A beautiful home to a 200,000-strong collection, with the building itself the match of all those first editions
In times of woe and in need of spiritual guidance, you could well find yourself wandering into The John Rylands Library mistaking it for a church, such is the late Victorian neo-Gothic splendour of this magnificent building. However, inside you'd find something which could truly enrich the soul – about 200,000 books.
The library was commissioned by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who became Manchester's first multimillionaire as the owner of the UK's largest textile manufacturing business. At the time of his death he was worth today's equivalent of £250m. Enriqueta could afford not to scrimp.
Consequently, this library wouldn't seem out of place if it were renamed Hogwarts Reading Rooms. Its dark corridors are like a film set, immediately familiar because their splendour feels almost clichéd until you recall the age of the building. Stairways spiral to the first floor and corridors lead into the most magnificent main reading room; a quite breathtaking hall where stained glass windows throw their light into the reading alcoves, over sculptures of artists and scholars, and into a gallery overlooking the main space.
As for the collection, it's as astonishing as the building itself. A first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses, a fine paper copy of the Gutenberg Bible and some of the earliest fragments of the New Testament are some of the treats.
There are regular tours and events, and a modern extension completed in 2007 cleverly integrates itself into the old building whilst providing the kind of facilities you'd expect from a modern library.
Back in the main hall, statues of Enriqueta and John stand at either end of the long room, facing each other, surveying their creation. They should be very proud.
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