The University of Manchester - The University of Manchester Library
First Impressions

Enriqueta Rylands 1843 - 1908

Enriqueta Augustina Rylands, third wife of John Rylands and founder of the Library that bears his name, was born in Cuba in 1843. She was the daughter of Stephen Cattley Tennant, an ex-patriot sugar merchant, and his Spanish wife, Juana Camila Dalcour. Enriqueta's parents both died when she was a child, and she spent her early years in New York, Paris and London. By the early 1860s she had moved to Manchester, where she became a companion to John Rylands's second wife, Martha. After Martha's death in 1875, John and Enriqueta were married in Kensington Congregational Church.

Enriqueta devoted herself to nursing John through his declining years. Upon his death in 1888 she inherited the bulk of his vast fortune, worth over £2.5 million. The last twenty years of her life were dedicated to perpetuating John's memory.

John and Enriqueta Rylands shared an interest in literature, particularly religious literature, and they had a common belief in the importance of education. His widow therefore decided that a public library, with a bias towards Nonconformist literature, would be a fitting memorial. She quietly purchased a site in the city centre and commissioned the architect Basil Champneys to design the building. Enriqueta took a close personal interest in the design of her library. She insisted on being consulted over every detail, and there were numerous disagreements with Champneys and with the artists and craftsmen who worked on the building.

Direct personal involvement also characterized Enriqueta Rylands's purchases of books and manuscripts with which she stocked the Library, although she benefited from the expertise of a small group of advisers. Despite her great wealth, she was a discriminating collector. With remarkable determination and foresight, in 1892 she bought the Althorp library of Lord Spencer for £210,000, negotiating the purchase in total secrecy. It was then the highest price ever paid for a book collection. Almost overnight she secured the John Rylands Library's reputation as a research library of world-wide standing, famous for its Bibles and early printed books.

After several years of declining health, Enriqueta Augustina Rylands died on 4 February 1908. She bequeathed to the John Rylands Library her personal collection of books, especially Private Press books and colour-plate books.

For further information on Enriqueta Rylands see D.A. Farnie, 'Enriqueta Augustina Rylands (1843-1908), founder of the John Rylands Library', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 71, no. 2 (1989), pp. 3-38.