At the end of January I went to see a colleague of mine at the John Rylands Library on Deansgate. I’d been meaning to for a while, but it’s too far away from where I work to be doable in a lunch hour so I waited until I had a week off instead.
I got the bus into Piccadilly and felt rather depressed as the bus turned off down Whitworth Street and went past Legends, now boarded up and poised for either demolition or partial restructure. Then I walked through Piccadilly Gardens to Mosley Street (honoured by John Cooper Clarke in one of his more lugubrious works) towards Saint Peter’s Square. I feel quite bleak about the redevelopment going on there too – the Library, Library Theatre, Peace Gardens, Metrolink…
When it’s redone the council are glassing over Library Walk, one of the most architecturally beautiful walkways in Manchester. Not only do the architect’s and the council appear to be deliberately blighting a really nice bit of Victorian architecture, but the council also intend to put a new Peterloo memorial plaque on the gate. It will be the 200 year anniversary of Peterloo in August 2019, and to mark this event with a plaque honouring the death of 17 people and the severe injury of 700 more for demanding the right to vote, on a gate obstructing a public right of way adds insult to injury. Not only have Manchester City Council for years had an extremely euphemistic blue plaque marking the massacre, they’re also now revealing a massive irony deficit.
Despite its reputation and Victorian gothic splendour, the only time I’ve previously visited the Rylands was for a staff meeting about three years ago. Though, as I discovered when I was making my way there, I’ve a pretty good idea of how to find it because it’s been on at least one of the protest march routes I went on in 2011.
The Rylands Library has the misfortune to be situated next to Emporio Armani, which is itself next to RBS. Old meets new… They have a combination of old and new within the Rylands itself, but they’ve preserved as much of it as possible so there’s lots of old glass and a lot of the old gothic building. I really enjoyed my visit, and I take my hat off to Enriqueta Rylands for founding such a long lasting legacy both to her husband, John, and for the people of Manchester.