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British Library – Virtual Tour

British Library

British Library – Virtual Tour

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and the most extensive library in the world.

As a legal deposit library, the British Library receives copies of all books produced in the United Kingdom and Ireland, including a significant proportion of overseas titles distributed in the UK.

The British Library holds over 170 million items from many countries.

The Library’s collections include substantial holdings of manuscripts and historical items dating back as far as 2000 BC. Before 1973, the Library was part of the British Museum.

The Library is now located in a purpose-built building on Euston Road in St Pancras, London.

Virtual Tour of the British Library

Highlights Tour of the British Library

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, which is Latin for “Theatre of the Orb of the World,” is considered to be the first real modern atlas. 

Compiled by Abraham Ortelius in 1570 in Antwerp, it consisted of a collection of uniform maps and supporting text bound to form a single book.

This atlas was the first time that the entirety of Western European knowledge of the world was brought together in one book. 

Gilles Coppens de Diest from Antwerp was the original publisher, and copper printing plates were engraved explicitly for the atlas.

Ortelius’s Atlas consisted of a collection of the best maps, refined by himself, combined into one map or split across multiple pages of the same size. The atlas incorporated 53 charts from various cartography masters.

Constitution of the Athenians by Aristotle

This “Constitution of the Athenians” is a copy of the original writings of Aristotle or one of his students. It was preserved on two leaves of a papyrus codex discovered at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, in 1879.

The codex describes the political system of Classical Athens, commonly called the Areopagite Constitution, written between 328 BC and 322 BC.

The work deals with the different forms of the constitution and the city’s institutions, including the terms of access to citizenship, magistrates, and the courts.

In other ancient documents, several ancient authors state that Aristotle assigned his pupils to prepare a monograph of 158 constitutions of Greek cities, including a constitution of Athens.

“Newton after Blake” by Eduardo Paolozzi

“Newton” by Eduardo Paolozzi is a large bronze sculpture displayed on a high plinth in the piazza outside the British Library in London.

The sculpture is also known as “Newton after Blake,” as it is based on William Blake’s 1795 print of “Newton: Personification of Man Limited by Reason.”

Blake’s print depicts a naked Isaac Newton sitting on a rocky ledge beside a mossy rock face while measuring with a pair of compass dividers. Eduardo Paolozzi greatly admired Blake’s print of Newton.

The print was intended by Blake to criticize Newton’s profane knowledge, usurping the sacred knowledge and power of the creator, with the scientist turning away from nature to focus on his theories.

The Beowulf Manuscript – Nowell Codex

Beowulf is an Old English epic poem that survives in a single copy in the manuscript known as the Nowell Codex. It has no title in the original manuscript but has become known by the name of the story’s hero.

The poem is known only from a single manuscript, which is estimated to date from around 975–1025, in which it appears with other works.

The manuscript dates either to the reign of Æthelred the Unready or to the beginning of the reign of Cnut the Great from 1016.

The Beowulf manuscript is known as the Nowell Codex, gaining its name from the 16th-century owner and scholar Laurence Nowell.

The earliest surviving reference to the Nowell Codex was made about 1650 and the prior ownership of the codex before Nowell remains a mystery.

The Beowulf manuscript itself is identified by name for the first time in an exchange of letters in 1700.

Lindisfarne Gospels

The Lindisfarne Gospels is an illuminated manuscript produced about 715 – 720 in the monastery at Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland. It is an illustrated Latin copy of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,

The manuscript is in the unique style of Hiberno-Saxon combining Mediterranean, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic elements.

The Lindisfarne Gospels are presumed to be the work of a monk named Eadfrith, who became Bishop of Lindisfarne in 698. Some parts of the manuscript were left unfinished, indicating that Eadfrith was still working on it at his time of death.

The Lindisfarne Gospels manuscript took approximately ten years to create. Its pages are vellum, made from roughly 150 calf skins. The text is written from dark ink, which contains particles of carbon from soot. 

The pens used for the manuscript were cut from either quills or reeds, and there is also evidence of trace marks made by an early type of pencil.

The illustrators manufactured 90 colors with local minerals and vegetable extracts may have been imported some colors from the Mediterranean. Gold is used in only a few small details.

Gutenberg Bible

The Gutenberg Bible was among the earliest books and the first Bible printed using mass-produced movable metal type in Europe. This book, published in the 1450s, is valued for its aesthetic and artistic qualities, as well as its historical significance. 

Forty-nine copies have survived and are among the world’s most valuable books. Less than 185 copies were printed with about three-quarters on paper and the others on vellum.

The Gutenberg Bible contains the Latin version of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. Most were sold to monasteries, universities, and wealthy individuals. 

The Bible seems to have sold out immediately, with a price of at least three years’ wages for a clerk. Although this made them significantly cheaper than manuscript Bibles, most people of ordinary income wouldn’t have been able to afford them.

The Gutenberg Bible had a profound effect on the history of the printed book and influenced future editions of the Bible. 

Of the 49 Gutenberg Bibles known to exist today, only 21 are complete. Others have pages or whole volumes missing. Twelve copies on vellum survive, although only four of these are complete.

Magna Carta

The Magna Carta or “Great Charter” is a charter of rights agreed to by King John of England at Runnymede in 1215. This document is considered an early step in the evolution of the constitution of the United Kingdom. It also influenced the formation of the United States Constitution.

Magna Carta continues to have a dominant iconic status in several countries, often being cited by politicians and lawyers in support of constitutional and political positions.

Although rarely invoked in court in the modern era, the use of the Magna Carta’s perceived guarantee of trial by jury and other civil liberties continues to be used to defend various political and public positions and actions.

The Charter was drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons.

“The History of England” by Jane Austen

“The History of England” by Jane Austen was written when the author was fifteen years old in 1791.  The work is a humorous work that pokes fun at widely used school history books of the time.

The manuscript of thirty-four pages in Jane Austen’s hand is accompanied by thirteen watercolor miniatures by her elder sister, Cassandra. The notebook is today preserved in the British Library collection. 

In “The History of England,” Austen mockingly imitates the style of textbook histories of English monarchs, while ridiculing school history books’ pretensions to objectivity. 

Jane Austen’s version of “The History of England” rebalanced the insufficiency of attention to female figures in school history books.

Some years later, Austen compiled this work and 28 other writings of her early compositions by copying them into three notebooks, which she called “Volume the First,” “Volume the Second,” and “Volume the Third.”

These notebooks still exist, one in the Bodleian Library and the other two in the British Library. These three volumes are considered Austen’s Juvenilia.

Original 1864 manuscript of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The original manuscript copy of “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground,” from 1864 is preserved in the British Library. 

The manuscript is written in sepia-colored ink and includes 37 pen and ink illustrations and a colored title page. The original drawings were only uncovered in 1977. 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was created by Lewis Carroll, which was the pseudonym of Charles Dodgson. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832 – 1898) is better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll.

The story first developed when Dodgson, together with his friend Reverend Duckworth, rowed in a boat accompanied by three young girls.

The three girls were the daughters of another friend Henry Liddell, and one of the girls was named Alice.

The journey on a river in Oxford was five miles long, and during the trip, Dodgson created for the girls a story that featured a bored little girl named Alice who goes looking for an adventure.

The girls loved it, and Alice begged Dodgson to write it down for her. Dodgson began writing the manuscript of the story the next day.

British Library

  • Name:                 British Library
  • City:                     London
  • Country:              United Kingdom
  • Established:        1973
  • Location:             Euston Road, London, United Kingdom

British Library Map

British Library 360 views

Inside the British Library 360 views

Charles Darwin and the London Library

Library Quotes


“The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.”
– Albert Einstein


“Your library is your paradise.”
– Erasmus


“I’m really a library man or second-hand bookman.”
– John le Carre


“An original idea. That can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them.”
– Stephen Fry


“When a man wants to write a book full of unassailable facts, he always goes to the British Museum.”
– Anthony Trollope


“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
– Jorge Luis Borges


“We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth.”
– John Lubbock


“I ransack public libraries and find them full of sunk treasure.”
– Virginia Woolf


“Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books;
they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather,
and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.”
– Virginia Woolf


“People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.”
– Saul Bellow


“A library is a place where you can lose your innocence without losing your virginity.”
– Germaine Greer


“When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice


“When in doubt go to the library.”
– J.K. Rowling


London, England: Treasures of the British Library

British Library Highlights

A Virtual Tour of London’s Museums

Inside The London Library


“How often have I said that when you have excluded the impossible whatever remains,
however improbable, must be the truth.”

– Sherlock Holmes


Photo Credit: JOM

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