A few weeks ago, I made a trip to The North (as it is ominously known) to spend a long weekend with some friends in Manchester. Of course, when exploring a new city my thoughts immediately gravitated towards the nerdy; namely books. And Manchester didn’t disappoint.
According to my research, there were three libraries that you simply *must* see in Manchester; Manchester Central Library, Chetham’s Library and The John Rylands Library. Unfortunately Chetham’s Library (the oldest public library in the English-speaking world) is closed on the weekend. I didn’t expect to make all three, but it would have been nice to try.
Manchester Central Library
Manchester Central Library is beautiful. I adore libraries and I always feel really blessed that libraries are open to the public for free and you have access to all of this knowledge and books and references for free (did I mention it was for free?). Built in a circular shape with grand pillars as if it is some sort of palace (a palace of knowledge, perhaps) this library really is gorgeous. There are stained glass windows and high ceilings in the main Shakespeare Hall entrance (the taller the ceiling, the fancier the building of course) and it has a nice blend of modernity (think glass lifts and digital displays) and classic (a statue called The Reading Girl sits in the stairs between the ground floor and the first floor).
The ground floor of the library has interactive displays where you can learn about the history of Manchester. I spent a good ten minutes examining a digital map that shows you how the city has changed and come into existence through centuries of history. The ground floor also has these little pods where people can sit and watch movies by logging in using their library account. (Which is an adorable bookish date idea that would 100% impress your adorable bookish date.)
I wandered through the library, abandoning my friends, and found myself in the music section. I could almost hear the sound of someone tickling the ivories. No, I could actually hear piano music. As I walked along I saw that you can book a piano to practice on in the library (with or without headphones plugged in) and someone was practising. It was really lovely.
Before our short visit to the library was over I ventured into the reading room which was pretty and prestigious. I felt a little awkward walking through this silent space as a tourist where people were clearly working (some people are lucky enough to use the space to study). Too awkward to take a photo (actually, I did try, my phone’s camera lens is just not wide enough to capture enough of the room) I have procured one is from the internet.
The John Rylands Library
Off we went to the next stop on our literary tour of Manchester: The John Rylands Library. This Gothic library was founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband, John Rylands (hence the name) and was initially just their personal collection, before it was opened to the public as a reference library.
The library entrance is through a shiny modern building with revolving glass doors. You have to walk through a little shop and climb a set of stairs where you can see part of the old library cutting into the new building that has been built adjacent to the library. It’s like stepping back in time a hundred years when you enter into the Gothic hallway of the library. The lighting dimmed, the walls went from white to the dull, stone brickwork of the past.
It felt as grand as an old Gothic church and as you enter, you can pick up a handheld mirror to carry around so you don’t have to crane your neck to look at all the intricate architecture on the ceiling. I was very excited to see an old-school printing press there. It was so strange to see the old, clunky machinery where someone, once upon a time, had to typeset – literally set the type by putting old, metal letters in order, to allowing words to be printed onto a page. Today it’s all digital of course.
We exited the way we came, the change from the past to the present a little more jarring going from the dim interiors of the library to the shiny whiteness of 2017.
Chapter One Books
Finally, can one complete a literary tour without a visit to a bookshop? There were two indies on my list that I wanted to see; Paramount Books and Chapter One Books of which we visited the latter. I had read that it was your classic coffee shop/book shop combination, but to be honest it was more like a coffee shop where you could buy books. It has lots of little cosy seats, with sofas and yes, a few bookshelves but there were a sparse number of books on display. Pro-tip – if you buy a book, you get a free drink, which is exactly what my friend Tasha did! We ended up spending a good few hours sitting there, eating cake and having a well-deserved break from all the walking earlier on. We sat next to a little indoor fountain of all things, it felt very luxe. Maybe not quite the place you’d want to visit to find your new recommendation, but definitely somewhere you could sit and read for a few hours.