The German industrialist and Marxist philosopher Friedrich Engels lived in Manchester in the early 1840s and was employed by his father’s cotton thread manufacturing firm in Weaste.
During his time in Manchester Engels made many detailed observations leading to the publication of his influential work The Condition of the Working Class in England.
Karl Marx, who lived in London, was a frequent visitor to Manchester, and in the summer of 1845 he and Engels developed the habit of studying together at the table in the alcove of the Reading Room.
Evidently the Library made a strong impression on the two men. Writing to Marx many years later in 1870 Engels commented: “During the last few days I have again spent a good deal of time sitting at the four-sided desk in the alcove where we sat together twenty-four years ago. I am very fond of the place. The stained glass window ensures that the weather is always fine there. Old Jones, the Librarian, is still alive but he is very old and no longer active. I have not seen him on this occasion”.
Apart from the stained glass windows, which were damaged by a storm in the winter of 1875 and replaced by plain glass, the desk and alcove remain unaltered. The books which the two men studied are still held by the Library.