John Rylands is more than just two libraries. He was an entrepreneur and a philanthropist: the owner of the largest textiles manufacturing concern in the UK and was Manchester’s first multi-millionaire.
By the age of 18, he had started his business, Rylands & Sons, alongside his father and his two older brothers in 1819. The business was originally based in Wigan, but moved to Manchester in 1823 as the business developed.
Over the course of a few years, Rylands bought up several other properties, such as dye and bleach works to further expand the business. The properties in themselves were valuable, as coal was later found under them, proving to be another great source of wealth.
The business continued to expand and in 1849 a warehouse was opened in Wood Street, London, and another being built in Manchester. By 1873 the company had become the largest textile manufacturing concern in Britain.
As a philanthropist, Rylands supported numerous charities, among them were several orphanages, several Union chapels, homes for ‘aged gentlewomen’ and a ‘home of rest for ministers of slender means.’
He provided a town hall, public baths, library and a coffee house in the town of Stretford, where he lived.
He married three times and had six children, none of whom survived him. He died at his home, Longford Hall, on 11 December 1888, at the age of 87. The majority of his estate (the full amount being £2,574,922 or £213million today) was left to his widow, Enriqueta Augustina Rylands, who erected the John Rylands Library, Deansgate, as a permanent memorial to him.