Wednesday 28 September 2011

"I am treasuring these last few days of peace..."

Exactly seventy-three years ago this week, a young Iris Murdoch sat down and wrote a letter to her friend Ann Leech. Believing the country to be on the brink of war with Germany, she wrote with honesty and clarity about her feelings in those politically volatile times. The four-page letter is full of her characteristic zest and humour which she not infrequently turns against herself, declaring her words 'melodramatic rot'.

Of course, the Munich Agreement deferred the outbreak of war for another year, but for Iris Murdoch, aged nineteen and about to go up to Oxford, there was an inspiring and slightly anarchic energy about the uncertainties faced by her generation. She writes:

"I too believe that the worst will happen - but I don't feel at all afraid yet - only sad and strangely amused. I don't want to leave London - I love the city, and if it's going to be smashed up, I want to be there.

I can see nothing beyond Saturday - and so I am treasuring these last few days of peace, and perhaps of life - reading poetry, and enjoying pictures and music...

Singularly enough I feel happier now, despite my sadness, than I have ever felt for years. This isn't real you know, whether we are blown to pieces or not - I am very close to reality now - something infinitely calm and still and beautiful."

The letter from Iris to Ann is part of the Leech Archive and we have sent copies to the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies at Kingston University. To read more, click on the pages, continued below, which will enlarge.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

The mystery of Humphrey Chetham

Take a look at our 101 Treasures page this week to find out more about the portrait of Humphrey Chetham which hangs in the Reading Room. Who painted it and why? We're not sure... but there's plenty more to discover here...

Friday 16 September 2011

The Grey Lady of Chetham's

Does Chetham's have a ghost?

That's often the question that people ask when they enter the medieval building through the dark stone cloister, ring the ancient bell on the heavy oak door and climb the winding staircase to the Library with its towering book-lined wooden presses. Certainly, rumours abound of a mysterious 'grey lady' who hovers in the passages connecting the Library reading room with the secret stairwell leading to the Minstrel's Gallery.

Evidently, the search for this particular truth has exercised many over the years, as this 'untouched' photograph of 1927, taken by local photographer R. Walker Berry, indicates. In a letter to the editor of 'Our Journal', he relates: 'knowing the camera's aversion to "terminological inexactitudes" I exposed a plate on the entrance to the Minstrel's Gallery, and the enclosed print shows the result'.

What do you think? Why not come along to the Library and see if you can see anything unusual?

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Manchester Weekender 2011

Come along to Chetham's on Sunday 16th October for a family friendly guided tour of the Library and the Curios and Curiosities exhibition, as well as the chance to hear poet and song writer Simon Rennie performing the 1830s ballad 'Johnny Green's Wedding'.

The event is part of the Manchester Weekender festival, a three-day celebration of all things cultural and cool in the city. Tours of the Library will take place at 2pm and 3pm and are free to all, but places are limited and must be reserved beforehand. To book, please email the Librarian.

Elegance and Decadence

Eagle-eyed viewers may have spotted Chetham's Library in scenes from the final episode of the BBC4 programme Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency last night. In this third part, 'The Many and the Few - A Divided Decade', presenter Lucy Worsley looked at the ways that radical thinking and public opinion began to challenge the excesses of the Prince Regent. Peterloo expert Robert Poole was interviewed on the programme, which showed the Library interior and some of the Library's Peterloo holdings.

If you missed the programme, it can be seen on BBC iPlayer, together with the first and second episodes, for another week or so.

Friday 2 September 2011

Curios and Curiosities: A Very Peculiar Assortment of Treasures

Our new exhibition is now open! Come and see a celtic stone head, a death mask and a nineteenth-century sex manual, as well as a book of spells with instructions for finding hidden treasure. Over the years Chetham's has accumulated many strange and unusual items that you might be surprised to see in a library, as well as rare and fascinating bindings and manuscripts to pore over.

The exhibition is in the Priest's Wing and is available to view during normal opening hours.

Saxton's Atlas of England and Wales

Find out more about Christopher Saxton's great achievement in this week's feature in the 101 Treasures of Chetham's series. The beautiful sixteenth-century map shows all the counties of England and Wales and was the first national atlas of any country.