This week Manchester Central Library marked its seventy-ninth birthday. On 17 July 1934 the building was opened by King George V and Queen Mary. Thousands of children lined the streets.

727.8, Central Library Royal Opening

According to the Manchester Guardian for June 28 1934, it was agreed to issue this handkerchief free to all 123,000 elementary school children in the city. In the end, some 250,000 were printed, with school children in surrounding areas such as Stretford also receiving one. The actual cost of purchase at the time was 4/- (20p) a dozen for small and 5/- (25p) a dozen large.

Over the years, dozens of these hankies have found their way back to Central Library. No more donations are required – unless you have one without any stains!

Souvenir handkerchief, 17 Jul 1934 (GB127.M740/8/4/3/6)

Once inside Central Library, this is how the first visitors would see Shakespeare Hall.

Shakespeare Hall, Manchester Central Library, 1934

The Shakespeare Hall window was designed by the Arts & Crafts artist, Robert Anning Bell RA (1863-1933) and includes a portrait of William Shakespeare and scenes from many of his plays. It was given to the library by Mrs Rosa Grindon, in memory of her husband, the famous Manchester botanist, Leo Grindon. The two other stained glass windows and the magnificent heraldic decorations were all designed by George Kruger Gray (1880-1943).

Ceiling of Shakespeare Hall, Manchester Central Library, 30 Mar 1934

On the ceiling are the arms and crests of the Duchy of Lancaster, Lancashire County Council and the Sees of York, Manchester and the City of Manchester. Around the walls are those of Manchester Grammar School, Manchester University, the Manchester Regiment, Humphrey Chetham, the Overseers of the Township, England, St George and St Mary (the patron saint of Manchester).

Upstairs visitors would find the Great Hall – the central focus of the library.

Great Hall, Manchester Central Library, 1934

The Great Hall is lit partly by natural light from the glass ‘oculus’ in the centre of the dome and partly by a circle of elegant Art Deco style lights. The dome creates an extraordinary ‘whispering gallery’ effect, which changes depending on where you stand in the room. Architect Vincent E. Harris designed an extraordinary wrought iron structure over the central counter, with green malachite pillars, topped by a clock.

Great Hall, Manchester Central Library, 1934

Around the dome is a quotation from the Bible (Proverbs IV, v7-9) chosen by Harris: ‘Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting, get understanding’ All of the furniture in the Great Hall was designed by Harris.

The Town Hall Complex transformation programme is returning these rooms to their former glory. You can see pictures of this painstaking work here. We’re really looking forward to celebrating the library’s eightieth birthday next year, once we’re back home!

THCTP November 2012