History explorer: Public libraries

As Unesco declares Manchester a City of Literature, Nige Tassell and Mark Towsey visit Chetham’s Library, one of the world’s oldest public libraries, to discover how the city brought reading to the masses

Chetham library

This article was first published in the January 2018 edition of BBC History Magazine

When you take a seat in the alcove of the reading room of Chetham’s Library in Manchester you can sense that it’s a special place. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels sat at this very table, spending the summer of 1845 studying heavy volumes – titles that today’s visitors can still see, such as William Petty’s Essays in Political Arithmetick from 1699 or the 1797 three-volume State of the Poor by Frederick Eden – and fermenting the ideas that would form the basis of The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848.

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