John Rylands was one of the most successful entrepreneurs of nineteenth-century England. Born at St Helens in Lancashire on 7 February 1801, he entered the textile trade in partnership with his two brothers at the age of eighteen. They were joined by their father in 1819, when the firm of Rylands & Sons was established. The company grew rapidly, thanks largely to John’s financial acumen, boundless energy and business flair, and in 1847 he assumed sole ownership of the business.
By the 1860s Rylands & Sons had become the largest cotton-manufacturing concern in Britain, with branches in London and Liverpool, as well as Manchester, and a thriving overseas business. The firm was atypical of the cotton industry generally, not only in its immense size, but also in the breadth of its activities, combining spinning, weaving, finishing and the vertical integration of manufacturing and retailing. It even mined it own coal to power the mills, and made and repaired most of its own machinery. The firm was thus able to control every stage of the process, from the import of raw cotton to the sale of finished cotton goods, thereby insulating itself to some extent from the vagaries of the trade cycle and uncertainties of supply.
John Rylands was Manchester’s first multi-millionaire, and he left a personal estate of over £2.5 million on his death. Yet in spite of his great wealth, he was a peculiarly retiring and sensitive person, who shrank from public office of any kind, living quietly at Longford Hall in Stretford, south-west of Manchester. He was a noted philanthropist, although characteristically he kept many of his benefactions secret, and by contemporary standards he was a benevolent employer. His main recreation appears to have been book collecting. He was a devout Nonconformist, and many of the books in the Longford Library were religious works. No doubt these brought comfort to their owner, whose life was marred by tragedy. His first wife, Dinah Raby, died in 1843, and all seven of their children predeceased him.
After the death of his second wife, Martha Carden, in 1875, John Rylands married her long-time companion, Miss Enriqueta Augustina Tennant (1843-1908). Mrs Rylands devoted herself to nursing John through his declining years, and after his death on 11 December 1888, she decided to build a library as a memorial to her husband. The John Rylands Library remains a fitting tribute to one of Manchester’s greatest figures.
Source: D.A. Farnie, 'Rylands, John (1801-1888)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/24416.
Enriqueta Augustina Rylands, founder of the John Rylands Library, was born on 31 May 1843 in Havana, Cuba, the daughter of a sugar planter. After spending some of her formative years in New York and Paris, she arrived in Manchester in the early 1860s, and became the companion of Martha, second wife of John Rylands, who had established his country seat at Longford Hall, Stretford, in 1857. After the death of Martha Rylands, John Rylands and Enriqueta were married on 6 October 1875. She gave new impetus to her husband's philanthropic activities and co-operated closely in the publication of his Paragraph Bible and his hymn-books. When John Rylands died in December 1888, leaving a fortune of over £2.5 million, Enriqueta was his main legatee and chief executor. She also became the chief shareholder in Manchester's two leading firms, Rylands & Sons Ltd and the Manchester Ship Canal Company, and she took an active role in the management of the former.
Enriqueta Rylands commemorated her husband by the creation of the John Rylands Library. In 1892 she purchased from the 5th Earl Spencer the collection of printed books at Althorp in Northamptonshire that had been built up over thirty years from 1790 by the 2nd Earl. The Bibliotheca Spenceriana contained an incomparable collection of Bibles, incunables and Aldines, numbering almost 40,000 volumes in total. In 1901 Mrs Rylands acquired an equally significant collection of manuscripts assembled by the Earls of Crawford and Balcarres at Haigh Hall near Wigan. The John Rylands Library, located on Deansgate in the centre of Manchester, was formally inaugurated on 6 October 1899 and the first readers were admitted on 1 January 1900. By then Mrs Rylands was suffering from ill-health. In 1905 she moved to Torquay, where she died on 4 February 1908 at the age of sixty-four.
Source: D.A. Farnie, 'Rylands , Enriqueta Augustina (1843-1908)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/48940.