The first place you need to visit when in Manchester has to be the John Rylands Library. It is an incredibly beautiful Victorian neo-Gothic masterpiece that you can not miss.
It feels weird to me to tell you about the John Rylands library. I lived in London for 2 years and have hundreds if not thousands of pictures of places to show you and yet, pretty much my first post on UK is from a place in Manchester! Well it was just too magnificent to not show you!
The John Rylands Library history
John Rylands was, in the 19th century, the owner of the largest textile manufacturing concern in Manchester and the United Kingdom. At his death, his wife, Enriqueta, founded the John Rylands Library in his memory.
The library was inaugurated on the date of the Rylands wedding anniversary, the 6 October 1899, and was opened to the public on 1 January 1900.
Enriqueta & John Rylands are now together and for eternity, as their white marble statues face each others from both ends of the reading room.
The John Rylands Library architecture
The library and especially the reading room has the appearance of a church but was never a church. As Mrs Rylands intended the library to be principally theological, she chose this design deliberately. She commissioned the architect Basil Champneys, who took 9 years to build her memorial library.
The John Rylands library is a fine example of Victorian neo-Gothic architecture, especially the reading room, the historical entrance and the main staircase.
The Reading Room
The main reading room is a galleried cathedral-like space. It is the heart of the building and surprisingly, is not on the ground floor but on the 3rd. This was done intentionally to separate the reading room from the hustle and bustle of the main street.
The ‘nave’ is surrounded by reading alcoves which are like little nooks, where you can sit and study. The rich oak paneling, the bookshelves and the furniture make them so inviting. They are lit by oriel windows and beautiful electric lamps, as the library was the first building in Manchester to be lit by electricity (to protect the air and the books).
The reading alcoves are topped by majestic galleries which display more of the impressive book collection gathered by Enriqueta Rylands. Such galleries are embellished by statues of cultural, scientific & historic figures like William Shakespeare, John Dalton, William Caxton, Francis Bacon, John Wesley and John Wycliffe.
At both ends of the reading room, large stained glass windows, bring in more light and give an even more solemn atmosphere.
Just a little automata!
You need to walk all the way through the reading room, not just to admire John Rylands’ statue up close, but also to access the magnificient staircase which will take you to the original entrance. Look up to admire the ceiling and the Lantern Gallery above.
The Historical Entrance
The historical entrance is dominated by a group of three life-size figures called the Theology Directing the Labours of Science and Art which was created by John Cassidy.
It’s not hard to imagine yourself entering the library and being enthralled by such grandeur, before proceeding to the reading room.
The other rooms
The Introductory Gallery, the Spencer and Crawford rooms, the Christie Gallery and the Rylands gallery are located on the first floor.
Don’t miss those if you want to learn more about the constructions of the library, the book collection, as well as medieval manuscript including the St. John’s fragment (pictured below).
The John Rylands Library is probably one of the most beautiful library in the World. Its original design and architecture has been preserved although the building has been extended and is still in use.
But what stroke me even more than the beauty of the place, is what seems to be the most extraordinary love story. The tale of a woman so in love with her husband that she created an incredible memorial for him. Not just a statue, not just a monument in a cemetery, but a library, a place which will leave on, hopefully forever.
Where the old building meets the new one
The technical bits
The John Rylands library is located on Deansgate, the main street of Manchester. Impossible to miss, the facade, although quite beautiful, doesn’t really do justice to the impossibly exquisite interiors. And clearly, my picture doesn’t do justice to the facade! (I forgot to take one one the way there and quickly snapped one later on during our stay, with my phone… I know, how could I forget!)
The official website: www.library.manchester.ac.uk with opening times and activities.
The visit is free. Guided tours are available.
The entrance is not by the front door, as one would expect, but by the back on the left side, through the boutique located in the modern part of the building.
Once in the reading room, you need to go all the way to the end to access the original entrance hall and the magnificent stair case.
Mirrors are available in the reading room to enable you to look at the ceiling. It’s quite fun and impressive how simple and efficient it is!
The John Rylands library is a functioning library. Show your respect to readers by being quiet during your visit.
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