Friday, 30 March 2012

Northern Launch of "A Mutual Friend" at the Portico Library - We're all friends now!

Vice-Chair of the Library Lynne Allan reflects on her afternoon and evening with the poets involved in the Northern Launch of A Mutual Friend: Poems For Charles Dickens, held at the Library on Wednesday evening:

A Mutual Friend: Poems For Charles Dickens is as much a response to Dickens’ life as his legacy and its Salford-based editor Peter Robinson, Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Reading,brought a number of its contributing poets to Manchester with him for an evening of live poetry and discussion which was a feast for poetry lovers.

My day began with meeting Mairi MacInnes off the train from York. As this was her first visit to the Portico she carried a copy of A Mutual Friend: Poems For Charles Dickens so she could be recognised! We returned to the Library to meet her fellow poets and had a very civilised afternoon tea made by our wonderful cook Kathy. Jeffrey Wainwright said they were the best scones he had ever tasted. If you want to see if you agree with him you could always pop in to the library to sample Kathy’s cakes and scones. Yum! Yum!

The poets talked about their work and what is going on in the world of poetry at the moment. As The Portico’s resident literary groupie, I listened in rapture! The evening began with wine and nibbles -the poets believing it important to relax the audience before a poetry reading. Our own Alan Shelston, long-time member of the Portico, introduced the poets and delighted us with his tribute to Dickens in poetic form:

 On a little dog, run over by Dickens’ carriage in the Hyde Park

‘Vague thoughts of a new book are rife within me just now; and I go wandering about at night into the strangest places especially ─ seeking rest and finding none. As an addition to my composure I ran over a little dog in the Regent’s Park yesterday (killing him on the spot) and gave his little mistress ─ a girl of thirteen or fourteen ─ such exquisite distress as I never saw the like of.’ (The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens ed. Jenny Hartley, 2012)

This little dog earned his distinction

Through his very sad extinction: 

Mr Dickens in his carriage,

Reflecting sadly on his marriage

Didn’t think to look outside

And so poor Fido quickly died. 

Dickens thought his little mistress

‘Exquisite’ in her dreadful distress.

Time it took when all was over

To regain his own composure.

This is an early entry for our Dickens poetry competition. Do you think it has a chance of winning? It is certainly in the spirit of  the occasion of Dickens' bicentenary as is A Mutual Friend.

Peter Robinson gave the audience a fascinating insight into the genesis of the book and then read his erudite poem Rubbish Theory. He followed this by introducing several other poets such as the lovely Mairi MacInnes, who movingly read her poem The Death Of Little Nell from the anthology and explained how she had first come across Dickens as a little girl of seven. We moved from an innocent death to award-winning poet Susan Utting’s poem about the death by drowning of the villain Quilp. Dogs in Dickens seem to be popular subjects for poems, as journalist and former MMU Professor Jeffrey Wainwright read his poem Merrylegs based on the dog in Hard Times, and the Portico’s very great friend and judge of the poetry section of the Portico Prize for Young Writers, Mandy Coe read her poem Bullseye, a heartfelt tribute to the dog of Bill Sykes. Hull University’s creative writing professor Carol Rumens followed with a reading of her inspiring poem Marshalsea Quadrille. All the contributors are fine examples of the formidable pedigree of the writers in the book (among the others: John Hegley, Philip Gross, Derek Beaven, Jayne Draycott and Manchester poet Peter Riley).

At the end of a wonderful evening the poets all dashed off to catch trains to various parts of the country but not before agreeing that we are all friends now and that the Portico Library is a wonderful place for book launches and poetry!

 A Mutual Friend: Poems for Charles Dickens (2012) is published by Two Rivers Press with the English Association and is available for £10 from the Library or through Two Rivers Press.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Curiosities of the Building: The Post Box

The Portico is housed in its original building, a Grade II* Listed building of Regency Georgian architecture.  Most people assume that we are part of the Bank pub which in fact leases the ground floor from us! The building itself, designed by architect Thomas Harrison, contains numerous curiosities, one of which is the wall letter-box at the front of the building on the Charlotte Street corner at the base of a column.  The Library minute books tell us that the post-box has occupied its present site since 1895.  At the time of the Portico’s establishment, Mosley Street was a residential area, home to the genteel and elite of the city. Homes were gradually converted to warehouses and businesses and it eventually became the commercial area it now is.
Prior to the post-box Proprietors employed a ‘postman’ to take their mail for a salary of £2 per annum from 1822 to 1837, a position which was possibly succeeded by the Library’s ‘boy’ until 1863. However, despite the convenience of having a post-box, quite literally, on the doorstep, the minutes reflect that the Committee and Proprietors kicked up quite a fuss with the Postmaster and Corporation over the idea of a post-box being placed on their land.
Regardless of their objections, and despite the establishment of Post Office buildings within a close proximity, the pillar-box red post-box with its raised crown and "VR" and its “Post Office” inscription has remained in its original site, just like the Library, for over 100 years, an institution in itself.

More information on the Portico post-box is available in The Portico Library Post-Box: a link with 1883, Portico Monograph No. 8 by Phyllis M. Giles (1996), on sale for £1.50 in the Library. 

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Cataloguing Fine Arts

Our Fine Arts section is relatively small with approximately 346 titles out of 462 volumes, yet the breadth of what our 19th -century antecedents considered to be the Fine Art is substantial, including Hunting, Fishing, Music, The Art of War, Field Sports, Cricket, Nursing, Interior Decoration, and of course, the ‘true’ Fine Arts.  This section contains an (almost) complete Badminton Library series covering numerous sports and games and a full set of John Stevenson’s (1818) A selection of Irish melodies, with symphonies and accompaniments, comprised of lyrics and leaves of musical scores and "harmonised airs". Another interesting work is Charles Eastlake's (1868) Hints on household taste in furniture, upholstery and other details with its 19th century coloured wallpaper samples!  The Fine Arts also contains a first edition Florence Nightingale Notes on nursing: what it is, and what it is not and Henry Augustus Dillon's two volume (1811) A commentary on the military establishments and defence of the British Empire. Needless to say, the Fine Arts section is certainly varied and cataloguing it perhaps took longer than necessary due to the inherent distraction in looking through old books! It is one of the sections to which we add supplementary volumes more regularly.  We have also managed, through a bit of rearranging, to fit all of the Fine Arts section back into the window bays which are, as designated in gold lettering, for the Fine Arts.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Hiring the Portico

Last night, the evening was aflow with legal beagles from the Lincoln House Chambers and various local law firms. The atmosphere was bubbly just like the champagne and the Library was a hive of activity. Champagne corks popping, attendants with plates of canapés weaving in and out of clusters of lords, barristers, and judges who all came to celebrate Kate Blackwell’s elevation to Queen’s Council.

Kate was introduced to The Portico Library by a friend, Charlotte Holland, who is not only her colleague from the Lincoln House Chambers but also a member of our fair Library. It was then that Kate decided that she wanted to hold her celebration festivities here with us at the Portico.  Once she came to have a look at the library with Charlotte it was Love at First Sight. The space sold itself. And who could resist? Founded in 1806 our Grade II* listed building makes for a quirky and certainly noteworthy location to hold any function.  From parties to presentations, meetings to mezzes, soirées to celebrations. The possibilities could be endless.

To find out more information about hiring the library for an event, filming or photoshoots  please call us on 0161 236 6785 or alternatively email

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Portico Prize for Literature and The Portico Prize for Young Writers

                 The Zochonis Charitable Trust

We’ve always worked hard on the Portico Prize but this year it’s particularly important to do the very best we can because for the first time ever we caught the attention of Arts Council England! The idea of a Northern literary prize was mooted around AC offices and when they discovered that we had been running such a literary prize for more than 25 years the logical next step for them was to come and chat to us about it and to see how they could help! Well, after a few more emails and phone calls the lovely Steven May and Alison Boyle told us that the AC were prepared to help us out to the tune of £20,000 for this year’s Prize – turning two £4,000 prizes (one for fiction and one for non-fiction) into two £10,000 prizes! Of course, this could not have led to such a wonderful development had it not been for the equally lovely Sir John Zochonis – a long-time member of The Portico and, better still, a huge supporter of the Library and its ambitions. Sir John so kindly added £25,000 to the Arts Council support, thereby allowing us to take The Portico Prize for Literature and The Portico Prize for Young Writers (running concurrently this year) to greater heights than ever before.
Like the Arts Council, we are hugely enthusiastic that we should work with other Northern partners and we quickly set about doing what we could to achieve this. More meetings - this time with Kay Easson, the Librarian at Newcastle Lit & Phil, Geoffrey Forster, Librarian at The Leeds Library, Sherry Ashworth, our Writer-in-Residence, Donna Lisa Healy, photographer for Newcastle Lit & Phil’s Creative Passions exhibition (celebrating literature in Portraits and Words – fantastic!). More conversations – by phone, email, across crowded rooms with our friends at Manchester Metropolitan University (Creative Writing School and Manchester Children’s Book Festival) University of Chester, Leeds University, Manchester Literature Festival, Northumbria University – the list goes on – and it looks like we’re on the verge of creating an Isosceles Triangle of Cross Pennine Partners – beginning to look like this:
The shapes could get more interesting as we forge ahead!

Confirmed judges for this years Portico Prize for Literature include:
Kay Easson, Librarian at Newcastle Lit & Phil
Michael E. Rose, Emeritus Professor of History, Manchester University
Stuart Maconie, TV & radio presenter, journalist, columnist and author

Author events – related to The Portico Prize past, present and future – are being planned as we speak and our Night of Crime in February (which featured two Northern authors, Ann Cleeves (Durham) and David Jackson (Liverpool), as well as M. R. Hall (South Wales)) was the start.  Workshops and photography projects are all in planning stages and we shall keep followers updated with progress in these pages, on Facebook, Twitter and our website.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Cataloguing Local History

Work on our new (ish) online catalogue is progressing steadily.  Though we are not yet 'live' with the catalogue, behind the scenes we have catalogued 3614 volumes of our approximately 25,000 and have completed the 'Voyages and Travels' and 'Fine Arts' sections. 

We are currently working on our specially dedicated 'Local History' section which we are moving to a more prominent position in the Library as we go - it can now be found next to the 'Fine Arts' at the front of the Library. 

Our Local History Collection ranges from Memorials of St. Ann's Church, Manchester by Charles Wareing Bardsley, 1877 to Criminal and Miscellaneous Statistical Returns of the Manchester Police: for the year ended the 29th September, 1880 by the Watch Committee of the City of Manchester, 1880 to a number of more recent publications including a variety of pictoral works on Manchester by Chris Makepeace. We even have The Manchester Cookery Book compiled by the Cookery Staff of the Municipal Training College of Domestic Economy, 1937 full of recipes!

From architecture to chess, crime to art, the breadth of our Manchester and Greater Manchester History Collection is exciting, and we still don't know the extent to which more volumes are hidden throughout the Library!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Northern Exposure 2012

Following the success of last year's Northern Exposure exhibition, we are very pleased to once again be playing host to work by local and regional photographers. This year's exhibition has brought together the talents of Liam Sluyter, Mark Stuttard and Denise Swanson. Their varied and contrasting styles make for an exciting and diverse range of imagery, which will no doubt appeal to a wide range of tastes.

Liam Sluyter

Liam Sluyter's work reflects the rapidly changing times and brings a fresh approach to photography. Seizing upon advances in technology and recognising the potential in smartphones, all of his photographs are taken and edited on an iPhone. His choice of imagery and manipulation of colour result in striking pictures infused with a surreal, dreamlike quality. Liam is the founder of the iPhone photography blog Bickr and can be found (and followed) on Twitter as @BinaryDad.

Mark Stuttard
Mark Stuttard was born and raised in Manchester and finds his inspiration in the city he's proud to call home. Committed to capturing the beauty in the ordinary and often overlooked, Mark's photos are filled with a sense of energy and spontaneity that reflect a dynamic, vibrant city brimming with life, stories and secret places. With a passion for leading lines, angles and texture, Mark has a 'less is more' approach to processing, keen instead to let the composition do the talking.

Denise Swanson
Finally, drawing us away from the busy city streets, Denise Swanson invites us to take an in-depth look at nature. A harmony of texture and light, her series Peripheral Vision presents a beautiful and intimate view of the natural world that encourages the viewer to look at the subject matter with fresh eyes. She explains:

"I am interested in the structure, order and classification of the natural world and in why we have the need to classify and create order, investigate the issues involved in classification as complexity is removed and individuality or character is lost. With this in mind, I hope to reveal something of the character of a plant, rather than showing what it looks like, to give it respect and see it in a different light."

The exhibition runs until Thursday 29th March - so if you'd like to see some exciting work by Northern-based photographers, you can do so at the Portico Library, Monday to Friday 9:30am to 4:30pm/Thursday late night opening to 7:30pm. Admission to the exhibition is free.

Monday, 19 March 2012

And so it begins...

The Portico Library, 57 Mosley St.
We have certainly come a long way from the 1806 handwritten minute books that document the beginnings of The Portico Library! Sitting in the Library it is possible to imagine what it would have been like for Peter Mark Roget or Reverend Gaskell when they too sat amongst the collection taking stock of their surroundings, but where they may have put pen to paper, we are now putting fingers to keyboard. The year is shaping up as an exciting one with the Portico Prize 2012, progress on our online catalogue, The Manchester Histories Festival, new events tied to The Urmston Bookshop, exhibitions on Dickens and Grimm's Fairy Tales and a variety of artists so watch this space as we intend to fully exploit our new blog to document the year ahead!