This is the last travel post from our mini-break to Manchester but I think it’s my favourite as it’s somewhere I’d been meaning to go for a long time and it’s far more special than I thought it would be. We finally got around to visiting The John Rylands Library, this library opened in 1900 and serves as one of the most historically and culturally important buildings in Manchester, not only is it incredibly beautiful with its gothic design it’s also linked to Manchester University and serves as a research area and public library for both students of the university and the general public. Look at this picture and tell me this isn’t one of the most beautiful libraries you’ve ever seen!
A quick bit of history to explain the library before I bombard you with the lovely pictures my partner took. The library was dedicated to John Rylands; a man of relatively poor upbringing who started a textiles company with his father and two brothers and went on to become Manchester’s first multi-millionaire during the cotton trade boom in the mid-1800s. He passed away in 1888 and his wife Enriqueta Rylands began making plans for a grand library to be built in his memory, she enlisted the work of a famous architect of the time Basil Champneys. The work began two years after John Ryland's death in 1888 and was completed ten years later but finally opened to the public in 1900.
Enriqueta chose to build the library in one of the poorest areas of Manchester at the time as she wanted to “enrich the local area” and provide a place for even the poorest members of society to read and learn.
As you enter through the entrance and gift shop, up a flight of stairs (there is a small lift for accessibility) you are immediately struck by the design, although the ground floor has been modernised to house the gift shop you can still see the beautiful windows and stone-work as you go up the stairs.
Then you’re at the entrance of the library! As soon as we walked over that glass walkway I said “this looks like Hogwarts”…to be fair I don’t think I’m wrong, haha! The ceilings are quite low here but that just means you can see the stunning masonry even better, about halfway down the hallway they were preparing a new exhibition on the Chinese Qing Dynasty (this runs from the 21/10/2021-13/03/2022) which features manuscripts, drawings, and architectural plans from over 400 years ago! Next time we go I’ll try and book us into the exhibition and hopefully, I can tell you all about it.
Now we’ve entered the kind of middle of the building which looked more like a church than a library! The ceilings here sky-rocketed above you and all you could see around you were intricate designs on the walls and ceilings as well as hyper-realistic statues carved into the walls. We headed off in front of us up a grand staircase into the library itself, we spent almost 10 minutes on the stairs just looking around and above us at the building (it's ok, everyone else was as well!).
And here we are, we finally made it to the library. This room was huge and I could have spent hours in there if you were allowed to actually touch all the books in the bookcases (obviously a lot of those books are at least 100 years old so they’re protected behind a special air-tight seal within the bookcase), regardless, I still had an amazing time looking through them all. They seemed to be in the order of country as each bookcase would have books from the U.K, then Spain, Italy, as well as other places in Europe and then even further afield in some cases. In the middle of the room were huge glass lightboxes with big information boards inside that told the story of the building, the Rylands family, and the collection of books within the library. Oh! Another quick design feature that I read about whilst there, I don’t know if you’ll really be able to see but the light fittings above each of the inlets are actually carved to look like cotton plants, with the bulb being the cotton itself. Of course, nowadays we associate a lot of these designs with slavery and the terrible, awful conditions that slaves were forced to live and work in, so although to me, the design is bittersweet, at least now we can look on and say that anyone of any race, ethnicity or creed is valid and accepted within the library.
As we were walking around I think my partner could see how much it meant to me that these books were preserved for anyone and everyone to at least see because he said “when we move up here you can come here as much as you want” but I said it was kind of sad you couldn’t actually read the books UNTIL I saw a notice board that said these books were accessible to everybody as long as you stayed in the research suite upstairs, then they would bring the books to you to read! I don’t know if I’m brave enough to annoy someone by booking a slot and asking them to lug these books around just for me to look at them but it’s a really lovely idea that they offer that for free.
We made it to the end! Right before you exit back out to the lift and stairs we spotted this creepy-looking gated-off staircase. I have no story to this, absolutely no idea what it was or where it goes (realistically it probably just goes to a storage space or maybe the modern research rooms upstairs), but it looked creepy.
We had such an amazing time at the John Rylands Library and we must have been there for a couple of hours at least because we really took our time and wanted to see everything. As I said before, I’ll definitely try and make it back there when we go back to Manchester in the new year to see the exhibitions, we’ll also try and book some tickets to see a performance at the Jewish Museum as well (you can read my write up of that here). But, if you are in Manchester and you have some spare time to take in some of the local history then the John Rylands Library is a must, it’s easily accessible within the city centre, completely free to enter and they offer guided tours of the library as well at certain times (you can see that on the website) but everything is very well explained on information boards all the way through the library and the building itself but now you don’t even need to book a time slot like we did, you can just turn up and enjoy!
My next post will be a monthly favourites on the 1st of December and then it’s Christmas all the way!
See you there,