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

History

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.

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The Portico Library

The Portico Library

The Portico Library is situated on the corner of Mosley Street and Charlotte Street in Manchester, and shares the building with a pub called the Bank. The pub was named after the Bank of Athens, which previously leased the building. Visitors can’t fail to spot the impressive Mosley Street entrance, which has a grand façade in the Greek revival style with four stone pillars.

Although the Mosley Street entrance looks rather impressive, this is, in fact, the pub entrance. The library entrance is round the corner at Charlotte Street, and appears more modest. I haven’t been inside the library but, from what I have read, I think it would be worth exploring.

Unlike the other libraries that I have featured in this series of blog posts, the Portico Library is a private members’ library. However, it also hosts events and exhibitions that are open to the general public, and certain areas of the library are available for venue hire. The gallery area and cafe are open to non-members as well, and are situated beneath a stunning Georgian glass and plaster dome.

Membership

Portico Entrance

The Portico Entrance

For an annual fee, members have exclusive access to the Reading Room, Reading Corner and Cobden area. They can borrow books from the library’s collection, which mainly dates back to the 19th century. The collection focuses on the Georgian and Victorian era of Manchester during a time of great affluence in the city. It includes first editions by a number of authors including Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins.

Membership fees start at £58 per annum for young members up to £184 per annum for a town membership. There is also a lifetime membership option, and a one off administration fee of £30 has to be paid by each member.

History

The library is housed in a grade ll listed building, which was constructed between 1802 and 1806. It was designed by Thomas Harrison, the architect who also designed the Lyceum in Liverpool. The Portico is a Greek revival building with four Ionic Rogets Thesauruscolumns, and it was built from sandstone ashlar.

An interesting fact is that the first secretary of the library was Peter Mark Roget who began work on his thesaurus during his time there. And there you have it: Roget’s Thesaurus. (No wonder our schoolteachers used to harp on about it being the best thesaurus you could buy. They were displaying their loyalty to Manchester, of course.) Their teachings have stuck – here’s my battered old copy.

The Bank Entrance

The Bank Entrance

Events

The library hosts a range of events and exhibitions, which are available to the general public as well as to members. Events are usually charged but entrance to art exhibitions is free. Members generally pay a reduced rate to attend events. Typical events include readings, talks, special interest evenings (often with a literary theme) and the hosting of literary competitions. Specific areas of the library can also be hired for private functions.

The Portico Prize

The Portico Library hosts three competitions: The Portico Prize for Literature, The Portico Poetry Prize and the Young Readers and Writers. The competitions take place on alternate years, and are intended to celebrate writers and poets from the north of England.

Described as the North’s leading literary award, the Portico Prize for Literature is backed by Arts Council England and The Zochonis Charitable Trust. It offers a £10,000 first prize, and Val McDermid is a former winner.

This is a fabulous opportunity for writers, and I’ve promised myself that I will enter the competition in the future as well as attending some of the events hosted by the library.

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Fancy Getting Married in a Library?

It’s a book lover’s dream, but hopefully one that is shared by your other half. Even if you’re not both book lovers, Manchester Central Library is still a stunning venue in which to hold a wedding. An extreme enthusiasm for books and libraries will help though when it comes to footing the bill.

 Library left

The package costs £15,000 for 50 daytime guests and 50 evening guests, with an additional cost of £125 per daytime guest and £30 per evening guest. The maximum number of guests that can be accommodated is 80 in the daytime and 120 in the evening.

You do get a lot for your money though including exclusive use of the library on a Sunday, five course wedding breakfast, evening reception and a champagne toast. You also get access to the Wolfson Reading Room and other heritage spaces. Judging by the photographs in the brochure I think some of these areas are private rooms that aren’t usually available to the public. There are also lots of other touches, but rather than sounding like an advertising brochure, I’ll just give you the link so you can download the very impressive pdf: Central Library Wedding Brochure.

 

Manchester Central Library

As the name suggests, it is the headquarters of Manchester libraries. Although it doesn’t have the same historic significance of some of Manchester’s older libraries, nevertheless it is a grade II listed building, which was constructed between 1930 and 1934. The design itself is eye-catching and was loosely based on the Pantheon in Rome.

The library was closed from 2000 until March 2014 while extensive renovations took place at a cost of £40 million. As part of the renovations the Library Theatre Company moved out of the library basement and into its new premises at HOME, a centre for international contemporary art, theatre and film at First Street, Manchester. This was following a merger with the Cornerhouse, a centre for cinema and the contemporary visual arts.

 

Manchester Central Library is the second largest public lending library in Britain. It has a host of facilities as well as dramatic design features. Personally, I prefer the original architecture and am not so keen on the glass paneling that has been added following the recent renovation, but I guess I’m an old fashioned (old) girl at heart.

Just some of the facilities include:

  • Free use of computers for up to one hour.
  • Free Wi-Fi connection.
  • A media lounge with creative software and gaming stations.
  • Services for the visually impaired including assisted technology and software.
  • A business centre giving advice to help you start or run your own business.
  • Rare books and special collections.
  • The Henry Watson Music Library where you can play or record your own music.
  • The Ahmad Iqbal Ullah Race Relations library, which specialises in the study of race, ethnicity and migration.
  • A café.

Oh, and did I mention that you can borrow books, DVDs and audio too?

 

In terms of the architecture, the interior is as striking as the exterior. It was difficult to capture the internal dome by camera but each of these marble pillars is about 1.5 to two feet in diameter. The inscription around the inside of the dome is from the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament and reads:

‘Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her and she shall promote thee; she shall bring thee to honour when thou dost embrace her, she shall give of thine head an ornament of grace, a crown of glory she shall deliver to thee.’ Proverbs 4:7

Shakespeare Hall has stained glass windows including one of Shakespeare and scenes from his plays. The ceiling shows the arms and crests of the Duchy of Lancaster, the See of York, the See of Manchester, the City of Manchester, and Lancashire County Council. As you move out of Shakespeare Hall and up the stairs to the first floor you pass a lovely statue made from white marble, which was presented to the library by the family of the late industrialist and promoter of the Manchester Ship Canal, Daniel Adamson. It is called ‘The Reading Girl’ and is by the Italian sculptor Giovanni Ciniselli.

Manchester Central Library is not the only library that can be hired as a wedding venue. It seems that it has now become a popular trend, and a quick search of Google shows that the Bodleian Library in Oxford, Manchester’s historic Portico Library, The Signet Library in Edinburgh and various other libraries in the UK can be hired. In fact, hitched.co.uk published an article about library wedding venues, which you can read here. It strikes me as a good idea if you’ve got the cash to spare because some of these buildings provide a stunning setting.

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