Saturday in Manchester brought tickets to a walking tour of the oldest public and free English-speaking library in the world: Chetham Library.
The original complex was built in 1420 to form a collegiate church in Manchester, and thus, it has been part of an institution of learning for that long. The facilities themselves are medieval–part of what drew me there–but the library itself made my happy little bibliophile heart hum. Rows and rows of books enclosed by glass covers, all under the medieval timbered room, beckon all “scholars and all others afflicted” to visit, read, and study.
That line, “scholars and all others afflicted,” spoken by our guide Jonathan Schofield (who sounded as though the phrase was in quotes for him, too) struck me as a phrase that characterizes scholarship as madness, which, fair enough. The stools in the library, adorned with a carved letter “S” in each seat, paid homage to the idea of “scholar” and were, Schofield assured us, original to the library. Also original? A collection of chained books so valuable at their donation in 1655 that scholars were required to read them in place.
Our tour of the medieval buildings culminated in the library’s reading room, which played host once to such notable minds as Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Disraeli, Fredrich Engels and Karl Marx, the latter two of whom spent most of their time in an alcove now marked as the site of their study. The reading room itself was likely the bedchamber of John Dee, who served as the Warden (or Headmaster or Director) Of Chetham from 1595 to 1605. Dee, of course, is well known for his occult scholarship and advice to Elizabeth I.
I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, and I took numerous pictures.
After the tour, Eddie and I went for pub lunch at Old Wellington, a nearby pub that claims the honor of oldest building in Manchester. It existed as early as 1552. We sat for lunch on the second floor, overlooking a courtyard packed with people enjoying a pint and sunshine.
They’re famous for pies, apparently, and so that’s what I got for lunch. Mine was a ham, chicken, and cheese pie in a short crust with puff pastry topper, served with mashed potatoes, gravy, and steamed veggies. Service was quick, food was delicious, and the ambience warm and social.
After lunch, we wandered over the courtyard to the Cathedral. We spotted actress Sophie Thompson in the courtyard, and she graciously held the door for us as we all went through. We left her to her business, but we did do some quiet fan-girling after the fact. Ms. Thompson currently stars on the British television program Coronation Street, filmed in Manchester.
The Cathedral was beautiful. It was bombed in World War II, and lovingly restored. Patrons over the years have donated funds to restore many of the stained glass windows, and a recent fundraising campaign also led to the installation of a lovely new organ, which was being played while we were there.
We wrapped up our day by wandering down Deansgate to the John Rylands Library again, this time to see the just-opened Peterloo Massacre exhibit therein. Staff did a marvelous job with the documents and other materials they displayed to tell that story, including original handwritten and printed accounts of the day and its aftermath. I highly recommend a visit.
Last day in Manchester, coming up.