Britains 1st free Library opens
It was fitting that Manchester should have been the first place in Britain to open a free lending and reference library, funded by the ratepayers, in keeping with its radical history - the cooperative movement was formed there, and the Peterloo Massacre of those determined to voice their opposition to the Corn Laws took place in the city.
The opening of the library at Campfield in the centre of Manchester was a very big affair. Charles Dickens spoke at the ceremony, as did poet William Makepeace Thackeray and writer and politician Edward Bulwer Lytton, to say nothing of the Earl of Shaftesbury and Sir James Stephen, Professor of Modern History at Cambridge .
According to Dickens there were some 20,000 volumes in the stock, volumes that would open the minds of the curious, educate the working men who wanted to improve their lot, or just entertain those with no particular social agenda. In the words of Charles Dickens, it was free to all... "Knowing no sect, no party, no distinction; nothing but the public want and the general good."
Although its radical agenda should not be overplayed, its first chief librarian, Edward Edwards, was one of the great figures in the free library movement, playing his part in its spread through Britain and beyond.
The Campfield building that once housed the ground breaking library is now the Air and Space Hall of Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry . Its direct descendent, The Central Library, is still a vital resource for Mancunians, and an iconic building to boot.
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