The John Rylands Library has been acclaimed as the best example of neo-Gothic architecture in Europe and is indisputably one of the finest libraries in the world. It was the creation of Basil Champneys, who had impressed Mrs Rylands by his work on Mansfield Collage, Oxford. It took ten years to build and cost around £500,000.
The magnificent main staircase of The John Rylands Library
Mrs Rylands attended to every detail, and no expense was spared in commissioning the finest craftsmen and obtaining materials of the highest quality.
Four diverse elements combine to complement each other: Cumbrian sandstone, known as 'shawk', which ranges in colour from grey to rose pink; the best Polish oak from the region of Gdansk; white moulded plasterwork; and bronze cast in the art nouveau style of light fittings, radiator grilles and other metalwork.
The library was one of the first buildings in Manchester to be lit by electricity, which was originally generated on site, with mains electricity introduced in the 1950s and major re-wiring bringing it up-to-date in the 1990s.
The original building included an air-filtering system to reduce pollution. Air was drawn in from outside, filtered through coke screens kept moist by water sprays and then circulated through ducting and drawn over heated water pipes - an extremely sophisticated arrangement for its time.
The bookcases were equipped with elaborate locks and seals to protect their contents against both unauthorized handling and the City's grime-laden atmosphere.
Above the door of the magnificent frontage on Deansgate the coat-of-arms of St Helens, John Rylands' birthplace, and the combined arms of the Rylands and Tennant (Mrs Rylands') families are surmounted by John Rylands' monogram.
The original Entrance Hall, with its high oak screen and intense concentration of pillars and vaulting, is dominated by a group of statues entitled Theology directing the labours of Science and Art, by the distinguished sculptor John Cassidy (1860-1939). These statues symbolized Mrs Rylands' philosophy and her intention for the library.
The library's centrepiece, the famous Historic Reading Room, is presided over at either end by Cassidy's marble statues of John and Enriqueta Rylands.
The Reading Room was built thirty feet above street level to minimize disturbance from the horse-drawn traffic on the cobblestones of Victorian Deansgate and on each side are alcoves for personal study.
More than forty feet above the aisle is the most magnificent of the library's vaulted ceilings.
In keeping with the library's Grade 1 listed status, the fittings and furniture of the Reading Room have been faithfully preserved, and while additions to the building have been made over the years, to accommodate the requirements of staff and the increasing stock, the Library itself has been preserved as far as possible in its original state.
Now, in the early twenty-first century, through grants and the very generous help of individuals and companies, the library has been re-born.
The beautiful Deansgate building has undergone an extensive programme of repairs and conservation and a new entrance wing has been added on the Spinningfield side.
This new wing incorporates reader and visitor facilities, additional storage, a reading room for consulting works of great rarity and the Conservation Studio.