Manchester's Central Reference Library, Peter's Square.

This round, pillared library opposite Manchester's prestigious Midland Hotel and the Free Trade Hall became my "university". It is built at the site of the infamous Peterloo Massacre. A fitting antidote of liberal learning to commemorate when free speech was butchered with sabres in 1819. The Free Trade hall represents the venue of the Manchester School of Cobden and Bright who pressed for, and obtained, repeal of the Corn Laws. This marked a shift of rulers in Britain from the landed aristocracy to the new industrial owners - or so was received wisdom. It allowed imported, cheap, American wheat to bake cheap workers' bread and enabled industrialists to pay low wages.

Here is the entry from Grolier's Multimedia Encyclopaedia.

During the Regency, the successful conclusion of the NAPOLEONIC WARS was followed by severe economic recession and the rise of early industrial working-class movements. Ultraconservative Toryism, however, reigned supreme, and such movements were suppressed with force and legislation. The major events of the period included the WAR OF 1812 with the United States, the Congress of VIENNA(1814-15), passage of the CORN LAW of 1815, and the Peterloo Massacre (1819) of workers in Manchester.

Don M. Cregier

So here, within a few metres of the Central Reference Library, were enacted two of the pivotal events of the modern world. The Global Economy was advocated here with religious fervour by Richard Cobden and John Bright. They must be relaxing peacefully in their graves now. Their vision of a world economy run by comparative advantage and supply and demand is today advocated by the USA just as hard. But the question of whether individual greed and Adam Smith's "Hidden Hand" will lead to plenty for everyone in the world is still not clear. Will another world "religion " take it's place?

But when I first saw and entered the Library none of these thoughts had entered my mind. I had left school at thirteen, nearly fourteen, years old and my subsequent couple of years at night school were spent on Maths, Technical drawing and Science - nothing on "non-productive' subjects like History, Economics and Politics.

By this time, at 18 yr., I was a student nurse at Hope Hospital, Salford 6, and the Library was a good place to spend part of my once weekly day off. Before entering I would spend the most of my remaining week's income after accommodation cost at the Nurses' Home on the best seats at the Odeon or Gaumont cinemas just round the corner on Oxford Road. They ran   a double feature programme. Ah! What bliss: Romance. adventure, music, darkness and happy endings!

The Central Ref. brought one back to reality. Up the stairs to the massive, domed, room that housed the reference section. A circular room with a circular, central service desk from which, like spokes, the shelving radiated out to the book-lined wall. Many desks for reading and wooden card catalogues completed the visible furnishings. If your desired book was not on the open shelves you filled a slip and handed it to the librarian at the desk. This was sent down to the underworld and the book/s were sent up the dumb waiter. I believe they had 2 1/2 million books there in 1950, - how many now?

I cannot now remember what I read then. Perhaps some of my actions in the ensuing years were influenced by the heady stuff that I half understood then. Twenty years later I did much more systematic reading there when studying at Manchester University. But in 1950 I never thought that was even possible. Working Lancashire lads were not programmed for academe.

Another facility of the Central Ref was the Little Theatre in the basement. I never understood the geography of the place. If there was a small theatre and café in the basement where were those millions of books? I cannot remember now why I would sometimes go to a play or "Miniature Opera" on my day off instead of seeing movies. I certainly remember that it was an attempt at self-improvement. I saw Macbeth, fell asleep; but shot upright awake at a stage shout. Was I startled to see an actor brandishing a severed bloody head on a sword! I do not think I enjoyed that production as I had not yet come to appreciate Shakespeare's verse. The three witches hubbling and bubbling round the cauldron were satisfying though. But I really enjoyed Rattigan's Winslow Boy and the little operas with Schubert's and Mozart's music. I distinctly remember the music buzzing through my head as I descended the steps when leaving the building. Outside always seemed to be dull and drizzly. Aiden has captured this in his photograph - umbrellas and all.

I'm not certain of my motivation for these theatre visits. I was rather dumb outside of installing electrical wires in factories and my current elementary nursing. But I had nursing colleagues of the opposite gender and some desirable ones had been to school to 18 yr. This seemed to put me at a disadvantage in the sex stakes. One such girl friend, Pat, used to feed me plays by G.B.Shaw and this fired my will to learn. Her motivation was, I think, to make me presentable to her parents. Her father was, I seem to remember, the Borough Engineer of Salford. A few years later she married a young dentist, Philip, and they drove over a cliff in Switzerland early in their honeymoon and he was killed. Hardly a just reward for her kindness to me.

The last time I remember visiting the Central Ref. was in the seventies with the then passion of my life, the beautiful Anne. We visited the basement café a couple of times and saw a show I think. Does she still visit the Ref? Does she remember us there?