The London Library celebrates 175 years with literary festival

    The London Library
    The Reading Room at the London Library Credit: Philip Vile
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    To mark its 175th anniversary this year, one of the world’s greatest literary institutions – the London Library – is celebrating with a three-day literary extravaganza in St James’s Square.

    The Words in the Square festival, from 6 to 8 May in St James’s Square, curated by leading writer and director James Runcie and celebrated social historian David Kynaston, will celebrate the library’s impact on the literary and cultural fabric of Britain.

    Art Room, London Library
    Art Room, London Library Credit: Paul Raftery

    The brainchild of celebrated Scottish author, historian, and biographer, Thomas Carlyle, his vision succeeded beyond his wildest dreams and The London Library, which opened on Tuesday 3 May, flourished as a haven for reading, writing and thinking, quickly becoming a beloved home for some of the greatest names in literature.

    Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, George Eliot, Henry James, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf, Isaiah Berlin, Laurence Olivier, Agatha Christie and Harold Pinter among many others were all member of what is one of the largest independent lending library in the world with more than a million books, covering more than 17 miles of open-access bookshelves in seven interlocking buildings. Many of today’s leading literary lights still relay on the library.

    London Library
    Bound volumes in the Time Room at the London Library

    In honour of this ongoing success, for three days in May a luxury marquee will play to debates and discussions involving some of the most familiar names on the contemporary literary scene with 50 high-profile contributors such as Antony Beevor, Sebastian Faulks, Philippa Gregory, Susan Greenfield, Max Hastings, Ian Hislop, Victoria Hislop, Claire Tomalin and Joanna Trollope, among others.

    The London Library
    The London Library’s Reading Room Credit: Philip Vile

    Highlights include, on Friday 6 May, Charlotte Higgins, Tom Holland and Bettany Hughes discussing Who Needs the Classics?, on Saturday 7 May, The Golden Age of Murder will see­ Simon Brett, James Runcie and Kate Summerscale debate the great crime writers, and Lara Feigel, Juliet Gardiner and Max Hastings exploring how London was affected by the Blitz on Sunday 8 May.

    The Issue Hall at the London Library
    The Issue Hall at the London Library

    For more details on events, visit the London Library. Book tickets here. Throughout the Words In The Square celebration, ticketed tours will give visitors an opportunity to find out about the library’s history.

    Library membership is open to all and members are free to browse and borrow from a remarkable collection of over one million books and periodicals covering more than 2,000 subjects and dating from 1700 to the present day. 

    Do you love Britain? Let others know!