Imperial War Museum

Home>>Europe>>UK>>Manchester>>John Rylands Library

The John Rylands Library is a late-Victorian neo-Gothic building on Deansgate in Manchester, England. The library, which opened to the public in 1900, was founded by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her husband, John Rylands. The John Rylands Library and the library of the University of Manchester merged in July 1972 into the John Rylands University Library of Manchester; today it is part of the University of Manchester Library.

John Rylands Library, Manchester, United Kingdom
John Rylands Library, Manchester, United Kingdom

Special collections built up by both libraries were progressively concentrated in the Deansgate building. The special collections, believed to be among the largest in the United Kingdom, include medieval illuminated manuscripts and examples of early European printing, including a Gutenberg Bible, the second largest collection of printing by William Caxton, and the most extensive collection of the editions of the Aldine Press of Venice.

John Rylands Library, Manchester, United Kingdom
John Rylands Library, Manchester, United Kingdom

The Rylands Library Papyrus P52 is believed to be the earliest extant New Testament text. The library holds personal papers and letters of notable figures, among them Elizabeth Gaskell and John Dalton. The architectural style is primarily neo-Gothic with elements of Arts and Crafts Movement in the ornate and imposing gatehouse facing Deansgate which dominates the surrounding streetscape. The library, granted Grade I listed status in 1994, is maintained by the University of Manchester and open for library readers and visitors.

John Rylands Library, Manchester, United Kingdom
John Rylands Library, Manchester, United Kingdom

The library was built on a rectangular plan and subsequent extensions are to the rear. It was designed to resemble a church in a decorated neo-Gothic style with Arts and Crafts details. It is constructed of Cumbrian sandstone, the interior a delicately shaded 'Shawk' stone (from Dalston, varying in colour between sand and a range of pinks) and the exterior, dark red Barbary stone from Penrith. built around an internal steel framed structure and brick arched flooring. The red 'Barbary plain' sandstone, which Champneys believed 'had every chance of proving durable' for the exterior, was an unusual choice in late Victorian Manchester.

John Rylands Library, Manchester, United Kingdom
John Rylands Library, Manchester, United Kingdom

The main reading room on the first floor, 30 feet above the ground and 12 feet from all four boundaries, was noted for the pleasant contrast between the 'sullen roar' of Manchester and the 'internal cloister quietude of Rylands'. It was lit by oriel windows in the reading alcoves supplemented by high clerestory windows along both sides. Embellishments in the reading room include two large stained glass windows with portraits of religious and secular figures, designed by C. E. Kempe; a series of statues in the reading room by Bridgeman's of Lichfield; and bronzework in the art nouveau style by Singer of Frome.

John Rylands Library, Manchester, United Kingdom
John Rylands Library, Manchester, United Kingdom

On opening in 1900, the library had 70,000 books and fewer than 100 manuscripts and by 2012, more than 250,000 printed volumes and over one million manuscripts and archival items. The main foundation of the library's collections acquired in 1892 was the Althorp Library of Lord Spencer regarded as one of the finest library collections in private ownership with 43,000 items - 3,000 of which originate from before 1501.

5