Friday, 19 September 2014

A closer look at the Palatine Building

The Palatine building which stands on the west side of the Chetham’s site was not originally built as one single structure, but was constructed in three distinct parts between 1837-45 by the Manchester and Leeds Railway Company. These consist of the south building nearest the Cathedral, which operated as livery stables and offices, the middle building, which was offices and shops, and the most significant section, that to the north of the site next to Hunt’s Bank, which was built as a railway hotel. This was designed by J.P. and I. Holden, architects, and constructed in 1842-43 as a railway hotel for the newly opened Victoria Railway Station - one of the earlier hotels of its kind, although not the first.

The Palatine buildings, then, were not constructed as part of the School and Library and were not part of the site either of Chetham’s or of its predecessor, the College of Manchester. The buildings have not been granted listed status, unlike the medieval buildings to which the Palatine buildings are attached, which are Grade I-listed. Nowadays it would be inconceivable for a building to be placed right up to a Grade I-listed building, but the Palatine building not only runs right up to the medieval building but is physically joined to it at one point, with the sandstone wall embedded within it.

Putting a hotel next to a school created problems, and Chetham’s was forced to build enormous wooden hoardings to prevent hotel patrons from overlooking the school. By 1911 the Palatine Hotel had closed for business, and the buildings were converted for retail use. Since then, the buildings have undergone many changes to accommodate a variety of different uses and have been stripped externally and internally of their original architectural features. All the original glazing and all the chimney stacks have been removed.

The Palatine buildings were acquired by the Trustees of Chetham’s Charity in 1969 and were intended to provide accommodation and school rooms for the newly founded Chetham’s School of Music. They were converted by the architects Thomas Worthington and Son as a temporary refurbishment intended to last no more than ten years. The buildings were completely unsuitable for their new purpose: they had no sound-proofing and they provided very poor residential space. They were also extraordinarily expensive to maintain. The basements regularly flooded and the roof leaked. But Chetham’s made use of them not for the ten years they imagined but for over forty years until they were eventually vacated in favour of the new school building, opposite Victoria Station, which opened in 2013. In 2009 Chetham’s trustees put the Palatine buildings up for sale to see if a developer or builder would take them on, but the proposed sale attracted no interest. They are now completely empty and are unsustainable, and are scheduled for demolition in the next twelve months.

We recognise that taking down the Palatine buildings is only justified if the results are a significant improvement on what was there before, and in this instance there is no question that the demolition has two huge positive outcomes. Firstly it opens up what is arguably the most important archaeological site in the city: beneath the Palatine buildings lie the House of Correction, the great tithe barn, the inner ditch and the castle, and some of the lost buildings of the medieval town. Our aim is to ensure that by removing the Palatine buildings we are able to open up the archeology that remains beneath them to the community. We have been in discussions with archaeologists for some time to make sure that these sites are sensitively and appropriately investigated. Secondly, their removal opens up the medieval College House to Manchester and Salford, a view that has been hidden since the 1840s. We have no wish to open up the site to improve our own view, which will be of a car park, and, if proposed developments take place, two large tower blocks, but we do think that opening up one of Manchester’s very few remaining medieval buildings to public view is important. By taking down Palatine we are able to open up the medieval College House and the Library as a proper visitor attraction, and we are working in consultation with the City, the Cathedral and architects to put this site to the best possible use. We are currently in the process of making an application for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to update and improve the medieval buildings as well as to restore and adapt the Grade II-listed nineteenth-century Alfred Waterhouse building which is currently hidden from public view by Palatine. It is our intention to create new public space as well as improving accessibility to the medieval buildings, and we welcome constructive suggestions for future developments. We are also working with artists-in-residence as well as photography students from Bolton University on a project to properly record the building and document the regeneration of the site.

We recognise that the heritage of the site on which Chetham’s stands is of great significance and is valued by many, and it is our full intention to take each decision about its future intelligently and sensitively. Naturally, the loss of an early nineteenth-century railway hotel is regretted by all who have worked in and around it as well as by members of the wider community and those who care about its architectural importance, and we understand that any decisions made regarding its future will have detractors as well as supporters. We are, however, confident not only that all possibilities for the realistic survival of Palatine have been exhausted, but that the decision to demolish it will make way for developments and improvements which will have a very positive effect on this part of the city and all who love and appreciate it.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

A warm welcome to George Jennison


George Jennison, grandson of the founder of Belle Vue Zoological Gardens and author of its history, relaxing in the passenger seat on his way to Chetham's this morning.

Thanks to a generous donation by Jean Hill of High Lane, George is now making himself comfortable here at the Library after his short journey, and will be looked after as part of our extensive collection of material related to Belle Vue.

You can read Zoe Willocks's ebook of George Jennison's history of Belle Vue here.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Farewell to Hannah

Once again it is time to say goodbye to one of our wonderful volunteers, this time Hannah Jordan, who has been working for us throughout the summer on the Belle Vue collection. We are indebted to all the lovely people who give up their time to volunteer with us, and Hannah's hard work and competence have been hugely appreciated. As has become customary, we have asked Hannah to write a little about herself and her time at Chetham's before she leaves. Hannah writes:

I am probably the youngest volunteer at Chetham's Library, having just finished my first year as a student at Lancaster University studying English Literature and History. I was thrilled to be able to volunteer at a Library so visibly steeped in history, which seemed to align perfectly with my interests. My time at the library has been spent working on the Belle Vue collection, which was as of particular interest to me as I have lived in Manchester my whole life and remember hearing tales of the zoo from my mother.

A grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund has afforded the Library the opportunity to digitise its extensive Belle Vue collection and make them available online. When taken together, people's memories, photographs, postcards and newspaper cuttings paint a paradoxical image of Belle Vue. Some people appear to remember it as a place for wholesome family days out and mini-breaks, and the outpouring of donations, support and interest towards the project in general is clearly a testament to the fondness with which it is remembered by many. On the other hand, it also exists in the memories of some as a grim place, particularly for the animals. This duality became particularly evident as I worked with the collection. The newspaper cuttings document Belle Vue's exploits between 1943-45 and give an insight into its role as an important part of the local community. As well as hosting regular boxing matches and brass band competitions, it served as a place for large political protests and parades, particularly during the Second World War. Despite this, however, the collection is also littered with articles documenting animal fatalities and treatment which would be considered cruel by today's standards. I have found that reconciling these two contrasting images of Belle Vue has been one of the most interesting aspects of my work here.

Out of hundreds of images from the Brian Selby collection this is easily my favourite. That baby must have had nightmares.

The staff at Chetham's have made me feel very welcome, and as this was my first time digitising anything, they offered me a lot of support. I have loved my time working here and the experience has been invaluable, as I wish to pursue a career in the museum sector or as an archivist. Even though I'm returning to university I fully intend to keep track of the Belle Vue project until its completion.

Thank you so much for all your hard work Hannah, and we wish you all the best for the future!

If you are interested in volunteering with us either as part of your student course or in a more general role as a welcomer or library helper, please get in touch! You can email or phone us on 0161 834 7961 - we are very friendly!

Heritage Open Day: David's Story

We are delighted to report that Heritage Open Day was a great success and we were thrilled to welcome many people to the Library who are not normally able to visit. Who better to tell you about the day than our newest volunteer David Thomas, who not only gave up his Saturday to come and help, but has kindly written a most engaging description of how he spent his day:

I began volunteering at Chetham’s only three weeks ago but last weekend was fortunate to be able to help out at their Heritage Open Day. This is a national scheme in which houses, museums and other architectural treasures are open to the public for free and at times when they are usually closed. Chetham’s is normally open Monday to Friday 9am-4.30pm and no longer closes at lunchtimes in an effort to allow visitors greater convenience, however from what I have seen it seems that on a good day the library gets only around fifty visitors. On Saturday we counted around 400! The goal of attracting more visitors had certainly been achieved.

My first role of the day was being part of the front-of-house team with Sue and Patti, welcoming visitors and directing them in to see the Library. There was a fairly steady stream of people and many looked round the Library, cloisters and other rooms for an hour or more. On their way out, I ushered them to the right exit and encouraged them to participate in our survey. I heard several visitors comment that they had walked past the Library before but never come in because it was closed, and were pleased to be able to visit at last. It was great to see local people visiting for the first time now that they had the chance.

After lunch I went into the Library to try and answer people’s questions and ended up finding a lot of things out myself. A real highlight was that this was also the first time I had properly looked at the current exhibition, curated by Kathy, which features Manchester School of Art students’ interpretations and creative responses to studying Chetham’s archive material on Belle Vue Gardens. This was of particular interest as I am working on one of the Belle Vue newspaper cuttings books in my weekly volunteer role. The exhibition was bright and informative and made even better by the fact that you could view the students’ scrapbooks in the Reading Room and so see their ideas from start to finish.

Most of the afternoon was spent in the Reading Room where people were continually impressed by the original wall carving, furniture and chained library (not to mention Marx’s desk). I was glad that Patti and Jane were on hand to answer people’s questions properly while I tried to read up a bit by taking a quick look at the books that are for sale. One thing I found out was that the magnificent grandfather clock in the Reading Room was donated by an old pupil named Nicholas Clegg in 1695.

At the end of the day all that was left to do was to count the number of surveys, which came to ninety in total, have a well-earned cup of tea, and finish off the cake! 

If you would like to follow in David's footsteps and volunteer with us, please get in touch! You can email us at or phone the Library on 0161 834 7961

Friday, 12 September 2014

We are open tomorrow for Heritage Open Days!

Don't forget that there's a rare opportunity to come and see the Library and the medieval buildings tomorrow as part of the National Heritage Open Days scheme. We are not normally open at the weekend so if you work during the week and aren't usually able to come and visit, do come along and see us! The nineteenth-century Alfred Waterhouse building will also be open, and there will be the chance to take part in planning for the future by sharing your ideas about what you would like to see and experience.

We are open from 10am-4pm and the entrance will be through Vickers Gate, off Fennel Street/Victoria Street, just opposite the North Door of Manchester Cathedral.

Book now for Jonathan Foyle!

A quick reminder that you can still book tickets to see TV historian Jonathan Foyle speaking about the Library's collection of furniture and its remarkable links with Henry VII. The talk takes place next Wednesday 17 September and includes an informal reception with wine and nibbles, and the chance to look around the Library and the medieval buildings. Tickets are £5 and can be reserved by emailing Ted Harris on or phoning 0161 838 7224.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Farewell to Laura

We are sad to say goodbye to one of our longest serving volunteers, Laura Bryer, who is leaving us to return to full-time education. Laura will be embarking on an MA in Art Gallery & Museum Studies at the Centre for Museology at Manchester University: evidently Chetham’s Library has become a finishing school for students on this course as two of our other volunteers, Emma Gill and Courtney Brombosz, have also secured places.

Laura first came to the Library in 2011 as an MMU history undergraduate, and in her final year she undertook a dissertation on the 1855 diary of Rachel Leech, which she completed in 2013. Afterwards Laura continued to work at the Library on the Leech collection, and has carried out a huge amount of work listing and transcribing letters and sorting out some of the voluminous mass of Leech memorabilia. Anyone who has used the Leech archive will have benefitted from her meticulous scholarship and from her enormous energy and hard work.

We will miss Laura very much, and wish her and all of our other placements and volunteers well. We look forward with interest to following their careers in their chosen fields.