In Heritage

18 April marks World Heritage Day – a celebration of important historical sites, museums and buildings of interest that tell stories of our past. Manchester is home to many iconic and historical sites; for example, you might be surprised to learn that Manchester has the oldest public library in the English-speaking world, is home to the world’s first passenger railway, and was the birthplace of the Suffragette movement.

This year’s World Heritage Day follows the theme of ‘Heritage for Generations’, championing and preserving heritage for the next generation.

Here we celebrate some of the best heritage attractions in Greater Manchester, including libraries, museums and historical houses – most of which are free to enter!

The John Ryland’s Library

Founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her late husband John, no expense was spared to build this fine neo-gothic library. Designed by architect Basil Champneys in 1889, it took 10 years to build at the cost of £500,000 (approximately £28m in 2018) and opened to the public on 1 January 1900, and remains as a working library today.

The library became part of The University of Manchester in 1927, housing the third largest collection of academic texts in the United Kingdom. The historic building on Deansgate has over 250,000 printed volumes and over a million manuscripts and objects in its archives and is open to the public for visits and use of its reading room.

Free entry

The Pankhurst Centre

Number 62 Nelson Street is a politically significant address for 2018 – former home of Emmeline Pankhurst, it was here in the parlour that the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was founded, later becoming known as The Suffragettes.

Emmeline’s former home was nearly demolished in 1979, but was saved after a public outcry and refurbished in 1984, opening as a museum and serving as headquarters for Manchester Women’s Aid.

In 2018, the centre marks 100 years of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave land-owning women aged over 30 the right to vote for the first time. It wasn’t until 1928 that all women aged over 21 could cast their ballot, bringing voting rights equal to men for the first time.

The Pankhurst Centre is at the heart of the 100th centenary of Votes for Women, and the new Radical Manchester Campaign, launched by Marketing Manchester. Throughout 2018 the campaign aims to raise awareness and fundraise for the centre to help with its much-needed refurbishment.

Note: Check website for opening times 

Free entry, donation welcomed

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

Home of the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell from 1850 until her death in 1865, here she wrote some of her most famous novels including Cranford, Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life and North and South.

The Grade II* listed house documents the life and works of Gaskell, and the notable writers who visited her in the house, which includes Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens.

Exploring the lives of Elizabeth and her husband William, a Unitarian minister, and their two children and servants, the house takes visitors on a journey of Victorian Manchester, which includes a tea room in the old kitchen and walks around the recreated gardens.

Free admission for children, £5 adults, £4 concessions

Chetham’s Library

Founded in 1653, Chetham’s is the oldest public library in the English-speaking world and holds over 100,000 books. The library is well-known as the meeting place of philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1845, who studied working-class life in industrial Manchester, giving them the inspiration to publish their world-changing work The Communist Manifesto.

Built in 1421, before becoming a library Chetham’s housed a college of priests, served as a prison in the civil war and was a private residence. Sir Humphrey Chetham, a wealthy textiles merchant left instructions for the library to be built upon his death, with his wish for it to be free and ‘to require nothing of any man that cometh into the library.’

Sir Chetham’s Last Will and Testament also provided 40 poor boys with the opportunity to study and live in the adjacent building, which continues to educate and house students today as the esteemed Chetham’s School of Music.

Free entry

Ordsall Hall

This Grade I listed Tudor hall is Salford’s hidden gem and is one of the oldest buildings in Greater Manchester. First appearing in records from 1177, Ordsall Hall has been home to medieval gentry, Tudor nobility and allegedly a few ghosts!

Legends have evolved that the Hall was once where Guy Fawkes hatched the gunpowder plot, and stories say that it was here he escaped capture via a secret tunnel. None of these claims has been confirmed, but certainly draws intrigue on the Hall, which is on Guy Fawkes Street.

The black and white half-timbered manor house recently underwent a two-year £6.5m restoration project, allowing the hall and gardens to be opened to the public. Alongside the preserved hall, visitors can meet live-action Victorian characters and attend talks and exhibitions.

Free entry

Victoria Baths

Opened in 1906, this Edwardian Baths was hailed a “water palace” by the incumbent Lord Mayor. With the latest technology for heating water, the public had access to a Turkish Bath, shampooing room and a shower – considered a modern luxury for its time!

Bathing hours were limited to genders until 1914 when new laws allowed mixed gender bathing giving families the opportunity to swim together for the first time. The baths proved popular in 1952 when it became the first baths in the UK to install a public Aeratone Jacuzzi.

The popularity of the baths declined, and they were subsequently closed in 1993 – only to be recently reopened to house art installations, unique cinema screenings and makers’ markets. The operators of this heritage attraction hope to re-open the pool and Turkish Bath facilities and hold special tours to help raise funds for its repair.

Entry via tour, £6.

Staircase House

With rooms linked by an intriguing array of narrow passages and corridors, Staircase House explores history dating from when it first appeared in records in 1460 to WWII.

The museum uniquely allows visitors to get hands-on with objects and there are no roped off areas, allowing visitors to sit at the 18th-century dining table or pull back the sheets on a four-poster bed.

Offering a glimpse into the life of medieval and renaissance Stockport, the centrepiece of the house is its beautifully restored Jacobean cage newel staircase, which was lovingly reconstructed following a fire in 1995.

Free entry for children, £5 for adults, £3.75 concessions.

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