The Portico Library is situated on the corner of Mosley Street and Charlotte Street in Manchester, and shares the building with a pub called the Bank. The pub was named after the Bank of Athens, which previously leased the building. Visitors can’t fail to spot the impressive Mosley Street entrance, which has a grand façade in the Greek revival style with four stone pillars.
Although the Mosley Street entrance looks rather impressive, this is, in fact, the pub entrance. The library entrance is round the corner at Charlotte Street, and appears more modest. I haven’t been inside the library but, from what I have read, I think it would be worth exploring.
Unlike the other libraries that I have featured in this series of blog posts, the Portico Library is a private members’ library. However, it also hosts events and exhibitions that are open to the general public, and certain areas of the library are available for venue hire. The gallery area and cafe are open to non-members as well, and are situated beneath a stunning Georgian glass and plaster dome.
For an annual fee, members have exclusive access to the Reading Room, Reading Corner and Cobden area. They can borrow books from the library’s collection, which mainly dates back to the 19th century. The collection focuses on the Georgian and Victorian era of Manchester during a time of great affluence in the city. It includes first editions by a number of authors including Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins.
Membership fees start at £58 per annum for young members up to £184 per annum for a town membership. There is also a lifetime membership option, and a one off administration fee of £30 has to be paid by each member.
The library is housed in a grade ll listed building, which was constructed between 1802 and 1806. It was designed by Thomas Harrison, the architect who also designed the Lyceum in Liverpool. The Portico is a Greek revival building with four Ionic columns, and it was built from sandstone ashlar.
An interesting fact is that the first secretary of the library was Peter Mark Roget who began work on his thesaurus during his time there. And there you have it: Roget’s Thesaurus. (No wonder our schoolteachers used to harp on about it being the best thesaurus you could buy. They were displaying their loyalty to Manchester, of course.) Their teachings have stuck – here’s my battered old copy.
The library hosts a range of events and exhibitions, which are available to the general public as well as to members. Events are usually charged but entrance to art exhibitions is free. Members generally pay a reduced rate to attend events. Typical events include readings, talks, special interest evenings (often with a literary theme) and the hosting of literary competitions. Specific areas of the library can also be hired for private functions.
The Portico Prize
The Portico Library hosts three competitions: The Portico Prize for Literature, The Portico Poetry Prize and the Young Readers and Writers. The competitions take place on alternate years, and are intended to celebrate writers and poets from the north of England.
Described as the North’s leading literary award, the Portico Prize for Literature is backed by Arts Council England and The Zochonis Charitable Trust. It offers a £10,000 first prize, and Val McDermid is a former winner.
This is a fabulous opportunity for writers, and I’ve promised myself that I will enter the competition in the future as well as attending some of the events hosted by the library.