In Haunt

The current – at the time of writing, May 2020 – Covid-19 pandemic, has meant that the region’s much-loved museums and libraries have had to temporarily close their doors to visitors. In response, the way we are experiencing culture is transforming, as many take aspects of their collections online… with plenty of intriguing and thought-provoking features to share! Many cultural highlights can also be visited online at Visit Manchester’s link: #MCRmissesyou

Exploring hidden histories, heritage and looking at alternative approaches to culture is something we often consider here at Haunt Manchester. In this article, we visit some of the online content from a selection of Greater Manchester Museums and Libraries. From virtual exhibitions to online events, live-streams and learning resources, a range of experiences are available– without leaving the house! #MuseumAtHome #LibrariesFromHome

By Dr Peter N Lindfield Photo of The John Rylands Library above  ©  Dr Peter N. Lindfield, who featured the Library in an earlier Haunt article here

Chetham’s Library

Provided By Chetham'sm Library

Did you know that Manchester’s Chetham’s Library is the oldest surviving public library in Britain? It has been in use for over 350 years and the building it is located within is even older, dating from 1421! Yet in line with the Covid-19 measures, the library is currently closed… but their staff are still hard at work online, connecting audiences far and wide with internet content, allowing people of all ages to enjoy some of the library’s artefacts, virtually! Not only do they have an online platform that collects all their ‘virtual visit’ opportunities (link here), but also their already-popular 101 Treasures of Chetham’s series, highlighting some of the library’s most interesting items! This is a unique opportunity to learn more about many artefacts that are not always on permanent display. Just some examples are a portrait of library founder Humphrey Chetham himself; a three-volume copy of Plato’s works that once belonged to the Renaissance poet Ben Jonson, and novelist Horace Walpole’s handwritten accounts (1747-95) for his iconic country house Strawberry Hill, a significant piece of Gothic architecture mentioned multiple times by Dr Peter N. Lindfield in his Haunt architecture series.

Chetham’s Library also holds some particularly weird and wonderful items amongst its archives, as Siân-Louise Mason, Visitor Services Coordinator at Chetham’s Library reflects:

“We've got some rather strange items in our collections that were acquired some years ago. One of which is the death mask of Dr Thomas Dunham Whittaker from 1821. It was previously kept in one of the archives downstairs, but was put on display in the library a couple of years ago by our beloved former librarian Michael Powell. Knowing that I disliked the death mask, he thought it would be an 'amusing' joke for me to discover it at the top of the stairs during an evening event. It's remained there ever since to remind us of Michael's wicked sense of humour!”

And that is not all! There is plentiful family-friendly content too. Library Learners is an exciting free initiative from Chetham’s, providing weekly online activity for children of all ages, inspired by the library’s collection. Each week encounters different school subjects, taking in everything from English and History to Science and Geography, with packs so far including the wonderfully-titled likes of 'Blooming Botany', 'Marvellous Maps', 'Powerful Print', 'Superb Stories' and 'Magnificent Motifs'! A particularly exciting example of how young people can engage with this historic library, all that is needed to subscribe is to send an email to with a request to join, leading to a different activity pack arriving via email every Monday morning! With recent further titles for Library Learners packages including ‘Amazing Anatomy’ and ‘Tantalising Textiles’, this is sure to inspire plenty of enthusiasm!  What is also notable is that this fantastic service is completely free, though users are encouraged to share their feedback or resultant work on social media (tagging in the library on Twitter and Facebook in the process) and can also make a donation to the library via the website. The social media channels also offer another way to engage with the library, and images from the Manchester Scrapbook within their collection have been a recent feature.

Image provided thanks to Chetham's Library

The John Rylands Library

A neo-Gothic Library of considerable architectural and historical significance, the John Rylands Library on Deansgate was founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband, and designed in such a striking way by the architect Basil Champneys. It has inspired people far and wide ever since it opened its doors to public readers in 1900, following a decade-long building process. After becoming part The University of Manchester in 1972, it now holds The University of Manchester Library Special Collections and has over a million manuscripts and archival items as well as at least 250,000 printed volumes within! Although the building is itself currently closed to the public in terms of the Covid-19 guidance, there are a range of ways that people can still interact with its enthralling collection, online!

The majority of The John Rylands Library’s Special Collections’ rare books, maps and visual collections can be found using the search function online here, whilst the University of Manchester Image Collections also have a digital repository, LUNA ( featuring  images and highlights of rare books, archives and manuscripts. This means the ability to have a virtual look at truly historic texts in fields such as medicine, science and philosophy, to name just a few (see our earlier article on exploring the history of medicine through time with The John Rylands Library online here). The Library also has a highly-informative Special Collections Blog, which is being regularly updated and during the time of lockdown has included long read series’ such as a piece on ‘Florence Nightingale, Thomas Worthington, and the Chorlton Union Hospital’ as well as ‘Behind the scenes collections’. This has involved delving deeper into the library’s image processing software and investigating 3D imaging of the Special Collections. There is something for everyone!

Touchstones Museum and Art Gallery, Rochdale


Touchstones is Rochdale’s arts and heritage centre, a much-loved gallery and museum located just across the road from the iconic Rochdale Town Hall and itself a Grade II listed building, with the oldest part first opening as a public library in 1884! It was expanded to become a museum and art gallery in 1903, and following refurbishment in 2002, has since also housed Link4Life’s Arts & Heritage Service – though all currently closed. Fortunately, much of the Touchstones collection can be visited online, including a number of books and documents written by famous people from the borough of Rochdale, digitised for audiences to enjoy remotely. A virtual reality tour of the museum stores is also another exciting opportunity, supported by the Duchy of Lancaster Benevolent Fund – meaning that people can get behind the scenes of the museum, from the comfort of their own home! A range of artwork held by Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service can also be browsed online (via ART UK), from a collection that features around 1,500 works, with a 1420s Italian panel painting by Giovanni di Paolo and Lucian Freud’s 'Woman’s Head with a Yellow Background' from 1963 amongst the items.

Image provided by Link4Life

The Portico Library 

Marckel's Evolution Of Man Provided By The Portico Library

At 214 years old, Manchester’s historic Portico Library is currently usually known for its eclectic range of public exhibitions and events – including The Portico Prize and Rewriting the North (both in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University) – as well as its impressive domed building on Mosley Street. An independent subscription library, it has included a fascinating variety of members and associates over the years including the likes of John Dalton, Thomas de Quincey, Elizabeth Gaskell and even Eric Cantona! Also welcoming thousands of visitors a year, it is now temporarily closed due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

 However, the dedicated library team have been working hard to take much of its fascinating content online… so people can experience the wonders of its shelves from their own home! Visit their website to find a selection of online engagement including ‘Off the Shelf’; an intriguing series of articles subtitled ‘adventures and misadventures of a 19th century library’. From the subject of ‘Beautiful Monsters’ to considering existentialism and its roots, this is an ideal opportunity to explore the Library’s collection and history!

Last month, The Portico also launched a new exhibition on its website, titled ‘What it is to be here’. Curated by guest curator Helen Idle, who also delivered an online talk as part of the exhibition, it considers the turbulent and often-challenging impact of Lieutenant James Cook’s landing in Australia. Cook is after all a common subject in children’s history books, as an example of an explorer and sailor. Yet his landing in Australia had a devastating effect in many ways  on the native Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of the area, and ‘What it is to be here’ aims to consider their perspective. Guest curator Helen, who works at the Menzies Australia Institute at King’s College London, has also worked alongside The Portico’s Curator James Moss for some time to develop this thought-provoking project.

Image from Marckel's Evolution of Man provided by The Portico Library

Manchester Museum

Manchester Museum on Oxford Road, part of the University of Manchester, is the leading university museum in the UK. Its range of collections over the years, including Stan the much-loved fossilised Tyrannosaurus Rex, has inspired adults and children alike!

Forward-thinking and innovative, at the time of temporary closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the museum has created a special subsection for its website: ‘Manchester Museum in Quarantine’: This is a platform designed to connect and inspire digital visitors during this difficult time, with a variety of content, resources and ways to experience the museum’s collection – from home! Intriguing online exhibitions and displays are a key part, with ‘Beauty and the Beasts: falling in love with insects’ and ‘Minerals: Sustainability and Hidden Stories’ amongst the options! Another section on the site titled ‘The Things they didn’t teach us’ seeks to raise awareness of often overlooked and perhaps under-covered histories, giving them the attention they deserve. Partition histories, remembering slavery and ‘Jallianwala Bagh 1919: Punjab under siege’ are just some examples of the topics.

As can be seen, exploring learning opportunities matters to Manchester Museum. To further that experience, they have a variety of resources available via their quarantine site, with separate options for home educators, families, carers, researchers and curious adults. There is something for everyone… with a brilliant online ‘Encyclopaedia of Curious Objects’ sure to attract attention too! The museum is also inviting feedback and ideas, with contact details available online.

Virtual events are a further highlight, bringing some of the most-loved subjects of the museum alive. ‘Egyptology in Lockdown’ is a popular feature, the opportunity to learn more about Ancient Egypt from the Museum’s Curator of Egypt and Sudan Dr Campbell Price, screened live from his home study every Thursday at 3pm. Another live stream feature is ‘Frog Friday’ – the chance to tune-in live to the Vivarium at 1pm on Fridays, with staff answering plenty of frog-related questions. Simply tune in to Periscope @mcrmuseum at the set times to enjoy live streams such as these, with more details of all virtual events and online content available via the website below. #MMinQuarantine

People’s History Museum

Manchester suffragette banner, 1908 © People's History Museum

Digital discovery is also plentiful with People’s History Museum (PHM) – the national museum of democracy based in Manchester. Although the museum building itself is currently closed, their Ideas Worth Exploring online platform provides an extensive virtual selection of PHM’s learning projects and online events. Documenting campaigns for political and social change over time and telling the stories of radical individuals are factors that PHM has upheld ever since its founding, and the museum’s curators are keen for that to continue. Ideas Worth Exploring in turn opens up fascinating content to the curious of all ages, from fun for toddlers to learning activities for adults. A range of digital resources as well as brand new initiatives are available, which can be accessed remotely until the museum is able to open to the public again.

 Features include streamed sessions of the popular baby and toddler-friendly sessions from Matt Hill ‘My First Protest Song’,  whilst for older children there is ‘Vital Voters’ – an immersive experience for under 18s exploring the past, present and future of democracy. ‘Ten treasures from People's History Museum's collection’ is another item ideal for wider audiences, assembled back in February 2020 to mark the tenth anniversary of the physical museum being at its current home at Left Bank, Spinningfields. Ten objects from the museum’s collection were chosen and now are displayed online, all documenting historic moments relating to the development of democracy in Britain, including the suffragette movement and the events of Peterloo.

Curious adults can also enjoy an online learning course. Launched in May and titled ‘Peterloo to the Pankhursts: Radicalism and Reform in the 19th Century’, it considers what was a crucial century for some of the key developments towards democracy, bringing a number of factors and themes to light.

All of the Ideas Worth Exploring activities can be found here:

Image: Manchester suffragette banner, 1908 © People's History Museum

Manchester Libraries

The central library service for the region has plenty of digital resources you can access from home, as all library buildings are currently closed until further notice. Free to join, the selection includes a range of ebooks, audiobooks and even e-magazines and comics… so users can read full digital copies of some of their favourite magazines, in full! Over 95 magazines and 200 comics are available covering many different topics, available to access on computers, smartphones and tablets.

There is also the opportunity to learn some news skills – from driving test theory to website building, with a range of free tutorials and courses thanks to the online reference library. Just some examples include interactive online coding lessons with code academy, a selection of IT courses, and Edx – connecting users with free courses from some of the best universities. Language learning is also a possibility, as Manchester Libraries have an online package with over 100 courses available.

Stay updated with the library service on Twitter and Facebook for more details of digital opportunities too.

The Working Class Movement Library

By Cal Cole

Founded by the late Ruth and Edmund Frow in the 1950s and based in an atmospheric red-brick building on the Crescent in Salford – opposite the main university campus – The Working Class Movement Library (WCML) is recognised for the historic significance of its collections on radical working class organisations, working-class culture and has long-been a welcoming place to guests and readers. Yet although the library is currently temporarily closed in accordance with Covid-19 guidance, they are still welcoming the public to experience some of their fascinating collection – online! For example, a guest exhibition of Irish Civil Rights posters that was due to open at the library last month has instead been made available to browse via their website (link here). This offers fascinating and powerful insight into the August 1969 political and sectarian unrest in Ireland and how People’s Democracy – a radical student movement – provided political direction and publicity through their Poster Workshop in particular. The library is also planning an online accompanying event for the 26 May 2020, with all virtual events and updates available at They also have compiled a range of resources to access from home, here:

 Another exciting addition to the library’s virtual content, is that their popular ‘Invisible Histories’ talks – delving into under-covered accounts of working-class pasts - have moved online, taking the form of online meetings with a speaker delivering a talk and the opportunity to ask questions. The selection so far has included ‘The pre-First World War labour unrest and women's suffrage revolt: never the twain shall meet?’ delivered by Ralph Darlington, (Emeritus Professor of Employment Relations from the University of Salford) and the seasonally-apt ‘The right to our own time and energy' 130 years of May Day’ from Kevin Morgan (Professor of Politics and Contemporary History at the University of Manchester). Upcoming editions include an insightful example from Alison Fell (Professor of French Cultural History at the University of Leeds), considering ‘The legacies of wartime strikes: interwar women trade union leaders in France and Britain’ on the 25 May. Details on how to join the talks will be available on the day of the event at the event page link listed above. All of the talks and online exhibitions are free to attend and access, with the library appreciative of any donations during this time, and readers can become a Friend of WCML by signing up here

Image credit: Cal Cole

Ordsall Hall

© Peter N. Lindfield

Did you know that Ordsall Hall is the oldest building in Salford? Parts of it date from 1177, which means over 820 years of history to explore! Although this beautiful historic house (managed by Salford Community Leisure) is currently temporarily closed to the public, there are many ways to learn more about it online! Visiting the website is one such way, and the Hall is also active on social media, regularly posting facts and collection highlights, with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

A virtual tour is also available, and Dr Peter N. Lindfield has written a fascinating account of the building in a previous Haunt Manchester article here… so there are many ways you can enjoy its architecture and heritage, from the comfort of home!

Image © Peter N. Lindfield, from his previous article

Salford Museum and Art Gallery

Located in an impressive Grade II listed building overlooking Peel Park, Salford Museum and Art Gallery first opened to the public in 1850 – so the current temporary closure due to the Covid-19 guidance is a significant change of circumstances! This is a place much-loved for its fascinating collection, significantly covering social history and Salford Heritage as well as other areas, and is managed by Salford Community Leisure.

 Thankfully, the Museum and Gallery is still active online, with a variety of engaging content on their social media channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. On Twitter for example, the museum has been posting images of collection items, offering tips for exploring family history and plenty of other ideas. A Crowdfunder has also been launched to support Salford Museum and Art Gallery, so it can continue to maintain its collection during this difficult time as well as prepare content and activities for when it re-opens. Its function in the community is notable, having over the years celebrated the history of Salford and  provided free entry, as well as provided subsidised learning programmes, connected with people with dementia through free loan boxes and more:

Don’t forget, highlights of their art collection can be experienced online too… as their Victorian Gallery usually attracts plenty of attention. Viewing is possible via Art UK and every print ordered will contribute towards supporting the museum at this time.

Rochdale Pioneers Museum

Rochdale Pioneers Museum By Rochdale BID

Did you know that Rochdale was the birthplace of the co-operative movement in 1844? The Pioneers Museum at 31 Toad Lane in the town is testament to that; a former wool warehouse where working class people facing deprivation came together to form a new co-operative society, based on a set of principles (which became known as the ‘Rochdale Principles’) and community.

Now the charity Co-operative Heritage Trust currently runs the museum and there is also an archive in Manchester set up to safeguard the heritage of the ongoing movement. In fact, over 2 billion people worldwide are members of a co-op! In turn, the Rochdale Pioneers Museum has continued to be an inspiring place over the years, typically busy with visitors, events, activities and known for its work supporting the Pioneer Pantry Community Food Membership Scheme, providing food for the vulnerable.

However, in accordance with the current Covid-19 guidance, the museum is temporarily closed…though there are many ways it is still connecting with people, of a variety of ages! They have created a selection of resources for home-schooling which is available on their website for local children and teachers alike, plus their website is an ideal way to find out more about the museum and the co-operative moment. Keen to engage the public wherever possible, the museum is also welcoming suggestions from people of what they would like to see in the future when the building can re-open.

The museum can also be visited virtually thanks to Rochdale Town Centre BID’s Rochdale 360 online platform, which allows users to get behind the scenes of a range of Rochdale locations.

Image of Rochdale Pioneers Museum, credit: Rochdale BID

Victoria Baths

Victoria Baths Gala Pool

Manchester’s Grade II* listed Edwardian swimming pool and Turkish Baths complex Victoria Baths, described as a ‘water palace’ when it opened in 1906 and served the people of Manchester for 87 years, is now a much-loved visitor attraction. Although Covid-19 measures have meant that it has had to close its doors to the public currently, there is opportunity to learn more about this fascinating building via their website; where there is an extensive timeline as well as the ability to explore their collections including pictures, documents and objects. So although it isn’t necessarily a museum or library, it is certainly a place inspiring historic discoveries a-plenty!

This is after all the place where the fifth woman to swim the English Channel, Sunny Lowry, launched her swimming career back in the 1920s – and yet also where fairs, festivals and even a Weekend of Words have taken place in recent years, following the extensive restoration of the building over the course of the last decade. Winning the BBC’s television programme Restoration back in 2003, as was voted for by the British public, this meant that Victoria Baths was able to receive funding it urgently needed for its restoration, having been closed since 1993 and falling into neglect. The restoration and upkeep costs of heritage buildings is after all extensive, and that is why Victoria Baths recently set up a Crowdfunder – inviting people to give what they can and ‘Back the Baths’ during this difficult time – as current closure of the premises means significant losses from visitor donations (read our full Haunt Manchester article about it here).

Image of Victoria Baths, Gala Pool - provided by Victoria Baths in a previous Haunt Manchester article

By Emily Oldfield 

Images credited in the captions 




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