Manchester Central Library, the headquarters of Manchester’s library and information service, is a remarkable structure that has been an important part of the city’s life since its opening in 1934. It was designed by E. Vincent Harris and constructed between 1930 and 1934.
The form of the building, a columned portico attached to a rotunda domed structure, is loosely derived from the Pantheon in Rome. The building itself is grade II listed, signifying its architectural and historical significance.
Manchester was the first local authority to provide a public lending and reference library after passing the Public Libraries Act 1850. The library’s foundation stone was laid on 6 May 1930 by then Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, and it was officially opened by King George V on 17 July 1934.
Notably, the library’s unique circular design was a source of intrigue for the public, who were used to rectangular buildings. This unique shape became a part of the library’s identity, so much so that it was never necessary to put a ‘Public Library’ notice on the outside.
The library was renovated and refurbished between 2010 and 2014; following reports, it needed essential renovation to repair and modernise its facilities. Its collections were stored in the Winsford Rock Salt Mine1during this closure.
Now, for some interesting facts that might not be commonly known:
The main entrance hall gets its name from the huge stained glass window above the front door, designed by the Arts & Crafts artist Robert Anning Bell, and includes a portrait of William Shakespeare and scenes from many of his plays. It was given to the library by Mrs Rosa Grindon in memory of her husband, the famous Manchester botanist Leo Grindon.
The Great Hall, originally known as the Reading Room, seats up to 300 readers and is known for its unique acoustics. The dome creates an extraordinary ‘whispering gallery’ effect, which changes depending on where you stand.
Exhibitions have always been a part of life at Central Library. One of the best-attended exhibitions was the Model Railways exhibition in September 1936, with over 61,000 visitors in only 26 days.
Underneath the Great Hall are four library stacks, containing approximately 22 miles of shelving designed to provide storage space for up to one million books. The stacks contain some of the library’s oldest and most precious treasures.
Back in the day, the Shakespeare Hall was staffed by formally dressed senior porters and fourteen-year-old page boys who wore “Buttons” uniforms with tilted pill-box hats and acted as runners carrying letters and messages about the city.
These are just a few of the many fascinating details about Manchester Central Library, a place that has been a beacon of knowledge and learning for the city for nearly a century.
Mylo Kaye Aerial filmed the footage of the Manchester Central Library.