John Rylands was the first native Lancastrian to become a self made textile millionaire and reigned supreme in Manchester as ’Cotton King’. He moved to Longford Hall in 1857 and used his wealth to provide the people of his adopted home town of Stretford with a town hall, a public baths, a church, homes for elderly women and a coffee house. Some of these buildings still stand today.
Stretford Public Hall was built in 1878 by John Rylands. It was designed by N. Lofthouse and is located on the western side of the A56 Chester Road. Stretford’s first public lending library was established in the building in 1883. At John Ryland’s death in 1888, his widow placed the building at the disposal of the local authority for a nominal rent, and on her own death in 1908, the building was bought by Stretford Council for £5,000.
The building found a later role as Stretford Civic Theatre, with a well equipped stage for the use of local groups. Over time the building fell into disrepair, despite being designated a Grade II listed structure in 1987. Trafford Council later refurbished and converted the hall to serve as council offices in the mid-1990s. It was re-opened in 1997, once again named Stretford Public Hall.
John Rylands took a leading role in the erection of the Union Church for Congregregationalists and in 1867 laid the foundation stone of the Union Church on Edge lane in Stretford. The first service took place the following year.The Union Church has now been converted for use by St Vincent’s Housing Association(SVHA) and has been renamed Rylands Hall.
Within Longford Park can be found several properties built as part of the original Longford Hall Estate. They are now all privately owned.
The facade of the original Longford Hall also remains along with the original coach house and stable buildings.
Longford Park’s current layout dates back to 1857 when Longford Hall and its associated grounds were constructed and laid out by John Rylands, the famous cotton merchant and benefactor of many of Stretford’s civic buildings. The landscape was laid out in the style of Chatsworth House and Pevsner in 1969 described Longford Hall ‘ as the only surviving example of the Italianate style of architecture in the Manchester district’ (Source: The Buildings of England South Lancashire).
John Rylands was a shy and humble man but his business acumen created a company that was considered the ‘monarchs of the cotton industry in England’. From modest beginnings he created a company that was worth 0.19 per cent of GNP by 1888, employing 15,000 people in his 17 mills and factories and producing 35 tons of cloth a day. On his death he was crowned the ‘cotton king’ . The fact that his fame subsequently faded somewhat can perhaps be attributed to John Ryland’s strong christian ideals which meant that he had lived modestly out of the public eye and much of his philanthrophy was kept secret.
John Rylands married Enriqueta Tennant in 1875 and they spent 13 years together before John died at Longford Hall in 1888. John Rylands left an estate of £2,574,922 and Enriqueta followed John’s philanthropic disposition by devoting much of her time and money to good causes. As a tribute to her husband Enriqueta Rylands founded the John Rylands Library in 1899. Through the purchase of many remarkable private collections, Enriqueta created a library of international distinction.
Enriqueta died in 1908. Following her funeral, she was cremated and the ashes interred with her husband’s in the nearby Southern Cemetery. Longford Estate was sold to Stretford Urban District Council in 1911 for the nominal amount of £14,500 and books from its extensive library joined the collection at John Rylands Library.
1933 Incorporation of Stretford Borough Council and Fireworks!
The Rylands estate became a public park. The estate which originally comprised 63 acres including the Hall, outbuildings, greenhouses, five villas and eighteen cottages, was enlarged in 1925 by the addition of a further eighteen acres.
1937 Longford Park and Stretford Pageant (1 minute 40 seconds, No Sound)
After the the incorporation of Stretford Borough Council, Longford Hall was subsequently extended to improve the accommodation for civic and private functions and Longford Park became a focal point for civic events and activity.
One such activity was the Stretford pageant, which has been continuously hosted in Longford Park every year since 1919. The pageant festivities form an important strand of the history of the park and large crowds came to the May and Rose queen festivities, a source of civic pride and celebrations.
1971 Visit to Longford Park by the Women’s Insitute
Extensive gardens and conservatories were a feature of the Longford Hall estate under John Rylands:- ‘19 gardeners [were] employed [with] special houses to the rear of the hall. The kitchen garden was doubled from 2 acres in 1862 to 4 in 1867. 14 conservatories with ¾ of an acre under glass in 1862 were doubled to 31 by 1875, with 2 miles of steampipes, served by 6 boilers, a steam engine and a gas-works. Exotic fruit ..were cultivated on a large scale, regularly carrying off prizes. (Farnie 1993: 19-20)’.
Longford Hall became the home of the council’s permanent art collection. It was utilised as an art gallery and exhibition space as well as being used for civic occasions and social functions.
New stairs were added in front of Longford Hall in preparation for the 1977 Royal Garden Party at Longford Park.
In June 1977 Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, escorted by the Mayor of Trafford and Sir William Downward attended the Royal Garden Party at Longford Park.
More than 4,000 guests attended the Royal Garden party at Longford Park. Many thousands more attended the royal procession that passed through the Stretford town centre.
Longford Hall was demolished in 1995 but the facade of the old hall still stands in the centre of the park, and its foundations are now a walk-through area. The park still contains the historic coach house and stable buildings dating back to when the hall was built.
On Sunday 29th February 2004, over 100 people attended the unveiling of a blue plaque in honour of John Rylands. The year 2008 represented the centenary of the death of Enriqueta Rylands and the blue plaque within Longford Park was updated to reflect more accurately her important contribution.
The Friends of Longford Park seek the preservation of the remaining heritage features within the park as well as the creation of new facilities that will ensure Longford Park remains a valued and popular asset for the community into the future.
The Rylands form a rich part of the history of Longford Park having constructed and resided in Longford Hall and later passing on the hall and gardens to the people of Stretford.
Enriqueta Rylands was the third wife of Manchester cotton magnate John Rylands and founder of the John Rylands Library. This year represents the centenary of her death in 1908 and the blue plaque within Longford Park will be updated to reflect more accurately her important contribution.
We are hoping that a descendent of Enriqueta Rylands will be available to commemorate the unveiling of the revised Longford Park Blue Plaque.
To find out more about her extraordinary life visit the brilliantly renovated John Rylands library that is presenting a special exhibtion entitled ‘Enriqueta Rylands: Who do you think that she was?’ until 19th May 2008.
South Manchester Reporter columnist, Neil Rolands, on the 24th April 2008 mentioned at length John Rylands and Longford Park.
Excerpts from his column include:-
“Longford Park is a fascinating area, and well worth a stroll…. With the birds and shelters, the original stables and its classic layout, it really is a splendid place that deserves the restoration it seeks, and it seems particularly pertinent that the bid to restore it should occur this year, exactly a century after the death of Enriquetta Augustina Ryland’s third and final wife who he married when he was 74, and who created the John Rylands Library in his memory. “
“Nobody today would suggest that John Rylands was motivated by greed - indeed, he built orphanages, homes for gentlewomen and ministers of slender means, and in Stretford, on the borders of which stood Longford Hall, he built the town hall, baths, library and a coffee house. Yet his efforts made him Manchester’s first multi millionaire and the United Kingdom’s largest textile manufacturer, his businesses boasting a capital of £2 million. ”