Enriqueta Rylands: the public and private collecting of a Nonconformist bibliophile, 1889-1908

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis undertakes the first critical examination of the book collecting of Enriqueta Rylands (1843-1908). It combines archival history with collecting studies to investigate how Rylands's Nonconformist bibliophilia shaped the special collections of the John Rylands Library, Manchester (JRL). This study situates Rylands's collecting of rare books, manuscripts and prints with respect to Nonconformist and bibliophilic revivals at the turn of the twentieth century. It builds on the 'religious turn' in history and gender studies to challenge assumptions about the secular and masculine character of book collecting in the modern era. Engaging critically with Bourdieu's framework for cultural practice, I argue that Rylands was not emulating aristocratic practice in a bid for personal distinction but appropriating bibliophilic capital for socio-religious purposes. This new research reveals the JRL as a legacy of Rylands's ambition to imbue Nonconformity with dignity and to embed Nonconformist values in high culture. Using an archive-based collecting narrative and deep archival case studies, the thesis charts the contours of Rylands's Nonconformist bibliophilia. It asks how Rylands's religious outlook shaped her bibliophilic practices, and how her bibliophilic practices shaped her religious outlook. The research uses previously unstudied material from the internationally renowned special collections of the JRL to investigate these questions across domestic and institutional contexts. Case studies examine the bookplate Rylands commissioned for the JRL, Rylands's subscriptions to limited edition books for her private library at Longford Hall, her extra-illustration of a Book of Common Prayer, and exhibitions of English Bibles at the JRL. This archival research traces interplay between Rylands's appropriation of prestigious objects and practices, her efforts to establish the cultural worth of Protestant Nonconformity, and her gendered and classed social position. This investigation expands our understanding of the cultural legacies of the late-Victorian bibliophilic and Nonconformist revivals. It does so by examining archival evidence and historical context absent from masculinised histories of the JRL that centre John Rylands or library professionals. The study thereby contributes new evidence and perspectives to histories of libraries, collecting and cultural capitalism, and to histories of women participating in these male-dominated fields. Addressing the intersection of religious and book histories in Rylands's Nonconformist bibliophilia, this thesis adds to our understanding of the major socio-cultural changes taking place at the end of the long nineteenth century.
Date of Award31 Dec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHelen Rees Leahy (Supervisor) & Emma Martin (Supervisor)


  • Archival history
  • Women Collectors
  • Bibliophilia
  • Enriqueta Rylands
  • John Rylands Library
  • Protestant Nonconformity

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