The late 80’s and early 90’s saw Manchester’s creative star in ascendancy, most noticeably on the music scene where Factory Records, The Hacienda, The Smiths, New Order, The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets and more were part of an explosive mix. Oasis. The Verve. Happy Mondays. Even Take That drew it’s members from satellite towns.
Those days may have passed though, as this Guardian article shows, there is still much to celebrate here but what gives a city a thriving culture? Can it be manufactured (perhaps by being awarded the “City of Culture” label), is it a by-product of social changes such as those in Liverpool in the 50’s and 60’s, or can the city itself be a source of inspiration? I’ve certainly found Manchester to be the latter in my recent visits here, so perhaps others have too.
The city has long valued and celebrated culture, and aside from the architectural gems I’ve described in other posts, the Bridgewater Hall is both home to the city’s Hallé Orchestra and the primary venue for the BBC Philharmonic though of course as the successor to the Free Trade Hall, it hosts concerts in many musical genres.
At over a mile in length, Deansgate is Manchester’s longest road, running from the cathedral (which will feature in a future posting) at one end to the Beetham Tower and Great Northern Warehouse at the other. In between the extremes is another structure that I feel both embodies and encourages the spirit of the city, and I don’t refer to the exhortation that adorns the former Band of Hope building also on Deansgate.
Instead I refer to the red sandstone block which defiantly resists the encroaching steel and glass of the Spinningfields development. The crenellated roofline of the gatehouse façade suggests a castle, but the rest is more reminiscent of a church. The building is neither, though it could be argued that it fulfils a both a defensive and evangelistic role.
It’s a library.
An impressive library with some equally impressive collections. In its defensive role it preserves some priceless documents which include a Gutenberg Bible, early print works from William Caxton, and arguably the oldest papyrus fragment of the New Testament in the world. Its evangelistic role is within the fabric of the building which screams to all the world the importance of the written word. This is the John Rylands Library, named after a local philanthropic businessman and which opened on 1st January 1900. Even the date is a statement of intent that this should play a key role in the future of the city, and as one of the first public buildings with electric lighting it married the traditions of its gothic design with the height of modernism.
This is a cathedral of knowledge, with statuary and stained glass which celebrate intellectuals rather than saints. Here you will find Plato, Herodotus, Shakespeare, Socrates and more in a soaring “nave” whose lighting brought to mind the great candlelit hall of Hogwarts.
It was perhaps appropriate that my visit coincided with an exhibition of medieval texts entitled
Magic, Witches & Devils in the Early Modern World!