Manchester certainly has a radical literary history – from Marx and Engels to John Cooper Clarke.
Anthony Burgess was born and raised in the city, German industrialist and Marxist philosopher Friedrich Engels lived in Manchester in the early 1840s, and Karl Marx was a frequent visitor (you can see their desk at Chetham’s).
Charles Dickens came to the growing industrial metropolis 19 times, and some say the fictional Coketown in Hard Times is based on the city.
Manchester’s current literary scene is just as lively, with the hugely popular Manchester Literature Festival, spoken word evenings, independent and second-hand bookstores, and a wealth of libraries.
Here’s our pick of the best things to do in Manchester for literature lovers.
Lose an afternoon in Paramount
Paramount Books, a family owned business since 1965, is something of a Manchester institution, and a characterful city centre haven for book lovers. With a fantastic collection including science fiction, fantasy, classic novels, modern paperbacks and a huge selection of comics and graphic novels, they also boast an enviable selection of out of print books. You may intend to pop in quickly to look for something in particular, but prepare to lose a few hours browsing the stacks of bookish treasures, or chatting to the bibliophile owner, whilst listening to the classical or jazz music always playing.
Visit the oldest public library in the English-speaking world
Chetham’s Library, founded in 1653 (and housed in a building built in 1421), began acquiring books in August 1655, and has been adding to its collections ever since. As well as a fine collection of early printed books, the collections include a wealth of ephemera, manuscript diaries, letters and deeds, prints, paintings and glass lantern slides. Humphrey Chetham’s will of 1651 stipulated that the Library should be ‘for the use of schollars and others well affected’, and instructed the librarian ‘to require nothing of any man that cometh into the library’. Chetham’s has been in continuous use as a free public library for over 350 years.
Have a Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea
— Neighbourhood (@Neighbourhood4) May 6, 2015
Join Neighbourhood in Spinningfields on weekday afternoons for an afternoon tea with a difference. Follow a selection of dainty finger sandwiches with a miscellany of sweet bites – including Dark Double Devil Mousse and Jelly Wonderland – and a Drugstore Sundae. Drinks include a range of non-alcoholic Potions such as Fruity Tooty or Berry Kiss alongside teas, coffee or something sparkling. Just don’t be late for a very important date.
What’s it going to be then, eh?
— Burgess Foundation (@misterenderby) May 5, 2015
Born and raised in Manchester, and educated at the University of Manchester, A Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess was arguably one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers. Learn more about this immensely talented author, journalist, linguist and composer at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, with its extensive and varied library and archive of rare books, manuscripts, correspondence and photographs. They also have a performance venue showcasing new work by writers, artists and musicians, plus regular film screenings and events, a café bar, and a shop. Drag your droogs along.
Browse in Magma
— Magma (@magmabooks) April 25, 2015
With titles mainly focusing on design, architecture, fashion and the creative arts, Magma is seriously cool, but it’s also a gorgeous place to browse and shop. You can find posters, stylish t-shirts, eco products, super- cute notebooks, pop-up books, DIY boardgames, kitchenware and unusual design items alongside a range of beautiful books you’ll want to fill your own shelves at home with, from typography and advertising titles to illustration and photography. The perfect place to pick up a quirky gift, or to treat yourself.
Soak up a literary festival
Built on the legacy of its successful predecessor, Manchester Poetry Festival, Manchester Literature Festival has been a must-go-to event for literature lovers since it started in 2006. With walking tours and interesting use of venues, it stands out from many other book festivals. This year’s programme has yet to be announced, but a few tickets are still available for Margaret Atwood who will be appearing in September 2015.
Publish with a local press
— Carcanet Press (@Carcanet) April 28, 2015
Now in its fifth decade, Carcanet, one of the outstanding literary publishers of our time, publishes the most comprehensive and diverse list available of modern and classic poetry in English and in translation, as well as a range of inventive fiction, Lives and Letters and literary criticism.
Comma Press is a not-for-profit publishing initiative dedicated to promoting new writing, with an emphasis on the short story. It is committed to a spirit of risk-taking and challenging publishing, free of the commercial pressures on mainstream houses.
Mind your Bad Language
— Bad Language (@BadLanguageMcr) April 29, 2015
If you’ve never been to a spoken word night before, head to Bad Language for a fun-filled night with Manchester’s literary community. Dedicated to the promotion and development of new writing, Bad Language have worked with Manchester Museum, the Royal Exchange. Kendal Calling, Literature Across Frontiers, Waterstones, Blackwell’s, small presses and many more over the past five years, with performances from the likes of Roy Macfarlane, Jo Bell, David Gaffney, Tom Fletcher, Carys Bray, Emma Jane Unsworth, Rodge Glass and Stuart Maconie. Contact them to book an open mic slot if you’d like to perform at one of their monthly nights.
Visit Elizabeth Gaskell’s house
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House was the home of the famous author, whose novels include Mary Barton, Cranford, North and South, Ruth and Wives and Daughters. The house is a beautiful a Grade II listed property, built between 1835-1841 – a rare example of the elegant Regency-style villas once popular in Manchester. Now, thanks to a major £2.5m project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and others, the restored house is open to the public for the first time. A monthly Victorian book group meets on Thursdays.
Libraries, libraries, libraries
Discover The Portico and its history on one of our Grand Tours. Next taking place on April 27 book your place now RT pic.twitter.com/S4bxyRsPcQ
— The Portico Library (@ThePortico) April 21, 2015
The John Rylands Library on Deansgate, which has recently undergone a £15 million programme of repairs and conservation, has been acclaimed as the best example of neo-Gothic architecture in Europe and is indisputably one of the world’s finest libraries, holding a collection spanning 5,000 years. Today, Basil Champneys’ beautiful building holds one of the finest collections of rare books, manuscripts and archives in the world.
The Portico Library collection is mainly 19th century, with a wide selection of travel literature, novels, biographies and history. Unusually for such a library in the 19th century, there is also a fine representative selection of fiction, including a number of first editions. The Travel section is particularly strong covering the voyages of Captain Cook, numerous Victorian women travellers and Victorian continental exploration.
Central Library recently reopened after a £50 million makeover to bring its gorgeous Grade II listed neoclassical structure back to its former glory. Visit the Reading Room with seating for 300 people, compose, play and record your own music at the Henry Watson Music Library, discover rare books and special collections, or check out the British Film Institute Mediatheque, with highlights from the world’s greatest and most diverse collection of British film and television.
Walk the streets of a cultural city
Every day during the Manchester International Festival this July, you can join a walk to explore a different aspect of Manchester’s cultural history. Whether you fancy retracing the footsteps of Marx and Engels, investigating Manchester’s rich theatre legacy, having a tour of the John Rylands Library, looking at Manchester’s newspaper past or Media City future, join a walk which promises to entertain and educate.
Meet Salome Maloney, queen of the Ritz
No literature list would be complete without mention of the Bard of Salford, John Cooper Clarke. As you walk down Oxford Road past the Ritz, the oldest ballroom in Manchester, remember the words of the punk poet:
Standing by the cig’ machine, who did I see
In lurex and terylene, she hypnotised me
I asked her name, she said it’s…
“Salome Maloney, queen of the Ritz”
Lacquered in a beehive
Her barnet didn’t budge
Wet-look lips, she smiled as sweet as fudge
She had a number on her back
And sequins on her tits
The sartorial requirements
For females in the Ritz
Main pic: John Rylands Library/CC Michael D Beckwith/Wikimedia Commons