Founded in 1653, Chetham’s Library is the oldest public library in the English-speaking world.
The building dates from the medieval period and has been used as a school, a prison, an arsenal and a hospital before becoming a library. With 350 years of history as a library, many important events have been shaped within its walls and Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels met here in 1845 leading to their work together on The Communist Manifesto.
What to see at Chetham’s Library
The library has over 100,000 books and around 60% of these were published prior to 1851. The main reason to visit is to experience the building’s unique interior and take in its atmosphere and history.
Access to Chetham’s Library is by guided tour with one-hour tours allowing visitors see inside the sandstone building, which dates from 1421. Visitors are also able to see:
- the gated book presses with thousands of books dating from as early as the 16th century;
- the remarkable chained library, where books were chained to the shelves to prevent them from being stolen;
- the desk where Marx and Engels studied, and where they wrote the Communist Manifesto;
- the library’s music room, where visitors can see the original harpsichord that was played by George Frideric Handeland, and
- medieval cat flaps
Like the John Rylands Library, also in Manchester, many visitors liken Chetham’s Library to Hogwarts.
Visiting Chetham’s Library
Chetham’s Library is at the northern end of the city centre close to the Corn Exchange, Manchester Cathedral, the National Football Museum and Manchester Victoria railway station, all of which are within a two-minute walk from the library. The free Metroshuttle bus (routes 1 and 2) stops near the library.
Admission to the library is by a guided tour, where visitors are shown highlights of the library by expert guides. Guided tours can be booked online and cost £12 with discounted entry for children, seniors and students. Guided tours take one hour.
As it is a historic building, the full guided tour is not wheelchair-accessible.