A few weeks ago me and my friend Corinne paid a visit to the oldest known public library in the English speaking world. Chetham’s library can be found in Manchester, right next to The Printworks and the National Football Museum, and is home to some very interesting and equally amazing histories. I didn’t even know it existed! It is very well hidden but upon entering the grounds, its almost like you’re transported to a Medieval film set.
Chetham’s was not always a library. The building itself goes all the way back to the 15th century, erected in 1411, and was the church and manor house of the Lord of the Manor of Manchester. Shortly after being built, a license was obtained from Henry V to transform the church grounds into a collegiate foundation. The houses were used for the college of priests to live in and to study their religion, whilst the church later became a cathedral. After lots of religious changes and conflicts over the years, the collegiate was reformed and disbanded on several occasions, until it was eventually as Christ’s College. It was also used as a prison arsenal during the Civil War! So much history in one building!
In 1653 the colleges were purchased by Humphrey Chetham, a philanthropist for use as a free school and public library and the books and stools he arranged to fill the library can still be seen today. We even saw the books chained in to the shelves in the public reading area, which are attached from the spines to maintain the quality of the books whilst also keeping them securely tied in to prevent people wandering off with them!
All very interesting stuff!! We had a great tour guide on our visit, in the form of the quirkiest old man you ever did see in a desert-sand coloured suit with a little pair of glasses perched on the end of his nose.