• Kathryn Houghton

An Inside Look: The British Library

I visited this well-known library a year ago but remember it like it was yesterday. When taking my trip to London, I was in my puppy love phase of first discovering my passion for classic literature. It was the perfect time to center activities around my reading habits.

It was also easily accessible, being central to St Pancras Station. It blends in beautifully with the surrounding sights. If you have a love for literature, history, or just want somewhere quiet to escape to, this library is a must.

Disclaimer: I visited this library before COVID; please use proper safety precautions when visiting!

Walking In

As soon as I entered the building I knew I was in for a treat. With classical busts lining the walls to the grand white staircases that circle the entrance room, you immediately become enchanted with the place. I felt an overwhelming feeling of excitement to explore the rooms filled with literary wonders.

The King’s Library

This glass tower houses the collection of King George III, which was one of the largest libraries in Europe upon his death. The library has around 78,000 treasures of books and manuscripts on these shelves.

The books were kept in Buckingham Palace in 1761 and at the time were open to scholars, one of them being former adversary and American revolutionary John Adams.

The collection was moved around a few times during World War II but ultimately has stayed in the British Library for the duration of time since the King’s death. The architecture surrounding these impressive books was meant to make them stand out and stay separate from everything else. After all, why have a King’s library if you aren’t going to make it the highlight?

The Clocktower

The architecture for this sleek design was heavily inspired by Scandinavian work. The idea was to pay homage to WM Dudok‘s town hall in Hilversum, Netherlands. This is not merely a decorative look but works as a ventilation system for the five levels of basement.

The British Library’s architect was Colin Wilson, who happened to be a former naval lieutenant. You can find small clues within his designs throughout the building that mimic a ship. The clock tower reminds me of a ship's funnel or chimney. And if you noticed the picture for walking in, each classical bust looks like it’s sitting inside a porthole.

Jane Austen’s Writing Desk

I don’t think I’d be a lover of classics if I hadn’t made time to personally see the very desk Jane used to write some of her infamous novels. Jane Austen’s father gave her this portable writing box in 1794. Between 1795 and 1799 Austen worked on her first drafts of what would later be Sense & Sensibility along with Northanger Abbey, perhaps using this very desk.

When Austen died at 41, the desk was inherited by her sister Cassandra. Eventually, Jane Austen’s great great great niece entrusted the desk to the British Library in 1999.

The Gutenberg Bible

Johann Gutenberg’s Bible is probably the most famous Bible in the world. It’s known as the earliest full-scale work printed in Europe using moveable type. There are very few Gutenberg bibles left in the world, and each page has unique handmade illustrations. This is what makes them so rare and important aside from their age.

The British Library caters to all sorts of academics and bibliophiles alike. There’s plenty of areas to study and read in a calming, peaceful atmosphere. There’s even a cafe inside with coffee to keep you going no matter what you've come in here for!

There are countless treasures to explore here that I’ve only just barely scratched the surface on. The library houses the real Magna Carta, Da Vinci’s notebook, the Brontë’s rough drafts for multiple novels, and countless more to browse through.

Unfortunately, with the library's guidelines against taking photos of most of the artifacts, I was unable to share more in this article. So I encourage you to make time for yourself to observe these amazing exhibitions and collections of multiple cultures and backgrounds.

Due to COVID-19, you will have to pre-book tickets to visit the library and its exhibitions.

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