Off To The Libraries

Yesterday the Management and I went to the libraries. Not to borrow books, though, just to look at the libraries themselves. In the UK every September we have Heritage Open Days which allow people to see inside a lot of old buildings, many of which are not normally open to the public. One of these was the Portico Library in central Manchester which we had not heard of even though it has been around since 1806 and we’ve been around the area since 1984.

In many ways it resembled a gentleman’s club although one of the ladies there stressed that it was never such. It was a reading room and library! Whatever! Here I am, not in a gentleman’s club, but in a reading room!


This was just before we partook of tea and cake. Now you don’t get tea and cake at the local library!

We did pick up a leaflet about the ‘Polite Literature’ but I can’t find it now so can’t explain the notice below:


Among the benefits of membership (£175 pa) are “a haven in which to work, read or relax in a central location” and the “opportunity to meet and socialise with like-minded people and share common and newly-discovered interests”. One famous member who sought this ‘haven’ away from the training ground and from fans was Eric Cantona.


This was the splendid dome together with a wall mounted weather vane connected to the vane on top of the building.


I could enjoy spending time here, but being a Yorkshireman with deep pockets and only short arms, I couldn’t justify the cost.

We then trolled on our lallies down to the John Rylands Library as I wanted a vada at Jez Dolan’s and Joseph Richardson’s exhibition Polari Mission: Bona Eek. What I saw was bona, but as it was spread around the library I may have missed some parts. (Anyone needing any translations, see here.)

While we knew of the John Rylands, we’d never actually gone into it properly. Like the Portico, another delightful place. Strictly speaking the John Rylands wasn’t part of the Heritage Open Days, explained the young lady at reception, as ‘we’re always open to the public’.


Not your average library! Below is the magnificent reading room.


And this gentleman was hard at work!



There were a couple of exhibitions on, including Jez’s one about polari, but I’ll tell you about them another time.


About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website
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11 Responses to Off To The Libraries

  1. coastalcrone says:

    Not your average library indeed! I want to go there. I wonder what polite literary is…

  2. coastalcrone says:

    Rather what polite literature is…

    • Found the leaflet! “During the 18th Century Enlightenment, it was increasingly felt that reading should be a pleasurable rather than just a dutiful, obligatory, doctrinal or educational occupation. The emerging economic and cultural society was ever more aware of issues far beyond their own environments, thanks to the developments of the printing presses and the relative rise of the broadsheets – very much like our own internet revolution, in fact….. The educated and culturally adventurous middle and upper classes, then, became known as the Polite Society ( a ‘polite’ more akin to their cultural standing than necessarily to their manners – a polished education) with a reading scope to match. Hence, Polite Literature.”

  3. What a fascinating place

  4. seascapesaus says:

    The velvet chair just didn’t look the same without you in it. Lost its sense of the august and dignified. Polite literature or not, the retreat matters.

  5. What wonderful secret buildings. And I like the idea of polite literature very much. Goes with little cucumber sandwiches and tea.

  6. cscarts says:

    Great post! I always suspected that polite society weren’t so called on account of their manners.

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