John Rylands Library

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John Rylands Library
Rylands Library Deansgate.jpg
Alternative namesRylands Library
General information
StatusGrade I listed
Architectural style Victorian Neo-Gothic
Location Deansgate, Manchester, England
Coordinates 53°28′49″N2°14′55″W / 53.480321°N 2.2487°W / 53.480321; -2.2487 Coordinates: 53°28′49″N2°14′55″W / 53.480321°N 2.2487°W / 53.480321; -2.2487
Construction started1890
Completed1899 [1]
Opened1 January 1900
Inaugurated6 October 1899
Renovated1920, 1962, 2003–07
Cost£200,000 [2] [3]
Design and construction
Architect Basil Champneys [1]
Main contractorR. and W. Morrison, Liverpool
Rylands Library website

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. [4] 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.

Victorian era period of British history encompassing Queen Victorias reign (1837–1901)

In the history of the United Kingdom, the Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria's reign, from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. The era followed the Georgian period and preceded the Edwardian period, and its later half overlaps with the first part of the Belle Époque era of Continental Europe. In terms of moral sensibilities and political reforms, this period began with the passage of the Reform Act 1832. There was a strong religious drive for higher moral standards led by the nonconformist churches, such as the Methodist, and the Evangelical wing of the established Church of England. Britain's relations with the other Great Powers were driven by the colonial antagonism of the Great Game with Russia, climaxing during the Crimean War; a Pax Britannica of international free trade was maintained by the country's naval and industrial supremacy. Britain embarked on global imperial expansion, particularly in Asia and Africa, which made the British Empire the largest empire in history. National self-confidence peaked.

Gothic Revival architecture Architectural movement

Gothic Revival is an architectural movement popular in the Western world that began in the late 1740s in England. Its popularity grew rapidly in the early 19th century, when increasingly serious and learned admirers of neo-Gothic styles sought to revive medieval Gothic architecture, in contrast to the neoclassical styles prevalent at the time. Gothic Revival draws features from the original Gothic style, including decorative patterns, finials, lancet windows, hood moulds and label stops.

Deansgate road in Manchester, England

Deansgate is a main road through Manchester city centre, England. It runs roughly north–south in a near straight route through the western part of the city centre and is the longest road in the city centre at over one mile long.


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, [5] include medieval illuminated manuscripts and examples of early European printing, including a Gutenberg Bible, the second largest collection of printing by William Caxton, [6] and the most extensive collection of the editions of the Aldine Press of Venice. [7] The Rylands Library Papyrus P52 has a claim 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.

Illuminated manuscript manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration

An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript in which the text is supplemented with such decoration as initials, borders (marginalia) and miniature illustrations. In the strictest definition, the term refers only to manuscripts decorated with either gold or silver; but in both common usage and modern scholarship, the term refers to any decorated or illustrated manuscript from Western traditions. Comparable Far Eastern and Mesoamerican works are described as painted. Islamic manuscripts may be referred to as illuminated, illustrated or painted, though using essentially the same techniques as Western works.

<i>Gutenberg Bible</i> first major book printed

The Gutenberg Bible was among the earliest major books printed using mass-produced movable metal type in Europe. It marked the start of the "Gutenberg Revolution" and the age of printed books in the West. The book is valued and revered for its high aesthetic and artistic qualities as well as its historic significance. It is an edition of the Vulgate printed in the 1450s in Latin by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, in present-day Germany. Forty-nine copies have survived. They are thought to be among the world's most valuable books, although no complete copy has been sold since 1978. In March 1455, the future Pope Pius II wrote that he had seen pages from the Gutenberg Bible displayed in Frankfurt to promote the edition. It is not known how many copies were printed; the 1455 letter cites sources for both 158 and 180 copies. The 36-line Bible, said to be the second printed Bible, is also referred to sometimes as a Gutenberg Bible, but may be the work of another printer.

William Caxton 15th-century English merchant, diplomat, writer and printer

William Caxton was an English merchant, diplomat, and writer. He is thought to be the first person to introduce a printing press into England, in 1476, and as a printer was the first English retailer of printed books.

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.

University of Manchester public research university in Manchester, England

The University of Manchester is a public research university in Manchester, England, formed in 2004 by the merger of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and the Victoria University of Manchester. The University of Manchester is a red brick university, a product of the civic university movement of the late 19th century.


Enriqueta Rylands purchased a site on Deansgate for her memorial library in 1889 and commissioned a design from architect Basil Champneys. [4] [8] Rylands commissioned the Manchester academic Alice Cooke to index the vast library of the 2nd Earl Spencer which she had purchased and another collection of autographs. [9] Mrs Rylands intended the library to be principally theological, and the building, which is a fine example of Victorian Gothic, has the appearance of a church, although the concept was of an Oxford college library on a larger scale. [10] Champneys presented plans to Mrs Rylands within a week of gaining the commission. Thereafter frequent disagreements arose and Mrs Rylands selected decorative elements, window glass and statues against his wishes. [11]

Basil Champneys was an architect and author whose most notable buildings include Manchester's John Rylands Library, Somerville College Library (Oxford), Newnham College, Cambridge, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, Mansfield College, Oxford and Oriel College, Oxford's Rhodes Building.

Alice Margaret Cooke Historian and writer

Alice Margaret Cooke was a British historian and writer. Cooke catalogued the books in the John Rylands Library and she helped in the development of higher education for women in Manchester.

George Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer British Earl

George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer,, styled Viscount Althorp from 1765 to 1783, was a British Whig politician. He notably served as Home Secretary from 1806 to 1807 in the Ministry of All the Talents. He was the 3rd paternal great grandfather of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Champneys was given the honour of speaking about the library at a general meeting of the Royal Institute of British Architects and was awarded a Royal Gold Medal in 1912. [12] The library was granted listed building status on 25 January 1952, which was upgraded to Grade I on 6 June 1994. [13]

Royal Institute of British Architects professional body for architects primarily in the United Kingdom

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is a professional body for architects primarily in the United Kingdom, but also internationally, founded for the advancement of architecture under its charter granted in 1837 and Supplemental Charter granted in 1971.

Royal Gold Medal Royal Institute of British Architects award

The Royal Gold Medal for architecture is awarded annually by the Royal Institute of British Architects on behalf of the British monarch, in recognition of an individual's or group's substantial contribution to international architecture. It is given for a distinguished body of work rather than for one building, and is therefore not awarded for merely being currently fashionable.

Listed building Collection of protected architectural creations in the United Kingdom

A listed building, or listed structure, is one that has been placed on one of the four statutory lists maintained by Historic England in England, Historic Environment Scotland in Scotland, Cadw in Wales, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency in Northern Ireland.

The core of the library's collection was formed around 40,000 books, including many rarities, assembled by George Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer, which Mrs Rylands purchased from Lord Spencer in 1892. [14] She had begun acquiring books in 1889 and continued to do so throughout her lifetime. [10] After its inauguration on 6 October 1899 (the wedding anniversary of John Rylands and Enriqueta Tennant) [10] the library opened to readers and visitors on 1 January 1900. [4]

The John Rylands Library and the library of the University of Manchester merged in July 1972 and was named the John Rylands University Library of Manchester. Special collections built up by both libraries were progressively concentrated in the Deansgate building.

The building has been extended four times, the first time to designs by Champneys in 1920 after the project was delayed by World War I. The Lady Wolfson Building opened in 1962 on the west side and a third extension, south of the first was built in 1969. In January 2003, an appeal to renovate the building was launched. [15] Funds were generated from grants from the University of Manchester and Heritage Lottery Fund and donations from members of the public and companies in Manchester. [16] The project, Unlocking the Rylands, demolished the third extension, refurbished parts of the old building and erected a pitched roof over its reinforced concrete roof. Champneys designed a pitched roof but Mrs Rylands was advised that an internal stone vault would reduce the fire risk and it was not built. [14] The £17 million project was completed by summer 2007 and the library reopened on 20 September 2007. [17]


Facade of the John Rylands Library John Rylands Library 1.jpg
Facade of the John Rylands Library
Reading Room of the Rylands Library The John Rylands Library.jpg
Reading Room of the Rylands Library

By the nineteenth century Manchester was a prosperous industrial town and the demands of cotton manufacturing stimulated the growth of engineering and chemical industries. The town became 'abominably filthy' and was 'often covered, especially during the winter, with dense fogs ... there is at all times a copious descent of soots and other impurities'. [18] This, and the overcrowded site, created many design problems for the architect. [19] During the century most textile manufacture moved to newer mills in the surrounding towns while Manchester remained the centre of trading in cotton goods both for the home and foreign markets but pollution from burning coal and gas remained a considerable nuisance.

The site chosen by Mrs Rylands was in a central and fashionable part of the city, but was awkward in shape and orientation and surrounded by tall warehouses, derelict cottages and narrow streets. [19] The position was criticised for its lack of surrounding space and the fact that the valuable manuscript collections were to be housed in "that dirty, uncomfortable city ... [with] not enough light to read by, and the books they already have are wretchedly kept" (written in 1901 about the Crawford MSS.) [19] Mrs Rylands negotiated Deeds of Agreement with her neighbours to fix the heights of future adjacent buildings. The permissible height of the building was fixed at just over 34 feet, but it was suggested that it could be taller at the centre if there was an open area around the edges, at the height of buildings that had been demolished to make way for the construction. [19] Champneys incorporated this suggestion into his design, setting the two towers of the facade twelve feet back from the boundary and keeping the entrance block low, to allow light into the library. [19] He designed the building in a series of tiered steps with an almost flat roof to give a 'liberal concession' to the neighbours' 'right to light'. [20]



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. [13] 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. [21] [22] built around an internal steel framed structure and brick arched flooring. [23] 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. It proved relatively successful, as an inspection by Champneys in 1900 revealed little softening by the 'effects of an atmosphere somewhat charged with chemicals' although, by 1909 some repairs were needed. [24]

The library has a crypt above which the building has two unequal storeys giving the impression of three. The ornate Deansgate facade has an embattled parapet with open-work arcading under which is a central three-bay entrance resembling a monastery gatehouse. Its two-centred arched portal has doorways separated by a trumeau and tall windows on either side. Above the doors are a pair of small canted oriel windows. Surfaces are decorated with lacy blind tracery and finely-detailed carving. [13] The carving includes the "J. R." monogram, the arms of Rylands, the arms of Rylands' native town, St Helens, and those of five English, two Scottish and two Irish universities and those of Owens College. [25] On either side of the entrance portal are square two-storey two-bay wings with plain walls with a string course containing grotesques and large octagonal lanterns. Behind the entrance portal flanked by square towers is the three-light east window of the reading hall. It has reticulated tracery and shafts in a similar style to the parapet. In front of the library are Art Nouveau bronze railings with central double gates and lamp standards. [13]


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'. [20] It was lit by oriel windows in the reading alcoves supplemented by high clerestory windows along both sides. [20] 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; [26] and bronzework in the art nouveau style by Singer of Frome. The portraits in sculpture (20) and stained glass (40) represent a selection of personages from the intellectual and artistic history of mankind. The western window contains "Theology" from Moses to Schleiermacher; the eastern "Literature and Art" (including philosophy). [27] The portrait statues of John and Enriqueta Rylands in white marble, in the reading room, were sculpted by John Cassidy who also executed the allegorical group of 'Theology, Science and Art' in the vestibule. [4] [28]

Aside from the main library and reading room with gallery above, the design incorporated Bible and map rooms on the first floor, and conference (lecture) and committee rooms on the ground floor, part of which was intended to be a lending library but never operated as such. A caretaker's house was incorporated in the building until it was demolished for the extension of 1969. [1]


Electric lighting was chosen as the cleanest and safest alternative to gas but, as the use of electricity was in its early stages, the supply (110 volts DC) was generated on-site. This took some years to achieve due to the inexperience of contractors, [12] but the library became one of the first public buildings in Manchester to be lit by electricity [4] [29] and continued to generate its own supply until 1950. [30]

Champneys suggested that, in order to protect the books and manuscripts, 'it will be very desirable to keep the air in the interior of the building as clear and free from smoke and chemical matter (both of which are held in the air of Manchester) as may be possible'. [30] The ground floor was built with numerous air inlets and, although his client felt it would prove impossible to exclude foul air, Champneys installed jute or hessian screens to trap the soot, with water sprays to catch the sulphur and other chemicals, [30] which was a very advanced system for the period. [4] Internal screen doors were employed in the entrance hall to prevent the air being 'fouled by the opening of the outer doors' with internal swing doors between the circulation areas and the main library to 'preserve the valuable books from injury'. [30] By 1900 the ventilation system had evolved to include electric fans to draw in air at pavement level through coke screens sprayed with water. [30]


First edition of Ulysses by James Joyce Manchester John Rylands Library James Joyce 16-10-2009 13-55-16.JPG
First edition of Ulysses by James Joyce
The Papyrus 52 (fragment of the Gospel of John) at the John Rylands Library Rylands papyrus.jpg
The Papyrus 52 (fragment of the Gospel of John) at the John Rylands Library

On opening in 1900, the library had 70,000 books and fewer than 100 manuscripts [31] and by 2012, more than 250,000 printed volumes and over one million manuscripts and archival items. [32] 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 (i.e. incunabula). [33] [34] Mrs Rylands paid £210,000 for Spencer's collection which included the Aldine Collection [35] and an incunabula collection of 3,000 items. [36]

Owens College Library received Richard Copley Christie's library of over 8,000 volumes including many rare books from the Renaissance period in 1901. [37] It was part of the Victoria University of Manchester library from 1904 and was transferred to the John Rylands Library building after the merger in 1972. In 1901, Mrs Rylands paid £155,000 for more than 6,000 manuscripts owned by James Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford of Haigh Hall. The Bibliotheca Lindesiana was one of the most impressive private collections in Britain at the time, both for its size and rarity of some of its contents. [38] [39] Walter Llewellyn Bullock bequeathed 5,000 items (notably early Italian imprints) during the 1930s. [40]

The library's collections include exquisite medieval illuminated manuscripts, examples of early European printing including a fine paper copy of the Gutenberg Bible and books printed by William Caxton, and personal papers of distinguished historical figures including Elizabeth Gaskell, John Dalton and John Wesley. [14] Nothing is known of the early history of this copy of the Gutenberg Bible before it was acquired by the 2nd Earl Spencer. [41] [42]

The library houses papyrus fragments known as the Rylands Papyri and documents from North Africa. The most notable are the St John Fragment, believed to be the oldest extant New Testament text, Rylands Library Papyrus P52, the earliest fragment of the text of the canonical Gospel of John; [43] the earliest fragment of the Septuagint, Papyrus Rylands 458; and Papyrus Rylands 463, a manuscript fragment of the apocryphal Gospel of Mary. Minuscule 702, ε2010 (von Soden), [44] is a Greek minuscule manuscript of the New Testament, on parchment. Among the papyri from Oxyrhynchus are a homily about women (Inv R. 55247), part of the Book of Tobit (Apocrypha) (448), and Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 73, relating to the transfer of a slave. The Arabic papyri were catalogued by David Samuel Margoliouth; his catalogue was published in 1933. [45]

In addition to the collections of Spencer, Crawford, Christie and Bullock, [46] [47] holdings have been enriched by gifts, permanent loans or purchases of several libraries belonging to institutions and individuals. These include the French Revolution Broadsides donated by the 27th Earl of Crawford in 1924 [48] [49] and the archives of the Methodist Church of Great Britain in 1977. [50] Between 1946 and 1988 a number of sections of the Earl of Crawford's library were deposited here, [51] however all but one of these were withdrawn in 1988.

Mrs Rylands died in 1908 having bequeathed her private collections and an endowment of £200,000 to enable the library to expand. The funds were used to acquire 180,000 books, 3,000 manuscripts and extend the building. [52] The Librarian, Henry Guppy, invited individuals to deposit their archives for safe keeping in 1921 when there were no county record offices in Lancashire or Cheshire and the library became one of the first to collect historical family records. [53]


Librarians at John Rylands before its merger include Edward Gordon Duff in 1899 and 1900 and Henry Guppy between 1899 and 1948 (joint Librarian with Duff until 1900). Duff was responsible for the original library catalogue, compiled between 1893 and 1899: Catalogue of the Printed Books and Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, Manchester; ed. E. G. Duff. Manchester: J. E. Cornish, 1899. 3 vols. [10] The cataloguing of the books was done by Alice Margaret Cooke, a graduate of the Victoria University. [54] Dr Guppy began publication of the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library in 1903; it later became a journal publishing academic articles and from autumn 1972 the title was changed to the Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester (further slight changes have occurred since). [55]

During the First World War 11 members of staff joined the armed forces; of these only Capt. O. J. Sutton, MC, lost his life while serving. [56] Other noteworthy members of staff were James Rendel Harris, Alphonse Mingana, the Semitic scholar Professor Edward Robertson (d. 1964) who was the third librarian, [57] [58] and Moses Tyson, keeper of western manuscripts, afterwards librarian of Manchester University Library. Stella Butler, a medical historian, was Head of Special Collections from 2000 until 2009, and she moved to the University of Leeds in 2011 as University Librarian. [59] [60] Since 2009, Rachel Beckett has been Head of Special Collections and she was appointed as the Associate Director of The John Rylands Library in 2013. Christopher Pressler was appointed University Librarian and Director of the John Rylands Library in February 2019. [61]

John Rylands Research Institute

Acting Librarian David Miller founded the John Rylands Research Institute in 1987, [62] [63] to promote, fund and stimulate research on the primary material held at Deansgate.

The John Rylands Research Institute was relaunched in 2014 as a collaboration between the University of Manchester's Faculty of Humanities and the John Rylands Library. [64] The mission of the Institute is to open up the Library's Special Collections to innovative and multidisciplinary research, in partnership with researchers in Manchester and across the globe. In September 2016, Hannah Barker, Professor of British History, took up the role as Director of the John Rylands Research Institute [65] in succession to Prof. Peter Pormann who had been appointed Director of the John Rylands Research Institute in 2013.

Governors and Trustees

Mrs Rylands established a board of trustees to hold the library's assets and a council of governors to maintain the building and control expenditure. The council consisted of some representative and some co-optative governors while honorary governors were not members of the council. [66] [67] Both these bodies were dissolved at the merger in 1972. Members of the council of governors included Professor Arthur Peake and Professor F. F. Bruce both biblical critics and Rylands Professors of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis.


Many notable people including heads of state have visited the library. Charles, Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall have also visited. [68]

See also

Related Research Articles

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James Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford British politician

James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford and 9th Earl of Balcarres, FRS, FRAS was a British astronomer, politician, ornithologist, bibliophile and philatelist. A member of the Royal Society, Crawford was elected president of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1878. He was a prominent Freemason.

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<i>Mainz Psalter</i> incunable

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Haigh Hall

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The Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis is a professorship or chair in the Department of Religions and Theology at the University of Manchester, England. Formerly in the Faculty of Theology, the chair resides now in the School of Arts, Histories and Cultures. The chair was established in 1904 as one of two chairs endowed by Enriqueta Rylands in the former Faculty of Theology which was founded the same year. George J. Brooke was the most recent Rylands Professor, occupying the chair from 1997 to January 2016.

The Bulletin of the John Rylands Library is a journal published by Manchester University Press. Articles are meant to enhance the "scholarship and understanding" of the collections of the John Rylands Library. The journal was established in 1903, and has been published by MUP since 2014. The founding editor was Henry Guppy, while the current editor is Paul Fouracre.

The Crawford Aramaic New Testament manuscript is a 12th-century Aramaic manuscript containing 27 books of the New Testament. This manuscript is notable because its final book, the Book of Revelation, is the sole surviving manuscript of any Aramaic version of the otherwise missing Book of Revelation from the Peshitta Syriac New Testament. Five books were translated into Syriac later for the Harklean New Testament.

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  55. Publication was suspended for a few years (1909–13) but it has been published continuously since 1914, either two or three issues a year
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