It’s late morning on a Saturday and the city centre of Manchester is brimming with activity. The streets are filled with people with things to do and places to be. The shop tills ring, the cappucino machines squeal, and delicious smells waft their way from street food vendors. It is unashamedly vibrant, outspoken and proud; but look closely and you will find a quieter side too.
Just up from Piccadilly Gardens there is a grand building flanked by imposing columns and a mysterious door on one side on Charlotte Street asking you to ‘ring the intercom’. This is a city of history, and up the narrow staircase lined with framed prints is a gem of a building revealing an important part of Manchester’s cultural offer which is still continuing to this day.
Since 1806, The Portico Library has been home to a collection of predominantly 19th century books ranging from literary works and scientific journals to educational texts and travellers tales. Ceiling-high shelves are crammed with leather-bound volumes, the roof itself dominated by a dome of coloured glass flooding the floor with a tranquil light.
Tables and chairs usher members to sit, relax and absorb themselves in years of history. It is blissfully quiet, and even visitors (who are welcome Monday to Saturday with no admission fee) find themselves tip-toeing to maintain a peace we are so rarely accustomed to in the modern world. A cafe and a regularly changing art exhibition make the space even more of a joy to visit.
The Library exists thanks to the support of its members, who are able to not only borrow books (with no fines) but also benefit from regular use of the space (whether for work or pleasure), access to free Wi-Fi, a postal loan service, research assistance, voting rights in library matters, and the chance to meet with new people – which, in a city of this size, is not always easy.
It is a unique example of a building and collection that are worth far more than just a source of information. They are in themselves stories, tracing a history of academic and cultural development in a city that is continuously moving with the times. It is a reminder of simple pleasures, of the importance of peace and reflection; a hub, a haven, a still beating heart.
For more information on The Portico please visit their website here.