Treasures of the British Library

Treasures of the British Library is the permanent collection of rare books and manuscripts on display in the British Library‘s Treasures Gallery. I had visited before, several years ago, but decided that the time was right for another visit.

There are more than 200 items in this Gallery, also known as the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, including hand-painted books, early printed books, maps, manuscripts and musical scores. Some of the most famous include Gutenberg’s 1455 Bible, the Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Beowulf manuscript which is written in old English. These are just the early works: from later years we have a notebook of Leonardo da Vinci’s, a Shakespeare First Folio, the handwritten score of Handel’s Messiah, and even handwritten Beatles lyrics. Among the more unusual items are Jane Austen’s writing desk. There are also letters written by early kings and queens, including Elizabeth I.

My favourite items include the manuscripts of Jane Eyre and Tess of the d’Urbervilles, as well as Captain R.F. Scott’s diary detailing his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. There is room in the Gallery for small temporary displays: the current display is Beyond Paper: 3000 Years of Chinese Writing (until 17 January 2016) and it includes some of the earliest examples of Chinese writing, inscribed on “oracle bones”, as well as writings on other materials including wood, silk and paper.

The Treasures Gallery is free to visit and it’s a must-see for anyone interested in the history of British literature. It is open seven days a week and is located near Euston and St Pancras/King’s Cross stations.

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