John Rylands Library - History and Facts | History Hit

John Rylands Library

Manchester, England, United Kingdom

Lily Johnson

26 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About John Rylands Library

The John Rylands Library in Manchester is a stunning neo-Gothic library whose impressive collections and striking architecture have drawn visitors for over 100 years.

John Rylands Library history

The John Rylands Library was first commissioned in 1890 by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband who had died 2 years earlier in 1888. John Rylands was a Victorian industrialist and philanthropist who – through owning the largest textile manufacturer in the country – has often been cited as Manchester’s first multi-millionaire, and left his vast fortune to his widow.

After purchasing the land for the Library in 1889, Enriqueta spent the next few years amassing a large and impressive collection of works to fill it with. Chief of these was the purchase of a vast 40,000 books from George Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer in 1892, which had previously been housed at his ancestral home of Althorp House.

This formed the basis of the collection, followed by another large purchase of manuscripts from James Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford in 1901 known as the Bibliotheca Lindesiana. This was one of the most impressive private collections of its day, both in terms of its size and the rarity of its contents.

The Library was inaugurated on 6 October 1899 – the Rylands’ wedding anniversary – and officially opened to visitors on 1 January 1900. Since then, its collection has grown to over 250,000 printed works and over 1 million manuscripts and archival items.

John Rylands Library today

Today the John Rylands Library is open to the public for both academics and tourists to explore. It houses one of the finest collections of books, manuscripts, maps, works of art, and objects in the world, with striking architectural features to match.

The magnificent Historic Reading Room resembles a Gothic church, complete with ornate archways and a large stained glass window, while the Historic Entrance Hall is also a wonderful example of Victorian design.

Downstairs from the Entrance Hall may be found the original Victorian toilets dating back to 1900, that are still in use and remain as they did at the time!

Getting to John Rylands Library

The John Rylands Library is located on Deansgate in the centre of Manchester, which can be accessed via the M60 outer ring road following signs into the city. Several car parks are available nearby, with the nearest NCP car parks on Watson Street, New Quay Street, and Blackfriars Street, all within walking distance.

A number of train stations are also within walking distance to the Library, with Salford Central a 7-minute walk, Victoria and Deansgate a 10-minute walk, and Piccadilly a 20-minute walk away. The number 1 free bus service runs from Piccadilly to John Dalton Street, around the corner from the Library, while the number 2 free bus runs from Victoria to Deansgate, stopping directly opposite. The nearest tram stop is St Peter’s Square, a 7-minute walk away.

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