Chester Decorative & Fine Arts Society

A Member Society of NADFAS

Visit to the John Rylands Library

The John Rylands University  Library is to be found at the angle of Wood St. and Deansgate, a magnificent neo-Gothic building in sandstone of unusual pink and grey shades, known as “shawk” from Cumbria. Nowhere in the whole wonderful creation is this better appreciated than in the main staircase of Basil Champney’s  masterpiece. Scenes from ,“Zorro”, were filmed here, we were informed.

We, you will have guessed, were the party from Chester DFAS which, in the capable but gentle hands of Marion Nicholas had nimbly alighted amidst the Deansgate traffic on October 14th. Fortified by coffee, we were divided into two groups the better to appreciate the treasures of the library. These are manifold and thrilling, encompassing almost all the landmarks of printing and an extensive range of subjects. The manuscript collections span five millennia, more than fifty languages and are written on every medium ever employed. Our taste of these delights included a neo- Sumerian clay tablet dealing with sheep and a 40th edition of the Canterbury Tales on vellum by William Morris.

The Reading Room is spectacular, with statues of the world’s scholars ranged along its walls: here, Newton faces Dalton, Luther challenges Calvin and John Rylands faces his wife and founder of the library, the mysterious Enriqueta  Rylands who came originally from  Cuba!

After a spot of lunch in the very pleasant and affordable Rylands Café and an inspection of the oldest working loos in Manchester, we proceeded to The People’s History Museum, a short walk away in Spinningfields on Left Bank. Here, a guide whisked us round the exhibits at a great rate given that there was so much to see and read. The museum is housed in the magnificently restored Edwardian Pump House and a striking modern glass building. It charts the history of working people: here is the Cato Street Conspiracy, the Peterloo Massacre, Parliamentary Reform, the Chartist Movement, the growth of Trade Unionism and the long hike to Universal Suffrage. It houses an impressive collection of Trade Union banners including the oldest banner in the world – that of the Liverpool Tinplate Workers,1821.

These fragile exhibits require careful preservation and so we repaired to the new Textile Conservation Studio where the textiles are preserved not restored. The space, light and equipment, here, were  impressive – our guide, unfortunately, less so – three huge moveable arms which vacuum up solvents, dust  and the noxious substances involved in this work dominate. The conservators, therefore, do not need to wear masks.

Reassembled in the foyer, we made a swift sortie to the coach and were soon on our way through the incipient rush hour traffic.

Before this appears in print, I for one, will have returned to these two venues. Our warm thanks to Marion for a truly interesting visit.