After the Public Libraries Act was passed in 1850, Sir John Potter, the Mayor of Manchester, began a campaign to raise money to purchase a building and fill it with books.

Salford and Warrington established public libraries in 1848 - under the Museums Act. Two years later the Public Libraries Act was passed and the movement for a free library in Manchester gained momentum. Donations of books and money some came flooding in and in September 1852 the Manchester Free Public Library opened at the Hall of Science, Campfield. Its first librarian was the prominent library campaigner Edward Edwards. By 1877, the Campfield building had become unsafe so the books were transferred to the old Town Hall in King Street (the fa├žade of which now stands in Heaton Park). Over the next few years the collections grew and grew, and this building proved to be too small. In 1912 the library moved again, this time to a temporary site in Piccadilly which included the outpatients wing of the old infirmary and a former YMCA hut. Unfortunately the outbreak of the First World War, and other delaying factors, meant that the library was in its temporary home longer than anticipated.
King Street Reference Library Exterior, 1900
Manchester Free Library, Campfield. 1855