The start of communism: Chetham's Library

The school library that served as started point for Karl Marx and Engels

Most people don’t know, but the city of Manchester, a great name when we’re talking about England’s music history, is also where the communism “started”. Chetham’s Library was the place where the radical Karl Marx and the industrialist Engels began the research for the Communist Manifesto, back in 1845.

A bit about when Chetham’s Library started

The Chetham’s Library opened its doors in 1635 and now it is the oldest surviving public library in Britain. Located in the center of Manchester in a medieval sandstone building that now is a music school, but before used to be a prison, this library is a must go place.

The Chetham’s Library aimed to compete with the big college libraries like Oxbridge and provide a place for independent study in the north part of England. And the best way I can describe its look is with: You’ll feel like you’re in Hogwarts.

Humphrey Chetham, a rich and successful merchant, ordered this library to be built for the use of students and others well affected. He also instructed the librarian to ‘to require nothing of any man that cometh into the library’. The shelves at Chetham’s Library still have rare and antique books from the day its doors were opened.

Old dark wood, incredible atmosphere and history pouring down from its walls and ceilings, this is Chetham. It costs you nothing to enter but donations are more than welcomed. You can find donation boxes downstairs and upstairs. And if you don’t want to simply donate, you can purchase some books about the history of this wonderful and beautiful library.

Down you can see, in order, the shelf holding the original books used by Marx and Engels, the room with the beautiful round table, the actual corner table they used and the first look you have once you enter Chetham’s Library.

Karl Marx and Engels’ history in Chetham

Once you pass through the door and climb up the stairs, you have only 2 choices, only 2 paths to choose. Chetham’s Library is modest and small. But what it lacks on size, it makes up on beauty.

If you go towards the window, you’ll see a round big table and right by its side, a wooden squared table. This small table has 3 of its 4 sides facing the windows. It is there on a corner that looks like it was done just to fit this small and heavy table. This table is where Marx and Engels used to sit down and work for hours and hours on what later we’d call the Communist Manifesto.

And yes, you can sit there and see exactly what they saw. The librarian can even show you the books they used on their research – they are still there and still available to see.

But Chetham’s Library is not only for people interested in this particular work. This library contains much more interesting and notorious books, facts and treasures. A rare first version of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost is there for example. The belongings of self-proclaimed magician and occultist John Dee is another notorious example of what you can find there.

Chetham’s Library proudly has more than 100,000 volumes of printed books of which 60,000 were published before 1851. Some of those old book even have pictures! It is history upon history, right in the center of the fantastic city of Manchester.

The actual books Marx and Engels used. And yes, those are the originals economics books the duo used on their research. And yes, they are still there.

If you choose to go to the right…

At the entrance of the music school, look for this sign.

And if you choose to go to the left..

A glimpse of how pretty the surroundings are.

The famous table in its glory.

How to get there

Chetham is super central and easy to go. It is just a few meters away from a big shopping mall called Manchester Arndale. To be more specific it is on the other side of the park next to the Football Museum and very close to the outstanding Manchester cathedral – that can be your next stop once you’re finish with the library. You can’t miss it. If you’re going by public transport, take off at the Manchester Victoria Station.

The Library is open to the public without appointment from Monday to Friday, 9-12.30 and 1.30-4.30pm. According to their website, groups are also welcome but only by appointment with the Librarian. More info at their website.

And since Chetham is in a music school, of course there’s an option for you to check it out concerts. Midday concerts performed by pupils are open to the public but please check it beforehand the times.

Chetham's Library

Chetham’s Library in Manchester

Long Millgate, Manchester M3 1SB, United Kingdom