Hands up who has heard of the Portico Library & Gallery in Manchester city centre? Nope, neither had I until recently.
My introduction to the Portico was an exhibition about Alice in Wonderland. In retrospect, this seems a particularly apposite initiation: a window into hidden wonder, fantastical beauty and a place whose value is recognised by only a few.
Easily overlooked, not least for the dominance of the local pub, the Portico Library is close to Manchester’s popular Chinatown and just up from Manchester Art Gallery on Mosley Street. A private subscription library, a status it has held since it was built in 1806, the library was designed by Tomas Harrison as the first Greek revival building in the city after a meeting by a small group of Manchester businessmen resolved to found an “institute uniting the advantages of a newsroom and a library”. It is accessed from a side entrance on Charlotte Street.
The Portico Library has had some illustrious historical figures associated with it, perhaps best known of whom would be Peter Mark Roget who began his famous thesaurus at the Portico.
Despite being a private subscription library, it does open its doors to the public for various daytime exhibitions and evening functions throughout the year. These are well-curated exhibitions, planned well in advance and usually located under the stunning glass dome.
I hesitate to use the term “hidden gem”, an overused term which still does the job, but the Portico is just this. Go hither, you won’t regret it.
By Helen Nugent
What: Portico Library & Gallery
Where: Mosley Street, Manchester city centre
More info: www.theportico.org.uk