Rylands, John (DNB00)

RYLANDS, JOHN (1801–1888), merchant and manufacturer, third son of Joseph Rylands, manufacturer of cotton goods, of St. Helens, Lancashire, was born on 7 Feb. 1801, and educated at the grammar school of his native town. His aptitude for trade declared itself early, and, after carrying on a small weaving concern on his own account, he, before the age of eighteen, 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 removed to Wigan. Their manufactures for some years consisted of ginghams, checks, ticks, dowlases, calicoes, and linens. 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 dye 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 about 1839. Joseph Rylands senior died in July 1847, leaving his son John sole proprietor of the undertaking. A warehouse was opened in Wood Street, London, in 1849. 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, retaining, however, the entire management of it, and purchasing new mills, and entering into fresh business in many quarters of the globe. The firm, which had a capital of two millions, became the largest textile manufacturing concern in the kingdom.

Rylands was personally of a peculiarly retiring and reserved disposition, except among his personal friends, and always shrank from public office of any kind, although he was not indifferent to public interests. When the Manchester Ship Canal was mooted, and there seemed a doubt as to the ways and means for the enterprise, he took up 50,000l. worth of shares, increasing his contribution when the project appeared again in danger. In politics he was a liberal, and in religion a congregationalist, with leanings to the baptist form of faith. 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 coffee-house in the village of Stretford, where he lived. He also built an institute for the benefit of the villagers of Haven Street in the Isle of Wight, where Rylands passed some of his later years. His benefactions to the poor of Rome were so liberal as to induce the king to decorate him in 1880 with the order of the ‘crown of Italy.’ For many years he employed the Rev. F. Bugby, John Gaskin, and other competent scholars to prepare special editions of the bible and religious works which he printed for free distribution. These included: 1. ‘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 1886. 2. ‘Diodati's Italian Testament,’ similarly arranged and indexed, printed for distribution in Italy. 3. ‘Ostervald's French Testament,’ arranged on a similar plan. 4. ‘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.

He died at his residence, Longford Hall, Stretford, Manchester, on 11 Dec. 1888, being buried at the Manchester Southern cemetery.

He married three times: first, in 1825, Dinah, daughter of W. Raby of Ardwick, Manchester (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 (d. 4 Feb. 1908), eldest surviving daughter of Stephen Catley Tennant.

Mrs. Rylands's is erecting in Manchester a permanent memorial of her husband in the beautiful and costly building to be known as the John Rylands Library, of which the famous Althorp Library, purchased by her from Earl Spencer in 1892, will form part of the contents.

[In Memoriam, John Rylands, 1889 (by Dr. S. G. Green), with portrait; Sunday at Home, 23 March 1889, with another portrait; Manchester City News, 15 Dec. 1888; Fox Bourne's Romance of Trade; Quaritch's English Book Collectors; Papers of the Manchester Literary Club (article by W. R. Credland), 1893, p. 134; private information.]

C. W. S.