When Manchester recently bid for and won UNESCO City of Literature status, part of its success was undoubtedly based on the thriving Manchester Literature Festival, an annual reminder to the world that Manchester was the city which built the UK’s first public lending library and gave the world the work of great writers including Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Burgess, Howard Jacobson and many more.

As well as the world-class Central Library and three historic gems – The Portico, John Rylands and Chetham’s Library – the legacy of its native authors is celebrated at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation and Elizabeth Gaskell’s House. The city also boasts two of the country’s most highly-regarded writing schools, the University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing and the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, and is home to a thriving live literature scene with thousands of people attending book launches, author readings and performances, open-mic nights and reading groups across the city, plus world-class publishers including Carcanet and Comma Press.

So, a 90-minute Literary Manchester Walking Tour with Anne Beswick, run as part of this year’s Manchester Literature Festival and necessarily constrained to the city-centre, couldn’t reasonably be expected to do much more than illustrate the tip of the proverbial iceberg. To do so with such aplomb, though, might legitimately be regarded as quite a result for Beswick and the festival.

Anne Beswick, Manchester Literature FestivalA lively group consisting of a couple of dozen tourists and literary-minded locals (with, intriguingly, a few of the women dressed more as if they were off to a posh lunch date than for rambling through the city centre), we set off from the Midland Hotel with Beswick peppering familiar stuff about Rolls, Royce, Posh and Becks, with more literary allusions to the likes of Val McDermid and her PI character Kate Brannigan.

Just around the corner, the erstwhile Manchester Central railway station, now the convention complex commonly known as Manchester Central, was demonstrated to have links with Howard Jacobson and his semi-autobiographical novel The Mighty Waltzer, while, near The Bridgewater Hall, Beswick managed to cannily work in sport as we stood outside the headquarters of the Professional Footballers’ Association, and she cheekily quoted from Colin Shindler’s Manchester United Ruined My Life. This sort of lateral thinking that informed the tour and its associated stories meant that first-time tourists were introduced to key sites while even those of us who thought we surely knew all this stuff remained consistently intrigued.

Thus, Library Walk, with its references to the victims of the Peterloo Massacre, led us to Shelley’s Masque of Anarchy and a sighting of The Hidden Gem (currently more hidden than ever as the shops in front are demolished), as well as a mention of Catholic boy Anthony Burgess, expanded on in the entrance-way to the John Rylands Library as we headed down towards the end of the tour by the People’s History Museum and, looking across at Salford, were reminded of Walter Greenwood. Of course, it was only a partial history of Literary Manchester – how could it be otherwise? But as a way to spend an entertaining and informative 90 minutes in Manchester city centre, one of these walking tours is pretty hard to beat.

By Kevin Bourke


Other Walking Tours throughout the Manchester Literature Festival include: Elizabeth Gaskell’s Manchester (October 15th); Listen To The Women! (October 16th); First Editions And Rarities (October 17th); CSI Manchester (October 18th); Manchester Thinkers And Drinkers Pub Tour (October 18th); The Original Punk Poet Pub Tour (October 20th); and Suffragette City (October 21st).