Dragging ourselves away from the newly renovated St. Pancras Hotel, we wandered up the road to the British Library to eat our picnic lunch: we decided to sit in the low circular seating area of the British Library – there is a lovely view of St. Pancras Hotel over the wall!
(I feel that this photo has a feel of Red Square in Moscow: the tall red brick wall of the Kremlin with spires behind)
(Sorry about the night-time view it was all I could find!)
As you walk down the ramp to the seating area you pass Anne Frank’s Tree, dark and high up on the right:
The British Library is several storeys high but eight storeys deep underground. When it was being built they would build the top underground storey first, then dig down and build the next one lower, etc. There was some concern for the Underground rail tunnels which criss -cross this area and indeed, there was some movement as a result of the excavations, but only of a couple of inches.
It is a very stark but beautiful building with some original features: in the foyer there is a brass bench sculpted to look like an open book, held in place with a gigantic ball and chain. To my surprise the ball is loose and can be rolled around.
In the centre of the building is a huge bookcase with glass doors, six storeys high which soars straight up through the building: as you stand at the bottom looking up the books seem to climb to the sky. This contains the Library of King George IV.
None of the pictures of the King’s Library Tower are mine, I hasten to add. This first one is from http://www.gonomad.com
This next one is from globalNix at flickr and is his copyright. I looked for a way to contact him but could not find it so I hope that by crediting these good folks for their pix, they will not all sue me. But they are great photos!
[This next photo comes from http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2010/04/10.html%5D
This houses the Library of King George IV.
The following is copied from the British Library website –
“When George III came to the throne in 1760, there was no substantial royal library. He seems to have decided early in his reign to form a new library, one worthy of an 18th-century monarch. The first major step towards this was achieved in 1763 with the acquisition of the library of Joseph Smith (1682-1770), who had been British Consul at Venice. This collection was especially rich in the classics and in examples of early printing. From around this time, King George’s agents attended many of the major book sales held in London and on the Continent. They acquired both individual volumes and entire private libraries, benefiting especially from the closure and dispersal of Jesuit libraries across southern Europe. Some significant works were also donated, including examples of early printing as well as contemporary works presented by their authors.
From 1774, and for the rest of the King’s life, Frederick Augusta Barnard (1742-1830) was the Royal Librarian. Barnard tried to develop the collection in a systematic way, and sought guidance from notable intellectual figures, including the writer and lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson. With this advice, the collection grew to be rich in classical literature, British and European history, English and Italian literature, and religious texts.
It also contains many examples of early printing, including a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (copy printed on paper at shelfmark C.9.d.3,4), and Caxton’s first edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (shelfmark 167.c.26). But it also contained less scholarly material, including many of the more general periodicals of the day. By the time of the King’s death in 1820, the Library comprised around 65,000 volumes of printed books, with a further 19,000 pamphlets. There were also manuscripts (now in the British Library Manuscript Collections), as well as bound volumes of maps and topographical views (mostly with the British Library Map Collections).
The collection was generally open to scholars, and even former adversaries such as the American revolutionary John Adams were admitted.
The King’s fascination with books extended to their bindings. He established an on-site bindery which was in operation by 1780 and continued to work until well after his death.
At the death of George III in 1820, the collection passed to his son George IV, Prince Regent since 1811.
After some negotiation with the government, the library was offered as a gift to the British nation in 1823. It was decided that the gift should be placed in the British Museum, on the understanding that it would keep its separate identity. After a temporary sojourn in Kensington Palace, in 1828 the books (with the exception of a few choice items withheld by the King and today at the Royal Library Windsor) were moved to the new King’s Library Gallery, designed in Greek Revival style especially for the collection by Sir Robert Smirke. The arrival of the King’s Library doubled the size of the British Museum’s printed book collections.
For the next 145 years, King’s Library volumes were regularly consulted by readers in the British Museum’s Reading Rooms. The most significant event to affect the collection during this long period was the aerial bombardment of the Museum during the Second World War. On 23 September 1940 a small bomb fell on the Gallery. 124 volumes were completely destroyed, a further 304 were damaged beyond repair, and many others required substantial restoration. As a result the collection was moved to the Bodleian Library at Oxford for the remainder of the war. In the following decades, attempts were made to replace the lost works, but even today there are a few gaps.
In 1973 the British Library was established, and responsibility for the King’s Library transferred to the new UK national library. The books however stayed where they were until 1998, when they were moved to the British Library’s new St Pancras building.
The King’s Library Tower
The collection’s new home is the six-storey King’s Library Tower, designed specifically for the purpose by the building’s architect Sir Colin St John Wilson (1922-2007). Many of the books are on view to visitors behind UV-filter glass which, together with the environmental control system, helps maintain appropriate light, temperature and humidity levels. Behind the moveable bookcases containing George III’s books, there is in fact another row of shelves containing a similar collection formed by Thomas Grenville (1755-1846) [see entry in the directory of Named Collections of Printed Materials]. The King’s Library remains a working library, and throughout the day volumes are retrieved for readers working in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room.
Catalogues and access
Descriptions of books and pamphlets in the King’s Library appear in the British Library Integrated Catalogue, in printed editions of the Library’s main catalogues, and over the internet in the Integrated Catalogue. Most volumes can be ordered into the Rare Books and Music Reading Room using the reading room Online Catalogue.”
In the open courtyard is also a cafe with outdoor tables and although it was not crowded, there were plenty of people sitting in the sun having lunch. An air of study surrounds the area with people sitting reading books or looking through papers: you may be sure that some of distracted people walking past with tousled hair and book bags are famous authors who have been doing their historical research. Once inside you can spend hours without noticing it as you search through old papers and manuscripts. It was here that I tracked down the reports from my Grandfather, Great Grandfather and Great, great grandfather, who all served in the Indian Medical Service. I cannot tell you the thrill I got when I found reports in their own handwriting: people I had never known or met and here I was holding paper they had held, and looking at their words!
Anyway, it was soon time to head off to Regent Hall for the Memorial Concert. Only a few stops on the tube and we were there: by this time I was feeling so apprehensive. We went in to the Hall and found seats near the back. There were several people I wanted to meet: one was the Editor of Flute magazine, another was a London based Musician who had also owned my wooden flute and a Professor of the Royal College of Music who may have information about my silver flute, then the Executor of Richard’s Estate who had invited me and sent me the print of the painting and lastly a female musician who had owned my wooden flute and sent it to the shop from where I had bought it. But how to find them, would I recognise them and how to introduce myself?
A very pleasant man sitting nearby began talking to us who was a Chaplain at one of the large London prisons: he was born in Sheffield! Then a man came and sat directly in front of me and I was sure from photos on the net that he was one of the people I wanted to meet. I plucked up my courage and tapped him on the shoulder. He was!! Another man came and sat behind me, and he was another of the men I wanted to meet. If you read this in a book you would think it far-fetched! They were able to point out other people to us and were very friendly and pleasant.
However, there was little time to talk before the concert, which went well: people from all parts of Richard’s life were there, his friends from the West Indies, neighbours, colleagues from the Samaritans, musicians both old and young. Several performances were given by the great, with William Bennett playing a wooden flute. Afterwards he told me that he did this on purpose in honour of Richard’s performing life on his wooden flute (MY flute!).
But the greatest point came near the end: Richard’s executor stood up and told us that when sorting through Richard’s effects he had found a cardboard box at the bottom of a cupboard. Inside were several reels of tape: he was sure that they were unplayable because of deterioration etc. However, with William Bennett’s help they took the tapes to a Sound Engineer who remastered them and put them on CD. Then one of these recording was played to finish the concert, with Richard playing my flute.
It was ‘Carnival of Venice’ by Giulio Briccialdi: this has been populised by James Galway and subsequently by numerous other players as it is a piece full of virtuosity and panache. .
However, Richard’s recording was something else. You could hear the sound of jaws dropping all over the hall. More so, because it had been ‘one take’ in those days, no editing or second chances. I actually felt as though I could never pick up my flute again: an instrument that had been played like that did not deserve me. This was one of my ‘moments’!
To be continued.