(7 February 1801 – 11 December 1888)
was an English entrepreneur
. He was the owner of
the largest textile manufacturing concern in the United Kingdom,
and Manchester's first multi-millionaire.
having learned to weave Rylands became a small-scale manufacturer
of hand-looms, while also working in the draper's shop his father
had opened in St Helens.
He displayed a "precocious shrewdness" for
retailing, and in partnership with his two older brothers expanded
into the wholesale trade. So successful were they that in 1819
Rylands' father merged his retail business with theirs, creating
the firm of Rylands & Sons. At its peak, the company employed a
workforce of 15,000 in 17 mills and factories, producing 35
tons of cloth a day.
was the third son of Joseph Rylands, a manufacturer of cotton
goods, of St.
Helens, Lancashire, and his wife Elizabeth (née Pilkington).
was educated at the St. Helens Grammar School. His aptitude for
trade quickly became obvious and manifested itself early and,
before the age of eighteen, he entered into partnership with his
elder brothers Joseph and Richard. Their father joined them in 1819, when the
firm of Rylands & Sons was established, the seat of operations
being established in Wigan.
Their manufactures for some years consisted of ginghams
, checks, ticks, dowlases
. John, the youngest partner, occupied himself
with travelling over several counties for orders until 1823, when
he opened a warehouse for the firm in Manchester.
Business increased rapidly, and in the
course of a few years extensive properties at Wigan, along with
works and bleach
works, were purchased. Valuable seams of coal
were afterwards discovered under these properties, and proved a
great source of wealth to the purchasers.
In 1825 the firm became merchants as well as manufacturers, and
about the same time they erected a new spinning mill
. The Ainsworth mills, near Bolton, and other
factories were subsequently acquired.
The brothers Joseph
and Richard retired around 1839 and the death of their father in
July 1847 made John Rylands sole proprietor. The business continued
to expand and in 1849 a warehouse was opened in Wood Street,
London. A great fire occurred at the Manchester warehouse in 1854,
but the loss, although very large, was speedily repaired. In 1873
Rylands converted his business into a limited company
but he retained the entire
management of it. The extra capital from this move led to the
purchase of more mills and the company entered into fresh business
in many quarters of the globe. The firm, which had a capital of two
, became the largest
manufacturing concern in the
kingdom. His business made him Manchester's first
multi-millionaire. He employed 15,000 people in his
17 mills and factories, producing 35 tons of cloth a
John Rylands lived at Longford Hall, in Stretford, an Italianate mansion he built on
the site of an earlier house.
Rylands was personally of a peculiarly retiring and reserved
disposition, except among his personal friends. He always shrank
from public office of any kind, although he was not indifferent to
public interests. He was politically liberal
in his enterprises. When the Manchester Ship Canal
was mooted, and
there seemed a doubt as to the ways and means for the enterprise,
he took up £50,000 worth of shares, increasing his contribution
when the project appeared again in danger. Rylands was a Congregationalist
, with leanings to the
form of faith. He was of an
ecumenical spirit and hoped that sectarian differences would tend
to decrease: a number of Union Chapels (including three in
Manchster were supported by him). His charities were numerous but
unobtrusive. Among other benefactions he established and
maintained orphanages, homes for aged
gentlewomen, a home of rest for ministers of slender means, and he
provided a town-hall, baths, library, and a
coffeehouse in the village of Stretford, where he lived. He also built an
institute for the benefit of the villagers of Haven Street on the
Wight, where Rylands passed some of his later
His donations to the poor of Rome were so generous as
to induce the king
decorate him in 1880 with the Order of the Crown of
For many years he employed the Rev. F. Bugby, John Gaskin, and
other competent scholars to prepare special editions of the
and religious works which he printed for
free distribution. These included:
- The Holy Bible, arranged in numbered paragraphs, 1863,
4to, 1272 pages, with an excellent index in a separate volume of
277 pages. Two subsequent editions were printed in 1878 and
- Diodati's Italian Testament, similarly arranged and
indexed, printed for distribution in Italy.
- Ostervald's French Testament, arranged on a similar
- Hymns of the Church Universal, with Prefaces, Annotations,
and Indexes, Manchester, 1885, pp. 604, royal 8vo; a selection
from a collection made by Rylands of sixty thousand hymns.
Marriages and death
He married three times: first, in 1825, Dinah, daughter of W.
(by her he had six children, none of whom survived him); secondly
in 1848, Martha, widow of Richard Carden; and thirdly in 1875,
Enriqueta Augustina, the
eldest surviving daughter of Stephen Cattley Tennant.
widow erected in Manchester a permanent memorial of her husband in
the John Rylands
Library, of which the famous Althorp Library, purchased by
her from Earl Spencer
in 1892, and Lord
Crawford's manuscripts, purchased by her in 1901, form part of
The library was inaugurated on 6 October
1899, when Mrs Rylands received the freedom of the city
of Manchester. The
first day of opening was 1 January 1900. A posthumous grant of
arms to John Rylands was obtained in 1893 in which the arms of
Tennant are impaled with those of Rylands.
Rylands died at his home, Longford Hall, on 11 December 1888,
at the age of 87. He was buried at the Southern
Cemetery, Manchester: a fine tomb was erected over the vault and his
widow was buried there in 1908.
His estate, the bulk of
which was left to his wife Enriqueta, was valued at £2,574,922 (£
as of ), greater than that left by any other cotton manufacturer to
that time. His two successors as chairman of Rylands & Sons are
buried nearby: Reuben Spencer and William Carnelley.
His widow Enriqueta planned the John Rylands Library to commemorate
him and it was inaugurated on the 24th anniversary of their
wedding, October 6, 1899. A statue of John Rylands stands in the
reading room (west end) which was the work of John Cassidy
- Farnie (1993)
- Farnie (1993); fig. 25
Rylands v Fletcher
, an important
case in the law of tort