1 November 2022 Susannah

Book Addict Visits a Library – Chetham’s Library, Manchester

Chetham's Library

This month my friend Julie Sweeten has kindly contributed a piece on a superb library that she visited recently. Thank you, Julie.

Tucked away in an old area of the city of Manchester is a wonderful unexpected library gem, the oldest surviving public library in Britain. 

Chetham’s Library was established in 1653 under the will of Humphrey Chetham, a prosperous Manchester textile merchant, banker and landowner, which also established a school for 40 poor boys plus 5 chained libraries in local churches. 

Chetham’s Library is situated in a beautiful medieval complex which dates from 1421, which had been housing for the priests of Manchester’s Collegiate Church.

Chetham’s Library has been in continuous use as a free public library for over 350 years and remains a significant centre for study and research, but is also a very special place to visit. I was fortunate to be given a private tour after I explained that I was a librarian from the oldest library in Australia (the State Library of NSW)! I was shown the beautiful Reading Room, the historic bookcases and gated wall presses with books arranged alphabetically, treasures from the collection, the chained library from Gorton Church, and the lovely alcove where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels worked together on The Communist Manifesto in 1845. There are also lovely medieval cloisters complete with a cat flap.

Public tours are now available each weekday and can be booked on the website. I highly recommend a visit to this special historic public library when next in the north of England.

Julie Sweeten, October 2022

Is this a library that you’ve visited? Tell me by leaving a comment here.

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Featured image- Chetham’s Library, Manchester, United Kingdom, By Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44783279
Body image- Chetham’s Library chained books, photo by Julie Sweeten
Body image- Chetham’s Library interior, photo by Julie Sweeten
Body image- Chetham’s Library cat flap, by Manchester – Chetham’s Library & Bee Walk across the City,
September 28, 2018, I’m Blathering Now…, https://www.imblatheringnow.com/2018/09/you-never-can-tell-with-bees-winnie-pooh.html

Comments (8)

  1. Helen Lalas

    What a fabulous place! I had the pleasure of visiting it in June and found it utterly fascinating. And what an amazing man – I loved his gift of the chained libraries and the fact that he refused a knighthood, but did so much to provide access to literature to the ordinary man. It seemed to me also typical of Manchester itself, which has such a history of people standing up for each other and for what is right. Gutsy, innovative and determined (a bit like Glasgow). Thanks for reminding me of it.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Wasn’t it a lovely piece by my friend Julie. It is a glorious library. It is wonderful when people give back to their communities in such ways.

  2. Wendy Sale

    I love reading about significant and unusual libraries, but I haven’t heard of a chained library! I’m very curious.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      In the Middle Ages when books were extemely valuable, they were often chained to the shelves to prevent theft. Hereford Cathedral has a fabulous Chained Library.

  3. Karen Camer

    It’s such a wonderful library isn’t it and not necessarily on the usual tourist trail. Gave me Beauty and the Beast vibes when the books are first sighted. Others have said Harry Potter. Well worth a visit

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it fabulous when entering a library gives you wonderful vibes!

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