Manchester Athenaeum

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Manchester Athenaeum is part of the art gallery. Former Athenaeum, Princess Street, Manchester.jpg
Manchester Athenaeum is part of the art gallery.

The Athenaeum in Princess Street Manchester, England, now part of Manchester Art Gallery, was originally a club built for the Manchester Athenaeum, a society for the "advancement and diffusion of knowledge", in 1837. The society, founded in 1835, met in the adjacent Royal Manchester Institution until funds had been raised for the building. The society survived financial difficulties to become the centre for Manchester's literary life. It ceased operations in 1938.

Manchester City and metropolitan borough in England

Manchester is a major city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England, with a population of 545,500 as of 2017. It lies within the United Kingdom's second-most populous urban area, with a population of 2.7 million, and third-most populous metropolitan area, with a population of 3.3 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 for the city is Manchester City Council.

Manchester Art Gallery publicly owned art gallery in Manchester, UK

Manchester Art Gallery, formerly Manchester City Art Gallery, is a publicly owned art museum on Mosley Street in Manchester city centre. The main gallery premises were built for a learned society in 1823 and today its collection occupies three connected buildings, two of which were designed by Sir Charles Barry. Both Barry's buildings are listed. The building that links them was designed by Hopkins Architects following an architectural design competition managed by RIBA Competitions. It opened in 2002 following a major renovation and expansion project undertaken by the art gallery.

Royal Manchester Institution

The Royal Manchester Institution (RMI) was an English learned society founded on 1 October 1823 at a public meeting held in the Exchange Room by Manchester merchants, local artists and others keen to dispel the image of Manchester as a city lacking in culture and taste.


Sir Charles Barry designed the Athenaeum building in the Italian palazzo style, the first such building in the city. Manchester Corporation acquired the building in 1938.

Charles Barry English architect

Sir Charles BarryFRS RA was an English architect, best known for his role in the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster in London during the mid-19th century, but also responsible for numerous other buildings and gardens. He is known for his major contribution to the use of Italianate architecture in Britain, especially the use of the Palazzo as basis for the design of country houses, city mansions and public buildings. He also developed the Italian Renaissance garden style for the many gardens he designed around country houses.

Palazzo style architecture Imitative of Italian palazzi

Palazzo style refers to an architectural style of the 19th and 20th centuries based upon the palazzi (palaces) built by wealthy families of the Italian Renaissance. The term refers to the general shape, proportion and a cluster of characteristics, rather than a specific design; hence it is applied to buildings spanning a period of nearly two hundred years, regardless of date, provided they are a symmetrical, corniced, basemented and with neat rows of windows. "Palazzo style" buildings of the 19th century are sometimes referred to as being of Italianate architecture but this term is also applied to a much more ornate style, particularly of residences and public buildings.

Manchester City Council Local government body in England

Manchester City Council is the local government authority for Manchester, a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. It is composed of 96 councillors, three for each of the 32 electoral wards of Manchester. The council is controlled by the Labour Party and led by Sir Richard Leese. The opposition is formed by the Liberal Democrats and led by former Manchester Withington MP John Leech. Joanne Roney is the chief executive. Many of the council's staff are based at Manchester Town Hall.

In 2002, Manchester Art Gallery was extended by Hopkins Architects following an architectural design competition managed by RIBA Competitions to take in the Athenaeum. [1] It is linked to the art gallery by a glass atrium. [2] The Athenaeum is a grade II* listed building. [3]

Hopkins Architects is a prominent British architectural firm established by architects Sir Michael and Patricia, Lady Hopkins.

An architectural design competition is a type of design competition in which an organization that intends on constructing a new building invites architects to submit design proposals. The winning design is usually chosen by an independent panel of design professionals and stakeholders. This procedure is often used to generate new ideas for building design, to stimulate public debate, generate publicity for the project, and allow emerging designers the opportunity to gain exposure. Architecture competitions are often used to award commissions for public buildings: in some countries rules for tendering public building contracts stipulate some form of mandatory open architectural competition.

RIBA Competitions is the Royal Institute of British Architects' unit dedicated to organising architectural and other design-related competitions.


The Manchester Athenaeum for the Advancement and Diffusion of Knowledge [4] was founded in 1835, with James Heywood as its first president. [5] It met initially at the Royal Manchester Institution until funds had been raised for its own building, which was completed in 1837. Their new premises had a newsroom on the ground floor, and a library, lecture hall and coffee room. A billiards room and gymnasium were added later. [6]

James Heywood was a British MP, philanthropist and social reformer.

Richard Cobden was instrumental in promoting education in the city and spoke at the opening. [7] He, along with a significant number of other members of the Anti-Corn Law League's Council, was an important figure in both instigating and developing the society during its early years. He described it as a "manufactory for working up the raw intelligence of the town". [8]

Richard Cobden English manufacturer and Radical and Liberal statesman

Richard Cobden was an English manufacturer, Radical and Liberal statesman, associated with two major free trade campaigns, the Anti-Corn Law League and the Cobden–Chevalier Treaty.

Anti-Corn Law League former political movement in Great Britain

The Anti-Corn Law League was a successful political movement in Great Britain aimed at the abolition of the unpopular Corn Laws, which protected landowners’ interests by levying taxes on imported wheat, thus raising the price of bread at a time when factory-owners were trying to cut wages. The League was a middle-class nationwide organisation that held many well-attended rallies on the premise that a crusade was needed to convince parliament to repeal the corn laws. Its long-term goals included the removal of feudal privileges, which it denounced as impeding progress, lowering economic well-being, and restricting freedom. The League played little role in the final act in 1846 when Sir Robert Peel led the successful battle for repeal. However, its experience provided a model that was widely adopted in Britain and other democratic nations to demonstrate the organisation of a political pressure group with the popular base.

By 1838, there were over 1,000 members, each paying an annual subscription of 30 shillings. [8] The club then hit upon and survived financial difficulties to become the centre for Manchester's literary life. [6] A report about the society in the Sheffield Times in 1847 noted that it catered for the "mental and moral improvement" of the intelligent among the middle-classes and that the shared pursuit of "rational amusement" was an aid to bridging the social gap between masters and men. That report, and thus the society, directly inspired two societies with similar goals in Sheffield, confusingly both calling themselves the Sheffield Athenaeum. [5]

Shilling (British coin) British pre-decimalisation coin

The shilling (1/-) was a coin worth one twentieth of a pound sterling, or twelve pence. It was first minted in the reign of Henry VII as the testoon, and became known as the shilling from the Old English scilling, sometime in the mid-sixteenth century, circulating until 1990. The word bob was sometimes used for a monetary value of several shillings, e.g. "ten bob note". Following decimalisation on 15 February 1971 the coin had a value of five new pence. It was made from silver from its introduction in or around 1503 until 1947, and thereafter in cupronickel.

Sheffield City and metropolitan borough in England

Sheffield is a city and metropolitan borough in South Yorkshire, England. Historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, its name derives from the River Sheaf, which runs through the city. With some of its southern suburbs annexed from Derbyshire, the city has grown from its largely industrial roots to encompass a wider economic base. The population of the City of Sheffield is 582,506 (mid-2018 est.) and it is one of the eight largest regional English cities that make up the Core Cities Group. Sheffield is the third-largest English district by population. The metropolitan population of Sheffield is 1,569,000.

The society was promoted as "an institution for the benefit of the tradesmen, commercial assistants and apprentices, professional students, clerks, of this very populous and flourishing town". It also emphasised its admission of women, although in practice until 1844 they had limited membership rights, being barred from full engagement in its activities and from its management. [9] Charles Dickens and Benjamin Disraeli addressed its membership in the 1840s. [7]

Manchester Corporation acquired the building in 1938, [10] when the society ceased operations. [6]


Sir Charles Barry, who designed the Royal Manchester Institution in the Greek Revival style, designed the Athenaeum in the Italian palazzo style, the first such building in the city. [10]

The building is constructed of sandstone ashlar under a slate roof on a rectangular plan and originally had two storeys and a basement. It has a symmetrical nine-window facade with raised rusticated quoins at the corners and an inscribed frieze under a prominent mutuled cornice. The inscriptions on the frieze are, "INSTUTVTED MDCCCXXXV ATHENAEUM ERECTED MDCCCXXXVIII" and "FOR THE ADVANCEMENT AND DIFFVSION OF KNOWLEDGE". The building's interior was damaged by fire in 1874 and was remodelled and an attic floor was added behind a high balustraded parapet with four tall chimneys. [3]

A central entrance porch with a coffered barrel-vaulted ceiling is accessed by a flight of stone steps and has Doric columns supporting a frieze, moulded cornice and balustraded parapet. The first and second floors have tall two-light casement windows with architraves, balustrades and pediments to the second floor. [3]

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  1. Manchester Art Gallery, Royal Institute of British Architects , retrieved 1 May 2012
  2. Manchester Art Gallery Case Study (PDF), Royal Institute of British Architects, archived from the original (pdf) on 14 December 2013, retrieved 2 May 2012
  3. 1 2 3 Historic England, "The Athenaeum 81 Princess Street (1270889)", National Heritage List for England , retrieved 1 May 2012
  4. Milner 2013, p. 74
  5. 1 2 White, Alan (1990). "Class, culture and control: the Sheffield Athenaeum movement and the middle class 1847-64". In Wolff, Janet; Seed, John (eds.). The Culture of Capital: Art, Power and the Nineteenth-Century Middle Class. Manchester University Press. p. 88. ISBN   978-0-71902-461-0.
  6. 1 2 3 The Athenaeum, Princess Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, English Heritage , retrieved 1 May 2012
  7. 1 2 Frangopulo 1977, p. 104
  8. 1 2 Pickering & Tyrell 2000, p. 226
  9. Gleadle 1998, p. 147
  10. 1 2 Hartwell 2001, p. 90


Coordinates: 53°28′43″N2°14′29″W / 53.47861°N 2.24139°W / 53.47861; -2.24139