Our guided tour started with us looking at a 3D model of the British Library building
established in 1973, prior to that it was part of the British Museum. It was opened in 1998by Queen Elisabeth II. It houses over 170 million items including books, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, magazine prints, drawings, music scores and patents stored beneath the main library in the five levels of basement reaching 24 metres underground as deep as the Victoria line that runs alongside them. There is another site in West Yorkshire. It was designed by architect Colin St. John Wilson, formerly a naval lieutenant and looks like a ship.
We looked at the King’s Library Tower, a prominent part of the building, which houses a collection of King George III’s books. It is made of glass and houses the Library’s rare book collection.
Before peeking through a few reading rooms, we stopped before the Klencke Atlas, the largest atlas in the world until 2012. It was presented to Charles II in 1660 after his restoration to the throne following the English Civil War. It was given by Amsterdam merchants keen for commercial privileges. The atlas contains 41 large wall maps in an ornate binding and were considered to encapsulate the entire knowledge of the world.
We then went into a specific room inside the treasures room dedicated to two different versions of the Magna Carta. Only four original copies survive. Two are kept in the British Library. One dating back to 1215 badly damaged by fire in 1731 and the other issued in 1225 by King Henry III which became the final and definitive version of Magna Carta. It was this charter, not that of 1215 which was eventually added to the statute roll. It was the first document to put into writing the principle that the king and his government was not above the law.
In the main Treasures room we admired Shakespeare’s First Folio. It is a large volume
containing 36 of his plays with a portrait that defines how many of us still visualise the playwright today. The first folio was published 7 years after Shakespeare’s in death in 1616 by a group of London printers and booksellers.
A copy of the Gutenberg Bible also featuring in the treasures room is one of the earliest major books printed using mass-produced movable metal type in Europe (metal movable type was developed in Korea as early as the 13th century). It was printed by Johannes Gutenberg a printer and publisher around 1455 in Mainz present-day Germany. So much more time would be needed to explore the other riches of the Treasures room like the Beatles lyrics, letters from Gandhi during his time in jail and the list goes on.
We ended our tour with lunch at the Library’s light and airy Terrace restaurant.