A quiet space in the middle of London is hard to come by. Unless you’re lucky enough to be signed up to a member’s club, there’s little in the way of hidden spots to escape the mêlée. Apart from, of course, a library. Peaceful, studious and always slightly timeless, they’re the perfect place to calm a frenetic mind. So whether you want to read your newspaper, finish the book you can’t put down, or simply sit and ponder awhile, here’s where to go.
The London Library
With more than a million books held within seven interlocking buildings, The London Library is the largest independent lending library in the world, as well as every avid reader’s dream. Founded in 1841 by Scottish author Robert Carlyle, the library has played an iconic role in London’s literary history, with writers such as Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker and Virginia Woolf all members over its 175-year history. The wood-panelled library in St James’s Square contains books and periodicals in over 50 languages on bookshelves would stretch more than 17 miles if they were lined up, and there’s many a comfy nook or cranny hidden among them to settle in. That is, if you’re ever able to decide which book to read.
Memberships from £510 p.a. londonlibrary.co.uk
The Bishopsgate Institute Library
A oasis of calm in the heart of the City and just a stone’s throw away from Liverpool Street station, the Bishopsgate Institute was established in 1895 as a centre for culture and learning. The library is as old-school as they come: long tables, Victorian wooden panelling and a vast stained glass skylight to light the room. Even better, it’s open to everyone, with no membership system or payment required – you can just turn up and disappear between the high shelves for an hour or so. Interestingly, as a reference library, it also has a comprehensive collection of the books and materials on the history of London and the labour, co-operative, freethought and humanist movements.
Free entry bishopsgate.org.uk/Library
Wellcome Collection Reading Room
You wouldn’t think the hustle and bustle of Euston Road could hide somewhere as peaceful as the Wellcome Collection Reading Room. On the second floor, the space doubles as a library and a gallery with more than a thousand books tucked away between contemporary sculptures and paintings. The purpose of the room is to inspire learning and curiosity, so if you can’t focus on your book, you can always pop over to one of the 10 themed sections with interactive mini exhibitions on topics such as alchemy, food and travel. The perfect place to hunker down with a book on a rainy lunchtime.
Free entry wellcomecollection.org/readingroom