John Rylands Library Reopens After £17m Transformation

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 19 September 2007
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photograph of a large red brick gothic library building resembling a church

The John Rylands Library in Manchester. © 24 Hour Museum

The John Rylands Library in Manchester officially reopens on Thursday September 20 after a £17m transformation to preserve its collections and open them up to the public.

As well as being a world-renowned research library, now part of the University of Manchester, the famous neo-gothic building on Deansgate is now a major visitor attraction.

It has been transformed after a three year project that has seen a new exhibition area installed to display some of the Library's famous collections, including the St John Fragment, the oldest known surviving piece of the New Testament, dating from around 125AD.

The upper floors of the building have also been restored and sympathetically modified to house a new purpose-built reading room, a conservation studio and state of the art storage areas for the collections.

“The John Rylands Library is one of the most important rare book and manuscript libraries in the world,” said Bill Simpson, University Librarian and Director of the Library.

"This project has enabled the University of Manchester to keep the collections in the building created for them over a century ago and to make these treasures accessible to all.”

The Library houses some of the most significant books and manuscripts ever produced, including exquisite medieval illuminated manuscripts, examples of the earliest forms of modern printing including the Gutenberg Bible, as well as the personal papers of distinguished historical figures including Elizabeth Gaskell, John Dalton and John Wesley.

It was built in the 1890s by Mrs Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband John, Manchester's most successful cotton tycoon. By the late 1990s, however, the building had deteriorated structurally and began to cause concern for the condition of the collections held inside. The University also wanted to increase public access to the collections.

The Unlocking the Rylands project was launched to conserve the Grade I listed building and its collections and to improve physical access and facilities for visitors with the addition of a new entrance wing.

More than £8m was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in order to complete the project, with a further £3 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and generous contributions from the University of Manchester, trusts and foundations, businesses and individuals.

During the three year closure, many of the Library's four million books and manuscripts were stored in a Cheshire salt mine to protect them. The dry and stable atmosphere provided ideal conservation conditions.

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