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14 January 2009

The King's Library

If you are a bibliophile, you will want to make the latest installation of the King's Library a must-see on your next trip to London.

Over 65,000 books collected by the monarch George III have been moved into an imposing Tolkien-worthy six story black tower designed by Sir Colin St John Wilson who also designed the ruthlessly modern St Pancras location of the British Library in which the tower resides.

Exterior of the British Library
© The British Library Board

Designer, architect and fellow book lover Ashley Hicks who informed me of the new tower notes, "Part of the magic is theatrical, in that as you look at the tower, one of the bookcases will suddenly roll back within the cube and a librarian emerge and take a book from it – all behind glass, like a giant mechanical toy."

If you are so lucky as to have need to request some of the king's books for research, here are a few beautifully bound examples you might see. All bear the king's ownership mark, except the last which belonged to his consort, Queen Charlotte. The king took a great interest in bindings and opened an onsite bindery in 1780.

(All book images © The British Library Board.)

The history of the formation of the collection is worth a look-in. George III (ruled 1760-1820)was the third of the German Hanover clan to ascend the throne, and the first to be more English than German. He took it upon himself to transform the royal library into a universal one, and, under the steady hand of his advisor, Frederick Augusta Barnard, strategically purchased important classical literature, British and European history, English and Italian literature, and religious texts. A spectacular octagonal library was purpose built at the Queen's House (better known as Buckingham House).
The Octagonal Library
(from WH Pyne's The History of the Royal Residences... London, 1819)

Buckingham House known as The Queen's House
(from John Watkins' Memoirs of her most excellent Majesty Sophia-Charlotte, Queen of Great Britain ... London, 1819.)

Buckingham Palace post-George IV

When the prolifigate George IV came to the throne and transformed Buckingham House into Buckingham Palace, the library was donated to the people in 1823 and installed at Montagu House, now part of the British Museum, where it stayed until 1998 and found it's present home at the BL.

Montagu House by James Simon, circa 1715

The King's Library at the BM
photo by Mujtaba Chohan


Jill said...

Beautiful post...the new library reminds me of the wine tower in Charlie Palmer's Aureole at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas...sorry, my mind is on wine as I'm abstaining until I lose 5 lbs!

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Thanks Jill - you are a better woman than I - my nightly glass of vino is an institution! EEE

Real Card Studio said...

Wonderful. I love how thorough and informed your posts are.

Jill said...

If only I could stop at one glass!

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Oh thank you, Real Card Studio - I somethimes think I'm packing in too much - it's a relief to know I'm not boring you all stiff! EEE

columnist said...

I somehow think Buckingham Palace was better before the frontage "block" that was added, (and with which it is now more closely associated). It lost a lot of its elegance and became much more of an institutional building.

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Columnist - I agree - it looks like a bank or a hall of justice - not a residence - and we know the English know how to do princely palaces, so a bit disappointing. EEE