The Treasure Gallery at the British Library was created as an on-site museum to display some of the most significant illustrated books and manuscripts from English, European, and world history.
The room is a trove of literary and linguistic historic treasures. Originals of some of the most important legal texts in world history can be seen, such as the Magna Carta and the Domesday Book. You can also see fragments of the first surviving letters written in English, the Anglo-Saxon epic “Beowulf,” and original copies of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Shakespearean plays, and the illustrated books of Lewis Carroll and J. R. R. Tolkien.
Among the exhibits are countless medieval books, including bestiaries depicting colorful mythical beasts such as werewolves and dragons; herbariums showing plants believed to cure illnesses real and imagined; and an alchemic book of hours showing crowned corpses and nightmarish depictions of the apocalypse.
Here, too, are the chronicles of early English history, showing the wars, assassinations, and plagues that were commonplace. On a global scale, there are books relevant to world history originating from countries and civilizations as diverse as Spain, China, Persia, India, and Japan.
Scientific and geographic history are also featured, and you can view intriguing antique world maps alongside letters and illustrated documents by some of the most famous scientists, inventors, and geographers, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Charles Darwin.
Know Before You Go
The library is located directly outside the St Pancras railway station and can be reached easily by public transport. Entrance to the library and the treasures gallery is free and opening hours are 9:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. from Monday to Thursday. There is a cafe, restaurant, and shop onsite for visitors.
The Treasures Gallery can be found immediately up the steps to the left upon entering the library and close at 6 pm Mon.- Fri., and 5 pm at weekends. As with any museum, items may be removed or placed on loan to other institutions. There is also a section near the entrance that is dedicated to a specific topic of the library's vast collection.