Last month I was given a tour of one of the most incredible unsung heroes of London; The London Library.
It’s situated in St James’ Square and I signed up to become a member immediately.
Apart from anything else this is a library which looks exactly like how you would want a library to be…it’s so full of atmosphere and history that I know it’s going to take me a little time to calm down about how amazing the place is and actually start working there!
Philosopher, writer and historian Thomas Carlyle, effectively launched The London Library in 1841 after becoming frustrated with The British Museum Library. With this new subscription method, library members were actually allowed to borrow books and take them home which is still the case…I was amazed, and really excited to learn, that they basically lend any books printed after 1700. You can even borrow an original copy of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ which was directly inspired by Carlyle’s ‘The French Revolution: A History’
The library was first situated in Pall Mall and then moved in 1845 to the longest standing building in St James and has gone through many alterations and reshaping over the years.
I love the sort of eclectic feel it has; there are different sections which have been added over time and which all have a unique yet unifying character to them…
The first 7 floors of cast iron bookstacks were built between 1896 – 98 when the premises were being rebuilt and then a second 4 floors of bookstacks were built between 1920 – 22, this time with opaque glass floors, hoping to reduce the number of static electric shocks members would occasionally receive…( it didn’t work, so be careful! )
The bookstacks are the part of the library which I particulary love but there are 5 allocated reading rooms, including The Reading Room itself which is the only one entirely wifi and mobile free, complete with armchairs and silence!There are 134 desks to work at throughout the building; you can’t book a desk, so you have to be a bit flexible…it would seen that the London Library were operating a hot desk system way before anyone else!!
…and there are great views from wherever you decide to work
The beautiful St James’ Square is right outside the library and is one of my favourite quiet places in London…to be honest the whole area of St James is my absolute go to place in London ( you can read more about My St James by clicking here on Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 )
The library also has a search engine called Catalyst which you can access from home and where you can reserve and renew books. If you live in the London area you can take up to 10 volumes at a time and if you live more than 20 miles away your initial allowance is 15 volumes with a one month borrowing time ( there are no fines by the way, just a secure trust that the books will be returned ). Books can also be posted to you throughout the UK and Europe if you can’t get up to London but need to research something specific.
I was really excited to borrow my first books and actually bring them home…and the first four books I now have here are SO beautiful that they completely justify any membership fee!
This Mrs Beeton book is from 1890…
This practical gardening book has really interesting tips as well as beautiful illustrations… this little French book of roses hasn’t been borrowed since 1976!!And this is my favourite book which I’ve been wanting to pour over since I discovered it last year…Florence du Cane’s painted illustrations are absolutely stunning… I urge anyone with a love of old books, libraries , history, research, an inquisitive mind and also the need of a quiet place to work in central London to join The London Library…it is a great joy, literally on many levels.
You can view the Steller Story version of this post with some extra images HERE