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John Rylands Library Archive

Date range: 1872 to present

Medium: Manuscript

The John Rylands Library was founded by 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.

Enriqueta 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 1st January 1900.

Rylands began acquiring books for the Library in 1889. She bought modern reference works in a variety of subjects, with an emphasis on theology, and soon began purchasing special items. Her purchase of the Spencer collectionof printed books in 1892, 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.

After the Library opened, Rylands continued to support the Governors in acquiring books for the Library, but also purchased books for her private library at Longford Hall. In 1901, she purchased the Crawford Collection of Western, Near Eastern and Far Eastern manuscripts. These manuscripts were part of the private library she bequeathed to her foundation when she died in 1908.

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 Enriqueta Rylands and Basil Champneys) and subsequent alterations and enlargements to the building;
  • papers of Enriqueta Rylands concerning the establishment of the John Rylands Library and relating to her private library at Longford Hall;
  • minute books, annual reports, statements of account and legal papers of the Trustees, Governors, Book Committee and other committees;
  • ledgers, cash books, petty cash books, wages books and pension records, invoices and other financial records;
  • book and manuscript accession registers;
  • letter-books and correspondence with readers, scholars, other institutions and suppliers;
  • registers of readers and applications for readers' tickets;
  • papers of the librarian Henry Guppy concerning personal and professional matters within and beyond the John Rylands Library;
  • material relating to exhibitions and publications, including the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library;
  • newspaper cuttings books;
  • visitors' books.

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.

Further information:

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


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