05 December 2012

A Wondrous Place #3: Secret Society

While seeking out Anthony Burgess’s blue plaque on campus, I stumbled across another – appropriately on the building that houses Manchester University Press. As I snapped it as an aide-memoire (I’m getting on a bit), the security guard asked if I collect plaques, which curiously means that living amongst us are plaque collectors. This particular one is for Peter Mark Roget, he of the thesaurus, pleasing me no end, dictionary aficionado that I am. Turns out Roget was one of the secretaries of our next library, the hidden gem that is the Portico, described when it first made its mark on the local landscape as “the most refined little building in Manchester”.

For your delight and delectation, here’s a poem by another famous librarian, and a famous Northerner to boot, Philip Larkin.
Library Ode

New eyes each year
Find old books here,
And new books, too,
Old eyes renew;
So youth and age
Like ink and page
In this house join,
Minting new coin.

Contrary to popular belief, the Portico Library is open to everyone, every day except Sunday, and you can browse the regular craft shows and art exhibitions (currently Clare Allan’s ‘Burnt Wood and Paper’, echoing a theme being explored at Manchester Art Gallery just down the way) and even take tea and cake beneath its lovely dome, which is rather civilised. Well, I suppose you’d expect nothing less of a space which includes a section with the moniker ‘Polite Literature’ and boasts links to regular ‘Coketown’ visitor Charles Dickens and local literary lady Elizabeth Gaskell. These days, it counts among its members the likes of Elbow frontman Guy Garvey, whose partner Emma Jane Unsworth has made it onto the shortlist for the Portico Prize for Literature which is awarded tomorrow [that was November 22 - W&F]. The wide-ranging shortlist this year includes fresh talent, such as Manchester resident Joe Stretch, and famous names, such as Jeanette Winterson, who’s just taken up post as professor of creative writing at the University’s Centre for New Writing. To bring us full circle, in 1989 the gong went to one Anthony Burgess…

Portico Library image: Gareth Hacking www.garethhacking.co.uk

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