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Chetham’s Library

During the holidays, I visited a library.  Hmm – a busman’s holiday, perhaps?  In my defence, this was a very special library: Chetham’s Library – the oldest public lending library in the English speaking world, founded in 1653.

I felt as if I was in Hogwarts.  The leather-bound books are protected behind wooden gates or locked inside cabinets as if it was the Forbidden Books section.   This feeling increases when you see the Chained Books – books which are literally chained to the desk for all the world as if they might try to escape if not tied down.

It was amazing to see books from the time of Henry VIII.  Imagine writing out an entire text by hand!   No virtual facsimile, however interactive, could match the thrill of being so close to a book once held by Elizabeth I.  In the 17th century, owning a book was far beyond the pocket of ordinary people yet here was the founder, Humphrey Chetham, allowing the public to come in and educate themselves free of charge.  Unfortunately, his intentions were slightly thwarted as the books were placed in such a way that commoners (like me!) would find it difficult to use them.  For a start, the catalogue was in Latin!  In the past, knowledge was strictly limited because knowledge is power, and educated people wished to keep the power to themselves.   Have we have become complacent today?   Libraries are so often underrated.  The principle that knowledge should be available to everyone is so important.  If I had to pay for every library book I have read for entertainment or research, I should be substantially in debt.  But perhaps I am in debt; to people like Humphrey Chetham who left such a legacy to his fellow man and to the future.

Chetham’s library is open to the public with certain restrictions and is located very close to Victoria Station in Manchester.  You can find out more and see more pictures on the website:

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