Manchester Student-made

Spots|Manchester: The John Rylands Library

Reading Time: 3 minutes

With over 24 public libraries – Manchester is a bookworm’s dream come true. Such a variety of spaces to study and learn from is a huge asset to students in the city, and each library boasts a unique history and individual collection which forming part of what has come to be a wealth of knowledge spanning every conceivable topic.

The History

The library was commissioned in 1890 by Enriqueta Rylands, the newly widowed wife of John Rylands. Mr Rylands was a manufacturer of cotton goods and it through these enormous successes in the textiles industry that he became the first Mancunian multi-millionaire.

The library was established in his memory by his wife, and as well as honouring her husband’s legacy, Enriqueta also sought to enrich the architecture of Victorian Manchester. She achieved this goal aided in no small part by the architect Basil Champneys, and the resulting building has proved not just to be a crowning achievement in the world of neo-gothic architecture – it also boasts some hidden technical marvels.

Innovation permeates the building, from some of the first known electrically powered light bulbs, to an intricate filtration system used to circulate soot free air around the library – which was easier said than done at the height of the industrial revolution.


Of course, a library is nothing without its collection, and Enriqueta purchased the two key collections held in the John Rylands with the money inherited from her late husband. The first of the two was the Althorp Library, a collection of printed books previously owned by the 2nd Earl Spencer.

The second collection, purchased in 1901 – a year after the library officially opened – was Lord Crawford’s personal manuscripts. While over time the Rylands collection has expanded tenfold to accommodate new researchers and public interests, the Crawford and Spencer rooms still sit at the heart of the original building, with the two collections preserved in vacuum sealed cases.


Over time the range of material collected and preserved at the John Rylands has expanded from manuscripts and printed books to all forms of media. Today the library plays host to a plethora of rare and incredibly important cultural artefacts, from the notes of Alan Turing, a fragment of the Gospel of John dating back to 100-150 AD, to the works of The BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s own Delia Derbyshire, and the first large-scale British Popular Culture archive in the UK.

After becoming a part of the University of Manchester in the late 20th century, the John Rylands has opened a dedicated Research Institute, which promotes research in the humanities and the sciences, and has secured a number of grants facilitating the continued study of their ever-growing collection.

Exhibitions & Events

As well as ensuring researchers are able to explore the collection as they please, the John Ryland continues to schedule frequent exhibitions and events – all of which are completely free to attend.

Exhibitions are installed inside the main building, in which attendees are free to browse a curated selection of objects at their leisure. The most recent exhibitions have covers topics such as the Qing dynasty, and most recently the legacy of the Divine Comedy after Dante’s death.

Events take many forms, from annual lectures and conferences, to seminars, workshops, and talks, both from researchers at the library, and external guests. These events occur throughout the year and there because of such a diversity of research interests at the library, a huge variety of ground is covered. Therefore to find out what currently happening at the library, and what you may be interested in learning more about, head to the Library website

In summary

Whether you are interested in a specific subject and would like to a bit dig deeper, or just fancy a walk around the beautifully gothic historic reading room, the John Rylands library is unequivocally one of the most unique buildings in Manchester.

Open from 10-5, Wednesday to Saturday, this library is worth checking out if you haven’t already!