William Carnelley Collection

Scope and Content

Extant papers of the Manchester textile businessman William Carnelley. This artificial collection consists of twenty eight items, covering a broad range of documentary evidence. There are letters patent, newspaper articles, photographs, presentation volumes, amongst other interesting material which could prove a useful resource for research in a number of different areas. The material may be considered as both a representation of William Carnelley's professional role with Rylands and Sons Ltd, and in a broader sense, the life of a business man in Victorian/ Edwardian England at a time when Industry was at its most prosperous. There is rich possibility in studying the items that make up this intriguing little collection.

There are also papers concerning Enriqueta Rylands which either announce her death, or provide information about the creation of the Rylands Library and its' collections. These particular items provide an insightful look into the life and work of a woman with significant ties to both the Rylands Library and the city of Manchester. Items within this collection represent both a professional and personal relationship with William Carnelley: as a business figure and advisor in the public arena, but also as a valued and trusted friend of the Rylands family.

Administrative / Biographical History

William CarnelleyWilliam Carnelley was a senior director and chairman of Rylands & Sons Ltd., one of the most important cotton manufacturers in Manchester during the 19th century. Described as one of the old school of textile men who helped to build up Lancashire's greatness(WCC/2/11), Carnelley was a man who contributed to Britain's prosperous industry and trade during the 19th and early 20th Century. Throughout his long and resourceful life he worked as a spinner, dyer, weaver, book-keeper, cashier, salesman, and buyer, eventually working up to the position of director and then chairman.

Born on the 7th of May 1823 in Barnsley Yorkshire, Carnelley began his working life under the tutelage of his uncle, who was a linen manufacturer with his own small business. It was here that he obtained valuable experience that would aid him in his future with Rylands & Sons. In July 1840, Carnelley set off from Barnsley towards Manchester. On arrival, he secured a position with the firm of Rylands and Sons, but had to return home to Barnsley shortly after this due to a family illness. On his return to Manchester, he discovered that his position had been filled by someone else, and was subsequently transferred to the Wigan branch of the firm. Here he was promoted to a higher position within the company, being placed in charge of the handloom. In addition to this, he was also made responsible for the company's material costs and expenses. His responsibilities were increased further when he became head of Manufacturing in Wigan.

In 1842, the managing partnership of Rylands and Sons was dissolved and John Rylands was left in sole control of the company. Choosing to work under the leadership of John Rylands and stay with the firm, Carnelley transferred to a mill at Ainsworth, then to a mill in Gorton. From Gorton, Carnelley eventually returned to the Manchester Warehouse. Here, in 1847, he was entrusted with the management of the Fustian Department. Carnelley's promotion came at a time when Rylands and Sons were rapidly expanding, acquiring numerous mills, offices, and warehouses, both in Britain and abroad.

1873 was an important year in the history of Rylands. On 25th October Rylands and Sons Ltd was incorporated as a joint stock company. Carnelley was nominated by John Rylands to be one of the nine Directors on the company board. After the death of John Rylands William Carnelley displayed his continued loyalty and devotion to his former employer and friend through his contribution towards the construction of the John Rylands Library, which was created by Enriqueta Rylands as a memorial to her late husband. Like John, Enriqueta held Carnelley in great esteem, both professionally and as a friend of the family. She describes him asfaithful, ever-ready, and truly invaluable (WCC/1/4).

In 1901 Carnelley was appointed chairman of Rylands & Sons Ltd, and he held this position until 1916 when he officially retired from the company. However, refusing to disappear from the professional scene in his retirement, he continued his affiliation with the firm and was given the title of Honorary Directorship in 1916. William Carnelley died on 8th October 1919, aged 96, at his residence in Fallowfield, Manchester. William Carnelley was married twice, but died a widower. He had at least 3 children, Thomas (1852-1890), Matthew, and Ellen Carnelly. Thomas Carnelley studied at Owens College and became professor of chemistry at Aberdeen University, but died suddenly at the age of 38. William Carnelley is buried in Southern Cemetery in Manchester, in a plot facing that of his employer and friend John Rylands.


The collection is arranged into 3 series:

  • WCC/1- Papers relating to the John Rylands Library and Mrs Rylands
  • WCC/2- Papers relating to Rylands and Sons
  • WCC/3- Personal material relating to William Carnelley

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The William Carnelley Collection was donated to the John Rylands Library by Miss E.C. Austin. She gave seven items in 1968 and in 1984 a further twenty one items were donated.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester M3 3EH..

Custodial History

The collection stayed within the immediate family of William Carnelley, and was given to the library by Willliam Carnelley's granddaughter, Miss E. C. Austin of Bromley, Kent. Miss E.C. Austin was the daughter of George Beesley-Austin [?1881-1936],a theologian whose work can be found in the JRL Methodist collection. It is presumed that George Beesley-Austin married Ellen Carnelly, William Carnelley's daughter.

Related Material

The John Rylands Library also holds material relating to William Carnelley in the Rylands and Sons Archive (RYL), the John Rylands Library archive and in the Rylands Family Papers which form part of the Orford Papers (ORF).


D.A. Farnie, 'John Rylands of Manchester', from Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 1993.

D.A. Farnie, 'Enriqueta Augustina Rylands (1843-1908), Founder of the John Rylands Library', from Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 1989.

Geographical Names