British Library

The permanent display at the British Library is astonishing. Literature lovers will be in their element, as will historians, theologians, musicians and anyone who has an interest in the evolution of print over time. 

The permanent display at the British Library is astonishing. Literature lovers will be in their element, as will historians, theologians, musicians and anyone who has an interest in the evolution of print over time.

The world class flagship of the BL is the permanent exhibition Treasures of the British Library, located in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery. It spans over 1000 years and includes many literary masterpieces: a copy of Piers Plowman dating back to the end of the 14th/beginning of the 15th century, one of the original copies of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and a copy of Arcadia by Sir Phillip Sidney. One is able to listen to a variety of readings, ranging from an extract of Hamlet (performed by Laurence Olivier) to a selection of poems read by Seamus Heaney. Lewis Carroll's original manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground is also on display.

For music lovers, there is a fine selection of old manuscripts: the Old Hall Manuscript (one of the most important and substantial collections of early English polyphonic music), the original score of Handel's Messiah and handwritten lyrics by The Beatles. Beethoven's tuning fork is also showcased. Historians will appreciate documents such as Captain Scott's diary recording his journey to the South Poleand maps which date back to the 8th century. There are also a number of important texts from all the major world religions.

The highlight of the permanent gallery is the Magna Carta – one of the most celebrated documents in English history – which dates back to 1215. Four copies of the Magna Carta survive, one in Lincoln, one in Salisbury, and two at the British Library. The Magna Carta was the first document forced unto an English King by a group of his subjects and it importantly stated that the King, like his people, was subject to the Law. Handwritten by royal scribes in Latin, it was authenticated by the Great Seal and not with the King's signature.

The British Library holds a number of temporary exhibitions throughout the year in the PACCAR Gallery and Folio Society Gallery. The Centre for Conservation (a permanent feature) is also worth a brief visit. This centre reminds the visitor that as the collections at the British Library are made from natural materials, they are in constant need of preservation. There are decaying specimens on display and videos illustrating the intricate work that goes into conserving books. The British Library also holds the national archive of recorded sound which includes rare 19th century recordings of historic importance.

The British Library is an inspirational institution most definitely worth a visit. With excellent wi-fi coverage and several coffee shops it is also a great meeting place.

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest libraries. Our collections include more than 150 million items, in over 400 languages, to which three million new items are added every year. We house books, magazines, manuscripts, maps, music scores, newspapers, patents, databases, philatelic items, prints and drawings and sound recordings.

Much of the information within our Collections is reasonably accessible to users and it is Library policy that staff will allocate up to 30 minutes research time to information enquiries relating to our Collections. This may be followed, if necessary, by referral either to an internal priced research service, or to an external research agency. The purpose of such research is to discover whether or not the Library holds the information being sought and to provide the information whenever possible. The Library will continue to provide advice and assistance to users undertaking their own research on the collections we hold. For those enquiries that relate to information contained within our corporate records, the Freedom of Information Act applies. 

Admission is free.

British Library

96 Euston Road
London Greater London United Kingdom NW1 2DB

Open daily

09:30 - 18:00 Mon,Tue,Thu, 09:30 - 20:00 Tue, 09:30-17:00 Sat, 11:00-17:00 Sun and holidays