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                                            The Portico Library
                                      Ann Brooks and Bryan Haworth

                                      The Portico from Charlotte Street today (Anthony J. Pass).

The Portico Newsroom and Library opened in Manchester in              borrowings book runs from 1850 to 1913. The committee records
1806, a natural evolution of the coffee houses, book clubs            are complete, although as anyone who has sat on a committee
and commercial libraries of the eighteenth century town. That         knows, the generally anodyne comments leave many questions
it has survived to the present day, when many others have             for a researcher.
closed, is a tribute to its members’ devotion, good luck
and serendipity.                                                      The original constitution of the Library and Newsroom has
                                                                      undergone some alteration but remains basically the same. The
The Portico’s founding members were central to the growth             number of Proprietors is limited to 400. At its lowest point
of Manchester as an industrial city, representing the many            membership dropped to fewer than 150. It is now approximately
facets of that spectacular expansion. They included Sir Robert        350. All pay an initial fee and an annual subscription. This entitles
Peel, Richard Cobden, the Gregs, Heywoods and Birleys. John           them to reading privileges, access to the permanent stock of
Dalton was made an honorary member in recognition of his              books and a moveable feast of current literature chosen by
service in winding the clock at the Library. The first Secretary      members and the Librarian. From the outset, soup, jellies,
was Dr. Peter Mark Roget and it is probable that he began his         lemonade, and other light refreshments were served, and one of
famous Thesaurus here. Over the ensuing years many of                 the added benefits of Proprietorship is the provision of morning
Manchester’s most important citizens have continued to                coffee and lunches.
become Proprietors.
                                                                      Initially women were allowed as family members. However, they
The Library built up an impressive stock of 60,000 volumes during     were only permitted to ascend the main staircase to the Library
the first hundred years, although many of these were subsequently     gallery and to enter the Reading Room to look at the magazines,
sold or disappeared. There are approximately 20,000 titles in         which were already out of date, as they had been in the Proprietors’
the Library today, a unique collection which represents an insight    Magazine Room for at least three months beforehand. We know
into the tastes of nineteenth century Manchester men.                 of this from Mrs. Gaskell’s letter to Charlotte Brontë in 1859:
                                                                      ‘With a struggle and a fight I can see all the quarterlies three
The Library also possesses extensive archives, although               months after they are published; until then they lie on the Portico
unfortunately with considerable gaps. Not all records have been       table for gentlemen to see. I think I will go in for women’s RIGHTS.’
kept continuously. The visitors’ book finishes by 1840, and the       (Chapple: Elizabeth Gaskell). (Mrs. Gaskell’s husband, William,
was Portico Chairman for thirty years.) Women became Proprietors         for sale and literary and book-related exhibitions. The space is
in 1873 and have served with distinction ever since, although            also used for talks and other events organised for the benefit of
though there has yet to be a woman chairman. Mrs Gaskell’s               the Proprietors. The rent from the lease is important in maintaining
hated rule was amended in 1904, when families were allowed               the Library, which also benefits from funds from English Heritage
admission to the Newsroom.                                               and a variety of charitable institutions.

Origins                                                                  The last twenty years have seen the most extensive repair and
The idea for a Newsroom and Library in Manchester originated             regeneration. Once the gallery floor was in place, it was necessary
with two friends, Robert Robinson and Michael Ward, members              to look to the rest of the building. The roof has been a constant
of the Old Subscription Library, during a visit to Liverpool in          problem for generations of Portico Proprietors. As early as 1808
1799. Envious of that town’s Athenaeum, they opened                      there were complaints against the builders and the archives bear
subscriptions for a similar institution in their own town. After         witness to repeated attempts to solve problems of leaks, floods
considerable difficulties, the necessary funds were raised and the       and ceiling collapse. A series of major works has been undertaken
foundation stone was laid in 1802. The Library and Newsroom              recently. The external roof and dome have been repaired, the
opened in January 1806 as the Manchester Library. The title of           back stairs renovated, the interior ceiling repaired and repainted.
The Portico was adopted the following month and derived from             Anyone who has been to Manchester at the end of 2000 may
the impressive frontage on Mosley Street, which was described            have noticed the scaffolding on the corner of Mosley and
by Joseph Aston in 1816 as ‘a most elegant edifice of the ionic          Charlotte Streets -the latest and we hope the last phase of essential
order’. It remains so today, despite radical changes to the interior     work on the exterior of the building.
over the years. Designed by Thomas Harrison in neo-classical
style, it was built by David Bellhouse and Sons, Manchester’s
leading building contractors. The newsroom was 65 feet long by
42 feet wide with a glass dome 44 feet high. The first floor
gallery, supported on fluted iron pillars to house the shelving for
the library books is still is use, although the ground floor (once
the newsroom with the original doors opening onto Mosley
Street) is now a public bar.

Repairs and Improvements
The function of the building altered during the twentieth century
although the edifice has remained unchanged. (It became a grade
2* listed building in 1952.) The major changes began with a
serious financial crisis in the 1890s, as the movement to the
suburbs and the growth of public libraries placed the dual function
of the Portico as club and library under threat. The core of
businessmen and professionals who had been the inspiration                     Smoking Room: Extract from 1911 Prospectus (Portico Archives).
and support of the Library no longer took advantage of the services
provided, and membership declined. By the turn of the century
there was talk of selling off the building, and Manchester City          The Portico Collection
Council entered into negotiations to take it over. There were            The strength of the collection lies not in a particular speciality
also proposals to amalgamate with the Literary and Philosophical         but in its generality, encapsulating as it does the interests of the
Society with which there had always been close relations. By             nineteenth century middle class. It began with a purchase of 147
1920, agreement had almost been reached to sell the building             titles from Mr. Ford, a local bookseller, and grew to 10,000
to the local authority, while preserving certain privileges for          volumes by 1850. In 1905 the Library claimed to hold 60,000
Proprietors. At the last moment, however, a new bid arrived and          books, but the decline in members and finance forced the sale
the Library was saved when the Bank of Athens, searching for             and disposal of large numbers. The most significant loss was the
premises in Manchester, agreed to lease the ground floor. As a           Adlington Papers, an important collection of eighteenth century
result, the central area was glassed over to illuminate the banking      pamphlets, although these were kept in the city, being sold to
hall, leaving the Library with the first floor rooms. The new entrance   John Rylands Library. Currently the Library holds between 20,000
and stairway, which were opened on Charlotte Street, continue            and 25,000 volumes. The purchase of new books slowed over
to provide the present access.                                           the same period, so the bulk of the collection remains
                                                                         nineteenth century.
The rent from the ground floor helped to overcome the immediate
financial problems but over the years these returned. When the           From the outset the Portico bought popular novels, unusually so
lease ran out in the 1980s, a new tenant was found in Tetley             for such an institution. There is therefore a wide selection of
Walker. The new lease provided the opportunity for improvements          authors, many first editions. Besides the inevitable Dickens, Bronte,
to the Library. The glass ceiling of the ground floor was replaced       Gaskell and Thackeray, there are Edgeworth, Lever, Reed, Besant,
with a load-bearing soundproof floor in the centre of the Library        Bulwer-Lytton and many lesser-known writers. The collected works
space, which has provided a display area used for public                 section contains sets of Pope, Dryden, Defoe, Goethe and the
exhibitions and private meetings. There are displays of artwork          works of Voltaire and Rousseau in French. There is also a strong

representation of drama including 10 volumes of Beaumont and                  example of book production as well as of engineering skill. Most
Fletcher and 22 of Bell’s British Theatre. All these are included             of these works fall within the classification ‘W’ which contains
under the heading Polite Literature, a title which always provokes            some of the most sumptuous examples of printing and illustration
questions. Originally the term included (according to the 1856                in the Library. [For an explanation of classification, see below.]
catalogue): ‘Dictionaries (General and Historical, Encyclopaedias,
Language, Chronological, Biographical, Heraldic, Topographical,               The nineteenth century was a period for the biography, and the
Antiquarian, Architectural, Fine Arts, Natural History, Agricultural,         Library possesses an impressive display of the well known, the
Arts and Commerce, Literary and Philosophical, Bibliographical,               worthy and the long forgotten. There are studies of all the leading
Catalogues, Calendars), Rhetoric, Philology and Criticism, History            figures of the period, including some scandalous - as in Authentic
of the art of Writing and Printing, Romances, Novels and Tales,               memoirs of Mrs Clarke in which is Portrayed the Secret History
Poetry and the Drama, Collective Works, Miscellaneous Literature’.            and Intrigues of Many Characters in the FIRST CIRCLES OF HIGH
Reorganisation has limited the classification to principally fiction,         LIFE. The Lives of the Vice-Chancellors of England would have
drama and poetry. The scope of the definition gives some idea of              provided a safe antidote to this, as would have the biographies
the polymathic nature of the collection.                                      of the many bishops, clergy and respectable gentlemen. This
                                                                              little studied section would reward anyone interested in
                                                                              nineteenth century biography.

   Peter Mark Roget: E. M. Brockbank, Sketches of the lives and work of the
    honorary medical staff of the Manchester Infirmary, Manchester, 1904.

                                                                              ThePorticoLibrary:EngravingbyJ.Stephensonfrom Manchesterasitis [Usupp]
The Library has an extensive selection of eighteenth and
nineteenth century travels and voyages. Thomas Pennant’s travels
and zoological works are well represented, as are the voyages of              Other areas of interest are less well represented. For example,
Captain Cook and the exploration of the Arctic Oceans. The                    both science and the fine arts have little shelf space. Nevertheless,
intrepid women travellers figure largely. Mrs Jameson on Canada;              there are interesting publicatons to be found. Ruskin’s works
Frances Trollope on the manners of the Americans; Anne Plumtree               appear in different sections according to the Library’s own
on France and Napoleon, mingle with less well-known but no                    idiosyncratic classification. Studies of daVinci, Hogarth, Dürer,
less adventurous women. This category is worth extensive                      Blake and Bewick sit alongside Prout’s Hints on Light and Shadow
investigation and has formed the basis of several studies of                  and Zigzagging amongst the Dolomites. As the Library included
women travellers.                                                             all sciences under the heading Natural Philosophy, chemistry,
                                                                              physics, meteorology, geology, botany and all related topics are
Manchester businessmen, despite their reputation as uncultured,               intermixed. This section was badly depleted when a number of
subscribed to a collection of truly varied reading. The history               outdated science books were donated to the war effort as scrap
section ranges from early editions of the writings of James I and             during the Second World War. Amongst the standard texts there
Charles I through comprehensive histories of the Indian                       are many treasures. Moore’s The Ferns of Great Britain, and
subcontinent to classic texts on Greece and Rome and a complete               Sowerby’s English Botany are particularly fine, as is Johnston’s
run (72 volumes) of French medieval documents which were                      Atlas of Astronomy.
published throughout the French Revolution. Local history is not
well represented, although there is a comprehensive but                       It is impossible to do full justice to any of the categories within
incomplete set of Chetham Society Publications. If Manchester                 the Library as each requires specialist knowledge of the variety of
is somewhat neglected the topography and antiquities of Great                 topics and there has been no consistent policy in building up
Britain are well covered, from the Orkneys to Wiltshire and Devon.            the collection, which is both eclectic and eccentric.
Many visitors have been surprised to discover accounts of their
home districts resting in the Portico shelves. The architecture               Portico Catalogues
section covers more than mere bricks and stones. C. L. Eastlake’s             The printed catalogues can give an overview of how the Library
A Histor y of the Gothic Revival in England is an important                   has developed since the beginning. The Library has a
statement of ‘Victorian values’, while Smeaton’s a Narrative of               comprehensive set from 1810 to 1895. Dr. Watson, the first
the Building Of the Eddystone Lighthouse with Stone is a fine                 Librarian, compiled the original catalogue, although unfortunately
this has not survived. The 1810 catalogue has 610 titles, classified       Institution, Memoirs of the Astronomical Society of London, The
according to size, as was then the custom. Each is arranged                Builder and the Zoological Journal (unfortunately none of these
alphabetically under title, the date of publication and acquisition        has survived). By 1856 the catalogue classification is much more
number given sequentially on date of purchase, for example: 18             specific and is the basis for all subsequent cataloguing. A new
Gloucester, History of, by Bigland, 2 vols. 1792. Separate sections,       catalogue was contemplated in 1876 but was abandoned as being
using the same cataloguing system, cover books in Latin (4),               too expensive. Later catalogues in 1882 and 1895 contained
Italian (1), French (93) including Buffon’s 38-volume Histoire             additions only. The latest catalogue is being computerised but
Naturelle, (which is still in the Library, handsomely rebound).            the card system introduced in the twentieth century will be still
This was a point of departure from the Circulating Library where           available for use.
books were available only in translation. Eleven works, all Quarto
in size, were not available for borrowing. Twenty maps and plates
are listed, and ninety-nine pamphlets.

This second catalogue, prepared by the Librarian Horsfall, gives a
snapshot of the catholic tastes of the membership. These include
John Dalton’s Meteorological Observations and Essays, Malthus
On Population, Wilberforce on the Abolition of the Slave Trade,
Cuthbertson on Electricity, and show the members’ concern with
topical scientific and political questions. The third catalogue of
1820 introduced subject headings whilst still retaining the size
order as the main classification. The Library now had over 1,400
titles, which since multi-volume publications were common meant
over 4,000 books. Though the catalogues of 1830 and 1840
do not survive, there is a manuscript catalogue of 1830/31 listing
                                                                                      The Esk River: John Carr Caledonian Sketches 1809
the book stock in alphabetical order. The 1845 catalogue lists
over 9,500 titles arranged into six classes. The 1850 supplement
shows an increase of another 900, taking the list to over 10,400           At the outset books in the Library were catalogued and arranged
titles or 30,000 individual volumes.                                       by size. As the collection grew, a more accessible system became
                                                                           necessary. The books were allocated subject categories and within
                                                                           those categories numbers according to their positions on the
                                                                           shelf. For example Byron’s verse drama, Manfred, is marked Ae
                                                                           38, that is the thirty-eighth book on the fifth shelf of the bookcase
                                                                           marked ‘A’, (Poetry and Drama). As books and bookcases were
                                                                           added, the numbering continued but ceased to refer directly to
                                                                           the shelving. By the twentieth century the specific number had
                                                                           ceased to be helpful (and there were few additions to stock).
                                                                           Acquisitions since 1892 have simply borne the suffix ‘Supp’ for
                                                                           Supplement. These are, so far as is possible, shelved in alphabetical
                                                                           order by author, except for biographies, which are arranged
                                                                           alphabetically by subject.

                                                                           The classification was and remains arbitrary and occasionally
                                                                           eccentric. ‘W’ is particularly eclectic, containing architecture and
                                                                           antiquities, costume and customs, newspapers and numismatics.
                                                                           The nature of the shelving means that an author’s work is not
                                                                           collected together. Mrs. Gaskell may well be nestling between
     Roman Inscription: William Camden Britannia. Enlarged by the latest   William Godwin and Bulwer-Lytton. Similarly, you may find Nepal
                     discoveries, Vol. 4, London 1806
                                                                           between the Arctic Sea and the Prairies. Searching through the
                                                                           shelves can be both exciting and frustrating; anyone wishing to
These early catalogues show that novels were very popular. Other           consult the books is advised to consult the Librarian first.
private libraries and institutions frowned upon ‘cheap fiction’.
Not so the Portico. The 1820 catalogue lists The Novelist’s                The Portico Prize
Magazine in 23 volumes, containing 49 popular eighteenth                   In 1984 the Books Sub-committee submitted a proposal for the
century novels.                                                            foundation of a literary prize for books about the North West,
                                                                           fiction or non-fiction. It was to be called The Portico Prize. At
The early classification system was ill equipped to deal with the          this date there were about one hundred and forty Prizes, Grants
increasing specialisation of science and literature. This is reflected     and Awards in the U.K., ranging from £50 and an engraved goblet
in the specialist journals to which the Portico was subscribing by         to the £15,000 Booker McConnell Prize. There was then not
1845, 38 in total. Examples include Annals of Philosophy; or,              one for specific books on the North West. Various organisations
Magazine of Chemistry, Mineralogy, Mechanics, Natural History,             were approached and in 1985 the Granada Foundation sponsored
Agriculture and the Arts in 10 volumes, Journal of the Royal               the £1,500 prize which was awarded towards the end of the
year. The Prize was the subject of much attention as it was unique       Monographs and Archive Material
not only in being devoted to the North West but also in fiction          The Library produces monographs on specific topics, often based
and non-fiction competing together. Over the years both the              upon talks given at the Portico. These vary widely: they include
sponsors (including the B.B.C and the Royal Bank of Scotland)            studies of Victorian Women Travellers, based upon the Library’s
and the venues have changed. The award became biennial in                collection; the Manchester Medical Library; the Birds of West
1991 but through all this the high quality of the winning works          Africa; John Dalton; and Thomas Barge Junior. These brief
has not altered.                                                         pamphlets are free to Proprietors but may be purchased from the
                                                                         Library. Proprietors and students have also prepared a number of
Today, with many literary prizes commanding media attention              booklists. They vary in length and detail but are a useful guide to
and offering substantial rewards, the Library is reviewing the Portico   what may be available for the specialist researcher. Again they
Prize with the aim of raising its profile to ensure that it remains a    reflect individual interests, with authors such as Byron, Dickens,
prominent event in both Manchester and the North West.                   and Gaskell in addition to topics such as Napoleon Bonaparte,
                                                                         George Cruikshank, Botany and Bhutan. Not all are freely available
Winners of the Portico Prize
                                                                         so anyone interested should contact the Librarian.
1985      Gary Messinger      Manchester in the Victorian Age
                              (Social History)
1986      Don Howarth         Figures in a Bygone Landscape
1987      Bill Naughton       On the Pig’s Back
1988      John Stalker and    Stalker
          Margaret Simey      Democracy Rediscovered
                              (Local Politics)
1989      Anthony Burgess     Any Old Iron
1990      Hugh Owen           The Lowther Family
1991      Alan Hankinson      Coleridge Walks the Fells
1993      Jenny Uglow         Elizabeth Gaskell:A Habit of Stories
1995      Richard Francis     Taking Apart the Poco Poco
1997      Paul Wilson         Do White Whales Sing at the Edge
                              of the World?
2000      John Parkinson-     Manchester : An Architectural
          Bailey              History

                                                                                           The Portico today, Dome and Gallery.

                                                                         Many enquirers are disappointed that the Portico has no
                                                                         manuscript material other than that which refers directly to the
                                                                         institution itself. Although William Gaskell was chairman for thirty
                                                                         years there are no personal papers relating to him or Mrs Gaskell.
                                                                         In fact the Archive material at the Portico is as eccentric as the
                                                                         Library itself.

                                                                         There is a complete set of minutes of the Main Committee from
                                                                         1806. Like all committee minutes they vary from the
                                                                         comprehensive to the most terse and reveal less than they conceal
                                                                         in many places. There are also minutes from the various
                                                                         committees that have appeared and disappeared over the
                                                                         centuries. For example, the House Sub-committee from 1851 to
                                                                         1910; the Library Sub-committee from 1831 to 1892; the Library
                                                                         Finance, Special, Newspaper Committees, which are included
                                                                         sporadically with the Main Committee.

                      William Gaskell: The Portico Bust.

There are various Receipt Books, Ledgers and Cash Books,                  Conclusion
incomplete from 1810 to 1980. To identify past Proprietors, a             When built, the Portico Newsroom and Library was part of a
complete list from 1806 to c. 1851 is in a useful bound volume.           national movement. The Liverpool Library, opened in 1758, was
For the rest, there are members’ subscription books, share                followed by the Athaeneum and Newsroom in 1797. Other early
certificate books and share transfer books (with gaps) to 1983.           libraries included Birmingham (1779), Leeds (1768) and Bradford
Lists of members were printed for the Annual General Meeting              (1832). Like the Portico, several have survived into the twenty
from the 1880s to 1915 - bound in the Main Committee Minutes.             first century. The Portico Librarian, Mrs Allan, helped to bring
For the book stock and book borrowing, the Issue Books from               these remaining subscription libraries together in the Association
1850 to 1904 record who borrowed what. The Main Committee                 of Independent Libraries. Founded in 1990, the inaugural meeting
Minutes at times detail books purchased and sold. There are               was held at the Portico. The Association now has twenty-one
printed catalogues for 1810,1820, 1845, 1856, 1863, 1873, 1882            members, all of which were founded between 1768 and 1841.
and 1895. Manuscript catalogues exist for c.1831 and some
subsequent years to 1975. There is a typed copy of the catalogue
of the Adlington pamphlets.

There is also a miscellaneous - very miscellaneous - collection                               To Visit the Library
of correspondence, newspaper cuttings and allied matter gathered          The Library entrance is on the corner of Charlotte Street and
randomly over the years. Most is arranged in roughly chronological        Mosley Street. To gain admittance, ring the bell adjacent
order and is undergoing proper cataloguing.                               to the door.
                                                                          The Gallery area is open to the public 9.30-4.30 weekdays only.
There was a brief history of the Library written by the then Librarian,
Tinsley Pratt, in 1922. The present authors have published two
accounts: Boomtown Manchester 1800-1850 (1993) which links                Anyone wishing to visit the Library proper, obtain membership
the first fifty years of the Library with local and national events;      details or undertake research should contact the Librarian:
and The Portico Library, A History (2000) which deals with the            Emma Marigliano, Portico Library, 57 Mosley Street,
development of the Library within the local context from its              Manchester, M2 3HY: telephone 0161 236 6785.
beginning to the year 2000. Both are available from the Library.

                                               Books can lead to knowledge or MADNESS:
                                                            Rev. T. F. Dibden,
                                            Bibliomania or book-madness, London, 1811 [Lh 4].


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