I am back from a little break to finish my Masters dissertation but now I’m finished I plan on focusing on this blog a lot more. I have some exciting ideas and hope to be posting at least fortnightly if not weekly. I have decided to organise this blog using series’. So welcome to the first in the series of Manchester Buildings! Throughout this series I will look at amazing Mancuinan architecture, stories about the buildings we walk past every day and the people associated.
In this blog post I will be taking a look at John Rylands Library, you will have seen this building tucked in between the shiny new glass facades of Spinningfields and the hustle and bustle of Deansgate. John Rylands Library began construction in 1889 and opened to the public nearly 10 years later on the 1st of January 1900. The Gothic style of the library was conceived by the architect Basil Champneys however the library itself was commissioned by Enriqueta Rylands, wife of the late John Rylands.
John Rylands is known as Manchester’s first multi-millionaire. He made his fortune as the owner of the largest textile manufacturer in the UK, at its peak this factory employed over 15,000 people. Rylands interest in the cotton trade began from a young age. In his youth he learnt to weave which led to the creation of his first venture, a small scale manufacturer of hand-looms. Ever the entrepreneur he went into the wholesale trade business with his brothers, they impressed their father so much that Rylands & Sons was created. It was this success which inspired his third wife to establish a library in his name, the hefty sum he left her (£259 million in today’s money) will have definitely helped towards such a venture.
As for the creation of the library we must turn to Enriqueta Rylands. She chose Basil Champneys as architect for the project thanks to his work on the library of Mansfield College, Oxford however she asked for something similar but much more extravagant. To establish the collection of the library she used £210,000 to secretly acquire the collection of the 2nd Earl Spencer’s library which was put up for sale in 1892. Of course with all of these books and scripts she needed someone to index and catalogue all the items, or this task she commissioned the Mancunian academic Alice Margaret Cooke who is well known for her contributions towards improving access to higher education for Women in Manchester.
In the 1970s the library merged with the University of Manchester and the building was given grade 1 listed status in 1994. This incredible building will not only be known as a place for academia, learning and knowledge but also as a symbol of love and remembrance for a Manchester couple who will go down in history.