A Flash of Inspiration | Marx, Engels and Mrs Banks


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Marx, Engels and Mrs Banks

March 28, 2014  •  4 Comments

Manchester is a city of contrasts. Historic and contemporary sit tightly side by side. Even after 50 years I feel I have so much more to explore. I've only scratched at the surface. The more I discover, the greater is the desire to discover more… 

In front of this mass of glass stands a historic gem. A place of tranquility. 

I freely admit that I can't get the hang of the Kindle. I've tried and failed. Many times. It gathers dust under my bed! I love to read and, for me, part of the pleasure is leafing though the pages - a physical contact with paper and ink. The opportunity to visit the oldest remaining public library in the English-speaking world was impossible to resist. And so I headed to Chetham's Library in search of antiquities, a table and a very special manuscript...

Chetham's Library was established in 1653 under the Will of  Humphrey Chetham - you may recall him mentioned in an earlier post Manchester Cathedral and a Proper Cuppa. Stepping into the building was like stepping back in time. Dark but warmly comforting like a mug of hot chocolate! 

Chetham had a vision to establish a free public reference library. Works were collected from around the world and housed in magnificent wood-panelled rooms. Can you imagine what it must've felt like to be able to delve into this collection of books so long ago? These were times when many had never travelled further than the outskirts of the town.  I reflect on issues of literacy and access to education. 

It felt as if time had stood still.

Understandably many of the valuable antique books were held under lock and key. I knew that the original manuscript of my favourite book The Manchester Man by Victorian author Mrs Isabella Banks was here somewhere in the building. I excitedly glanced here and there hoping to spot it in one of the display cabinets. I felt disappointed not to see it. What to do now? Well, I thought I had nothing to lose by at least expressing an interest in seeing it. The librarian I approached was so helpful and welcoming - if I emailed to arrange an appointment I would be able to see the manuscript. My heart skipped a beat.  I felt sure Humphrey would be pleased that such treasures were still accessible to the likes of little ordinary me! 

The reading room was lined with carved wooden panels and filled with antique furnishings and ornaments including a small bronze replica of the marble statue in Manchester Cathedral of Humphrey and the scholar. 

Originally the books were chained to the shelves to prevent theft. 

A little alcove with leaded windows to three sides housed a table. I sat at the table and rubbed my hand along the grain of the wood. This was exactly where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels used to meet together. Oh, can you imagine the conversations the founders of communism had around this table?  Engels had been sent by his parents from Prussia to England to work in the family textile business. They hoped that by sending him away that he'd rid himself of his radical ideas. Fuelled by the rapid industrial development in Manchester and the effects on society, the exact opposite happened. Engels met Marx and the rest is history! 

Down a dark sandstone corridor I spotted an old bell.

I've never seen such a decorative piece.

The worn hammer suggested it was still in use. Tempting though it was...I kept well away!  As I left the building I noticed the hazy sunlight pouring through the uneven leaded windows onto the stone frames.

The blemished glass reminded me of the bottoms of vintage jars.

A few weeks ago I'd promised myself a return visit to the Cathedral next door on a sunny day. As expected, I was rewarded with with an array of beautiful reflections on the shiny stone floor.
I headed to the far corner to visit my favourite sculpture of the scholar from the charity school next door. He sits at the feet of Humphrey Chetham who established the school to educate the poor. The little boy reminds me of the foundling Jabez Clegg from The Manchester Man.  

I must remember to make that appointment...


I hope you enjoyed this hint of historic Manchester.

I'd love you to show me where you've been - please feel free to link below!

Many, many thanks for taking the time to read my blog.

Have a lovely week. 





Wonderful! I love your post! I would love to experience this library. I so need to travel more. The cathedral is amazing - the light magnificent. Thanks for showing me things I need to see.
I LOVED this post! What an awesome library to explore in. Ours are not even close! Wonderful photos of everything. I have a Kindle and an iPad. I prefer to read on my iPad. A bit larger and lighter in weight. But of course, I still love really books too. I love the clean new look you have going on here. Excellent!
I do have a Kindle and I enjoy it and find it useful - but above all I do love books, real books! What a wonderful photo essay this was! One of the things I loved most about England when I visited there was the depth of history lurking on and in every corner. I love living in this part of the USA (New England) because of the sense of history here, but we are still just children compared to you.
Cathy H.(non-registered)
Oh, I wish we had lovely libraries to visit around here! Ours are mostly ultra modern and to me, plain ugly!! I can only imagine the smell of these old books when you entered! I'm with you about reading books. I don't own a reading device and probably never will. I must touch and smell the books I read! This was a wonderful walk!
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