The world's oldest public library, with over half of its 100,000-strong collection published before 1851
Astonishingly, Chetham's Library, founded in 1653, is the oldest public library in the English speaking world, still providing public access to over 100,000 books free of charge, right in the middle of Manchester.
As you can imagine, it's quite something to behold. The collection is obviously world-class, given that over half of it was published before 1851. However, the building that houses the library is even older, dating from 1421, with its stunning grounds and sandstone structure remaining one of the most complete medieval complexes in the country. It's quite beautiful. Open days, courses and special events bring the place alive, and it's worth going along if only to see the magnificent building itself.
Chetham's Music School is housed in the same building (brand spanking new extension aside), and is the largest specialist music school in the UK. It caters for talented youngster aged 8–18 and entry is based on audition. The schools maintains good relationships with some of the city's cultural institutions, like the Hallé orchestra, giving the pupils opportunities to perform and the public the chance to see them.
If you visit the library, have a look in the audit room. Chetham's provided a temporary home for Dr Dee, the celebrated Elizabethan mind - and subject of Damon Albarn's opera - who turned to the occult and lost favour with the court and the public. In this room you'll find the very table at which Dee supposedly summoned the devil himself, with a hoof print burned into the wood the proof. Frightening.
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One of the most magical places I have ever visited: awash with atmosphere. Travel back to 1421 like Dr Who!
It's also where Marx and Engels would meet, and the economics books Marx read are on display. The work they did together there would lead to the writing of the Communist Manifesto