At first glance, walking down Deansgate in Manchester, we thought it was a church. And once you're inside, at times you could easily make the same mistake. But no, this is John Rylands Library, and it's never been a church.
Enriqueta Rylands commissioned this library in memory of her husband John Rylands in 1889, and it opened to the public in 1900. The Rylands family had made their fortune in the cotton industry, owning one of the largest textile companies in Great Britain.
Enriqueta not only wanted to create a monument to her husband, but she wanted to create something spectacular for Manchester, which was starting to shed its harsh industrial image in favor of being more cosmopolitan. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a more lavish library. Its collection was pretty impressive too — lots of medieval manuscripts, handmade books and historical reference texts.
In 1972, financial difficulties in the Rylands cotton empire resulting in a lack of funding for the John Rylands Library led to its acquisition by the University of Manchester. Students can use the historic reading room (pictured at bottom) as a quiet, majestic workplace.
The rest of the University of Manchester's campus is about a 15-minute walk away from the city center. We went there later on in the day to visit The Manchester Museum (pictured left).
The Manchester Museum reminded me of NYC's Museum of Natural History. They had a special exhibit on Charles Darwin, as well as some good dinosaur bones and Ancient Eqypt artifacts. My husband thought that the ancient coin collection was outstanding — they had a remarkably well-preserved silver coin from the era of Alexander the Great. We also liked the small "live animals" section, which had lots of little poison dart frogs, the same kind we had seen in Costa Rica.
They also have an archery collection, which strikes me as being quintessentially British, and brought back memories of how much fun I had doing archery in Nottingham in March.
Comped But Never Compromised: I am visiting Manchester as a guest of CreativeTourist.com, a consortium of Manchester museums and galleries, but I am free to write whatever I want.