Louisa Ann Ryland, born 1814, who died in 1889 was one of many wealthy Birmingham people, who during the Victorian era used their prosperity to establish or improve many important institutions in our city.
Her Grandfather, John Ryland had amassed a considerable amount of money from the wire drawing trade and investing in land in Birmingham during the 18th Century. His son, Samuel Ryland inherited a large amount of land and money from his father, which he in turn bequeathed to his only child Louisa.
During her childhood, her parents moved to Warwickshire, and ultimately purchased the Sherborne Estate where she lived until her death. She did however retain a close and significant connection with Birmingham through her philanthropic works. She herself didn’t marry and she devoted a large part of her time and inherited fortune to making gifts to a range of charities and other institutions. It has been estimated that over the course of her life she made donations to the value of some £180,000 – the equivalent of £13m today.
Her philanthropy included gifts of funding for the Birmingham School of Art, the BMI, Birmingham General and other hospitals. She donated lands to build and improve various churches. Her obituary records that she provided funds for the provision of a coffee tavern in Winson Green near the prison for the purpose, as the report puts it ‘of helping the friends of prisoners and prisoners themselves on release ‘from falling victims to the temptation of drink’.
Louisa R was particularly interested in helping provide healthy places for outdoor recreation for working people. So when a scheme arose to raise funds to purchase Aston Park in 1850s, she contributed £2,000. She also gifted the land and funds to create Small Heath Park.
In 1873 Louisa gifted 80 acres of land in her ownership to create Cannon Hill Park as well as her donation of funds for its landscaping, ornamental planting and various recreational features. Accounts of her philanthropy suggest that she preferred her gifts to be made fairly anonymously and without fanfare. In the case of Cannon Hill Park, she did not want the park to be named after her. She did however attend the opening which took place on 1st September 1873. Each person who visited the park on the day of its opening was given a card with her personal wording to mark the occasion:
“I have great pleasure in giving Cannon Hill Park to the Corporation of Birmingham for the use of the people of the town and neighbourhood.
I would express my hope that the park may prove a source of healthful recreation to the people of Birmingham, and that they will aid in the protection and preservation of what is now their own property.”
The Birmingham Civic Society first placed a Blue Plaque on the Lodge marking Louisa Ryland’s generosity 30 years ago.