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.
Like the John Rylands Library, also in Manchester, many visitors compare it 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 via a timed entry system where a guide will let you into the library at specific times during the day (Mon–Fri 10am, 11am, noon, 1.30pm, 2.30pm & 3.30pm). You do not need to book in advance, simply wait at the entrance on Long Millgate before the specified entry time. Entry to the library is free, although they do ask for a £3 donation.
As it is a historic building, the historic area on the first floor is not wheelchair-accessible and access to the library is via a flight of eighteen stairs. However, wheelchair users can visit the ground floor study rooms.
Half an hour to an hour should be sufficient time to explore the library.
If you enjoyed visiting this building, you should also pay a visit to the John Rylands Library and the Manchester Central Library, which also boast impressive (but very different) interiors.