The British Library is home to some of the most famous written and printed works in the English-speaking world. From two of the four original Magna Cartas, the Lindisfarne Gospels and Shakespeare’s First Folio to works by Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Lewis Carroll. Then there are manuscripts of Handel’s Messiah, Elgar’s Enigma Variations and even the hand written words for the Beatles’ ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’.
All this and more can be found in this famous library which holds almost 14 million books, over 4 million maps and more than 8 million stamps. There are something like 170 million catalogued items in total which makes it the largest library in the world by volume.
Unbelievably, it wasn’t until 1973 that all these treasures were brought under one umbrella when an Act of Parliament created the National Library, and even then, there was no one main library building to speak of. That was rectified in 1997 when a new library was built at St. Pancras. Although there’s a northern offshoot at Boston Spa in West Yorkshire, most of the collection is housed in London.
A Slice of Alternative London
As I explained in my previous post on Covent Garden
,it has no set boundary as such, but most people head for the piazza at the former fruit and veg market, which is where most of the action is.
Just north of the piazza on the other side of Long Acre at Shelton Street, Covent Garden passes from Westminster into the Borough of Camden and the Seven Dials district of St. Giles, which has quite a different feel to it, especially around Neal’s Yard.
Seven Dials was a concept dreamt up by Thomas Neale MP in the early 1690s. The idea was to have streets radiating out from a sundial pillar in the centre, and it wasn’t just to make it look good, but also to maximize his profits from the venture by charging rents on per foot of frontage rather than per square foot of interior space.
He commissioned the respected stonemason Edward Pierce to design the pillar with six sundial faces, but he added a seventh road to the scheme after the pillar was constructed in 1694. His aim was to make the area the most fashionable in London, but by the 19th century it had ended up as one of the most notorious slum areas in the city and renowned for its gin palaces: At one point, each of the seven apexes around the monument consisted of pubs, only one of which still remains – The Crown, on the apex of Monmouth Street and Short’s Gardens.