27.03.2015
10:51

The British Library

Address:

96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB

Phone:

033-0333 1144

Website:

www.bl.uk

Opening times:

Mon-Thu 9:30–20:00, Fri: 9:30-18:00, Sat 9:30–1700, Sun and holidays: 11:00-17:00

How to get there:

Tube: King’s Cross

Entry fee:

Free

Additional information:

Café and shop

The British Library has only existed as a separate institution since 1973 but its origins are far more historic. As part of the British Museum, founded in 1753, it was housed until 1997 in the main museum building, with magnificent purpose-built reading rooms. In the 1960s, however, it was recognised that the Library had far outgrown its premises and in 1974 the present site in St Pancras was purchased. In 1998, after a catalogue of financial crises, Colin St. John Wilson’s new building, originally designed in 1977, was finally opened. The British Library’s books (humanities and science); the India Office Library; and the British Institute of Recorded Sound are now united under one roof. At the core of the Library’s collections are the three foundation collections of the British Museum, which all contained manuscripts and books: that of Sir Hans Sloane (d. 1753); Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631); and the Harleian collection of Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford (d. 1724). The Library today is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world and contains several treasures: two contemporary copies of Magna Carta, 1215; the manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf; the wonderfully illuminated early Northumbrian ‘Lindisfarne Gospels’, written c. 715–20 in honour of St Cuthbert; William Caxton’s two editions of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, 1476 and 1483; the exceptional ‘Sforza Hours’ from Milan (c. 1490–1520); and the ‘Codex Arundel’ containing manuscript sheets of Leonardo da Vinci’s mathematical notes and diagrams. The Codex was once owned by Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, who travelled to Italy with Inigo Jones, introducing the architect to the architecture of the Renaissance and of Classical Antiquity.

Thomas, Earl of Arundel and Inigo Jones
The friendship between Inigo Jones and Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, began with Jones’s court masques, in which Arundel’s wife was a keen participant (there is a surviving drawing by Jones of Lady Arundel in the guise of Atalanta, from a masque of 1609). Jones’s interest in architecture was already evident, however. Even before he went to Italy he was incorporating classical themes into his work, as is evidenced by surviving designs for remodelling St Pauls, and the new Exchange in the Strand. Henry, the gifted Prince of Wales, who had been Arundel’s friend and Jones’s patron, died aged eighteen in 1612. This seems to have prompted both men to travel overseas. Arundel had been to Italy before, and had been enthused by what he saw. In 1613 he and Jones accompanied Princess Elizabeth to her marriage in Heidelberg, and then continued to Venice, where they spent time exploring its palazzi. Jones bought an edition of Palladio’s Quattri Libri as well as a mass of Palladio’s original drawings, acquired from Vincenzo Scamozzi, Palladio’s pupil. From Venice, the two went to Vicenza where they spent a few days, visiting the Villa Rotonda, and eventually to Rome. Jones filled the margins of his copy of Palladio with notes on what he had seen and the two pored over the surviving ruins, spending hours gazing at antique sculpture and inscriptions. Both were repelled by the growing signs of the Baroque, Jones writing that he preferred his architecture to be austere and ordered. It was a second trip to Venice which fully consolidated Jones’s ideas. He was appointed Surveyor of the King’s Works in 1615.

The large piazza outside the entrance has, crouching menacingly on one side, Edward Paolozzi’s great bronze Newton, inspired by William Blake’s image of the same. Surrounding the sunken ‘amphitheatre’ are the eight carved Swedish glacial boulders which make up Antony Gormley’s Planets. The library’s unprepossessing, low exterior of red brick makes the interior a complete surprise: a wonderful white, tall, airy space flooded with light, with broad steps leading up to the reading rooms. In the centre, encased in a tower of bronze and glass reaching up six storeys and with their tooled leather and gold spines visible, are the 60,000 volumes of the King’s Library, presented to the British Museum in 1823 by George IV. On the stairs is a tapestry woven after R.B. Kitaj’s If not, not.

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MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

Please do share your comments and updates with us via the form below the entry for each museum.

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National Maritime Museum
Wimbledon Windmill Museum
Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum
2 Willow Road (National Trust)
William Morris Gallery
Whitechapel Gallery
Westminster Abbey Museum
Wesley's Chapel
Wellington Arch (English Heritage)
Wallace Collection
Victoria & Albert Museum
Tower Bridge Exhibition
Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces)
Tate Modern
Tate Britain
Sutton House (National Trust)
Spencer House
Southside House
South London Art Gallery
The Courtauld Institute of Art (Somerset House)
Sir John Soane's Museum
Shakespeare’s Globe
Serpentine Gallery
Science Museum
St Bride’s Crypt Museum
St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum
Saatchi Gallery
Royal Society of Arts
The Royal Mews
Royal London Hospital Museum
The Faraday Museum
Royal Hospital Chelsea
RCM Museum of Music
Royal Academy of Music Museum
Royal Academy of Arts
Red House (National Trust)
Ranger’s House (English Heritage)
Ragged School Museum
The Queen’s Gallery
Prince Henry’s Room
The Photographers’ Gallery
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
Osterley Park (National Trust)
Orleans House Gallery
Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret
Natural History Museum
National Portrait Gallery
National Gallery
National Army Museum
Musical Museum
World Rugby Museum
Museum of the Order of St John
Museum No. 1 (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Museum of London
Garden Museum
Museum in Docklands (Museum of London)
The Royal Observatory
The Queen's House
Old Royal Naval College
Marianne North Gallery (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Marble Hill House (English Heritage)
Mall Galleries
Lord’s Tour and MCC Museum
London Transport Museum
London Fire Brigade Museum
London Canal Museum
18 Stafford Terrace – The Sambourne Family Home
Library and Museum of Freemasonry
Leighton House
Kingston Museum
Kew Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
London Museum of Water & Steam
Kenwood House (English Heritage)
Kensington Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
Keats House
Jewish Museum
Jewel Tower (English Heritage)
Jerwood Space
Imperial War Museum
ICA Institute of Contemporary Arts
Hunterian Museum
Horniman Museum
HMS Belfast (Imperial War Museum)
Hayward Gallery
Handel House Museum
Hampton Court Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
Ham House (National Trust)
Guildhall Art Gallery
Guards Museum
Grant Museum of Zoology & Comparative Anatomy
Geffrye Museum of the Home
Fulham Palace
Freud Museum
Foundling Museum
Forty Hall & Estate
Florence Nightingale Museum
Firepower: The Royal Artillery Museum
Fenton House (National Trust)
Fashion and Textile Museum
Fan Museum
Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art
Eltham Palace (English Heritage)
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Dr Johnson’s House
Dennis Severs' House
Danson House
Cutty Sark
Contemporary Applied Arts
Chiswick House (English Heritage)
Chelsea Physic Garden
Chartered Insurance Institute Museum
Charles Dickens Museum
Carlyle’s House (National Trust)
Camden Arts Centre
Cabinet War Rooms & Churchill Museum (Imperial War Museum)
Burgh House - The Hampstead Museum
Buckingham Palace
Brunel Engine House
Brunei Gallery SOAS
British Optical Association Museum
The British Museum
The British Library
Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee
Black Cultural Archives
Museum of Childhood (Victoria & Albert Museum)
Bethlem Museum of the Mind
Benjamin Franklin House
Ben Uri Gallery - The London Jewish Museum of Art
Barbican Art Gallery
Banqueting House (Historic Royal Palaces)
Bankside Gallery
Bank of England Museum
All Hallows Undercroft Museum
Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum

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