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Manchester The Exhibition: Chetham's Library

William Robinson visits Manchester's oldest complete building

Published on July 9th 2012.

Manchester The Exhibition: Chetham's Library
MANCHESTER'S literary and political history is on display in the medieval setting of Chetham's Library in the centre of the city.The temporary exhibition, simply entitled 'Manchester', looks at the importance of the city over the course of the last 400 years.
Morrissey is compared to the anonymous broadside balladeers in a pleasingly cyclical conclusion
The Library's literature states:“The exhibition examines the way Manchester's history has been recorded over the centuries and the ways in which its civic pride and regional identity have developed, from the earliest maps and tourist guides to popular novels and songs.

The exhibition opens with an introductory plaque quoting historian A.J.P. Taylor:“Manchester is the only English city which can look London in the face, not merely as a regional capital but as a rival version of how men should live in a community.

It is easy to pass this off as an exaggeration, yet the selection of work on offer helps to justify Taylor's belief.

Included is the first issue of 'The Manchester Guardian' (later simply 'The Guardian') from 1821; a copy of Friedrich Engels' 'The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844', and a sheet of 'broadside ballads', anonymous poems and songs considered some of the earliest examples of working class poetry in Britain.

A brief scan of these displays is enough to see the socialist, revolutionary heritage of Manchester. A more in-depth investigation will take half an hour at most – though wide, the exhibition is small and easily accessible.

Chetham's Library itself is the oldest in the English-speaking world, founded in 1653. The atmosphere is adequately scholarly, the Library being situated in what was built over 200 years earlier to accommodate a college of priests.

Though providing an account of the various great changes in Manchester in a roughly chronological order, the exhibition ties together separate works from across history in themes.

The corridor of display cases starts with 'Mancuniensis' by Richard Hollingworth, the earliest surviving history of Manchester, dating from the middle of the seventeenth century, and ends, almost predictably, with the sleeve of The Smiths' debut LP.

Morrissey is compared to the anonymous broadside balladeers in a pleasingly cyclical conclusion, and an 1887 comic strip 'The Adventures of Little Manchester' is placed alongside cartoonist Polyp's 2009 'Speechless: World History Without Words'.

Focused around times of change and uncertainty among citizens – times when the status quo is most avidly recorded for fear of losing it – this exhibition brings together centuries of Manchester's history through the eyes of its inhabitants

Chetham's Library is free to visit and is open Monday-Friday, 9am-12.30pm and 1.30pm-4.30pm. 'Manchester' runs until the end of September. Chetham's is at Long Millgate, City.  Click here.

Jonathan Schofield the editor is visiting Chetham's on this lunchtime tour this Friday.


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CharlieOctober 27th 2012.

This has wetted my appetite...I have walked past the building many times.....now I will call....

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