In my quest to blog about some of Manchester’s wonderful historic libraries, I thought I would start with Chetham’s in view of its claim to be the oldest public library in the English-speaking world. It’s a fascinating place to look at and I am amazed that I have only recently visited it for the first time considering how long I have lived in Manchester. With my joint loves of books and poking about in old buildings, I was in my element.
Although visitors are advised to book in advance, I arrived on spec because I was going into Manchester city centre anyway. After a 10 minute wait due to a service taking place in the adjoining school, I was allowed access to the library and entered a beautiful medieval courtyard.
Visitors have to be accompanied by a guide (I presume it’s because of the value of some of the old books and other relics). I think my guide soon realised that progress around the building would be slow as I continuously stopped to take photographs and admire the paintings, ornate windows, beamed ceilings etc. etc. I suppose there are only so many ‘wows’ you can contend with so she eventually left me to cover the top floor unaccompanied – yippee!
Here’s a little of the history:
The library was established in 1653 under the will of Humphrey Chetham, a wealthy Manchester textile merchant, banker and landowner. It began as a school for the poor, although the building that houses the library dates back to 1421 and was built as a college for priests. Chetham’s is now a music school with the library attached.
The history of the building is very much in evidence as you walk around Chetham’s. The walls are built from sandstone quarried locally in Collyhurst, and I marvelled at the thickness of the doors, and the beautiful oak furniture in the reading room.
The oak table and leather backed chairs (also oak) in the Reading Room were purchased in the 1650s. Two students were working at the other end of the table during my visit so I wasn’t able to take a picture of the whole table. The chairs are of Cromwellian type, characterised by the square backs, turned legs and scroll work on the leg connectors.
The collection of books in the library dates back to the library’s inception in 1653, and continues to expand. Nowadays the collection focuses on the history and topography of Greater Manchester and Lancashire as well as other topics of local interest. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to examine the books as they’re kept in gated alcoves.
Some of the wonderful old book collection under lock and key
Lastly, I’ll finish by adding a few images of the Baronial Hall although it was difficult to capture in all its glory.
In future blog posts I’ll be visiting some of Manchester’s other historic libraries.
8 thoughts on “Chetham’s – The Oldest Public Library in the English-Speaking World”
As soon as I saw those gated alcoves Heather I was reminded of the Restricted section of the library in Harry Potter 🙂
Thanks for your feedback, Georgia. I’ve not seen all the Harry Potter films but it’s a wonderful old building to have a poke around inside. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. 🙂
Thank you, this was a very enjoyable post. Great window into the past through the library, and those pictures really help to evoke a sense of the atmosphere there.
Welcome to my blog Alex. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and that I managed to capture the atmosphere in the library. It’s well worth a visit. 🙂
I would love to visit it the next time I visit Manchester. In fact, I wish I had known the last time I was there and actually had plenty of time.
Hi Alex, believe it or not, it’s only in recent years that I discovered Chethams, and I have lived in Manchester all my life. They advise you to make an appointment if you are travelling any distance, in order to avoid disappointment. Here is the link: http://www.chethams.org.uk/visiting.html. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 🙂
Good photos Heather. What a fascinating place. I never knew Manchester was home to the world’s oldest library. Have a good weekend.
Thanks for your feedback, Guy. I didn’t know until relatively recently – shame on me considering how long I have lived in Manchester. I hope you have a good weekend too. 🙂