The twelfth instalment as part of an ongoing series for Haunt Manchester by Dr Peter N. Lindfield FSA, exploring Greater Manchester’s Gothic architecture and hidden heritage. Peter’s previous Haunt Manchester articles include features on Ordsall HallAlbert’s Schloss and Albert Hall, the Mancunian Gothic Sunday School of St Matthew’sArlington House in Salford, Manchester’s Modern Gothic in St Peter’s Square, what was St John’s ChurchManchester CathedralThe Great Hall at The University of Manchesterand more. From the city’s striking Gothic features to the more unusual aspects of buildings usually taken for granted and history hidden in plain sight, a variety of locations will be explored and visited over the course of 2020. In this article he considers both The John Ryland's Library and Chetham's Library (pictured below).

Chetham's Library

Dr Peter N. Lindfield FSA is a Senior Research Associate in the Departments of English and History at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has published widely on Georgian Gothic architecture and design broadly conceived, as well as heraldry and the relevance of heraldic arts to post-medieval English intellectual, cultural, and aesthetic culture. Last year, as part of Gothic Manchester Festival 2019, he co-organised an event at Chetham’s Library Baronial Hall with Professor Dale Townshend titled ‘Faking Gothic Furniture’. This involved discussing the mysterious George Shaw (1810-76), a local Upper Mill lad who developed an early interest in medieval architecture and heraldry, going on to create forgeries of Tudor and Elizabethan furniture for a number of high-profile individuals and places at the time, including Chetham’s!

Currently Peter is completing his Leverhulme-funded research project exploring forged antiquarian materials in Georgian Britain, and also working on the recently re-discovered Henry VII and Elizabeth of York marriage bed, which itself was the inspiration behind many of Shaw’s so-called ‘Gothic forgeries’.

Chetham's Library and The John Rylands Library 

Manchester’s great, historic libraries—Chetham’s and The John Rylands—are both Grade I listed by Historic England (here and here). This means that each building is of the highest historic significance. Only 8 per cent of listed buildings in England are of this grade, and they are consequently on an equal footing with essentially peerless structures like Westminster Abbey and The New Palace of Westminster, commonly known as The Houses of Parliament. Chetham’s Library (interior pictured below) is a genuinely old, medieval structure, having been established in 1422 by Thomas de la Warre. After the Dissolution in 1547 it was converted into a town house by the Earl of Derby; during the Commonwealth it was sequestrated; and it was finally purchased in 1654 by Humphrey Chetham's executors to become a charity school, more properly known as a hospital, and also a library. Chetham’s is Britain’s first free public library. The John Rylands Library, on the other hand, is a far more modern construction, dating to the end of the Victorian period. Built between 1890 and 1899 by Basil Champneys for Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her husband, John, it is in what is termed the Gothic Revival style. 

Chetham's Library

Chetham’s is in a central, yet bizarrely remote part of the city, despite being at the heart of ancient Manchester; today its location is tucked away and out of sight from what are now the main thoroughfares, as well as the business and shopping areas of the city. It isn’t helped that, unlike The John Rylands Library, you cannot actually see the building easily unless you have entered the grounds of Chetham's School of Music. DfE School Safeguarding procedures also further limit the impact and accessibility of the library to the casual visitor. In this way, the Library could perhaps seem to have smaller impact upon the city’s ‘Gothic’ profile that it deserves to, given its age and significance. However, the Library does work hard to address that, with 15,000 tourist visits last year, and has bookable tours available six days a week, with its striking architecture indeed attracting visitors from across the world. It also works hard to deliver varied engagement, with continual outreach activities and the efforts of other bodies, such as the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies (Manchester Metropolitan University), who run events there.

The John Rylands Library The John Rylands Library (pictured above), on the other hand, is right at the centre of Manchester’s now—although not during this present COVID-19 emergency—bustling thoroughfare of Deansgate. Visited by tourists, locals, students, and researchers, this leading research library with an incredibly rich range of rare books and manuscripts (part of Manchester University’s Library), could be considered to have a greater impact upon the city’s ‘Gothic persona’ compared with Chetham's. Yet Chetham's not only also welcomes readers and researchers (in usual circumstances) using its important collection of printed books and archives/manuscripts, but its architecture dates even further back, yielding interesting implications for considering 'Gothic persona'.

Both Gothic buildings are hidden in plain sight, but their impact upon the city’s Gothic identity relates to their visual presence. Chetham’s, a medieval foundation, is arguably what The John Rylands Library attempted to replicate, but according to late-High Victorian Gothic bombast, and the library, unlike its model, has a far greater and more significant impact upon Manchester’s identity.

Future posts will explore both of these buildings in detail. 

Both libraries are currently closed to public until further notice due to Covid-19 measures, but their websites can be visited below.

Chetham’s Library:

The John Rylands Library:

By Dr Peter N. Lindfield 

Photograph 1 provided by Chetham's Library. 

Photographs 2 and 3 ©  Dr Peter N. Lindfield.