Inside The London Library (aka Book Heaven!)
Squeezed into the corner of St James’s Square is the facade of what looks like a townhouse. Its tidy little appearance means you would never guess that book heaven aka The London Library lies behind its front door.
Inside you will find the largest independent lending library in the world, with over a million books covering 17 miles of bookshelves!
History of The London Library
Thomas Carlyle was behind the London Library, announcing in 1840 the need for London to have a new lending Library.
The first Library opened at 49 Pall Mall but it moved to its present location in St James’s Square in 1845.
Since then the Library has been enjoyed by the likes of Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, George Eliot, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Virginia Woolf, Laurence Olivier and Agatha Christie!
Look Inside The London Library
Beyond the reading rooms, it’s the shelving that steals the limelight in this library, rows upon rows of books on cast-iron shelves.
Because of the grid format you can look into floors above and below, feeling like you’re trapped in an infinite number of books!
This late-19th century shelving makes the Library unique; the books and shelves are the support for the building. If they were removed the whole building would rise by 5 inches!
More London Library Quirks
It’s not just the shelves themselves that are special. The whole organisation is unique and was the idea of Charles Hagberg Wright, the Librarian from 1893 until 1940.
Books are arranged alphabetically by subject matter, allowing strange juxtapositions and encouraging tangental browsing!
Given how many books are available, you’d think there would be strict late rules for returning books. However the opposite it true, you can keep a book for 30 years! In fact, if everyone returned their books they’d be in big trouble, there wouldn’t be enough space!
As well as the books they have an odd little collections.
The above bookcase is full of miniatures, with the books only a couple on inches high!
Meanwhile, In the basement they also hold The Times archive, every single copy. The reason? Simply because the archivist thought it was the only paper worth reading!
On display they had a selection of interesting issues, like the first ever Times crossword puzzle,
and the first image ever included in their newspaper. Its from 1914 and shows the damaged Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery, after being slashed by the militant suffragette Mary Richardson.
Visiting The London Library
The Library runs regular events and tours throughout the year. To find out more about them and further membership options, head to their website here.