This is an image taken in the first floor historic reading room of the Manchester University John Rylands library. This serves as the special Collections section of the John Rylands University Library (JRUL). It is a remarkable victorian gothic building right in the heart of the city’s shopping district Deansgate.
The library, which opened to the public in 1900, was founded by Mrs Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her late husband, John Rylands. The collections include medieval illuminated manuscripts, examples of the earliest forms of European printing, including the Gutenberg Bible, and the personal papers of notable local figures such as Elizabeth Gaskell and chemist John Dalton.
Enriqueta Rylands purchased a site on Deansgate, at the heart of Manchester city centre, in 1889 for her planned memorial library and commissioned a design from architect Basil Champneys. Mrs Rylands had originally intended the library as a principally theological collection and the building, which is a very fine example of Victorian Gothic, has much of the appearance of a church, although the actual concept was of an Oxford college library on a larger scale.
The core of the library was formed around the collection of 40,000 books including many rarities assembled by George John Spencer, which Mrs Rylands purchased in 1892. The library was finally opened to readers on 1 January 1900. It was illuminated internally by electricity (rather than gas which was more common at the time). The use of electricity was still in its early stages, the supply had to be generated on-site. This took some years to achieve due to the inexperience of local contractors, but the library became one of the first public buildings in Manchester to be lit by electricity and continued to generate its own supply until 1950.
Basil Champneys was given the rare honour of speaking about the building at a general meeting of the Royal Institute of British Architects and was awarded the Royal Gold Medal in 1912. The library was granted listed building status on 25 January 1952, which was upgraded to Grade I on 6 June 1994.
In the Rylands Gallery on the lower floor, you can see some of the most important items from the Library’s collections including magnificent medieval manuscripts and examples of the earliest books ever printed. The gallery is organized around seven themes. Faiths, History of the Bible, Beautiful Books, Science, World Literatures, Everyday Life and Manchester.
It is one of Manchester’s building gems and inside more resembles a cathedral than a library. Marble statues of Enriqueta and John Rylands watch over the readers from either end of the room. If you are in the city, make an excuse to spend some time to drink in the history.
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