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History

Reflecting the past, inspiring the future

exterior of building with busy streetThe Portico opened in 1806 as a Library and Newsroom and still occupies its original Grade II* listed building on Mosley Street - "the most elegant and retired street in town" according to John Dalton.

The origins of the Portico go back some 10 years before it was established. Inspired by a visit to The Athenaeum Liverpool, which had recently opened as a library and newsroom, surgeon Michael Ward and his friend Robert Robinson lamented the fact that Manchester lacked such an institution and vowed to remedy the problem. Thomas Harrison, leading exponent of the classical revival and architect of the earlier Liverpool Lyceum, Thomas Harrison was chosen to design The Portico. Builders David Bellhouse & Sons realised Harrison's plans and delivered the resulting building for £6,881-5s-3d. It was an immediate success.

Over the years the Portico has boasted such famous members as John Dalton, Peter Roget (of Thesaurus fame), Reverend William Gaskell (husband of the more famous Elizabeth Gaskell, Sir Robert Peel (twice Prime Minister), Tony Booth, Val McDermid, Guy Garvey and many more!

Although The Portico has hosted art and craft exhibitions since the 1960s the current Gallery area is a relatively new addition, having formally opened following the construction of the present floor in 1987. The first exhibition to be shown in this dedicated space was Contemporary Book Arts which covered the work of illustrators, designers and bookbinders and was a great success. Prior to 1920, when the Library acquired its first tenant by splitting the building between a ground and first level, there was no floor in the central area; rather, one simply looked over the balustrade (still in place) to the ground floor library and newsroom, then straight up to the glorious saucer dome.


Further reading on the history of the Library can be purchased on-site including Ann Brooks and Bryan Haworth's The Portico Library: A History. We also produce a range of monographs related to the Portico starting from £2. Please contact the Librarian for more details.