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John Rylands Library Archive

Date range: 1890 to present.

The John Rylands Library was founded by Mrs Enriqueta Augustina Rylands as a memorial to her husband, who died in December 1888 leaving a fortune of some £2.5 million.

John Rylands had developed the family firm of Rylands and Sons into one of the largest and most profitable cotton manufacturing concerns in Britain.

Mrs Rylands employed the architect Basil Champneys to design a building in the neo-Gothic style. Construction began in 1890 and the Library opened to the public on January 1st 1900.

Mrs Rylands's original intention had been to create a primarily theological library, but her purchases of the Spencer collection of printed books in 1892, and the Crawford Collection of Western, Near Eastern and Far Eastern manuscripts in 1901, transformed the Library into a scholarly institution of international status. The Library was administered as an independent institution by a Council of Governors and a Board of Trustees.

In 1972 the John Rylands Library merged with the Library of Manchester University to form the John Rylands University Library (JRUL) of Manchester, the third largest academic library in the United Kingdom.

In 2012 the JRUL changed its name to The University of Manchester Library. The original John Rylands Library building now houses the Special Collections Division of the University of Manchester Library.

The archives of the John Rylands Library are substantial and comprehensive. They include:

  • specifications, plans, accounts and correspondence concerning the original construction of the library (including correspondence between Mrs Rylands and Basil Champneys) and subsequent alterations and enlargements to the building
  • minute books of the Trustees, Governors, Book Committee and other committees
  • annual reports and statements of account
  • ledgers, cash books, petty cash books, wages books, invoices and other financial records
  • book and manuscript accession registers
  • letter-books
  • correspondence with readers, scholars, other institutions and suppliers
  • applications for readers' tickets
  • visitors' books
  • material relating to publications and exhibitions
  • newspaper cuttings books
  • legal papers

As well as illuminating the history of the Library, the archive contains material of interest for wider studies in art history, architectural history, bibliography and 19th-century book-collecting.


By prior permission only.

Finding aids

  • Cataloguing in process.
  • Henry Guppy, The John Rylands Library, Manchester, 1899-1935: a Brief Record of its History (Manchester, 1935).


The John Rylands Library

Using the reading rooms in the John Rylands Library

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