The John Rylands Library has been described as one of the finest examples of Neo-Gothic architecture in Europe. Built as a monument to her husband and as a gift to the people of Manchester, the creation of the library was the design of Enriqueta Rylands. Almost ten years in the building the grand style was a deliberate attempt to establish the library alongside the renowned libraries of Oxford and Cambridge. In fact it was Basil Champneys work on Mansfield College, Oxford that had impressed Mrs Rylands and informed her choice of architect. Enriqueta Rylands was involved with practically every detail of the library’s design which was simultaneously sophisticated and traditional. The library was one of the first buildings in Manchester lit by electricity and also had an air filtering system but these adaptations were seamlessly incorporated into the fabric of the library and housed in the immaculate work of skilled specialist craftsmen. The result was a visually stunning but entirely functional building. Our Souvenir Guide gives lots more information about the history of the library for the interested reader.
One of our more recent digital collections is one dedicated entirely to the John Rylands Library itself. The collection is not simply a compilation of beautiful images of the library (of which there are many) but a more expansive assembly of items. There is also material relating to Enriqueta and the Rylands family, the history of the building of the library and some fascinating images of the restoration and improvements made to the library in the Unlocking the Rylands Project which ran from 2003 – 2007.
The library is Neo-Gothic in architectural style, but does it have any of the ‘Gothic’ characteristics that we now associate with that word; a gloomy, eerie atmosphere, or a taste for the grotesque? The building is certainly imposing and we have our fair share of grotesques inside and outside the building. Our vaulted ceilings and corridors are inhabited by numerous
chimeras, mythical beasts, green men and dragons but the warm shawk stone helps create an atmosphere of friendly surveillance rather than watchful menace. In fact there are very few areas within the library that would give you cause for alarm, but hearing the echo of footsteps on the glass floors of the stacks and seeing no-one appear, or searching collections housed in the cellars can be a somewhat unnerving experience. There is the opportunity to come and make up your own mind this Sunday the 27th October as there will be two tours of the library conducted as part of the Gothic Manchester Festival (booking is essential please see information here).
However, don’t panic if you miss these as the library also regularly runs building tours to suit every visitor. From the family-friendly ‘Here be Dragons!’ tours to the extended ‘Explorer tours’ and ‘Unusual views’ photography tours, which both take a peep at areas normally closed from public access. Please check our Events and Tours pages for full listings.