then sited between the later Chetham's Hospital and the Church. He was offered a knighthood in 1631 due to his great wealth and was fined for refusing the honour. He was not able to refuse the post of High Sheriff of Lancashire in 1635 nor of General Treasurer in 1643. He feared that on his death, his wealth might be taken by the Crown and for this reason he bequested money for the establishment of Chetham's Hospital which was to support 40 poor boys and Chetham's Library together with funds for the purchase of books. 24 feoffees or trustees were appointed to manage and stock the library and their aim was to rival the university libraries of Oxford and Cambridge. The building was extended during the Victorian era as was the Grammar School, the latter moving to it's present site in Fallowfield in the 30's.  The books were originally chained although that practice ended in the mid 18th century.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were frequent visitors to Chetham's and a reference book and bench seat mark the spot where they used to meet.

Chetham's Library is open Monday to Friday and visitors are welcome. An appontment must be made in order to read any of the collection.

Further information :


John Ryland's Library

The John Ryland's Library on Deansgate forms part of the University of Manchester Library. The principal buildings are on Burlington Street within the University Campus although parts of the collection are housed at a number of sites.
More than quarter of a million books are housed and over a million documents and archive items.

John Rylands was a textile manufacturer. He was Manchester's first mutil millionaire and employed 15000 at his 17 mills. His home was Longford Hall in Stretford. Rylands was a philanthropist supporting numerous charities including chapels, orphanages and retirement homes for ministers and gentlewomen. In Stretford he provided a library, baths, town hall and coffee house. He was generous in supporting the poor of Rome and in 1880, the King honoured him with the Order of the Crown of Italy. Rylands died in 1888 leaving the bulk of his estate to his wife Enriqueta, more than £2.5 million. He is buried in Southern Cemetery.

Enriqueta Augustina Rylands obtained a site on Deansgate in 1889 and commissioned Basil Champneys, a notable architect to design a library in memory of her husband. The Victorian Gothic building has an ecclesiastical style which refelcts it's original intention to house principally theological works. Construction was completed in 1899 and the library opened in October with a collection of some 40,000 books. Much of the collection is rare including more than 3000 books printed prior to 1501. On her death in 1908, Mrs Ryland bequeathed £200,000 to expand the collection, more than 180,000 books being acquired. The merger with the University Library was in 1972.

The Library is open daily and also houses a cafe. For more information :


The Portico Library

Situated on Mosley Street The Portico Library is a private subsciption library. The building in the Greek Revival style was designed by Thomas Harrison and opened in 1806. The library was initiated by a group of businessmen and financed by subscription. The collection of 25,000 books is mainly of 19th century literature. The Library and Gallery are on the upper foors accessed through a doorway on Charlotte Street. The ground floor once housed the Bank of Athens and is currently occupied by the Bank public house.
The Gallery houses regular exhibitions, often of artistic works.

The Portico Prize for Literature is presented biennially for works of fiction and non-fiction.

The Library is open Monday to Saturday although normally only the Gallery area is open to the public. Light
refreshments are available

The first secretary was Peter Mark Roget who started work on his Thesaurus whilst in Manchester. Famous members have included John Dalton, Richard Cobden, Sir Robert Peel, Thomas De Quincy, Elizabeth Gaskell and more recently Eric Cantona.


Manchester Central Library

Manchester's municipal library in St Peter's Square is currently closed for a major renovation which will not be completed until 2014. The bulk of the collection is in temporary storage in a Winsford Salt Mine. Interim library facilities are provided at Eliot House, Deansgate.

Manchester's first public library opened in 1852 at Campfield near Liverpool Road Station. When this building became unsafe, the Library moved to the old Town Hall which stood on King Street. The book collection had grown too large  by 1912 and a further move was made to the redundant Infirmary buildings in Piccadilly Gardens. This was intended to be a temporary solution but progress on a replacement building was delayed by the First World War. A competition to design a Town Hall Extension and the new Library was held in 1926 and won by the architect Emanuel Vincent Harris.

 The foundation stone was laid by Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald in May 1930 and the large domed, rotunda in a neoclassical style, was completed in 1934 and opened by King George V on 17th July. 

The basement housed the Library Theatre which is now to be relocated to new premises which it will share with Cornerhouse. Below the Great Hall are four floors of shelving able to store 1 million books in environmentally controlled conditions.

The collection includes many editions of historic importance including books printed before 1500 and the total stock is in the region of 2 million volumes.. 

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