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War and cotton lent Chetham's its name in Manchester
Sir Humphrey Chetham
Why do Chetham's School of Music and Library bear Sir Humphrey's name?

Chetham's School of Music and Chetham's Library are two of the best known institutions in Manchester.

The latter is the UK's oldest free public reference library, while the former has spent four decades becoming one of the most prestigious specialist music schools in the country.

But what isn't so well known is exactly why they both bear the name of Chetham.

The reason for that is wrapped up in two of the biggest impacts on Mancunian history - the Civil War and cotton.

Before the Cathedral

Both the Library and the School of Music began life as part of the college of the Cathedral.

In 1421, the rector gifted Manchester's manor house which stood on the sandstone outcrop at the confluence of the rivers Irk and Irwell, to the collegiate church (what would become Manchester Cathedral) for use by its priests.

It served this purpose for two centuries, barring a spell of around 30 years in the sixteenth century when it was dissolved.

During the war

The English Civil War changed that usage.

Manchester was heavily involved in the conflict, which swept across the country in the seventeenth century, and unsurprisingly, the city was at the heart of revolution.

Chethams in the 1800s
When built in the 1400s, the original buildings were the second largest in the city (surpassed only by the church it served)
Occultist and scientist John Dee is said to have met the Devil at Chetham's
Philosophers Karl Marx and Frederich Engels met to research their Communist theory in Chetham's Library

In 1642, when war broke out, Manchester chose to stand with the Parliamentarians against the King - a decision that would see it assailed by the war's first siege, when Royalist forces arrived to try and force the city back into the King's control.

At this time, Manchester's centre was around the old manor house, and such were its defences, that the forces within its walls were able to repel the King's troops and hold true to Oliver Cromwell and Parliament.

In fact, it was so impenetrable that when the feared Prince Rupert rode north with his cavalry to attack Parliamentarians, he avoided Manchester completely preferring instead to attack the Puritan stronghold of Bolton (where he, alongside the Earl of Derby, led the attack which would become the only massacre of the Civil War).

Those same defences meant that the college buildings and the manor house were used as a prison and an arsenal during the Civil War - with the gallows a short walk away in what is now Exchange Square.

Arise Sir Humphrey

Once peace was restored in 1651, the buildings were left without purpose which is where they came to the attention of Sir Humphrey Chetham.

Sir Humphrey was the son of a merchant, who increased his family's wealth with a very successful cotton business.

Crumpsall Hall
Sir Humphrey was born at Crumpsall Hall in Harpurhey

When his money became known to the King in the 1630s, he was proposed for a knighthood, which he declined as he didn't want to share his growing wealth with the crown (though he later took the title).

This run-in with the powers-that-be must have played on his mind, as he became concerned that the state would seize his wealth, if not while he was alive then when he passed away.

Not only that, but he was also forced to take the office of General Treasurer of Lancashire, a position he found it difficult to fulfil, so it was no surprise that when the Civil War started, he sided with the Parliamentarians.

An man of advanced age with diminishing health, he was keen to find a way of ensuring that the King didn't inherit his fortune, which he found in the shape of the old college and manor house.

He knew the buildings well, as he had been educated as a young boy at the Manchester Grammer School, which had, for several decades, made up part of the complex.

Thus he wrote a will stating that the buildings be bought and made into a library filled with a multitude of books and a 'blue coat' school for teaching "the sons of honest, industrious and painful parents".

A will to begin

In 1653, Sir Humphrey died and in his will left around £14,000, which equates to around £1.7m today.

Turton Tower
Sir Humphrey was landlord at Turton Tower near Bolton

His money was used to purchase the buildings on the outcrop and his school and library was born.

Thus the Library gained his name and, three centuries later, the School of Music followed suit when it was founded.

Interestingly, Manchester was not the only place to benefit from Sir Humphrey's demise.

His huge wealth led to the founding of several libraries, including one in the tiny village of Turton, north of Bolton.

Humphrey had been the landlord of Turton Tower and held the surrounding area in great affection, leading him to bequeath funds for the education of children in the village and a library in the parish church.

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