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Our history

The John Rylands Library was founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband John Rylands. In 1889 the architect Basil Champneys designed the striking gothic building, which took ten years to build and was opened to public readers on 1 January 1900.

The library became part of The University of Manchester in 1972 and currently holds the Special Collections of The University of Manchester Library. Mrs Rylands' memorial to her husband is now part of the third largest academic library in the United Kingdom, and the Deansgate building houses over 250,000 printed volumes, and well over a million manuscripts and archival items.

Timeline

The building

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 College, Oxford. It took ten years to build and cost around £500,000 - over £60million in today’s money!

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. It also originally had an air-filtering system, very sophisticated for the time and essential to protect the items in industrial Manchester.

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.