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An aisle inside the library
The 15th-century Baronial Hall which houses Chetham's Library
Chetham's Library in Manchestermarker, Englandmarker is the oldest free public reference library in the United Kingdommarker. Chetham's Hospital, which contains both the library and Chetham's School of Musicmarker, was established in 1653 under the will of Humphrey Chetham (1580–1653), for the education of "the sons of honest, industrious and painful parents", and a library for the use of scholars. The library has been in continuous use since 1653. It operates as an independent charity, open to readers and visitors free of charge.

Chetham's Library holds more than 100,000 volumes of printed books, of which 60,000 were published before 1851. They include especially rich collections of 16th- and 17th-century printed works, periodicals and journals, local history sources, broadside and ephemera.

This library was the meeting place of Karl Marx and Engels when Marx visited Manchester. The economics books Marx was reading at the time can be seen on the shelf in the library, as can the window seat where Marx and Engels would meet.


The manor house of the Lord of the Manor, in the centre of the medieval town of Manchester, stood on a sandstone bluff, at the confluence of the River Irwell and the River Irk. In 1421 the rector of the parish church, Thomas de la Warre (Lord of the manor of Manchester), obtained a licence from Henry V to refound the church as a collegiate foundation. He donated his manor house for use as the college of priests' buildings for the collegiate church (later to be the cathedralmarker). There was accommodation for the warden, eight fellows, four clerks, and six choristers.

The Manchester Free Grammar School for Lancashire Boysmarker was built between the church and the college buildings between 1515 and 1518. The college was dissolved in 1547 by the Chantries Act and sold to the Earl of Derby. It was re-founded as a catholic foundation by Queen Mary and again disbanded by Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. In 1578 it was re-founded by charter as Christ's College and re-occupied by the warden and fellows. In the Civil War it was used as a prison and arsenal. In 1653 the college buildings were bought by the bequest of Humphrey Chetham, for use as a free library and blue coat charity school. Additions were made to the buildings by J. E. Gregan (1850s), Alfred Waterhouse (1878) (grade II listed), and J. Medland Taylor (1883–95). Manchester Grammar School was extended along Long Millgate in 1870. Manchester Grammar School moved to Fallowfieldmarker in the 1930s, and after standing empty for many years the original building was destroyed during the Second World War, leaving only its new block. This became part of Chetham's School of Music in 1978. The old college building, which became the music school in 1969, still incorporates Chetham's Library and is grade I listed.

Past librarians include Thomas Jones, who held the position from 1845 to 1875; during his time, the size of the library more than doubled (from 19,000 volumes to 40,000 volumes). He also produced a two-volume catalogue of the library's collection in 1862 and 1863.

See also



  1. Nicholls (2004), p. 20.


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