Small but perfectly formed. While everyone loves a cultural blockbuster, there’s a lot to be said for little museums, which provide visitors with an experience they’re not going to get anywhere else, and often prove to be among their most memorable stops on any trip. Fortunately, Manchester’s rich in these tiny treasures – we’ve rounded up a few of the best here:
Manchester Jewish Museum may be on Cheetham Hill Road, a short bus ride from the city centre, but it’s a very worthwhile trip for anyone interested in Jewish culture. Housed in an ornate Grade II-listed former Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue completed in 1874 – the oldest surviving synagogue in Manchester, the museum is full of fascinating exhibits and artifacts that tell the story of the nearby Jewish community clustered around North Manchester (the largest in the UK outside London), and the wider story of the Jews in Britain. A recently expanded exhibition series displays works from artists like Chagall and Soutine and a new regular events series, Syna-gigs, brings comedy, music and theatre.
Our definition of a hidden gem is Manchester Metropolitan University’s Special Collectionsarchive. Tucked inside a fairly nondescript university library off Grosvenor Square, this tiny museum has its origins in the Manchester School of Design (the precursor to Manchester School of Art); today’s archive includes books, prints, objects and ephemera that have been collected over the course of 175 years. Its glorious Children’s Book Collection spans 10,000 books and two centuries. Close by are some 2,500 artists’ books and a wonderful collection of Victorian Ephemera, which includes Britain’s first commercially-produced Christmas card.
Tucked away in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, the Greater Manchester Police Museumdelves into the darker side of the city’s history, bringing the former Newton Street police headquarters to life; it closed in the 1970s yet still retains the décor and aura of a Victorian-era prison. The museum contains a number of collections relating to local policing through the ages – from helmets, uniforms and truncheons, to police transport. Among the most interesting are items relating to the notorious, 25-day Strangeways riot of 1990, which took place just a mile down the road. A magistrate’s court upstairs puts the visitor in the dock with its stained glass, polished wood and law books. However, it’s the walk-through cells and the 1879 charge room that are the most compelling. Spending a night in this clink would have been grim indeed.