Libraries for All

Early modern parish libraries, frequently established for the benefit of the general public, were often deliberately inaccessible.

The library from the parish of Gorton, now held at Chetham’s Library in Manchester. Of the five original libraries, only two have survived intact. Wiki Commons/Mike Peel.
The library from the parish of Gorton, one of five bequeathed by Humphrey Chetham in the 1650s, now held at Chetham’s Library in Manchester. Only two of the libraries have survived intact.

When the Manchester merchant and financier Humphrey Chetham bequeathed five parish libraries for the use of the common people in 1653, he was neither the first to do so, nor the last. He was, however, one of only a handful of people to establish public access parish libraries that the public could actually access. Others had the intention of being used by the common people but gave the distinct impression that not all commoners were made equal.

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