Free Culture Spots: John Rylands Library, Manchester

In a desperate attempt to keep my poor mind occupied during those painful days (or weeks) before payday, I’ve embarked on a mission to find some cultural spots around the country that are not only enriching, but also completely free. We’re incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such an enormous wealth of museums, galleries, theatres, and libraries, that there’s really no excuse to avoid them. Get stuck in, open your mind, and take some time out to appreciate the finer things in life. (See what I did there.)

In the first of my Culture Spot series, I’ll be taking a tour around a particularly beloved building in my home city- the beautifully ethereal John Rylands Library. This is a kind of vanity project on my behalf, as I’m basically wandering around some of my favourite haunts; stick with it though, as there’s some truly wonderful cultural hubs coming up. Promise.

If you’re not a native/born again Manc, you’ll find John Rylands down Deansgate, on the cusp of the oh-so-trendy district of Spinningfields. The library itself resembles more of a cathedral than anything else; it’s a vast, almost intimidating ensemble, decked out in the finest Neo-Gothic architecture. A building owned by the University of Manchester (my old uni FYI) it’s been lovingly preserved as a work space, tourist attraction and exhibition hall. And it’s bloody stunning.

A bit of context/historical background for you: the library opened in 1900, and was modelled upon an archetypal Oxford college library, but put together in typical grandiose Manchester style. Originally commissioned by the widow of John Rylands, Enriqueta Rylands, the library took over nine years to construct, with the money of the Rylands going towards to the costings of the vast theological and scholarly collections housed in the library today.

The building’s entrance is an intriguing juxtaposition of modern minimal versus overt gothic grandeur- a fitting tribute to Manchester’s ever-changing cityscape. Climb the winding staircases to find yourself in lavish halls, adorned with stained-glass windows and elaborate chandeliers. There’s also a smattering of columns, as well as bronze work decked out in art nouveau style. In essence, it’s an architectural delight.

For the literary enthusiasts among you, you’ll enjoy perusing the endless abundance of rooms crammed with manuscripts and texts. The library itself contains an expansive special collection, believed to be the largest in the UK. The collection includes illuminated medieval manuscripts and early examples of European printing, such as the Gutenberg Bible. There’s also various personal papers and letters from notable figures such as Elizabeth Gaskell and John Dalton.

John Rylands also plays host to alternating exhibitions- at the moment, the library features an intriguing showcase on the Reformation, documenting the trials and tribulations of Martin Luther in his efforts to overthrow the Catholic Church. It’s informative and easy to digest, so make sure to pay a visit if you can. This particular exhibition will be open to the public until the 4th March.

If you’re pushed for time or on a lunch break, it’s easy to do a whistle stop tour of John Rylands- there’s a rather marvellous café by the entrance, as well as a shop teeming with all sorts of literary delights. Just give yourself time to get up to the reading hall, which is a particular highlight. However, the crowning glory of the library has to be the entrance staircase itself- look towards the ceiling and you’ll find a beautifully elegant lantern gallery, surrounded by Gothic architecture. There’s almost a Lord of the Rings- esque vibe to the décor- architecture of truly epic proportions.

As culture spots go, John Rylands certainly ticks all the boxes. It’s also a great starting point for those looking to get more of a feel for Manchester, and familiarise yourself with the city’s heritage. So if you’re in need of some creative motivation, or just enjoying some cultural time out, John Rylands is the perfect, most wonderfully ornate place to do so.


For more information about John Rylands Library, visit

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