John Rylands Library

John Rylands Library

John Rylands Library

In the last of my posts about historic libraries of Manchester, we will take a look at the John Rylands library, a neo-Gothic building situated on Deansgate in the city centre. The John Rylands library is now part of the University of Manchester, but it is open to visitors. It houses one of the most unique collections in the world, consisting of 1.4 million items collected from numerous countries, and covering a period of over 5000 years. The items include more than 250,000 printed books.

Although the building is a little dark and formidable in appearance, I personally think that the beauty of many Gothic buildings lies in the detail rather than the overall impression. It also has a much more attractive interior.

John Rylands Front Entrance

John Rylands Front Entrance

John Ryland Exhibition Gallery

John Ryland Exhibition Gallery


The library opened on 1st January 1900. It took ten years to build and was founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her late husband, John Rylands. She commissioned architect Basil Champneys to design the building in 1889 after being inspired by his design of Mansfield College in Oxford.

Enriqueta Rylands purchased Lord Spencer’s Althorp Library of 43,000 items in 1892, which was then regarded as one of the finest private collections in the world, with 3,000 of the items dating from before 1501. This collection made up the original stock for the John Rylands library at a purchase price of £210,000.

Since then further collections have been added to the library’s stock including:

  • The addition of Richard Copley Christie’s library of 8,000 volumes in 1901, which includes many rare books from the Renaissance period N.B. This was originally acquired by the University of Manchester, but was transferred to the John Rylands library following the merger with the university in 1972.
  • The purchase in 1901 of 6,000 manuscripts formerly owned by James Linsay, 26th Earl of Crawford, which was one of the rarest collections in Britain at that time
  • 5,000 items bequeathed by Walter Llewellyn Bullock in the 1930s, which are early Italian imprints

The library has Grade 1 listed status. It merged with the University of Manchester in 1972 and now houses special collections from both the John Rylands library and the university.

John Rylands Stained Glass Window

John Rylands Stained Glass Window

John Rylands

John Rylands was an industrialist who rose from humble beginnings to become Manchester’s first multi-millionaire. Together with his father and two brothers, he founded a textile company during the Victorian era. The company produced cotton goods and, at its peak, it owned 17 mills and factories, and employed 15,000 people.

Originally from St Helens, John Rylands moved to Manchester in 1834. By 1855 he had moved out of the city centre and into the suburbs. He bought Longford Hall in Stretford where he kept a library of books, which were mainly religious. On his death in 1888 he left over £2.5 million.

The Collection

John Rylands Rare Collection

John Rylands Rare Collection

John Rylands library now has a collection of over 250,000 books and well over a million items in total. These consist of an amalgamation of items from the John Rylands library and the University of Manchester’s rare collections. It is regarded as one of the finest collections of books, manuscripts and archive items in the world.

The collections span more than 5000 years, cover more than 50 languages and include a vast range of subjects. There are hundreds of archives from businesses, landed families, charities, trade unions and business associations. Papers from well-known scientists and academics are also housed here.

Other items worthy of mention are the medieval illuminated manuscripts, early printing including books printed by William Caxton and a fine paper copy of the Gutenberg bible, and the personal papers of historical figures such as Elizabeth Gaskell, John Wesley and John Dalton.

Present Day

John Rylands Extension

John Rylands Extension

The building was refurbished between 2003 and 2007 at a cost of over £17 million. This was funded by a grant of 8.5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £3 million from the European Regional Development Fund together with other funding. This funding provided enhanced facilities for both visitors and readers. The new facilities include exhibition galleries on the ground floor and a Special Materials Reading Room. The funding also financed conservation work to the building. Personally, I’m not too keen on the modern addition to the building but I suppose it’s all a matter of taste.


Cheetham Hill – Manchester’s Most Culturally Diverse Suburb

This is the second of my blog posts, which explores the background to my forthcoming novel, “A Gangster’s Grip”. For this post I thought I would focus on Cheetham Hill, a suburb to the north of Manchester, which is featured in the book.

Here is a quotation from “A Gangster’s Grip” describing Cheetham Hill:Church

“…this vibrant multi-cultural area where new architecture mixed with old, and industrial units, furniture stores and car showrooms stood alongside churches, mosques and synagogues.”

In 2013 a newspaper article described Cheetham Hill Road as “Britain’s Most Diverse Street”. Its eclectic mix includes Irish pubs, Arab sweet shops, Polish delis, Jamaican hairdressers, Asian wholesalers, fast-food outlets and many others. Information from the newspaper report stated that English was a second language for 48% of the residents, and that Cheetham Hill Road has the most nationalities of any road in the UK.

It has long been known as a place for Sunday trading, which took place even before the Sunday licensing laws were passed. Many wholesalers are based in the area and it isn’t always necessary to be a registered business in order to buy from them; therefore many people are attracted by the low prices. The area has also become renowned for the sale of counterfeit goods as highlighted on TV documentaries including the recent “Kyle Files”.

To explore the roots of the town’s ethnic and cultural diversity, it’s interesting to take a brief look at the history of Cheetham Hill. It has been an industrial district for a long time and has attracted groups of immigrants since the 19th century. The Irish arrived in the middle of the 19th century after fleeing the Great Famine.

GlobeThe next group of immigrants to arrive were the Jews in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Amongst them was Michael Marks who, together with Thomas Spencer, opened the first branch of Marks and Spencer in 1893, which was originally situated on Cheetham Hill Road.

During the 1950s and 1960s people from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent settled in the area. Since then there have been various groups of immigrants from the Far East, Africa and Eastern Europe. This mix of nationalities and cultures is what gives the area its great diversity.

There is evidence of the town’s rich history in some of its monuments such as Manchester Jewish Museum and The Museum of Transport. Cheetham Hill also continues to be a wholesale and retail area with a modern shopping complex as well as the traditional wholesalers and multi-cultural retail shops that have existed for decades. It is certainly a place with plenty of selection and somewhere you can find goods that you would have difficulty finding elsewhere.

Sunday mornings are a good time to visit, when the centre of Cheetham Hill is lively and full of enthusiastic shoppers on the lookout for bargains. With the colourful shop fronts and aromas from the many cafes, restaurants and delis in the area, it’s a place where your senses can really come alive. During the week it’s still a busy area but people are more focused on carrying out business then catering to shoppers. I used to work in the accounts offices of a leather goods manufacturer about 25 years ago on the edge of Cheetham Hill, which was an area with an abundance of wholesale warehouses.


In the 1980s and 1990s a Cheetham Hill gang became involved in a gang war with another gang in Moss Side. The two gangs had previously been on good terms but for some reason they had a major disagreement, which resulted in an escalation in gun violence in certain areas of Manchester. This is only one facet of Cheetham Hill though. I worked in the area during the Gunchester period and didn’t see any evidence of gang culture so I suppose it would depend what part of Cheetham Hill you visited. It’s quite a large area; Cheetham Hill Road is 8km in length and Cheetham Hill had a population of 22.5 thousand according to the 2011 census.

My group of novels called “The Gunchester Trilogy” covers the Gunchester period. Book 1: Slur is currently available from Amazon and Book 2: A Gangster’s Grip, which covers the inter-gang rivalry between Cheetham Hill and Moss Side, will be available from September/October 2015.