Louisa Ann RYLAND (1814 - 1889) By
|Louisa Ann RYLAND (1814 - 1889)
was the single greatest philanthropist in the history of Birmingham,
England. Yet she was a retiring, reclusive maiden lady who shunned the
public spotlight. A recent article in the Birmingham Post (Sept. 9, 2000)
termed her "the generous mother of the city."
She was born Jan.
17, 1814, in Edgbaston, a luxurious suburb of Birmingham, the only child
of Samuel Ryland (1764-1843) and Ann Pemberton (1771-1815).
Birmingham was the heart of the Industrial Revolution,
bringing forth innovations that changed the world: the steam engine. . .
the hansom cab. . . gas lights. But what made the Ryland family wealthy
was their vision of future growth. In three generations, they grew from a
family of makers of buttons, pins, and toys into one of the largest
land-owning entities in Birmingham. What had once been mediocre outlying
farmland became prime real estate, as the city's industry and housing had
grown and the value of land had grown along with it.
Great progress in industry had its down side. In the early
Victorian era, the city was a wretched place to live -- inconceivably
overcrowded, filled with the stench of factory smoke and even fouler contaminants. Streets were unpaved, working conditions were abysmal, pay
was low. One child of every six died before the age of one. Disease and
crime were facts of daily life amid the Dickensian squalor.
|These conditions did not
touch the Rylands. Edgbaston, like their subsequent residence at Sherborne,
was a comfortable suburban haven for the well-off, strictly zoned to keep
metalworking and manufacturing out.
As the only child, Louisa learned well the lessons of prudent investment and financial management. When she was 29, her father died, leaving her estates worth more than a million pounds in Ladywood, Sparkhill, Small Heath, Northfield and Moseley, as well as others at Stratford and Sherborne.
Through astute management, she expanded the family fortune many times over. She took good care of her mother until she died Oct. 20, 1862, at the age of 89, when Louisa Ann was 48 years of age.
We are told discreetly that
Louisa was "disappointed in love," and can only guess at the
circumstances. The Birmingham Post article recounts the popular story that
she was prohibited by her father from marrying her true love, one Henry
Smith, Jr. That sadly romantic tale may or may not be mythical. But since
Smith himself remained unmarried until 15 years after Samuel Ryland's
death, the story seems unlikely.
Whatever may have happened, Louisa was
never to have a family of her own. Instead, she adopted the people of
Birmingham. The city had been very, very good to her and her family, and
she resolved to give some of it back, to do what she could with her
resources to make life bearable for the citizens of her beloved but
St. Barnabas' Church
Photo from the book
"Good Morning Ladywood" by Mac Joseph
She contributed to recreation, education,
worship, and public health. She was so reticent and private that we may
never know the full extent of her benevolence.
Appropriately, the first
major contribution (known to this writer, at least) begins on Ryland
Street North, in Ladywood, where Louisa donated land and ?3000 to build St.
Barnabas' Church. She laid the cornerstone for the church Aug. 1, 1857,
the Church was consecrated on 24th October, 1860 and that for the church school next door three years later.
buildings are gone now, as Ryland Street has been completely rebuilt since
the Second World War.
Also missing is a public house
on that street -- the Ryland Arms -- an institution of which Louisa Ryland
unquestionably disapproved. She used her considerable influence to have the only licensed
pub in Sherborne closed. But she did open a coffee shop and reading room
at Barford, at which she hosted an annual gathering of the local poor
She also built the church for her own parish at Sherborne, from
designs by Sir Gilbert Scott, with a few ideas of her own. Her parents are
entombed within the church in a striking stone sarcophagus with ornate
carvings and inlays bearing the large letter R, the family crest, and
repetitions of "Not The Last" -- the family motto.
Ryland Arms Ladywood
33 & 35 Ryland Street, c1946
Closed on 20th May 1962 flats now occupy the site. Amazingly the cobbled
Street still survives.
Photo Andrew Maxam
Cannon Hill Park
Having previously donated funds
for the purchase of Aston Park and Victoria Park, Small Heath, Louisa
donated her own estate in Moseley to the Corporation of Birmingham for a
large public park. She would not permit it to be named Ryland Park, and
requested that it be opened without ceremony or fanfare.
Cannon Hill Park
remains today the flagship of the city's vast park system, 80 acres
incorporating a children's playground, a bowling green, a miniature golf
course, tennis courts, a boating lake, nature trails, and a garden with a
greenhouse filled with tropical plants.
Louisa had a flair for design and gardening.
She personally sketched the designs for most of the park, to a standard to
equal the landscaping of her own estates.
The Midland Arts Centre, also in
the park, comprises a theater, art gallery, restaurant and bookshop. The
park adjoins the world-famous Edgbaston Cricket Grounds.
Cannon Hill Park
Birmingham Institute of
Art and Design
| To further the development of
young artists, Louisa was the chief contributor to the Birmingham
Government School of Ornamental Art, on the corner of Edmund Street and
Margaret Street. The school is now known as the Birmingham Institute of
Art and Design, part of the University of Central England. She endowed a
well-managed fund for student scholarships -- which are still being
awarded today, 125 years later.
In 1878, she gave her house on Stratford
Road to be converted into the Birmingham and Midlands Women's Hospital,
financed the alterations necessary for the conversion, and leased the
building for a nominal rental for 42 years. This hospital is still in
service, having moved alongside the Edgbaston Hospital's maternity
facility in 1995.
Louisa Ann Ryland died on Jan.
25, 1889, at her primary residence, the Hill in Barford. She left an
estate much greater than she had inherited. For official purposes of
Birmingham and Midlands Women's Hospital
|it was valued at just under three-quarters of a million pounds.
Unofficial estimates of the true value of her holdings range upwards to 2
million pounds. This would be the equivalent of 130 million today --
nearly $200 million in US dollars.
Her will is an extraordinarily lengthy
and complex document, mentioning some 100 individuals by name. She
provided generously for hospitals, churches, and schools, and for numerous
friends and relatives. But conditional upon the bequests: the executors
had to be satisfied that the institutions spent the money as she directed.
And individual heirs, unless they were named Ryland or married members of
the nobility, were to add "Ryland" to their surname, or forfeit
The son of the late Henry Smith, linked at least in
romantic legend with the youthful Louisa, was one of the major heirs.
William Charles Henry Alston Smith was known thereafter as Charles
Smith-Ryland. The Smith-Ryland family remains today major landowners in
Barford and Sherborne.
| At her own request, she was not buried in the
elaborate stone tomb in the Sherborne Church, but in the cemetery outside,
alongside her former nurse and companion. Her pallbearers were her
servants and laborers from the village.
And she left a note: "I am
ashamed to mention that the idea has occurred to me that it is possible
some little memorial of me may be proposed in Birmingham. Now, I entreat
that such may not be the case, for I shrink from having any money
collected or trouble taken for such a purpose." This wish was
complied with for many years thereafter.
|The Birmingham of today has come
far from its gritty past. Today, it is a beautiful city, having grown to
become the second largest metropolis in Britain. That did not come about
Louisa Ryland House.
Some say Birmingham is the best-run large city in the world.
Its Housing Authority and social services are the largest and most active
departments of their kind in the United Kingdom. These departments,
dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for all the citizens, are
housed in a large, new office building on Newhall Street in the City
Centre -- most appropriately named the Louisa Ryland House.
|So one might
conclude that at last, a fitting memorial now stands to Louisa Ryland, and
without any money being collected or "trouble taken" for the
purpose. But to paraphrase, if you're ever in Birmingham and are seeking
her monument, just look around.
Many kind friends and distant cousins
have contributed to my new-found interest in the Rylands and in Birmingham
itself, particularly Ann Seeley, Derek S. Wootton, Robert Deloyde and
David Winstone, all of metropolitan Birmingham, and Mandy Pemberton of
Melbourne, Australia. All mis-statements and omissions are, naturally, my
own. -- Walter
"Copyright 2000 by Walter Ryland, email@example.com All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission."
By Walter Ryland
Admin, Ryland List/Boards on RootsWeb
This article is also at RootsWeb.com
Louisa Ann Ryland, 1814-1889