04 December 2012

A Wondrous Place #2: Proud Mancunians

Cross the road from City Library, pass the white block capitals of The Avenue (which, at certain angles, spells out HEAVEN) and stand in awe of the cathedral-like splendour of John Rylands Library, a sandstone edifice complete with gargoyles, rose windows and some brilliant Crappers (literally) in the basement. These days, you enter through a bright white extension, all glass and steel, that weaves into the old structure and appears to have given the place a new lease of life, if the buzzing little café and bookshop are anything to go by. The original building was dreamed up by Enriqueta Rylands, who wanted to remember her industrialist (and philanthropist) husband John, Manchester’s first-ever multi-millionaire, and to try and regenerate the slum-filled area. It took 10 years to build and opened on 1 January 1900. Take the lift to the third floor, and you’ll find the beautiful wood-panelled and book-adorned Historic Reading Room, where you can work away at your latest masterpiece (or read a comic; we don’t judge) or take in one of the changing exhibitions.

On show until 27 January is a display, curated by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation (itself worth ferretting out on Cambridge Street for its collection of rare manuscripts and typewriters; and thanks to them for the image), celebrating 50 years since the publication of local literary hero Anthony Burgess’s most famous work, ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Burgess was born and bred in Manchester, living in Harpurhey and Moss Side, and studying at Xaverian College in Victoria Park then the University of Manchester. Here a blue plaque has just been inaugurated, on the Faculty of Arts’ Samuel Alexander. The Rylands exhibition is an interesting insight into both the man about Manchester, and the reasons for writing a novel so brimming with ‘ultraviolence’. It includes correspondence with Stanley Kubrick, who directed and ultimately imposed a ban on the movie version, photographs from the film and newspaper clippings outlining the appalling criminal activity that was bubbling through the cracks of 1960s Britain.

“I am proud to be a Mancunian” – Anthony Burgess in his autobiography, Little Wilson And Big God (1987)
Which leads me on to the question I was posed by previous curator [of A Wondrous Place] Missy Tassles: “What in, or about, Manchester inspires you, or has surprised you or has restored your faith in humanity?” The riots during August 2011 shocked the city, and the public outcry at the anti-social behaviour of a handful of individuals was heard loud and clear. Everyone pulled together to get the place cleared up and back on its feet, in a not dissimilar way (though obviously to a lesser extent) to after the IRA bomb in 1996, when I lived five miles from the centre and we could still hear the bang and see the smoke. There’s something wonderfully warm in the Mancunian spirit that helps us get through times of tragedy and toil and that makes living here so enjoyable on a day-to-day basis.

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