It was World Book Day recently and, if you are looking for a literary based trip with the children, where could be better than The Treasures of the British Library? The British library is the second largest in the world and holds 150 million items. It’s a serious research library rather than a place to find a kids’ corner with a range of picture books and you have to be a member to access reading materials. You won’t be taking books home with you unless you visit the excellent bookshop on site.
This huge collection has some interesting highlights for families. I confess we popped in on a whim, as we were staying in a hotel next door, rather than because we were planning an educational literary journey. What we found was far more than we were expecting. I won’t be showing you a lot of photos on this post because photography isn’t allowed in the collections. You need to go and see them with your own eyes! There is no cost and it’s well worth a visit if you are in London.
Later this year the British Library will be celebrating 20 years of Harry Potter with an exhibition dedicated to the books. Tickets for the exhibition Harry Potter, A History of Magic go on sale 3rd April 2017. The exhibition runs from 20 October 2017 – 28 February 2018. Inspired by the subjects that Harry studies at Hogwarts ‘This is a thrilling new exhibition that will showcase a fascinating display of wizarding books, manuscripts and magical objects, and combine centuries-old British Library treasures with original material from Bloomsbury’s and J.K. Rowling’s own archives’.
Click here to find out more.
Quentin Blake’s Roald Dahl Centenary Portraits are being exhibited until May 2017. Sir Quentin has drawn special portraits of key characters from Roald Dahl’s much loved works.
I noted an old printing press, which printed the first Penny Black stamps in Britain, next to the philately gallery where some of the rarest and greatest stamps in the world are displayed.
TREASURES OF THE BRITISH LIBRARY
The Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery is an astonishing collection of key pieces of interest. There is literally something for everyone in this fascinating collection. An original Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowolf, Handel’s Messiah written by Handel himself, writings of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen and let’s not forget Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook.
All of these treasures are originals, stored carefully (in some cases for hundreds of years) and available to everyone to see for free, in a darkened room in the middle of London.
If that all sounds highbrow, the collection includes the Beatles’ original lyrics for various songs, some written quite literally on the backs of envelopes and cards. Original drafts of Ian Fleming’s James Bond sit alongside 600 year old bibles.
Some exhibits particularly appealed to my 9 year olds. A letter from Florence Nightingale reporting on the conduct and ability of her nurses was one and correspondence between Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII another. Each case reveals another story, another piece of history. A letter from Churchill, writing by Darwin, the fascinating stories told by the writers of these documents forming part of British and international history for centuries. Items come and go from the collection here.
The Alice in Wonderland piece we had wanted to see had been removed as some items can only be in the light for a certain period of time. As you walk around the darkened room you hear people exclaiming and calling to each other quietly as they discover something else. I hadn’t been expecting that Sunday morning to see documents relating to the beginnings of the British constitution, the founding of the Christian monasteries or even discovering quite how short some of the Beatles songs really are. The gallery is a treasure trove of literary achievement in all its forms.
On World Book Day and beyond, the place to go for a trip through Britain’s literary legacy is undoubtedly the British Library.
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