The hidden 19th century library housing exhibitions, book launches and more

Above a pub on a Manchester street, accessed through an inconspicuous door, lies a hidden gem for book lovers.

The Portico Library was opened on Mosley Street in 1806, making it 215-years-old and one of Manchester’s oldest institutions.

The regency-period building, designed by Thomas Harrison, was exclusively home to the library until 1921, when the Bank of Athens leased the ground floor, formerly a news room.

The ground floor is now occupied by The Bank pub.

The library’s collection includes 25,000 books with some up to 450-years-old.

Librarian Ruth Estevez said: “I started here as a volunteer and for me it’s life saving.”

The library utilises book bandaging to keep many of their older books restored as well as an adopt-a-book programme.

The programme involves choosing a book and viewing it to pick what items they want to save from the book.

In return, they receive a commemorative plate in the front of the book, either in their name or a loved one’s.

The library also runs The Portico Prize, a £10,000 biennial prize awarded to the author whose book best represents the northern spirit.

Submissions to The Portico Prize must be newly written and must have a central theme that engages with the north either through place, character or sensibility.

Books considered can be works of fiction, non-fiction or poetry.

The prize was born out of a hope to encourage writers in the north of England and to create a community passion about literature.

The books are judged by The Society of Readers and Writers to create the current 14 book long longlist, before it is narrowed down further to a shortlist and then onto the final stage of the announcement of the winner, set for 20th January 2022.

Alongside this, they offer a chance to win all six books on the shortlist with the #WhatsYourNorth campaign.

The campaign involves sending in a video you have taken that you believe shows the spirit of the north.

Whether it be of nature’s roaming hills that we are home to, or the man-made extravaganza that is Blackpool Tower, they are glad to receive your videos.

Exhibitions are also commonly held at The Portico, with renowned Brazilian artist Maria Nepomuceno’s work currently on show there.

Her Refloresta! Sculptures reflect organic forms and carry biological and spiritual themes.

Nepomuceno uses traditional rope weaving and straw braiding techniques.

Her vibrant sculptures of rope, beads and straw are a stark contrast against the library’s dark bound books.

Not only will you find unique books here, there is also a café for lunch or even some wine or beer while you read, write and research.

As well as exhibitions and competitions, the library plays host to a range of events year round, such as the upcoming book launch of Lucy Burns’ ‘Larger than an Orange’.

The Portico requires a membership to access the reading area and the books it houses but visitors are welcome who simply want to see its marvellous collection or exhibitions.

Main image credit: Stephen Richards  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic 

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