Google+ A Bit About Britain: October 2014 Google+

Introduction

Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Racton Folly

Racton, folly, haunted, ghosts, West Sussex
There was always an air of mystery about this place.  When everything was new, and a car was a novelty, Dad used to occasionally take us for Sunday afternoon drives.  Passing along the lanes of the South Downs north of Chichester, he’d invariably comment, “Oh, there’s Racton Folly.”  And there it was, a grim looking tower hiding in the trees on a slight hill.  He spoke as though it was vaguely familiar; I’m sure it was my childish imagination that allocated to it a sinister appearance.  On one exciting day, together with my two older brothers, we actually visited it.  I recall crossing a field – so perhaps we were out for a walk – and being confronted with a forest of bramble and a broken fence in front of what looked like a ruined castle.  It seemed forbidding and therefore totally inviting.  I wasn’t allowed to go in.  My big brothers were – of course; I think I stood guard, or something – that was probably my dad’s way of making missing out mildly thrilling and marginally less disappointing.  They never told me what it was like, or what they’d seen.  Years later, as an adult, I’d sometimes drive past it in the distance myself and say, to whoever happened to be in the car with me, “Oh look, there’s Racton Folly.”

Racton Folly, Racton Tower, ruin near Chichester
Racton Folly was built between 1766 and 1775 by the 2nd Earl of Halifax, a statesman who briefly owned nearby Stansted Park.  Halifax, whose name was George Montagu-Dunk, “contributed so largely to the commerce and splendour of America as to be styled ‘Father of the Colonies’”.  Halifax, Nova Scotia, is named after him and he has an elaborate memorial in Westminster Abbey.  It has been suggested that the folly enabled Halifax to see his ships dock at Emsworth harbour about 3 miles away.  In fact, no one knows why he ever built the thing; it may have been just a rich man’s whimsical fancy, perhaps some kind of summerhouse.  But Halifax sold Stansted in 1781 so, whatever the intended purpose of his folly, he did not get much use from it.

Racton, haunted, supernatural, Britain
It’s certainly elaborate.  Constructed of brick and flint, it has a triangular base with a small round turret at each vertex and a tall, tapering, central tower of four stories – about 80 feet high. Today, it’s a Grade II listed ruined curiosity.  It could be a romantic building, ivy-clad, straight out of a Gothic fairy-tale.  But, oh no, it is a cold, unpleasant, place. The floors and roof have long gone, it is littered with rubbish, covered in graffiti and has a distinctly nasty ambience.  Sometimes it’s known as Racton Monument (to what?), Racton Tower, or even Stansted Castle.  No one’s alive to tell us what happened there, before or after it fell into disrepair.  There was talk, they say, of turning it into a dwelling, but nothing came of it.  Meanwhile, it is an isolated spot – an ideal place for folk to do things they shouldn’t, away from prying eyes.  Inevitably, it attracts stories.  I have read that evidence of witchcraft has been found there – surprisingly recently.  Paranormal groups have investigated reports of bricks being thrown out of upper windows; the ghostly figure of a woman walking through the ruins; a face at a window.  One group of investigators experienced eerie voices whispering in their ears, and the sensation of being touched.  Sceptics say the reports have been fuelled by pranksters, alcohol and drugs. 

Racton Folly, Earl of Halifax
So what do you think?  This is no obvious tourist attraction.  The dense foliage shuts out the modern world.  Overhead, rooks wheel in the sky and dying leaves rustle in a breeze.  Did you imagine someone walking outside, behind you; hear shuffling the other side of the wall?  Was that a murmured sigh coming from that room, or rats scavenging in the mess on the floor?  The air of desolation and decay is uncomfortable.  Of course, there is nothing to worry about; it’s just an old ruin.


But I’m sure the people will be back, searching for something.  Some may even go on the eve of All Hallows, when spirits ride through the sky laughing, the souls of the dead are abroad and sensible folk are tucked up at home in bed.  if you want to find Racton Folly, you can do so by walking up a bridleway, just to the south of Walderton on the B2146.  Don't forget your garlic, holy water etc.

There is more about Racton at West Sussex.info.

There is more on A Bit About Britain about Halloween and its origins.


Finally, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that there is actually a society, The Folly Fellowship, dedicated to, well – follies.  Their website is fascinating.  Follies are by no means confined to Britain, but they have listed over 1100 in the UK.  Checkout the Folly Fellowship’s website – this link takes you to their UK map page. 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Biggles in your dreams

Sopwith Camel, RAF Museum, Hendon, Biggles

Biggles tapped a cigarette thoughtfully on the back of his hand and eyed the eastern sky anxiously.  Algy was long overdue and his fuel would be getting low.  Just then, the melodic hum of a Bentley Rotary reached his ears and he spotted the welcome sight of a Camel rapidly approaching the aerodrome.  His smile froze.  ‘What’s the silly chump doing,” he growled.  The Camel was rather too high, and then dropped suddenly to bump hard on the turf.  It bounced, twice, and ran to a standstill some distance from 266 Squadron sheds.  When the pilot did not get out, Biggles bit back a sarcastic remark about the dashed awful landing and ran over to the machine.  The fabric was ripped and torn and the struts shattered.  One look at the pilot’s ashen face was enough.  With help from an ack-emma, Biggles gently lifted the young lad out and they laid him on the grass, waiting for the MO to arrive.  “What happened, kid, choked Biggles.
“Archie over Lille,” whispered the youngster.  “Then got – jumped – by – Boche circus.  I’m going west, aren’t I sir?”
“Don’t worry, old boy; I know a Blighty one when I see it.  And tomorrow we’ll get that bally Boche circus,” he said grimly.

Vickers FB5, Gunbus, first fighter aircraft, RAF, museum, Hendon, Grahame-White
I owe an explanation to those (surely very few in number), for whom the above made absolutely no sense whatsoever*.  James Bigglesworth, Royal Flying Corps, Royal Air Force, professional adventurer and bar, was the ageless fictional hero for boys in over a hundred books written by Captain W E Johns.  The fact that W E Johns was no captain should not detract from the gloriously archaic, sometimes politically incorrect, language, atrocious story lines and ridiculous scrapes that Biggles and his chums get into - and out of.  We initially meet Biggles as the daring, deadly and debonair young RFC officer in ‘The White Fokker’, the first of several short stories later collected into a book, ‘The Camels are Coming’.  To avoid any unfortunate misunderstanding, I should add that both ‘Fokker’ and ‘Camel’ are types of aircraft and that these are tales of early flying in the First World War.

SE5a, RAF, Hendon, museum, Grahame-White

The flyers of the First World War were all pioneers.  It was only in 1903 that the Wright brothers made the first powered flight; six years later, Bleriot flew across the Channel; five years after that, Europe was at war.  The first aeroplanes were designed and built by enthusiasts in back gardens, sheds and borrowed buildings.  At the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon is the Claude Grahame-White hanger, which the RAF claims is the first purpose-built aircraft factory in Britain, built in 1917 and later relocated to its present position.  It houses the museum’s oldest aircraft and, from December 1914 will re-open with a new permanent exhibition, ‘The First World War in the Air’.

Albatross DVa, RAF, museum, Red Baron, Grahame-White
The first wartime pilots were mostly boys.  Life expectancy was short; aircraft were primitive, flimsy and there were no parachutes.  I believe the British authorities claimed that issuing parachutes would encourage flyers to leave their aeroplanes prematurely and they did not become standard issue until after the war.  In the early days, the frail flying machines, mostly biplanes, made of wood, canvas and wire, were used for reconnaissance; machine guns were added, an adversarial role developed and, later, fighters and bombers evolved.

In any event, a visit to RAF Hendon reminded me of borrowing Biggles books from the library when I was a lot smaller than I am now, when “Jolly good show” didn’t seem a strange thing to say (even if few people actually said it) and when goodies and baddies were stereotypical and simpler.  It also made it blindingly clear that the flyers of these absurdly insubstantial craft were far braver than I could ever be.

Vickers Vimy, Alcock and Brown, cross the Atlantic, first flight over the Atlantic

There’s considerably more to the RAF Museum at Hendon than older aircraft.  A Bit About Britain has already featured bombers and we’ll cover more about aviation in future posts.  According to my research on the web, there are almost 100 aviation museums of one sort or another in Britain, including private collections and the amazing IWM Duxford.  Hendon has something like 100 historic aircraft on display, it’s easy to get to from central London (a short walk from Colindale tube station on the Northern line) or the M25 and, unlike many museums, entry is free.  There’s another RAF Museum at Cosford, near Telford.

To find out more, visit the RAF Museums’ website.

*Apologies to the late Capt WE Johns (1893-1968), whose style I attempted to plagiarise here.  Do feel free to email me for a translation.


Fokker DV111, Sopwith Camel, RAF, museum


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Devil's Arrows

Devil's Arrows, Devil's Bolts, prehistoric standing stones, Yorkshire

I was looking for three enormous prehistoric standing stones, or menhirs.  I knew roughly where they were, just to the west of Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire, very close to the A1 trunk road.  Whoever put these things up meant them to be seen, I reckon; but I managed to drive past them twice.  One was eventually spotted by the side of the road, hiding behind a post and rail fence; the other two were lurking suspiciously in a cabbage field on the opposite side of the road.  The next challenge was finding a place to park: rejecting a lane leading to a marina with welcoming ‘No Parking’ signs posted at intervals along it, in the end I left the car half off the road by the solitary stone.  Light was fading and I was tired.

Devil's Arrows, Boroughbridge

Now in some places you’d at least get a car park and an information board.  Some would maybe stretch to a toilet; maybe even a café; or perhaps a visitor centre, complete with gift shop and ‘The Devil’s Arrows Experience’.  I’m absurdly grateful that there are many places in the UK that are unspoilt by the excesses of organised tourism, where you can just bowl up and informally look at your own heritage without any commercialism, without any fuss.  But I do think a little sign in the vicinity saying something creative like, ‘The Devil’s Arrows are here’, might be helpful in this instance.  While I’m feeling in campaigning mood, how about serving the two cabbage-patch menhirs with a footpath so that people can get to them?  Or maybe they’re safer the way they are.

What have we got here anyway?  Well, the Devil’s Arrows date from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age – anything from 1500 to 3000BC.  They are 18, 21 and 22½ feet high (5.5, 6.4 and 6.8 metres) and stand roughly in a NNW – SSE line about 570 feet (174 metres) long – though it is not a straight alignment.  According to 16th century antiquarians John Leland and William Camden, there were originally four stones.  Camden said in 1582 that one had been pulled down by people hoping to find buried treasure and it is thought that the remains of this have partly been used to build a bridge over the River Tutt nearby and partly remain on adjoining land.  Other sources suggest there were once 5 stones - and there are folk who theorise that there would originally have been even more than that.

Prehistoric menhirs, north of England

It is thought the stones came from Plumpton Rocks near Knaresborough, about 9 miles away.  Someone has worked out that it would have taken 200 men six months to drag the stones to their present position.  They would have then had the job of digging pits up to 6 feet (1.8 metres) deep and standing the stones upright.  It is believed the stones would also have been smoothed before being put into position.  The curious grooves at the top, suggesting the image of a large arrow or bolt, are generally thought to be the result of weathering.

The 18th century writer, William Stukeley, wrote that an annual fair, dedicated to St Barnabas but actually in celebration of the Summer Solstice, used to be held near the arrows.  The implication here is of a clear link back to unknown ancient ceremonies.  So everyone can get all excited about druids and paganism and all that stuff (steady, now); there is even a residential area imaginatively called ‘Druid’s Meadow’ just down the road.  I wonder what they get up to on Saturday nights?

Many ideas have been put forward for what the Devil’s Arrows were, or what purpose they served: the fact is that we just do not know.  There are a number of other prehistoric remains nearby, along what might be called ‘the A1 Corridor’.  These include the remains of henges and barrows (burial places).  It is inconceivable that the erectors of the stones did not know about the other sites and quite likely that they are all connected in some way – at the very least as part of a shared culture.  The A1 route has been there, with a few changes, since at least Roman times and, for all we know, may well follow the path of a much older trackway.

Prehistoric remains, bit about Britain

I gazed at the stones, intrigued and frustrated in equal measure wondering at the motivation and determination of our ancestors.  Apart from the odd car, there was no one else around.  The traffic on the A1 rushed by, but it still managed to be a fairly lonely spot.  I felt pretty sure, though, that these massive monuments had no evil purpose and would not have been called the Devil’s anything by the people who put them there.

So how did they get their name?  Apparently, if you walk twelve times anticlockwise round the stones you will get a personal meeting with the Prince of Darkness; care to try?  But the popular story – which can be nowhere near as old as the stones – is that his Satanic Silliness had it in for the new-fangled Christian community at Aldborough.  Standing on a hill somewhere near Fountains Abbey, about 10 miles away, he lobbed these stones, shouting, “Borobrigg keep out o’ way, for Aldborough town I will ding down!”  But he missed by a mile and the Devil’s Arrows, or Bolts, landed near Boroughbridge after all.  Should’ve gone to Specsavers. 

Visit the Boroughbridge Community Website for more information.

And you may be interested in downloading a short and informative guide (with pictures) called PrehistoricMonuments in the A1 Corridor.

Only enthusiasts (or idiots that write blogs) would go out of their way to see the Devil’s Arrows.  But if you’re passing by along the A1, or visiting the charming town of Boroughbridge (including the Roman remains at Aldborough), take a look and try to figure out what your ancestors were doing.


Saturday, 18 October 2014

Bikers' Devil's Bridge

Bikers, Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria
Bikers love this place.  And when I say ‘bikers’, I’m not talking Lycra, shades and Shimano; I mean brake horsepower and leather.

Bikers - also known as ‘riders’ and, sometimes, ‘motorcyclists’ - are normally solitary organisms during weekdays.  Some even lead secret lives as car drivers from Monday to Friday, keeping their fairings polished and ready for action, but well-hidden under tarpaulins.  At weekends, though, they come out; and then they group together in packs, a type of social unit.  Bikers have been known to mate for life and it’s not unusual to see a pair ride together - we think once the young have left the garage.  Female bikers are usually slightly smaller than males, but otherwise they look pretty much the same.

So at weekends, on highways and bye-ways across the land, small vrumvrums* of bikers form up together and converge on sacred meeting places.  Once there, ritual intercourse takes place, often involving hundreds of individual bikers.  Scientists have been unable to work out how they do this, but believe it is based on a primitive form of communication known as ‘making an arrangement’.  However, the pack will also follow a dominant alpha male.  Bikers’ sensory powers are thought (especially by bikers themselves) to be scarily acute, though only the most mature are able to cooperate fully with other species sharing the same habitat.  You will also spot riders who, like White Van Drivers, are seemingly exempt from the same laws that govern most creatures of the road; what a treat that can be.

Devil's Bridge, Stanley Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, visit Cumbria
The Devil’s Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria is a well-known rallying point for biker tribes from across the north of England, and even further afield.  And a wondrous, colourful, throbbing, sight they are on a peaceful Sunday.  Bikers are particularly attracted to testosterone, burgers, tea and coffee, all of which are amply available here; but what makes this site especially alluring is the local bye-law that says only bikes can park at the bridge on Sundays and Bank Holidays.  So there they are, happily comparing notes on brake horsepower, leather, torque, sprockets, pensions etc.  And leather; did I mention leather?

I don’t know how many Devil’s Bridges there are in the UK – or even the world – probably several; there is certainly a famous one near Aberystwyth.  The one at Kirkby is a fine medieval bridge with three arches spanning the River Lune and the dramatic rocks below.  It has been variously and confusingly declared to be 12th, 13th, and 14th century; however, English Heritage (and they should know) say the existing structure dates from the 15th or early 16th century – which is old enough, for a bridge.  There are records showing that a bridge was repaired here in 1365, though, and it is logical to assume that there would have been a crossing point over the Lune somewhere in the vicinity of Kirkby Lonsdale from early medieval times.  It is generally claimed the bridge was constructed by St Mary’s Abbey in York, but I also saw an article which said that monks from Furness Abbey built it.  Perhaps they both did, a joint venture, maybe to assist with the transport of wool.  In any event, being judged too narrow for modern use (it is about 12’ wide – roughly 3.5 metres - barely enough room for a Harley Davidson), it was replaced with a nice new bridge in 1932.  The new bridge is called Stanley – a fine name for a bridge.  Stanley Bridge now takes the traffic along the A65 between Kendal and Skipton, by-passing the old bridge just to the south, and by my reckoning is due for replacement sometime in the 24th century.

Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, things to do in Cumbria
The old bridge is a popular attraction and there are some pleasant walks nearby, including a short stroll around the attractive town of Kirkby Lonsdale.  In summer, you’ll find people swimming in the river, and sometimes even scuba-diving.  Unfortunately, the bridge has also been used for ‘tombstoning’ – jumping off the bridge into the deep waters about 40 feet below, which can be, and has been, fatal.

Now you want to know why it’s called the Devil’s Bridge, don’t you?  Are you sitting comfortably?  There once was an old woman who owned a cow.  The cow saw some nice, fresh grass on the other side of the river and, the water being shallow, wandered over to eat it all up.  Later, the old woman came searching for her cow.  By this time it had rained and she was unable to cross the foaming, treacherous, torrent.  Quick as you like, the Devil appeared and generously offered to build the old woman a bridge; all he asked in return was to possess the soul of the first living being to cross it.  A small price, surely?  The old woman agreed and the bridge was duly built.  On completion, our canny heroine brought along her pet dog and threw a tasty canine-morsel across the bridge.  Fido promptly trotted over to gulp up the snack, to the fury of the Devil.  Apparently, dogs don’t have souls.  Is that true?  It must be – unless the story is complete fabrication.  I still don’t understand why the Devil, who I hitherto imagined to be fairly powerful and resourceful, didn’t just knock the bridge down when he failed to get what he wanted.  Perhaps he can give, but is unable to take away.

Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, bit about Britain
Incidentally, there are various bits of masonry scattered about that the Lord of the Underworld dropped during this construction project, including the Great Stone of Fourstones.  It’s interesting that our superstitious ancestors often attributed the existence of structures or objects they did not understand to the Devil, rather to God or some other more amenable deity.


Your answers to this puzzle, please.  * And also - what is the collective noun for a group of bikers? A triumph, perhaps?




Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, between Skipton and Kendal, A65

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Keld Chapel

Keld, Chantry Chapel, Shap, visit Cumbria
The key to Keld Chapel is hanging by the front door of the house opposite.  It’s that kind of place, if you know what I mean.  Keld is a tiny Cumbrian hamlet just outside the straggling village of Shap and a little south east of the long abandoned Shap Abbey.  Travellers on the M6 will be familiar with Shap Fell – not the kindest place to be driving in bad weather, but offering spectacular views on a clear day.

‘Keld’ is generally thought to derive from kelda, old Scandinavian for spring, or well.  The hamlet was possibly once larger than it is now and may well have existed in Roman times.

Keld, Chapel, Cumbria, bit about Britain
No one knows a great deal about this chapel.  It is probably 16th century and thought to be a ‘chantry chapel’ – set up purely as a place to say masses for departed souls.  It was common practice in pre-reformation Roman Catholic Britain for those with enough money to pay a priest or church for masses to be said for them, or their nearest and dearest, but there could be so many of these that there was a danger of prayers for the dead overwhelming a church timetable.  Hence, setting up a dedicated chapel was a good wheeze.  It has been suggested that Keld Chapel was associated with Shap Abbey before the latter was dissolved in 1540 – which would make sense.  It has also been suggested that the chapel was set up during the brief reign of Mary Tudor (1553-58), when England had an official, but transitory, flirtation with Catholicism.  Perhaps, some say, the window over the altar table came from the ruins of Shap Abbey.

Keld, Cumbria, Scandinavian, Roman, settlement
In short, I can tell you very little about Keld Chapel: except that it’s an intriguing place to visit if you happen to be somewhere in this part of north west England and a little off the popular tourist track – or if you feel in need of a dose of quirky heritage.  It was actually a dwelling for some time – and was also used to house navvies working on the construction of the nearby railway.

We almost lost it.  In 1917, Lord Lonsdale wanted it demolished because he claimed it obstructed his carriages on their way to his shooting lodge on Rafland Moor.


Now, Keld Chapel is in the care of the NationalTrust; and I’m glad to say there isn’t a tacky ornament, tea-towel or bar of lavender soap in sight.

Post box in wall, Keld, England

Linking to InSPIREd Sunday

Friday, 3 October 2014

John Rylands Library

John Rylands, Library, Reading Room, Victorian Gothic, Manchester

It’s funny how things turn out.  John Rylands was born in 1801 and helped to create what was at one time the biggest textile company in the UK.  John Rylands & Sons employed 15,000 people, mainly across North West England in and around Wigan, Bolton and Manchester, in 17 mills, factories and warehouses.  As well as being an astute and highly successful businessman, Rylands was a generous philanthropist; yet he is chiefly remembered for the internationally renowned library in Manchester that bears his name, founded in his memory by his widow.

Enriqueta Rylands, Victorian philanthropy, statue, Manchester

Rylands’ legacy was also dictated by events in his personal life that no one could have anticipated.  His first wife, Dinah, died in 1843 after 18 years of marriage; all of their six children also predeceased their father.  JR was married to his second wife, Martha, for 27 years from 1848 until her death in 1875.  His third, and final, wife was Enriqueta Augustina Tennant, who had been Martha’s companion.  Born in Havana the same year that Rylands’ first wife died, Enriqueta was 32 and unemployed when she married the 74 year old tycoon just a few months after her former boss had expired.  Clearly, with a 40-year age gap they felt there was no time to waste; and only a mean cynic would suggest this was anything other than a love-match.  The happy couple spent a further 13 blissful years together until John passed away in their small mansion, Longford Hall, Stretford, in 1888 aged 87 years.

John Rylands Library, visitor attractions Manchester, visit North West England

John Rylands’ estate was worth more than £2.5 million – an astonishing amount in those days - and Enriqueta lavished £224,086 of this building the now world-famous library in memory of her husband.  It was designed by Basil Champneys in 1889 (allegedly with input from the strong-willed Enriqueta) and took 10 years to construct, running three times over budget.  It was dedicated to the public on 6th October 1899 – the Rylands’ wedding anniversary – and opened on 1st January 1900.

Public buildings, Britain, Victorian, bit about Britain


Basil Champneys, designer of John Rylands, famous architects

Spencer collection, special collections, North West England, United Kingdom

John Rylands Library was one of the first public buildings to have electricity and is built of pink and red Cumbrian sandstone in loud Victorian Gothic style.  Personally, I find the outside clumsy and reminiscent of something from a bad horror movie; but internally it is exquisite, with a graceful staircase, soaring arches and beautiful features and iconography everywhere you look.  It is, actually, a work of art, in parts resembling a church.  The reading room is a particular joy, with an upper gallery and statuettes of notable religious figures, philosophers – even the printers, Caxton and Gutenberg – running around the edge.  40 feet overhead is a magnificent vaulted ceiling.  At either end are two enormous stained glass windows.  John Rylands Library is one of the most popular visitor attractions in Manchester – and I can’t decide whether or not that fact should surprise us.  Even the toilets are worth a look – the cubicles in the ladies, apparently, being of dimensions large enough to accommodate Victorian bustles; plenty of room for manoeuvre in the loo must have been quite a consideration then and, even now, it’s nice to have enough space to stretch, isn’t it?  The library was extended in the 1920s, 1960s and, more recently between 2003-07 when £17 million was spent creating a new public reception, shop, café and additional storage for the collections, as well as refurbishing the original building.  They’ve pulled off a neat merger of the old and new, and the shop actually sells interesting and fun things you might want to buy.

Victorian toilets, preserved toilets, best toilets in Britain

Enriqueta originally intended to create a large public theological library, but that changed when she purchased the Althorp Library, or Spencer Collection, from the 5th Earl Spencer in 1892 for £210,000 (see A Bit About Althorp).  This unique collection of 40,000 volumes included many rare items, including a Gutenberg Bible printed around 1455 – in fact, the Spencer Collection contains about 3,000 books printed before 1501.  In 1901, Enriqueta paid a further £155,000 for a collection of more than 6,000 manuscripts in some 50 different languages from the Earls of Crawford.  This was just the start; the acquisitions continue to this day.  Now, the John Rylands Library is part of the University of Manchester and holds much of the University’s special collection of early printed books, manuscripts and other precious items – 250,000 printed volumes and about a million manuscripts and archives.  It holds the personal papers of a number of famous people and writers, including Elizabeth Gaskell and John Wesley.  Among the irreplaceable fragments of papyrus in the library’s collection is the “St John’s Fragment” – also known as “Papyrus P52” – a tiny part of a New Testament Gospel measuring 3½ inches x 2½ inches (6 x 9 centimetres) written in Greek in the 2nd century AD.  The earliest piece of text in the library is a fragment of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest known work of literature in the world, written on a clay tablet about 5,000 years ago.

Manchester library projects


John Rylands, libraries in Manchester, famous libraries, England

Enriqueta died in 1908, in Torquay.  Manchester owes her big time for the inspiration and resolve which gave the city such a wonderful building and collection.  The firm John Rylands & Sons was taken over by Great Universal Stores in 1953 and ceased trading in 1971.  It’s funny how things turn out.

John Rylands, capitalist, businessman, textiles, Manchester, industrial Britain

Visit the University of Manchester Library website for more information.