101 Treasures of Chetham's

A weekly series in which we highlight some of the Library's most interesting stuff, which as well as famous books and manuscripts includes furniture, paintings, and objects from the museum collection.

Limited space means that much of this material is not on permanent display, making this a rare opportunity to get a closer look at some of the jewels in the Library's crown.

Each weekly instalment is archived to create a unique perspective of the Library's holdings. Click on the links below to see treasures from previous weeks:

Opera of St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

Sir Henry Knyvett's 'Defence of this Realm'

Ben Jonson's Plato

The Manchester Man

Sir William Hamilton: Campi Phlegraei

Tim Bobbin

Hooke's Micrographia

Clog Almanack

Budé Bible

Thomas Barritt's Sketchbook

Strawberry Hill

Aulus Gellius

John Dee

Newton's Principia

Harrold's Diary

Albert Memorial

Bolton's Harmonia Ruralis

Henry VIII's Prosper of Aquitaine

Saxton's Atlas of England and Wales

Latin Vulgate Bible

Portrait of Humphrey Chetham

Plantin Polyglot Bible

Karl Marx's Desk

Kuerden's History of Lancashire

Fore-edge Painting

Poetry of Alain Chartier

Glass Slides

Hollingworth's Mancuniensis

De Bry's Emblemata


Rocque's Map of London

Library of the Parish Church of Gorton

Christians Awake

Cologne Chronicle

Casson and Berry

Mouth of Hell

Manchester Scrapbook

Valentine's Rebus

Luddite Ticket

Book of Common Prayer

Flores Historiarum

William Seward's Diary

The Pigmy Revels

Papal Prayers of Alexander VII

Register of Swan Marks

Palm Leaf Manuscript

Hiroshige Woodblock Print


Death Mask

Medical Recipes

Mandate from Walter Ralegh

General Wolfe's Sword

Halliwell-Phillips Collection

Theatre Royal Playbills

Lysons' Woodchester

Hogarth Prints

Gibbs' Book of Architecture

Mercator's Atlas

Hobson's Musci Britannici

Lord's Prayer in Shorthand

Bomberg Biblia Rabbinica

Homer Editio Princeps

Grant of Edward VI

De Laet's Novus Orbis

Hymnorum de Sanctis Collectio

The Manchester Comet

John Donne's Poems

Withering's Account of the Foxglove

Milton's Paradise Lost

Percival's Census of Manchester

C16th and C17th Greek Orthodox Books

Works of the French Prophets

Southey's Letters to Espriella

Works of Athanasius Kircher

Arabic New Testament

Works of Terence in French and Latin

James Crossley

Chetham's Library Accessions Register and Booksellers' Invoices

Peterloo Massacre

Besler's Hortus Eystettensis

The Papers of Laurence Vaux

Belle Vue

Sarum Missal

Nuremberg Chronicle

Material Relating to John Dalton

The Armburgh Roll

Incline Press

William Hulme's Survey

Acta Sanctorum

Genoa Quadruplex Psalter

William Tyndale's New Testament

Historic Bindings from the Byrom Collection

Diaries and Life Writing

Reading Room Clock

Humphrey Chetham's Private Papers

South West Prospect

Tractatis de nigromatia

Wooden Printing Press

Gesner Title page

Material associated with John Dee (1527-1608)

John Dee was appointed warden of the college at Manchester in 1595, and remains one of the most famous figures associated with the establishment. Dee, who developed a reputation as an astrologer, alchemist and occultist, was also an important renaissance scientist, mathematician and philosopher.

By the time he took up the position of warden at the advanced age of sixty-eight, Dee's reputation as a scholar and as a student of the occult was well established, and although he did not welcome the move to Manchester, he thought that it would at least provide him with a steady income and the chance to pursue his studies in peace. His hopes were immediately dashed. Throughout his stay he was beset with money problems and his relations with the fellows of the Collegiate Church were marked by antagonism that bordered on hatred. In 1605 he left Manchester weary of the struggle and returned home to Mortlake where he spent the remaining years of his life.

John Dee's library was one of the largest and greatest of his day and Chetham's has five books which once belonged to Dee. This copy (above and immediately below) of a work by the great sixteenth-century Swiss physician and naturalist Conrad Gesner is signed 'Joannes Dee 1556' on the title page. It is copiously annotated throughout including some marginal drawings of figures and apparatus. It is likely that the book stayed in Manchester after Dee's departure in 1605.


Conrad Gesner, De remediis secretis (A book of little known remedies)
Printed in Lyons by Balthazar Arnolletus, 1555.

Dee began collecting books at an early age. The work of history shown below - attributed to Arrian, Hanno, Plutarch and Strabo - was purchased by John Dee in 1547 at the age of twenty and annotated by him in Greek and Latin.

Arriani & Hannonis periplus. Plutarchus de fluminibus & montibus. Strabonis epitome Printed in Basel by Froben in 1533

Book belonging to John Dee

Book belonging to John Dee close-up

One of the tasks that Dee set himself as warden was to sort out the boundaries of the parish and manor of Manchester. In 1596 Christopher Saxton, who had produced the first national atlas of England and Wales, was employed to carry out a survey of Manchester. Unfortunately, no copies of the survey have survived. The parish boundary was a sensitive issue and resulted in a great deal of opposition from local landowners and clergy. In the letter below, Dee writes to William Langley, Rector of Prestwich, to solicit his assistance:

Letter from John Dee

Wurshipfull Mr Langley, these are to certifie you, that the bownds of the Parishe of Manchester, are now in Laying out, and by exact workmanship to be drawn into a plat, or charte: Uppon diverse waighty causes, therfore, for as muche as, one parte (or side) of our parish, in Thielmore, doth border uppon some parte of your parish of Prestwyche: my desire is, that your wurship wold request some one, or two, of the auncient of your parish, to be allso beholders of our bownds notifying, toward your parish in that place: My neighbors do intend to come on Wensday next in the morning, abowt 9 or 10 of the clock so that part that is by Goodman Smehurst's howse: and so toward the birche tree, that is called the Leeless Byrche; and thereabowts, for a little space; to begynn the vew of the bownds and meres of Manchester Parish: by the order, of an enioyned work by the higher powres: for avoyding of undue encroaching of any neighborly parish, one on the other. You understand me sufficiently well, I dowt not. Pardon my boldness, so bluntly to borde you with so homely a sute.

Manchester Maii 2 1597
Your wurships sincere
Wellwiller in Christe
John Dee

Letter from John Dee to William Langley, Rector of Prestwich, 2 May 1597

Letter from John Dee close-up

In 1841 the novelist Harrison Ainsworth published the novel Guy Fawkes, or The Gunpowder Treason: An Historical Romance, in which Dee, Fawkes and Humphrey Chetham are described meeting in the warden's room (now the Library Reading Room). There is no evidence for this encounter but it is possible that the young Humphrey Chetham knew John Dee. Dee borrowed money from Humphrey's older brother Edmund who was master of the Grammar School from 1597 to 1602.

This illustration by George Cruikshank from the book shows Dee's meeting with Guy Fawkes:

Image of Dee from Harrison Ainsworth's Guy Fawkes

'Doctor Dee in conjunction with his seer, Edward Kelley, exhibiting his magical skill to Guy Fawkes.'

William Harrison Ainsworth, Guy Fawkes or The Gunpowder Treason: An Historical Romance Illustrated by George Cruikshank
Printed in Manchester by Lewis's, undated.