A fascinating historyA fascinating history

1841: The Library founded by Thomas Carlyle opens at 49 Pall Mall, London. Earl of Clarendon is appointed inaugural President and serves until 1870. John Cochrane is appointed first Librarian and serves until 1852.

1842: An additional room is rented at 49 Pall Mall creating the Library’s first reading room. The collection reaches 13,000 volumes.

1845: The Library moves to its present location in St James’s Square.

1879: The London Library buys the freehold of the premises.

1855: Tennyson appointed President, serving until 1892.

1893: Charles Hagberg Wright is appointed Librarian and develops the unique shelving system; catalogues the growing collection of 200,000 volumes; and oversees major building works as the Library is remodelled in 1896 to accommodate the rapidly expanding book collection.

1896-98: The building is entirely reconstructed. The present eclectic facade, the Main Hall, Reading Room and the grille-floored bookstacks are erected. The building is one of the first steel framed buildings in London.

1921: The building is extended: seven new floors are constructed to house a further 200,000 books. The radical glass floors and steel frames, constructed in and shipped from America, are reported in the press. The works cost £24,000.

1932-4: Further building works take place designed by architects Mewes and Davis. The Reading Room is extended, the Prevost Room and Exhibition Room plus additional book stacks are constructed at this time. Galsworthy, Huxley and The Times all donate to offset the cost. The collections now number some 450,000 volumes. 

1934: Charles Hagberg Wright is knighted after more than 40 years of extraordinary service to the Library.

1944: The Library is hit by a German wartime bomb and 16,000 volumes are destroyed.

1947: Wartime damage is completely repaired.

1948: Winston Churchill accepts the honorary position of Vice-President.

1952: T.S. Eliot appointed President, serving until his death in 1965.

1995: The Anstruther Wing is completed, a new building equipped with five floors of book storage with special environmental controls to allow for the safe housing of 30,000 of the rarest and most vulnerable volumes.

2002: Inez Lynn appointed Librarian, the first female Librarian in the Library's history. Sir Tom Stoppard appointed President.

2004: Duchess House is purchased, increasing the overall capacity of the building by 30%.

2010: Completion of a major building project which includes a wheelchair-accessible entrance, new reading rooms, a bespoke permanent home for The Times archive and improved facilities for members.

2013: Completion of Phase 3A of major building project, including extensive refurbishment of the Reading Room. The North Bay re-opens as The Writers' Room, and the Prevost Room becomes the Sackler Study. Spaces are refurbished to improve study space availability, lighting, heating and ventilation and include the installation of new bespoke furniture.


Further Reading
Further Reading

The London Library edited by Miron Grindea, London: The Boydell Press/Adam Books, 1978
Rude Words: a discursive history of the London Library by John Wells, London: Macmillan, 1991
Founders & Followers: literary lectures given on the 150th anniversary of the founding of the London Library, London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1992
Library Book: an architectural journey through the London Library by Tony McIntyre, London: The London Library, 2006 (available to buy online)