Enriqueta Rylands was the third wife of entrepreneur and philanthropist John Rylands. She was born in Havana, Cuba to an English father and a Cuban mother and later moved to Liverpool in her twenties.
She became the companion to John Rylands’ first wife Martha up until her death in 1875 and later went on to marry the 75-year-old widower eight months later. Enriqueta was 32 at the time, so he was literally twice her age but hey, I’m not one to judge, it was a different time after all.
John Ryland’s died thirteen years later and it is what Enriqueta did in his memory is what makes her remarkable. She contracted Basil Champneys, architect of the beautiful Mansfield College, Oxford to build a vast library in Manchester City Centre using the money left to her after her husband’s death.
The library opened to the public in 1900 and was the first real rival to the libraries of Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Not only was the building a great feat of architectural design in its stunning neo-gothic style, but Enriqueta spent a considerable fortune filling the library with books and manuscripts for the people of Manchester to enjoy at their leisure.
For this, she was presented with a key to the city, which I really enjoyed finding out is an actual key. I’d love to see what the key is for- my guess is a super-cool, secret clubhouse with loads of free food and booze and just full of all of the Manchester’s greats getting pissed up. Enriqueta was the first women to receive this honour.
It was an incredible task for a woman to take on during this time, and it is safe to say that she bossed it. Even today, John Rylands Library is one of the jewels in Manchester’s crown and is used and enjoyed by students at the University for research and as a place to study 120 years later.
Her life-sized marble statue by John Cassidy stands with her husbands in the stunning reading room at John Rylands Libary surrounded with the educational legacy she single-handedly created. So, don’t let the name fool you, it was, in fact, Mrs Rylands we have to thank for such a stunning place of historical significance here in Manchester.
John Rylands Library,150 Deansgate, Manchester M3 3EH