(1801-1888) John Rylands’ name is well known in Manchester, on account of the John Rylands Library in Deansgate which bears his name. He was a wealthy local manufacturer and merchant. His skill in enterprise and commerce was to make him one of the wealthiest men in Manchester, and probably the biggest cotton manufacturer and merchant in Great Britain. His father had been a cotton merchant before him, who had formed a company, Rylands & Sons, in Wigan. For several years, John travelled the country taking orders for the company’s goods. Then, in 1823, he moved the business to Manchester, opening a warehouse at number 11 New High Street, which considerably expanded their already thriving business. They acquired new properties, including Ainsworth Mills near Bolton. By 1847, John had become the sole owner of the firm as a result of the deaths of his father and brothers. Despite a ruinous fire at one of his factories, he survived and grew even richer than before. A quiet private man, he had a shrewd business brain, and invested wisely in profitable projects, including the Manchester Ship Canal Company. He was also very charitable and socially conscious. He founded orphanages, homes for aged gentlewomen, and donated a Town Hall, Library and Swimming Baths to the Borough of Stretford, where he had a home at Longford Hall. His huge donations of money to aid the poor of Italy earned him the “Crown of Italy” honour from the Italian king. He was also interested in theology and books in general, and amassed a sizeable private book collection, which were to constitute the basis of the John Rylands Library collection, initially predominantly religious works, which his wife Enriqueta set up after his death according to his wishes. He was a devout Congregationalist and despised all religious intolerance. When he died, in 188 at his home at Longford Hall, he was buried at Manchester’s Southern Cemetery. His widow set about creating the library he had dreamed of by purchasing the contents of the famous Althorp Library, consisting of more than 40,000 books, including work by Caxton and Gutenberg. The wonderfully Gothic building which houses the collection in Deansgate was designed by Basil Champneys and opened to the public in October 1899. Enriqueta Rylands was given the Freedom of the City of Manchester in 1899. The Library now houses the largest collection of rare books and manuscripts in Britain. It is still open to the serious scholar, and entrance is free.
Sir Joseph Whitworth
(1803-1887) Born in Stockport in 1803, Sir Joseph Whitworth was a celebrated philanthropist and engineer, whose name is remembered throughout Manchester in many street names, an art gallery and a park. His father, a schoolmaster, educated him at home until he was 12, at which time he was sent to William Vint’s Academy near Leeds. By the age of 14, Joseph was working in his uncle’s cotton mill in Derbyshire, demonstrating an adaptive and inquisitive mind, and a thorough understanding of all the machines used in cotton production. At 18 years he determined to become an engineer, and he joined a firm of machine makers in Manchester. Here he learned precision and the need for mechanical standardisation, so that when in 1833 he was in a position to set up his own business, he had all the expertise he needed to become a successful businessman. His first workshop was in Chorlton Street, Manchester, and was to be the forerunner of his later great Whitworth Works in Openshaw. His engineering skill enabled him to produce many mechanical innovations, and his reputation soon grew world-wide. At a time when accuracy was to the nearest sixteenth of an inch, Whitworth developed a technology where on-thousandth of an inch was his acceptable tolerance. His greatest abiding gift to engineering was the standardisation of sizes and threads in machine screws – the “Whitworth Thread” reigned supreme in metal crafts until the introduction of metrication in the 1970s and 80s. He was also involved in weapon production. The War Office paid for a shooting gallery to be built in the grounds of his home, The Firs, in Fallowfield, so that he could work on improving the accuracy of rifles. His rifles were so improved that Napoleon III of France awarded Whitworth the Legion of Honour. A strong believer in the value of education, he backed the new Mechanics’ Institute in Manchester, and helped found the Manchester School of Design. By 1868 he was donating upwards of �3,000 a year towards scholarships and the training of young men in mechanical engineering. On his death he left �100,000 to continue the scholarships, as well as another �500,00 to other Manchester educational establishments and charitable institutions.
In 1896 he was knighted and received the Albert Gold Medal of the Society of Arts for his pioneering inventions and improved processes in engineering. Whitworth Park near the University of Manchester and the Whitworth Art Gallery are both named after him.
Lord Ernest Simon of Wythenshawe
(1879-1960) Born Ernest Darwin Simon in 1879 in Didsbury, Manchester, he was to become a celebrated industrialist and politician, and to be created Lord Simon of Wythenshawe for his services in both. His father had emigrated from Germany in 1860 to settle in Manchester and to establish two successful businesses, Henry Simon of Cheadle Heath , Stockport, which specialised in flour mill construction, and Simon Carves Limited which made ovens and blast furnaces. Ernest Simon was educated at Rugby Public School and at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he studied engineering. By the age of 20 he was already running his late father’s businesses, and by gradual expansion and combining both firms, the Simon Engineering Group was formed. In 1912 he married Sheena Potter, a well educated and socially minded woman, and together they set about encouraging social reform – he in housing and in smoke abatement ( at that time Manchester was the blackspot of the western world due to the large concentration of industry that existed), and she in education. Both were to serve as city councillors, and in 1921 he was appointed Lord Mayor of Manchester. He also served 2 terms in Parliament as a Liberal MP for Withington, Manchester, and was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health. Gradually, however, his political viewpoint changed, and in 1946 he crossed over to the Labour Party benches. In 1947 he was offered a peerage, and served as Labour spokesman on housing in the House of Lords, by this time having become somewhat of a world authority on the subject. He is chiefly remembered in Manchester for his massive slum clearance schemes and for rebuilding houses which promoted healthy modern living. He also purchased Wythenshawe Hall and its 250 acre park and gave it to the city for housing development – Wythenshawe estate emerged as a result. His desire to improve the living conditions of ordinary Mancunians and his promotion of the new subject of “Civics” in schools, made him a popular and well-loved figure in Manchester politics. He also bequeathed the Simon Research Fellowships at Manchester University. He was chairman of the BBC until 1952, was made a Doctor of Laws by the University in 1944, and made a Freeman of Manchester in 1959.
Thomas La Warre
(1359-c.1426) Thomas La Warre was the last of the surviving La Warre family to hold the Manor of Manchester after the Grelleys. He was a priest in the parish of Ashton-under-Lyne from around 1371-72, and afterwards became rector at Manchester, though he did not inherit the title of Baron until the death of his elder brother John, who died childless in 1398. By the early 15th century, Manchester had begun to grow in size, meriting permanent clergy, and in 1421 La Warre secured a licence from King Henry V to form a college at the church in Manchester. The new collegiate church, now Manchester Cathedral, was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and to two other saints – St Denis (patron saint of France, La Warre still hanging on to the vestiges of his Norman ancestry), and St George of England. La Warre subsequently gave a great deal of his lands and wealth to the church, and to building halls for the clergy and for students, as well as his own residence, “The Baron’s Hall”. This building still stands in the form of Chetham’s School of Music and Chetham’s Library (formerly Chetham’s Hospital School). The college comprised the Warden, eight fellows, chaplains, four clerks and six choristers, and La Warre built residences for them all. On completing the project, La Warre resigned 1422 and appointed John Huntingdon in his place as Warden. La Warre maintained his interest and patronage in the collegiate church until his death in 1426-7. He is buried in the Abbey Church at Swinehead, which had been founded by Robert Grelley in 1134. There is a statue of Thomas La Warre on the facade of Manchester Town Hall.