Lovely libraries in Nostalgic London

1) The London Library

Founded in 1841, the London Library has become the largest independent lending library in the world, with more than a million books behind its grand doors. The building it calls home is an intriguing marriage of 19th-century and more modern design. The plush reading room, which was opened in 1896, is all neat columns and elegant cornicing. Many of the books sit on Grade II-listed Victorian stacks with iron-grille floors, while newer additions from the 1930s onwards are simple and sleek. Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf and Agatha Christie are among the writers to have frequented this historic institution. Membership isn’t cheap – the standard full rate is 510 pounds a year – but you can explore the space for free on one of the library’s regular evening tours.

reading room at the London Library

2) Kensington Central Library

The opening of this grand, purpose-built library in 1960 was met with distaste from locals, who thought the classical-style building was an outdated eyesore. You can’t help but fall for the neat interior of this library, though, with its well-preserved terrazzo floors, striped square columns, brass and mahogany shelving and stunning hanging clock.

interior of the Kensington Central Library

3) Swiss Cottage Central Library

In the early 1960s, architect Sir Basil Spence, who was known for his modernist style, designed an unusual and ambitious building for this council-run library – and it’s become something of an architectural landmark. Curves and slim lines connect its rounded exterior to its interior, where symmetrical spiral staircases and narrow balustrades draw your eye. Afterwards, visit the nearby Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate for more modernist design.

symmetrical exterior of the Swiss Cottage central Library London
George Rex

4) Bethnal Green Library

Bethnal Green’s public library first opened in 1922, in a late-Victorian building that was once part of Bethnal House Asylum. The Grade II-listed space was recently renovated, but the original period features remain. Pop in to borrow a bestseller and eye up the classical panelling, checkerboard flooring, curved ceiling and ornamental plasterwork while you’re at it.

reading room at the Bethnal Green Library London

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