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Library of the Month: Chetham’s Library

Posted By Administration, 29 August 2019

Library of the Month: Chetham’s Library

Chetham's Library

If you missed the tour of Chetham’s Library after the July LIHG conference, here is your chance for a virtual visit. Thanks to Sue McLoughlin, Library Assistant at Chetham’s, for the contribution …


Chetham’s Library was founded in 1653 by Humphrey Chetham, a wealthy textile merchant. As well as a free library ‘for schollars and others well-affected’, he left a sum of money in his will for a school for poor boys, and five small chained libraries to be placed in local churches. Whilst the school has grown out of all recognition into a world-renowned music school, and the chained libraries have all but disappeared from view, the Library has remained exactly as Humphrey Chetham intended, still housed in the seventeenth century oak presses within the medieval college buildings which his trustees purchased for the foundation. It remains, too, free and open to anyone with an interest in the collections, which have an extraordinary depth and breadth for such a small library, and have been designated as of national and international importance.

When Chetham’s trustees began collecting in the 1650s, their intention was to build a library to rival those of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, and the full range of scholarly interest was catered for. By the mid-eighteenth century the collection had outgrown the original shelves, and the presses were increased in height, along with the addition of the elegant oak gates which still grace the interior today.

The collection includes over 100,000 volumes of printed books, including a substantial number of incunables and over 60,000 published before 1851. These include particularly rich collections of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century printed works, periodicals and journals, broadsides and other ephemera. In addition, we have substantial holdings of manuscripts and archives, including over forty medieval manuscripts. The Library now specialises in the history of Manchester and the north west of England, and we continue to collect on this subject as well as acquiring material on the history of the book and booktrades.


Sue McLoughlin

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