Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Portico Poetry Prizes

The library is delighted to announce full details of our new poetry competition.

There will be two awards; The Portico Poetry Prize and The Portico Young Poetry Prize. Entry for the former is £4 plus £2.50 for each poem after; the latter is free. There's a cash prize for the Portico Poetry Prize and the Young Poetry Prize winner will be named Portico Young Poet of the Year and an opportunity to be anthologised and published. For more, refer the competition leaflets at the bottom of the page.

The guidelines are relatively loose; the only stipulations are that all poems entered must be linked in some way to the works of Charles Dickens and no more than 40 lines (not including the title).

The Portico Poetry Prize will be judged by Mandy Coe; The Portico Young Poetry Prize will be judged by Richy Campbell, Lisa Mansell and Krishan Coupland.

The closing date for both competitions are 31st July. Please see the details below on how to enter or print an entry form, found at the bottom of this page.

Please send a short cover letter, telling us who you are, no more than four lines.

Entries to both competitions in the e-mail's body to Please state which competition you are submitting to in the e-mail header e.g. `Portico Young Poetry Prize Entry' or `Portico Poetry Prize Entry'.

Postal entries to:

The Portico Library
The Portico Poetry Prize 2012 / The Portico Young Poetry Prize 2012
57 Mosley Street
M2 3HY

Please address cheques for the Portico Poetry Prize to The Portico Library.

You can also pay by bank transfer:

The Royal Bank of Scotland

A/C Name: The Portico Library

Sort code: 16ž00ž01

A/C No.: 14052426

PorticoForm / PorticoYoungForm

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Elizabeth Gaskell Borrowed These Books!

Portico friend and researcher Megan Healy writes about her experiences researching Elizabeth Gaskell at The Portico:

In 2009, I traveled across the Atlantic to move to Manchester for two months for a research project at the Portico Library. Funded by my undergraduate Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, I spent my days going through the Portico’s Issue Books, which log every book and journal borrowed from the library from 1850 to 1904. My focus was the borrowings from 1850 to 1865 of the library’s chairman, William Gaskell, husband to Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell. By creating a typed account of Reverend Gaskell’s borrowings, researchers visiting the Portico now have access to records of Gaskell’s reading history, available chronologically and alphabetically, with details of the call number (when available) and the date checked out and returned.

Within this extensive list, one finds the classics—Shakespeare, Milton, and Swift—as well as several popular contemporary journals borrowed frequently, including Fraser’s Blackwood’s, Athenaeum, and Saturday Review. Though the books are all checked out in William’, one can assume the Jane Austen’s and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s works were for Elizabeth and not William. Not surprisingly, Collins, Cooper, Hawthorne, Scott, and Trollope feature frequently, as well a pleasantly wide range of female novelists, including Maria Edgeworth, George Eliot, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Margaret Oliphant, and Dinah Mulock Craik. Interestingly, apart from the first volume of Household Words, the only Dickens work checked out by Gaskell was David Copperfield, borrowed in July 1852 and November 1858.

In addition to the extensive fiction borrowings, there is a range of biographies, including European rulers such as Louis XIV and Peter the Cruel and literary figures Samuel Johnson and Goethe. Lives of the Queens of Scotland and English Princesses was borrowed five times by Gaskell. More obscure borrowings include Personal Narrative of Thirteen Year’ Service amongst the Wild Tribes of Khondistan, for the Suppression of Human Sacrifice; Narratives of Sorcery and Magic, From the Most Authentic Sources; and Six lectures on the chemical history of the candle to which is added a lecture on platinum.  

Furthermore, there is a wealth of travel literature alongside Gaskell’s name, ranging from Yorkshire and Devon to Italy, Greece, and Spain, as well as Bengal, Turkey, Egypt, Ceylon, China, Koordistan, Mesopotamia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and Algeria. Titles range from the Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada and Account of the Arctic Regions, with a History and Description of the Northern Whale Fishery to Egyptian Sepulchres and Syrian Shrines, Including Some Stay in the Lebanon at Palmyra and in Western Turkey, and, my personal favourite, Unprotected Females in Norway; Or the Pleasantest Way of Travelling There, Passing Through Denmark and Sweden with Scandinavian Sketches from Nature.

A particular point of interest is that occasional entries appeared in Mrs Gaskell’s name; on the 17th of March, 1853, she is noted to have borrowed Robert Chamber’s Life of Robert Burns and, two days later, Mariotti’s A Historical Memoir of Fra Dolcino and His Times is ascribed to Mrs Gaskell. Gaskell scholars who had previously worked with the Issue Books question what happened on these days: was William out of town? Was he ill? What do you think?

Can you spot Reverend William Gaskell's name?

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Portico Poetry Prizes.

The library is delighted to announce full details of our new poetry competition.

There will be two awards; The Portico Poetry Prize and The Portico Young Poetry Prize. Entry for the former is £4; the latter is free.

All poems entered must be linked in some way to the works of Charles Dickens.

The Portico Poetry Prize will be judged by Mandy Coe; The Portico Young Poetry Prize will be judged by Richy Campbell, Lisa Mansell and Krishan Coupland.

The closing date for both competitions are 31st July.

For more and entry forms head over to the page entitled The Portico Poetry Prizes.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Keeping it Clean

Here at the Portico our decor reflects the original atmosphere of the Library from the 19th century.  With copper side tables, brasses galore, leather backed chairs and wooden dining tables the Library allows its members to study, lunch and relax in style.  But while this style may appear effortless, it is the hard work of our cleaner Pat that maintains the atmosphere.

She has given us some tips on how she keeps the place looking so good. 

For the copper tables a good rub down with lemon and salt initially brings up the shine. She wipes this off and then washes with soapy water.  A day or two later she begins a regular polish with Brasso.  The tables speak for themselves!

For the wooden tables its Lord Sheraton's Caretaker Wood Balsam with pure beeswax (the most important ingredient), pine turpentine and linseed oil which, used once a week protects the wood.
It is these efforts and more that keep the Library looking like new, er, rather, like old... 19th century old, but in grand condition!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

"Big Writing for a Small World"

One of our regular researchers came in last week to continue her research on certain volumes in our collection, but before she headed down to the Reading Room she stopped to show us something...  It was a publication entitled Big Writing for a Small World which was launched in Manchester on May 1st and is organised in Manchester by English PEN with partnership support from Community Arts North West as part of their Exodus Greater Manchester Refugee Arts programme. The project was funded by John Lyon's Charity and the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom.

Big Writing for a Small World is, as Jonathan Scheele states in his introduction "an ambitious cultural community project"  (p. 2).  The publication contains illustrations, short stories and poems in the English language by various contributors, all of whom speak English as a second language.  We were excited not only by the fact that our researcher is one of the contributors to this impressive collaborative work but by the publication itself and the amount of work that has obviously gone into it.

We are proud to have a signed copy of the book now in our collection and to be providing copies for sale on site.

Copies of Big Writing for a Small World are available at the Portico Library for £3 each.

Friday, 11 May 2012


Time for another delicious recipe from the kitchen! Soup is a staple of the lunch menu here at the Portico and the type of soup changes on a weekly basis.  Served with a parsley garnish, crusty bread and butter and ground black pepper to taste, these soups will warm you up and fill your belly! See below for Kathy's Pea, Pear and Cucumber Soup recipe.

Pea, Pear and Cucumber Soup
Can be served hot or cold.
Serves 4-5

50g butter
2 medium white onions peeled and chopped
1 small cucumber peeled and chopped
200g frozen peas
750 ml light chicken stock
-for a totally vegetarian soup use Marigold Swiss vegetable bouillon (it is very good!)
2 ripe pears peeled, cored and diced
150ml whipping cream
1tbs chopped mint

Melt the butter in a roomy pan and add the onion.
Allow to stew quietly for 5 mins or so and then add the cucumber.
Stir in and cook both until limp and tender.
Tip in the peas, pears and the stock and bring to the boil.
Skim off any resultant scum that forms on the surface, season and simmer for 20 mins.
Liquidise, then pass through a sieve into a bowl.
Allow to cool to room temperature and then stir in the cream.
Adjust the seasoning once more if necessary.
Can be served hot or cold.
Garnish with a swirl of cream and chopped mint or chives!

Lunch is available in the Library for members and their guests.
Members of the public are welcome to enjoy tea or coffee and cake in the Gallery.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Faro Productions' "Apparition"

Faro Productions' Apparition is the first theatre production to USE the Library as its play's actual setting but Faro Productions has not just used the Portico as a setting; they have incorporated volumes from the collection (mainly those in the Occult section...) in the plot!

The trailer for the performance below says it all:

Performances will be on the evenings of Friday 8th and Saturday 9th June

Visit Eventbrite  or email to book. You've got to come!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Portico Poetry Prizes 2012.

The library is very excited to announce that we are holding two new poetry prizes; The Portico Young Poetry Prize (Under 18s) and The Portico Poetry Prize (Over 18s).

The prizes are inspired by Carol Ann Duffy’s poem `Havisham’ and are a tribute to the works of Charles Dickens; as such, all poems must be based on, or related to, the works of Dickens. 
The judges are Richy Campbell, Lisa Mansell and Krishan Coupland (Under 18s) and Mandy Coe (Over 18s).
The deadline for both competitions is the 31st July, for more details contact 

More to follow, including entry forms, flyers and competition rules.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Razorblades and Roses, an Exhibition by Mick Wilson

Tuesday night saw the opening of a new exhibition at the Portico; Razorblades and Roses by Mick Wilson. An excited, expectant feeling hung in the air as final preparations took place. Everything ready, the evening kicked off at six and before long, the room was filled with the buzz of voices as attendees strolled about beneath the glass dome of the library.  It was an enjoyable night, flowing with good conversation and wine and attended by many art lovers, creative individuals and friends and family of the artist. There was an energetic feel to the room throughout the evening, which lingered on even after the last guest had departed, as we washed the last of the glasses and turned off the lights.

Mick Wilson’s work is undeniably vibrant, colourful and imaginative - a combination which cannot fail to draw the eye and arrest the attention of the viewer. Upon entering the exhibition space, one is also struck by how beautifully the work has been exhibited by the artist, who makes excellent use of the space within the gallery. Centre stage and presiding over the exhibition is his Shee-La-Na-Gig, the artist’s three-dimensional interpretation of the bizarre carvings commonly found on Norman churches. Flanked on either side by large, bright works executed in oils and acrylics and painted on board, the overall effect is very striking. The exhibition boasts a large number of works in a range of media, which take the form of paintings, sculptures and drawings.

Razorblades and Roses runs until the 30th May and entry to the exhibition is free.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Curiosities of the Building: The Dome

Pressing the buzzer and then climbing the stairs, you are all the while wondering what could possibly be at the top. But you never expect the dome. Its impression on first-time visitors is always the same, Wow!

The domed ceiling at the Portico is one of its most striking features. It creates a sense of light and of space and adds to the realisation that you have just entered somewhere special.

The dome was part of the original building  though at that time it was done with plain glass. It was in 1856 that the stained glass panels were fitted. Records show that some members feared that the removal of plain glass would result in a darker library which was a fair point in the times of candle power!  Eventually the windows facing Charlotte Street were installed and although the Library can be dark on an early winter afternoon, today it only adds to the cosy atmosphere. 
The stained glass panels in the dome contain 8 coats of arms.  We have managed to identify 7 of these: Salford, Manchester, England, Scotland, Ireland, the Diocese of Manchester, and the Duchy of Lancaster. 
The final coat of arms is that of the Duchy of Lancaster in the centre of an orange Maltese cross on a blue background. If there are any heraldry experts reading this - we welcome your expertise in identifying it!