Category: Chetham’s

Chetham’s School of Music is one of Manchester’s most prestigious cultural institutions occupying some of the oldest buildings left in the city centre, dating from the late medieval period. They have seen Manchester grow from a quiet, out of the way country market town into a huge industrial city, see that industry decline, survive the bombing of World War 2 and see the city make a comeback. The buildings are tucked away and many Mancunians don’t even know they exist.

Originally they were set up as a charity school for the sons of poor people in the medieval town. At some point the school morphed into a specialist music school with a great reputation. Former pupils go on to great careers in music and people the great orchestras of the world. At the moment the school is under something of a cloud. Nothing to do with the present people in charge but to things that went on in the past. It’s not been pleasant to hear about and we don’t like the reputation of one of our treasures being sullied.

It contains one of Manchester’s hidden treasures, the Chetham’s Lending Library. It’s the oldest lending library in the western world and is still as it was 500 years ago. It was here that Mr Marx met up with Mr Engels and came up with the idea of communism. Outside the library, in the Victorian city of Manchester, that they saw capitalism, red in tooth and claw, at work and saw how the poor of the city lived. They didn’t like it.

It was also here that John Dee, court astrologer to Elizabeth I, was exiled to. He was an early scientist and people were afraid that he was a black magician because of the bangs and smells that came from his experiments. He was accused of witchcraft and found guilty. He should have been executed but Elizabeth liked him so banished to the then out of the way town of Manchester. He was reputed to have carried on with his consorting with the devil and was believed to have conjured him up in the school. In the library there is a desk with a scorch mark on it left by the cloven hoof of the devil himself.

There are also stories of secret passageways connecting the school to the nearby Cathedral.

These are the medieval buildings…




The school has just opened a state of the art building. The school is working in it now while the medieval buildings are restored. Once that is done the school will occupy both buildings. At the moment they are fitting out a huge space in the new part that will be a concert hall for the school and for Manchester…


The school also occupies some Victorian buildings by the Cathedral, overlooking the river. It is these that hide the medieval buildings. The plan is to demolish them so the older buildings can be seen again and the view from the river will be as it was 500 years ago. Some people aren’t happy about that. One of the buildings scheduled for demolition was one of Manchester’s first hotels, a railway hotel for nearby Victoria Station. You can see it on the right in the next picture. See if it’s worth saving….


It’s been a while since I went to check on the new building for Chetham’s Music School so I decided to do so. The outside looks all but finished and you could see people doing the interior fitting out. Once that has finished the school will move in and the next phase of the development, the refurbishment of the medieval buildings, will begin.

I like the curvy corners of the building that make it look something like an ocean going liner. It is an uncompromisingly, modern building but doesn’t seem to be overwhelming the ancient buildings (the oldest in continuous use in the city). I like the long, narrow windows in the brick facade and I could make out a bridge across the street that divides the two parts of the school linking them together. It was difficult to see it properly because of the trees. When it’s all finished I need to get myself booked onto one of their open days. Being a school you can’t just wander in and have a look around. I have never seen the famous library and would love to explore the underground, secret passages that connect the school to the Cathedral next door.

Click on the tab, ‘Chetham’s’ to see how the building has grown.

While I was in the area I thought that I would take a couple of photographs of how Chetham’s School of Music was coming along. Comparing it with the previous photos, nothing much seems to have changed. The building has reached its height, the outside is finished mostly and I guess all the work is going on inside it. Once it’s done the students will move over and then they will start to restore the ancient buildings.

Check the tag, Chetham’s, and see if you can spot any differences. (hehehe)


I wandered down towards Victoria Station to see how the building at Chetham’s Music School is coming on. They were very busy on it and it looks, from the outside at least, to be almost finished. There’s probably a lot to do inside it of course. Once it is finished the school will move into it while the ancient (and I mean ancient!) parts of the building are refurbished and restored. If they do that right we won’t notice the difference when it reopens. If we do it’s all gone dreadfully wrong! Then the third part of the transformation will be the demolition of the Victorian buildings near the Cathedral. That part has been controversial as they are old. But they are not particularly attractive or interesting and it isn’t as if the are tearing down the Town Hall is it? Once that has been done and the area landscaped we will be able to see the ancient buildings properly. They are so hemmed in at the moment that people who have lived in the city all their life don’t know they are there.

These pictures show the new building and you can see one of the walls of the ancient buildings.

Click on the ‘Chetham’s’ tag to see the progress of the building.

The expansion and refurbishment of Chetham’s School of Music has caused some controversy. And it’s not the huge, modern building currently being built that has caused it. Once that building is finished, the school will move into it while the medieval buildings at the core of the school will be refurbished very carefully. Once that has been done the school will reoccupy the existing buildings, the oldest still used buildings in the city. The problem with the medieval buildings is that they are difficult to see as they are hemmed in on all sides by bigger buildings to such a degree that some people don’t know they exist. You can catch a glimpse of part of them through the entrance facing the URBIS building but, being a school, the authorities are loathe to let people wander through and look at them close to. So unless you hit on one of the few open days (I managed it once!) it’s difficult to view them. They also include Chetham’s Library. It’s the oldest public library in the English speaking world so incredibly important culturally to the whole world but difficult to visit.

The controversial part of the plan concerns some Victorian buildings along Victoria Street that the school occupy but are surplus to requirement after the new building is opened. The school wants to demolish them and replace them with lawns so that people can see, for the first time in over 200 years, the medieval buildings of Chetham’s school. The Victorian Society in the city have lodged a challenge to the plan and want them preserved. If they win, the medieval buildings will remain hidden. The buildings have lost a lot of their Victorian features on the outside and have been changed irrecoverably inside so it’s not as if we are demolishing the Town Hall! They are pleasant buildings but not the best that the city has to offer, they are just old. The Victorian Society in Manchester does seem to want us to live in some kind of Victorian theme park and oppose everything that changes Manchester. You should have heard them on the Hilton Tower! If the Victorian slums still existed they’d be fighting to keep them! 

Well here are some pictures of the buildings that may be demolished so you can make your own minds up.

Here are some pictures of what the area will look like without the Victorian buildings.

Here a two pictures of the inside of Chetham’s Library, which is not threatened by the rebuilding. It was in here that Karl Marx and Engels net up to come up with the idea of Communism so appalled were they by the way the poor lived in Victorian Manchester alongside the great wealth of the cotton barons. It’s a beautiful, historic space.

I thought I’d go and look at the progress of some of the building projects in the city centre. I was quite near Chetham’s Music School which is having a huge extension built between the existing buildings and the Manchester Arena. When it is finished the school will move into it and the older parts (one of which is the oldest building in the city still in use, getting on for 700 years old) will be refurbished. I’d not been in this part of the city for a while so I was amazed at the progress that has occurred since before Christmas. If you click on the Category, Chethams you will be able to see the progress the building has made.

There seems to be a recovery in the building industry in Manchester with a couple of new projects beginning. We are nowhere near where we were 3 years ago when the city centre skyline was dominated by cranes. I counted 31 one day when I was stuck in traffic nearing the city centre. But they do seem to be building again which is a good thing.

One of the projects is the extension to Chetham’s School of Music in the city centre. It is fondly known as Chets. It’s right next to Victoria Station and is a little world of its own behind its gates. It started off as a school for poor kids hundreds of years ago in 1653 and was given the building they still live in today and a couple of fields that the boys could grow food to support the school and sell any surplus. The fields have long since been built on but Chets still owns the land. Given that Harvey Nichols and Selfridges and the like have been built on them, the school does well from the rents. The building actually dates to 1421 and has survived to today because it has been used as a school. It is the oldest building in the city centre, apart from the ruined stones of the Roman Fort in Castlefield.Over the centuries the nature of the school has changed and it is now a boarding school for exceptionally gifted musical children. It is one of the best musical schools in the world and there is a lot of competition to get in. The students go on to find places in the great orchestras of the world. They do concerts for the public in the school, the Cathedral, the Bridgewater Hall and other music venues throughout the year. The students, who range from 8 to 18 are living Manchester treasures. It’s a special place.

The building is connected by an underground, secret  passage to the Cathedral next door which is good fun apparently. Inside it looks like a set from a Harry Potter movie. It also contains the Chethams Library. It is the oldest public library in the world having opened in 1653 and, amazingly, I’ve never been in it. One of the most important things about the library is that Marx and Engles met here and did their writing. They were so appalled at the poverty in Victorian Manchester alongside the great wealth that they wrote about it. Their writings were taken up by the Communists in Russia and they are regarded as the fathers of Communism. So it’s ironic that the city that gave birth to Capitalism also gave birth to Communism. It’s further ironic when you consider that the areas they walked through that so appalled them now contain the glass office blocks of Spinningfields where the big banks are and then move through the high end retail areas of the city.

The school has grown over the centuries and there are some Victorian additions as well. But this new extension will double the size of the school with a state of the art 21st century school right by the 1421 building. Once the new building is done the school will move across while the 1421 building and the library are thoroughly refurbished. When they reopen we will not be able to tell they have been changed as great care will be taken to keep them exactly the same. 

Here are some of my pictures and some architects renderings of the new building.