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Rylands and Sons Archive

Date range: 1742–1969.

Rylands & Sons Ltd was the most successful cotton firm in Britain in the late nineteenth century.

The firm was founded in 1819 by Joseph Rylands of St Helens, Lancashire, and his three sons, Joseph, Richard and John.

They specialized in the hand-weaving of coarse and coloured linen and calico goods for the Chester trade. John was the firm’s commercial traveller.

So successful was he that in 1823 he was able to cease travelling and opened the firm’s first warehouse in New High Street, Manchester. Rylands and Sons went from strength to strength, moving into other aspects of the cotton business under the guiding hand of John, who assumed sole control of the company in 1842. He developed it into one of the largest textile manufacturing and trading companies in Britain.

In 1873 Rylands and Sons was incorporated as a joint stock company, with a nominal capital of £2,000,000, although John continued to preside over the company as if nothing had changed, and the board met only rarely.

The company continued to expand until the early 1920s when, in common with most of the Lancashire cotton industry, it began to decline.

In 1953 it was taken over by Great Universal Stores Ltd and finally ceased trading in 1971.

The archive, which is fragmentary, comprises:

  • directors’ minute books from the time of incorporation until 1956
  • John Rylands’s personal minute book
  • accounting records
  • sales records and catalogues
  • promotional literature and examples of product packaging
  • wages and employment records
  • title deeds and leases relating to property owned by the firm

There is also a small quantity of papers relating to the Rylands family itself, consisting of memorial volumes, illuminated addresses, and printed material.

Finding aids

Catalogue available online via ELGAR.


The John Rylands Library

Using the reading rooms in the John Rylands Library

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