John Rylands Library
150 Deansgate, Manchester, UK
1890 - 1899, 2003 - 20th September 2007
photo Paul Dunkeley / ICE R&D Fund
The neo-Gothic John Rylands Library was commissioned from architect Basil Champneys by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her husband, a cotton tycoon. With its modern extension, the complex is an important part of the University of Manchester.
This is the first building in Manchester to be constructed with electric lighting as part of the design, produced within the building by its own dynamo generators driven by three gas engines. The original wiring was carried in gun metal or bronze conduits and the switches looked like gas taps. There was also an air filtration system, and cases to protect the more valuable items.
The original part of the library was constructed in pink Cumbrian sandstone (avoiding the fire risk associated with timber construction) and cost £200,000. It was opened to readers on 1st January 1900. It was then extended in 1920 and 1962 (the Lady Wolfson Building).
The mechanical heating and ventilation system had hot and cold air ducts, with individual controls to each room. The hot supply ducts had extra radiators with it so an extra boost could be provided in very cold weather. This also allowed different areas to be heated to different temperatures.
By the late 1990s, the structural deterioration of the Grade I listed building was causing concern for safeguarding the collections inside. The library has some five million items, including many rare books and manuscripts such as the St John Fragment — a piece of the New Testament dating from circa AD 125.
A major refurbishment project began in 2003 that included a fully glazed entrance wing with a shop, café and toilets, a new reading room, a conservation studio and specialised storage areas for the collections. The new portion was built in white precast concrete with slate floors and oak doors. The project cost £17m — more than £8m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £3m from the European Regional Development Fund.
During the works, some of the books and manuscripts were stored in Winsford Rock Salt Mine, Cheshire, where they were protected by the dry stable atmosphere.
The John Rylands Library merged with the Manchester University Library in 1972, and incorporated the Joule Library in 2004. It is now known as the John Rylands University Library and is open 24 hours.
Architect (1890-1920): Basil Champneys
Achitects (2003-7): Austin-Smith, Evans Pritchard, Lord & Lloyd
"The Buildings of England: South Lancashire" by Nikolaus Pevsner
Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1969
"Environmental Pressures on Building Design and Manchester's John Rylands Library” by Catherine Bowler and Peter Brimblecombe
in Journal of Design History, Vol. 13, 2000
"The John Rylands Library Spring 2008"
University of Manchester information leaflet