uk edition

The most spellbinding libraries in the UK & Ireland.

A guide to the most beautiful libraries in the British Isles and a homage to their unquestionable value and the long-standing cultural inspiration they represent.

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We decided to take a look at the most beautiful libraries in the UK and Ireland, knowing that anyone who loves a good book also loves reading in a beautiful surrounding. Hundreds of libraries have closed in the past five years, or are currently being threatened with closure as local councils across the UK deal with funding cuts. These striking sanctuaries for book lovers uphold that, despite the latest cutbacks and closures, libraries are still a much-treasured institution we should all strive to defend.

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    The Long Room, Trinity College Library, Dublin.

    The Library contains about five million books, of which the Long Room houses 200,000 of the oldest ones, making it one of the most impressive libraries in the world. In 1801 it became a legal deposit library, giving it the right to claim a copy of every single book ever published in Great Britain and Ireland, and consequently receiving over 100,000 new items every year. In 1860 the originally flat roof was raised in order to allow the construction of the present barrel-vaulted ceiling and upper gallery bookcases. Two of the library’s greatest treasures are its copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, one of the last remaining copies in the world, and its Brian Boru Harp, one of the three surviving medieval Gaelic harps, and a national symbol of Ireland.

    The Long Room, Trinity College Library, Dublin. : t
  • 28

    Queen's Library, Oxford University.

    Queen’s Library has around 50,000 volumes in the current lending collection, and around 100,000 volumes in the antiquarian collection. The Upper Library was constructed during the seventeenth century, whereas the rest of the library was founded in the fourteenth century, and was once thought to have been built by Christopher Wren due to its similarity to the Wren library at Trinity College Cambridge. The identity of the actual architect of the library remains a mystery.

    Queen's Library, Oxford University.: 3
  • 38

    National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

    The National Art Library is located on the first floor of the V&A, and has become a major public reference library for the fine and decorative arts. It’s highly acclaimed Grade II listed interior draws in many visitors every day.

    National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. : V
  • 48

    Mackintosh Library, Glasgow School of Art.

    On 23 May 2014, a fire tore through the Glasgow School of Art, destroying its renowned library, built between 1897 and 1909. The iconic building and its stunning library, including everything from the furniture to light fittings, was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Scotland’s influential architect who brought the art nouveau touch to 20th century Britain.

    Mackintosh Library, Glasgow School of Art.: 1
  • 58

    Codrington Library, All Souls College, Oxford University.

    All Souls College in Oxford contains one of the most impressive libraries on campus. The Codrington Library, completed in 1751, is of the most unusual architectural form, the classical interior is housed within a Gothic exterior. The stone floor of the library is a true vision of monochrome perfection that contrasts gracefully against the wooden boarded setting immediately next to the bookcases. The library is home to around 185,000 volumes, about a third of which were printed before 1800, and guards a number of other valuable objects, such as a death mask of Christopher Wren, a pietra dura table, reading desks and steps commissioned by Blackstone, and memorabilia of T.E. Lawrence.

    Codrington Library, All Souls College, Oxford University. : 3
  • 68

    Duke Humfrey's Library, Oxford University.

    Duke Humfrey’s Library is the oldest reading room in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford and consists of the original medieval section (1487), the Arts End (1612), and the Selden End (1637). It was refitted and restored from 1598 by Sir Thomas Bodley (thus Bodleian) and functions primarily as a reading room for maps music, and pre-1641 rare books; it is also where most Oxford University theses are consulted. The ceiling consists of panels painted with the arms of the university.

    It is named after King Henry V’s brother and first Duke of Gloucester Sir Humphrey, who was a patron of literature. Upon his death in 1447 he bequeathed his collection of 281 manuscripts to the library at Oxford, only three of those copies survived to present day. Many years later Sir Thomas Bodley financed a new library, with a collection of over 2,500 titles. Today, the library houses many invaluable pieces of literature, including manuscripts of the Gospels of the Bible from the 3rd century, a Shakespeare First Folio and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible.

    Duke Humfrey's Library, Oxford University. : B
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    Gladstone's Library, Flintshire, Wales.

    Gladstone’s Library, a Grade I listed building known until 2010 as St Deiniol’s Library, is Britain’s largest residential library. It was founded by Victorian statesman and politician William Ewart Gladstone who, at the age of 85, donated much of his personal library, comprised of 32,000 books. Today, the library contains over 250,000 items, mostly in the subjects of the arts and humanities.

    Gladstone's Library, Flintshire, Wales.: G
  • 88

    Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge University.

    The Wren Library was completed in 1695 to the design of Sir Christopher Wren. It now houses the manuscripts and volumes which belonged to the college before 1820, along with various special collections received by the college over the last 180 years. Among these special collections housed in the Wren are 1250 medieval manuscripts; books from Sir Isaac Newton’s own library; the Rothschild collection of 18th century English literature and A.A. Milne’s manuscripts of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner.

    Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge University.: T

Libraries are invaluable tributes to human knowledge, bringing together volumes old and new that branch out across the many fields of human intelligence and education. The hub of any academic’s life resides in these paper-filled havens, some of which have been feeding scholars’ minds for over half a century.

Our increasingly digital lives, combined with the austerity cuts sweeping across the nation, have begun a library apocalypse similar to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, with many closing down every year. Thankfully, the British Isles still host some of the most beautiful examples of libraries in the world.

From the ancient Duke Humfrey’s Library at Oxford, to Mackintosh’s art nouveau library in Glasgow, unfortunately burnt down last year, these libraries offer distinct approaches to the love of art and culture.




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