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.

Open House London Highlights

Because of the grid format you can look into floors above and below, feeling like you’re trapped in an infinite number of books!

Open House London Highlights

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!

Inside the London Library

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.

Inside the London Library

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!

Inside the London Library

As well as the books they have an odd little collections.

Inside the London Library

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,

Open House London Highlights

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.

Open House London Highlights
Open House London Highlights

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.

More London Inspiration


  • Kim Pragnell


    Dear Katie,
    Wishing you a very Merry Christmas. Thank you for all the wonderful articles over the past year. They keep me in touch with the life that I miss in London. Very best wishes for a Happy New Year.
    From Kim, on the Isle of Wight.

    December 25, 2019 at 7:23 am
  • Geraldine Beare


    I have been a member of the London Library for more years than I care to remember and just love the place! Did you know that Ulric van den Bogaerde, who was with The Times newspaper for 45 years, set up the Art Department there in 1922? His son was the famous film star and writer Dirk Bogarde who was himself an accomplished artist.

    August 6, 2021 at 8:06 am

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