Chetham's Library

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Chetham's Library
Chetham's Library, Manchester.jpg
"The oldest free public reference library in the United Kingdom."
Location Manchester
Coordinates 53°29′12″N2°14′38″W / 53.4866°N 2.2439°W / 53.4866; -2.2439 Coordinates: 53°29′12″N2°14′38″W / 53.4866°N 2.2439°W / 53.4866; -2.2439
Governing bodyPrivately owned
Listed Building – Grade I
Official name: Chethams Hospital and Attached Wall
Designated25 February 1952
Reference no.1283015
Greater Manchester UK relief location map.jpg
Red pog.svg
Location of Chetham's Library in Greater Manchester

Chetham's Library in Manchester, England, is the oldest free public reference library in the United Kingdom. [1] Chetham's Hospital, which contains both the library and Chetham's School of Music, was established in 1653 under the will of Humphrey Chetham (15801653), for the education of "the sons of honest, industrious and painful parents", [1] and a library for the use of scholars. The library has been in continuous use since 1653. It operates as an independent charity, [2] open to readers and visitors free of charge. The hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 10am-12pm and 2pm-4pm, 11am and 2pm being full tours. Visitors are picked up from the entrance by staff at the beginning of each hour. Anyone can access the library, however readers and researchers must make an appointment at least one business day in advance. [3]

Manchester City and metropolitan borough in England

Manchester is a major city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. The Greater Manchester Built-up Area is the United Kingdom's second-most populous, with a population of 2.55 million. The city's metropolitan area is the second largest in the United Kingdom, after London, with a population of over 3.2 million. It is fringed by the Cheshire Plain to the south, the Pennines to the north and east, and an arc of towns with which it forms a continuous conurbation. The local authority is Manchester City Council. Manchester is a major international centre of tourism, commerce and industrial heritage. Manchester is frequently referred to as the United Kingdom's second city.

Chethams School of Music school in Manchester, UK

Chetham's School of Music is an independent co-educational music school in Manchester, England. Chetham's educates students between the ages of 8 and 18, all of whom enter via musical auditions. Students receive a full academic education alongside specialist group and individual music tuition.

Humphrey Chetham English businessman

Humphrey Chetham was an English merchant, responsible for the creation of Chetham's Hospital and Chetham's Library, the oldest public library in the English-speaking world.


The library holds more than 100,000 volumes of printed books, of which 60,000 were published before 1851. They include collections of 16th- and 17th-century printed works, periodicals and journals, local history sources, broadsides and ephemera.

Broadside (printing) historical printing format; large sheet of paper printed on one side only

A broadside is a large sheet of paper printed on one side only. Historically, broadsides were used as posters, announcing events or proclamations, commentary in the form of ballads, or simply advertisements.

Ephemera transitory written or printed materials not intended to be preserved

Ephemera are any transitory written or printed matter not meant to be retained or preserved. The word derives from the Greek ephemeros, meaning "lasting only one day, short-lived". Some collectible ephemera are advertising trade cards, airsickness bags, bookmarks, catalogues, greeting cards, letters, pamphlets, postcards, posters, prospectuses, defunct stock certificates or tickets, and zines.

Chetham's Library has been accredited by Arts Council England, and is one of 1,800 museums across the nation to have qualified as an institution acting in accordance with Arts Council England's new Designation Scheme. [4] Such designation declares Chetham's Library collections of great national importance. [5]

Arts Council England arts organization in London, England

Arts Council England is a non-departmental public body of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It was formed in 1994 when the Arts Council of Great Britain was divided into three separate bodies for England, Scotland and Wales. The arts funding system in England underwent considerable reorganisation in 2002 when all of the regional arts boards were subsumed into Arts Council England and became regional offices of the national organisation.

Paintings featured as a part of the library's vast fine arts collection library include portraits of William Whitaker, the Reverend John Radcliffe, Robert Thyer, the Reverend Francis Robert Raines, and Elizabeth Leigh. [6] An Allegory with Putti and Satyrs, oil on canvas, attributed to sixteenth century artist and Netherlander Vincent Sellaer, is also a prominent part of the Chetham's Library collection. [7]

Robert Thyer English librarian and literary editor

Robert Thyer (1709–1781) was an 18th century British writer and literary editor, best known as Chetham's Librarian.

Francis Robert Raines was the Anglican vicar of Milnrow, Lancashire, known as an antiquary. He edited 23 volumes for the Chetham Society publications. He also transcribed 44 volumes of manuscripts.

Vincent Sellaer flemish painter

Vincent Sellaer (1490–1564), was a Flemish Renaissance painter known for his mythological and religious subjects. His works stand out through their monumentality of form and their mixing of Italian and northern styles.

One of the most substantial collections pertains to Belle Vue Zoo and Gardens, Manchester's most renowned entertainment attraction and zoological center, in operation from the 1830s to the 1980s. [8] The collection contains thousands of posters, programmes and photographs, as well as the financial and business papers of the owner, John Jennison. [9] While collection objects are currently available for review onsite, a 2014 grant of £45,000 obtained by Chetham's Library, allowed curators to make the collection available to online users, via digitization projects. [10]


The 15th-century Baronial Hall that houses Chetham's Library Chetham's Library 2015 3.jpg
The 15th-century Baronial Hall that houses Chetham's Library

The manor house of the Lord of the Manor, in the centre of the medieval town of Manchester, stood on a sandstone bluff, at the confluence of the River Irwell and the River Irk. In 1421 the rector of the parish church, Thomas de la Warre (Lord of the manor of Manchester), obtained a licence from Henry V to refound the church as a collegiate foundation. He donated his manor house for use as the college of priests' buildings for the collegiate church (later to be the cathedral). There was accommodation for the warden, eight fellows, four clerks, and six choristers.

Sandstone A clastic sedimentary rock composed mostly of sand-sized particles

Sandstone is a clastic sedimentary rock composed mainly of sand-sized mineral particles or rock fragments.

Cliff A vertical, or near vertical, rock face of substantial height

In geography and geology, a cliff is a vertical, or nearly vertical, rock exposure. Cliffs are formed as erosion landforms by the processes of weathering and erosion. Cliffs are common on coasts, in mountainous areas, escarpments and along rivers. Cliffs are usually formed by rock that is resistant to weathering and erosion. Sedimentary rocks most likely to form cliffs include sandstone, limestone, chalk, and dolomite. Igneous rocks such as granite and basalt also often form cliffs.

River Irwell river in Lancashire, United Kingdom

The River Irwell is a 39-mile (63 km) long river which flows through the Irwell Valley in North West England. Its source is at Irwell Springs on Deerplay Moor, approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) north of Bacup. It forms the boundary between Manchester and Salford and empties into the River Mersey near Irlam.

The Manchester Free Grammar School for Lancashire Boys was built between the church and the college buildings between 1515 and 1518. The college was dissolved in 1547 by the Chantries Act and sold to the Earl of Derby. It was re-founded as a catholic foundation by Queen Mary and again disbanded by Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. In 1578 the collegiate church was re-founded by charter as Christ's College and re-occupied by the warden and fellows. In the Civil War it was used as a prison and arsenal.

In 1653 the college buildings were bought with the bequest of Humphrey Chetham, for use as a free library and blue coat charity school. At that time there was no facility for independent study in the north of England and Chetham's will of 1651 had stipulated that the Library should be "for the use of schollars and others well affected", and instructed the librarian "to require nothing of any man that cometh into the library". [11] The twenty four feoffees appointed by Humphrey Chetham set out to acquire a major collection of books and manuscripts that would cover the whole range of available knowledge and would rival the college libraries of Oxford and Cambridge. [11] In order to protect the newly acquired books from rising damp the Library was housed on the first floor and, in accordance with the provisions of Chetham's will, the books were chained to the presses (bookcases). [11] Twenty-four carved oak stools with 'S'-shaped hand-holds (which are still in use) were provided as seats for readers. [11]

In 1718 the feoffees offered the Manchester poet and inventor of a system of shorthand, John Byrom, the post of Library Keeper. Byrom, who was an avid collector of books, declined the offer but after his good friend, Robert Thyer, became Librarian in 1732, frequently acted as an agent for the library, purchasing books at London auctions. [12] Byrom's library, which included the manuscript of his poem "Christmas Day" (which became the Christmas carol, "Christians Awake") and some 2,800 printed books, was presented to the library by his descendant, Eleanora Atherton, in 1870. [12]

The books were originally uncatalogued and placed in the presses in size order. The first catalogue wasn't produced until 1791, and then was written in Latin and only listed the size and subject of each book. [11] The practice of chaining the books was abandoned in the mid eighteenth century when gates were erected to prevent theft. [11]

The window alcove in which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels worked Chetham's Library - The Marx, Engels alcove.jpg
The window alcove in which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels worked

Chetham's was the meeting place of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels when Marx visited Manchester in the summer of 1845. Facsimiles of the economics books they studied can be seen on a table in the window alcove where they would meet. The research they undertook during this series of visits to the library led ultimately to their work, The Communist Manifesto . Therefore, the library acts as a popular shrine for communist pilgrims who seek certain direct and physical connection to Marx and Engels, the founding fathers. [13]

Additions were made to the buildings by J. E. Gregan (1850s), Alfred Waterhouse (1878) (grade II listed), and J. Medland Taylor (188395). Manchester Grammar School was extended along Long Millgate in 1870. Manchester Grammar School moved to Fallowfield in the 1930s, and after standing empty for many years the original building was destroyed during the Second World War, leaving only its new block. This became part of Chetham's School of Music in 1978. The old college building, which became the music school in 1969, still incorporates Chetham's Library and is Grade I listed.


Past librarians include Robert Thyer (1709–1781), who became Librarian in 1732. [12] [14] Peter Hordern (died 1836) was librarian and also the minister of St Clement's Chapel, Chorlton. Thomas Jones held the position from 1845 to 1875; during his time, the size of the library more than doubled (from 19,000 volumes to 40,000 volumes). He also produced a two-volume catalogue of the library's collection in 1862 and 1863. [15] [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

John Byrom Poet, inventor of a shorthand system

John Byrom or John Byrom of Kersal or John Byrom of Manchester FRS was an English poet, the inventor of a revolutionary system of shorthand and later a significant landowner. He is most remembered as the writer of the lyrics of Anglican hymn Christians awake! Salute the happy morn, which was supposedly a Christmas gift for his daughter.

Richard Copley Christie British philanthropist

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Manchester Cathedral Church in Manchester, England

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Under the feudal system in England, a feoffee is a trustee who holds a fief, that is to say an estate in land, for the use of a beneficial owner. The term is more fully stated as a feoffee to uses of the beneficial owner. The use of such trustees developed towards the end of the era of feudalism in the middle ages and became obsolete with the formal ending of that social and economic system in 1660. Indeed the development of feoffees to uses may have hastened the end of the feudal system, since their operation circumvented vital feudal fiscal mechanisms.

Acklam Hall Grade I listed architectural structure in the United Kingdom

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Chained library library

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Clayton Hall

Clayton Hall is a 15th-century manor house on Ashton New Road, in Clayton, Manchester, England. It is hidden behind trees in a small park. The hall is a Grade II* listed building, the mound on which it is built is a scheduled ancient monument, and a rare example of a medieval moated site. The hall is surrounded by a moat, making an island 66 m by 74 m. Alterations were made to the hall in the 16th and 17th centuries, and it was enlarged in the 18th century.

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  1. 1 2 Nicholls (2004), p. 20.
  2. Charity Commission. CHETHAM'S HOSPITAL SCHOOL AND LIBRARY, registered charity no. 526702.
  3. "Chetham Library Website". Archived from the original on 18 February 2015. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
  4. "Accreditation News". Chetham's Library. Chetham's Library. Archived from the original on 21 October 2014. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
  5. "Accreditation News". Chetham's Library. Chetham's Library. Archived from the original on 21 October 2014. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
  6. "Your Paintings: Uncovering the Nation's Art Collection". Art UK . Retrieved 24 October 2014.
  7. "Your Paintings: Uncovering the Nation's Art Collection". Art UK . Retrieved 24 October 2014.
  8. Qureshi, Yakub (February 8, 2014). "Entire History of Belle Vue Zoo and Gardens to Go Online". Manchester Evening News. Manchester Evening News Media. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
  9. "Belle Vue Collection". Chetham's Library. Chetham's Library. Archived from the original on 23 August 2014. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
  10. Qureshi, Yakub (February 8, 2014). "Entire History of Belle Vue Zoo and Gardens to Go Online". Manchester Evening News. Manchester Evening News Media. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Anon. "A Brief History of Chetham's". Chetham's library official website. Archived from the original on 13 May 2010. Retrieved 1 June 2010.
  12. 1 2 3 Anon. "Byrom Collection". Printed books and ephemera. Chetham's Library. Archived from the original on 16 June 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2010.
  13. Hunt, Tristram (June 2, 2009). The Frock Coated Communist: A Revolutionary Life. Allen Lane. p. 129. ISBN   0713998520.
  14. Among his works was The Genuine Remains in Verse and Prose of Mr. Samuel Butler, author of Hudibras; Published from the original manuscripts, formerly in the possession of W. Longueville, Esq.; with notes by R. Thyer, Keeper of the Public Library at Manchester. 2 vols. London: J. and R. Tonson, 1759
  15. Sutton, C. W.; Crosby, Alan G. (2004). "Jones, Thomas (18101875)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography . Oxford University Press . Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  16. Radcliffe, John Bibliotheca chethamensis: Bibliothecae publicae Mancuniensis ab Humfredo Chetham, armigero fundatae catalogus, exhibens libros in varias classes pro varietate argumenti distributos; [begun by John Radcliffe, continued by Thomas Jones]. 5 vols. Mancuni: Harrop, 1791-1863


Historic England. "Chethams Hospital and Attached wall - Grade I (388291)". Images of England .

Historic England. "Detached block, Alfred Waterhouse - Grade II (388292)". Images of England .

Historic England. "Hyde's Cross - Grade II (388293)". Images of England .

Historic England. "South east wing, formerly Manchester Grammar School - Grade II (388294)". Images of England .