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A Short Guide to The British Library

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The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and is considered one of the largest library in the world by number of items catalogued. The library is a centre of research holding around 170 million items from many countries, in many languages and in many formats. The library hold a vast range of documents and books both print and digital: books, journals, newspapers, magazines, sound and music recordings, videos, play-scripts, databases, maps, stamps, prints, drawings. The Library’s collections include substantial holdings of manuscripts, maps and historical items dating back as far as 2000 BC. As part of their role as a national library, the British Library receives copies of all books produced in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

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The British Library was created in 1973, before this date , the national library was part of the British Museum and based around a series of donations and acquisitions from the 18th century. Many of these collections were located in different buildings over London and plans for a new library were developed to allow many of the collections to be bought together for the first time. The new library was purpose-built by the architect Colin St John Wilson near St Pancras Station, it was opened to a mixed reception from critics and the public. However, over time it has become very popular and the building was Grade I listed in 2015.

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The Library is open to anyone to apply for a Reader Pass and would like to carry out research in the collections. Increasingly the British Library is making thousands of images and sound recordings available online. As well as readers, the general public can enter the library to visit the permanent free exhibition in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery which features a number of important books and manuscripts including Beowulf , the Lindisfarne Gospels and St Cuthbert Gospel, a Gutenberg Bible, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales,  and a room devoted solely to Magna Carta.The library also holds a series of temporary exhibitions which have covered a variety of subjects, most recently a high-profile exhibition celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

The front of the British Library is a pleasant and popular large piazza that includes a large sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi of Isaac Newton and often has a series of temporary displays throughout the year.

For more information, visit the British Library website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
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The Lord Mayor’s Show 2015 in the City of London – November 14th 2015

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The Lord Mayor’s Show is one of the oldest and most important traditions of London, its origins go back to 1215 when King John was in trouble with his Barons looked to the City of London for support. In 1215 the King was persuaded to issue a Royal Charter that allowed the City of London to elect its own Mayor, but there was an important condition. Every year the newly elected Mayor must leave the safety of the City, travel upriver to the small town of Westminster and swear loyalty to the Crown. The Lord Mayor has now made that journey for 800 years, despite plagues and fires and countless wars, and pledged his (and her) loyalty to 34 kings and queens of England.

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The Mayor was a power equal to any of John’s unruly Barons, and only two months later the first elected Mayor would put his signature to the Magna Carta. He was no doubt responsible for the wording of part 13:

13. The city of London shall enjoy all its ancient liberties and free customs, both by land and by water. We also will and grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall enjoy all their liberties and free customs.

For the next few hundred years, Lord Mayor of London was by far the grandest position to which a commoner could aspire, and the Mayor’s journey was the celebrity spectacle of its day. Over the centuries it grew so splendid and so popular that by the 16th century it was known everywhere as the Lord Mayor’s Show. It features in the plays of Shakespeare, the diaries of Pepys and the adventures of James Bond and of course in the pantomime story of Dick Whittington, who was the Mayor of London three times. In the 20th century the Lord Mayor’s Show was the first outside event ever to be broadcast live and it still attracts a TV audience of millions.

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The modern Lord Mayor’s procession is a direct descendant of that first journey to Westminster. The state coach is 350 years old and the show features the City’s businesses, Livery Companies, charities, Her Majesty’s Forces, the City Police and Londoners from all walks of life come together to enjoy a celebration of the City’s ancient power and prosperity. The new Lord Mayor is Alderman Jeffrey Mountevans who will be the 688th Lord Mayor of the City of London.

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The show itself is in three main parts, the River Pageant, the Lord Mayor’s Procession and the  Lord Mayor’s Fireworks. Each have their own attractions and for those who want to find out more about the City of London there will be Guided Walks  in the afternoon. The timings are as follows:

09:00: River Pageant

The original Lord Mayor’s journey was always taken by river. The modern Lord Mayor celebrates that history by travelling to the City in a splendid flotilla of traditional Thames barges and small boats, including the famous QRB Gloriana. Tower Bridge opens in salute at 09.25 and the new Lord Mayor alights at HMS President ten minutes later.

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11:00: Lord Mayor’s Procession

This is a procession unlike any other in the world: over 7000 participants, 20 bands, 150 horses, hundreds of other carriages, carts, coaches and other vehicles including vintage cars, steam buses, tanks, tractors, ambulances, fire engines, unicycles, steamrollers, giant robots, helicopters, ships, penny farthings, beds and bathtubs.

The procession sets off from Mansion House at 11am. It pauses at the Royal Courts while the Lord Mayor gives his oath and then returns up the Victoria Embankment at about 1pm. The Lord Mayor will get back to Mansion House just after 2.

15:00: Guided Walks

In the lull between procession and fireworks you will find the remarkable City of London Guide Lecturers giving walking tours around the strange old streets of the City of London. The walks are easy and free, but they hope you will make a donation to the Lord Mayor’s Appeal.

17:15: Lord Mayor’s Fireworks

The new Lord Mayor completes his first day in office with a magnificent fireworks display over the Thames. The launchpad floats in the river between Blackfriars and Waterloo and all the roads in that area are still closed, so you can walk freely around either bank of the river and find a good spot to enjoy the end of the Show.
It’s one of London’s most spectacular annual displays  but for the best view head down to the riverside between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges, either on Victoria Embankment or on the South Bank. The display will last about 15-20 minutes.

The Lord Mayor’s Procession fills the whole area between Mansion House and the Royal Courts of Justice in Aldwych. It travels out via St Paul’s between 11am and 12.30, and returns by the embankment between 1pm and 2.30.

Crowds

The busiest parts of the route are around St Paul’s and Mansion House. If you’re at all concerned about the crowds, or might be a bit unsteady on your feet, please avoid those areas. In quieter places like Fleet Street the crowd should be much more manageable and you should be able to use folding chairs. There is also less of a crush during the return leg of the procession.

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Two of the most interesting aspects of the show is the magnificent State Coach which is over 250 years old and the wicker giants are Gog and Magog, the traditional guardians of the City of London. They first walked at the head of the Lord Mayor’s procession around five hundred years ago.

If you would further information, visit the Lord Mayor’s  Show website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and the latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

King John at Shakespeares Globe – 1st to 27th June 2015

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With the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, the exploits of King John has once again been a focus of attention. For a 16th century take on the much maligned King, The Shakespeares Globe is undertaking a rare production of one the bard’s lesser known history plays.

King John is the story of a King that will stop at nothing to maintain his power even blinding his young nephew, Prince Arthur.  However his enemies are closing in and the King  must make alliances to stay in control.

Shakespeare’s portrait of King John added to his negative portrayal throughout history and here is a chance to see it for the first time at the Globe Theatre.

Tickets
£5 standing
£16 – £43 seats

Running time:
approx. 3 hours including interval

Cast

Laurence Belcher
Arthur

Simon Coates
King Philip

Aruhan Galieva
Blanche of Castile

Joseph Marcell
Cardinal Pandulph

Barbara Marten
Eleanor of Aquitaine

Mark Meadows
Hubert

Tanya Moodie
Constance

Ciaran Owens
Louis the Dauphin

Daniel Rabin
Salisbury

Jo Stone-Fewings
King John

Giles Terera
Austria

Alex Waldmann
The Bastard

Directed by
James Dacre

Designed by
Jonathan Fensom

Composed by
Orlando Gough

Choreography by
Scott Ambler

If you would like more information or book tickets, visit the Shakespeares Globe website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
here

 

Exhibition Review – Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy at the British Library from 13 March to 1 Sept 2015

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The long awaited British Library exhibition entitled Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy brings together  over 200 exhibits, including iconic documents, such as two of the four surviving 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts, artworks, medieval manuscripts, Royal remains and 800 year old garments.  The exhibition also includes Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence, on loan from the New York Public Library, and the Delaware copy of the US Bill of Rights, on loan from the US National Archives, two of the most iconic documents in American history which will be seen  in the UK for the first time.

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The exhibition begins by placing Magna Carta  into its historical context, it may be a surprise to many that there were other documents that predated Magna Carta  that represented treaties between a king and his subjects. Two of the most important of these treaties , the Coronation Charter of Henry I (1100) and the Statute of Pamiers (1212) are shown at the exhibition.

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Although  other treaties were signed, they have not the historical significance of  the Magna Carta  which was not conceived as a democratic document, but was considered a practical solution to a political crisis 800 years ago.  The exhibition brings together some of the leading characters of the signing of the Magna Carta  to explain how the power struggle between Barons,  King John and the Church led to unintended consequences regarding the nature of law and democracy. Perhaps more importantly it stresses that  the 1225 version of Magna Carta issued by Henry III  took some of ideas further and enshrined them in law.

Although Magna Carta contained 63 clauses when it was first granted, only three of those clauses remain part of English law. One defends the liberties and rights of the English Church, another confirms the liberties and customs of London and other towns, but the third is the most famous:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.
To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice

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Important documents  such as the Articles of the Barons (1215), King John’s Ancestry and the Papal Bull that annulled the treaty are surrounded with a series of  13th century artefacts including King John’s teeth and thumb bone, removed from his Worcester Cathedral tomb in 1797 when it was opened to verify that the king was buried there.  Worcester Cathedral has also loaned King John’s original will and Canterbury Cathedral has loaned clothes recovered from the tomb of Hubert Walter (Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor of England under King John).

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The Magna Carta’s foundation in medieval history is just part of the story, the exhibition goes on to illustrate how the document has been used over the last 800 years in the fight for rights and freedoms. Iconic documents on display which build on the legacy of Magna Carta include the Petition of Right (1628), the English Bill of Rights (1689) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

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Significant occasions when public figures have used or quoted Magna Carta include  Thomas More at his trial(there is also a letter about More from Thomas Cromwell),Winston Churchill’s famous Iron Curtain Speech (1946); ‘A Farewell Letter’ (1914) of Mohandas Gandhi, later known as Mahatma Gandhi, in reference to The Indian Relief Act; and Nelson Mandela’s Rivonia Trial statement (1964).

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These widely known references contrast with a  little known government papers from the British Cabinet in 1941 proposing to give one of the original 1215 Magna Carta documents to the USA in return for their support in World War Two. Although it never got past the Cabinet stage, this potentially controversial document is one of the major surprises of the exhibition.

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The two copies of the Magna Carta at the end of the exhibition will disappoint those who expect wonderfully illustrated documents, one of the copies called the Canterbury Magna Carta was almost destroyed in a fire  but does have the King John seal and the other is a small piece of sheepskin parchment. However as the exhibition illustrates it is the ideas and law behind the documents that make them some of the most famous documents in the world.

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This intriguing and often surprising multi media exhibition is just part of a wider range of programmes  to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the signing of the document. For anyone interested in historical documents and how these provide ideas that change the world, this will be a must see exhibition. It is unlikely that we will ever see these documents in one place again suggesting it will have a wide appeal and be extremely popular and may be well worth booking tickets as soon as possible.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like more information and book tickets, visit the British Library website here 

Exhibition runs from  13 March  to   1 September 2015

 Opening hours Monday 9.30 – 18.00, Tuesday 9.30 – 20.00, Wednesday – Friday 9.30 – 18.00, Saturday 9.30 – 17.00, Sunday and English public holidays 11.00 – 17.00.

Tickets Full Price: £12.00; Under 18: Free

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January, we attract thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
here

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Book Review : Secrets of the National Archives by Richard Taylor ( Ebury Press )

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The National Archives are one of the most important and remarkable collections of documents in the world, the material in the archives covers over a thousand years of British history and contains over 120 shelf miles of documents.

The incredible scale and range of the documents make any representive selection problematical, however in the creation of this book, it has benefitted from a good deal of inside knowledge. In 2010, National Archives staff were asked what documents should be included and sent in their suggestions. Richard Taylor, a best selling author used many of the suggestions when he took on the role of  the books curator.

In the introduction of the book, Richard Taylor asks the question, Why do Documents have such a hold over us ?

Seeking to answer this question,  he discusses how documents are alive with insight into historical events. Whether secret, personal, public or bearing witness to historical events, each document has a story to tell that illuminates our understanding. Our curator uses the example of the Magna Carta to  illustrate how a document can take on a life on its own independent of the creators, he remarks ” It is astonishing, really, that a document sealed in a damp field in Surrey, between a little mafia of English barons and a king who would be dead the following year, should resonate down the centuries.”

The rest of the book considers the documents selected in chronological order which gives some indications that a document from one century can have significant importance for the centuries ahead.

The first chapter which covers documents between the 11th and 14th centuries  offers examples of this particular historical significance of documents.  The first document is one of the most famous in British history, the Domesday Book , in many ways little more than an inventory of land and ownership, however for future historians it offers an unprecedented snapshot of life in 1086. It also shows clearly that the Norman victory over the Anglo- Saxons on the battlefield was followed by the creation of a landowner class made up almost completely by the victors.

Other documents in this section include the Magna Carta, The Great Cause (claimants to the Scottish throne), a letter from Edward III and Manorial Rolls that document the devastation caused by the Black Death. Many of these documents may be familiar to many people but three other documents offer real surprises. The Jewish Tax Roll from 1233 illustrates medieval’s England’s financial dependence on the Jews and its hatred of them. The Domesday Abbreviato of 1241 offers what may be the first portrayal of a black person in England. Finally A Clerks Music of 1325 offers the first setting of music in multiple parts in England.

The second chapter that covers the 15th – 16th century shows England on the verge of Empire, the Agincourt Indentures goes beyond the story of Henry V’s great victory to reveal that the gallant English archers were motivated not just by glory but by money. The documents record that Men of Arms were paid 12 pence a day, mounted archers 6 pence per day and foot archers 4 pence a day.

It is the nature of documents that often the least significant at the time can have incredible historical significance, this point is made by An Indulgence issued in 1476 . This document is remarkable as the first printed document in England, printed in Westminster by William Caxton it revolutionised the production of books especially religious works. This had an unintended consequence, the selling of indulgences by the church reached industrial proportions which led to Martin Luther’s protest against Church corruption. On a similar theme, another document in this chapter, the Valor Ecclesiasticus  show how the Church’s wealth was decimated by Henry VIII whose inventory of church property contributed to the dissolution of the monasteries. An angry letter from Richard III and a letter begging for mercy from the future Elizabeth I are other highlights of this section.

The third chapter covers the 17th century, famous characters such as  Shakespeare, Guy Fawkes and Nell Gwyn all make an appearance but one of the most important documents of the period was the transcript of the Trial of Charles I. Written by a clerk, the proceedings are recorded for posterity and offer a viewpoint that the decision was made before the trial began and the King arrogantly believing that the court would not go through with its threats. The irony of the situation was many of the commissioners who signed the document were signing their own death warrant when Charles II was restored to the throne.

If the 17th century was dramatic, the next chapter covering the 18th century show the  British Empire expanding but not without its significant losses. The United States Declaration of Independence documents are the original prints by John Dunlap after the declaration had been ratified by Congress. Only 200 copies of the original prints were made but somehow three copies made their way to the ‘enemy’ and ended up back in Britain and eventually the National Archives. Other documents include Captain Cook in Botany Bay, the grim realities of the slave trade, the killing of Blackbeard, the capture of Dick Turpin, the Mutiny on the Bounty and the strange case of music piracy at the Bach Chancery proceedings.

The documents from the 19th century show that Britain’s problems were not just overseas, within Britain, certain interest groups were pushing for reform. Various documents record this movement, there is an anonymous threatening letter from workers to the gentry, a protest poster against the Workhouse and posters from the Chartists. If workers agitation was rife, the application for British citizenship for Karl Marx indicates that some answers were perhaps closer at hand than many people realised. Documents from two of the most controversial court cases are included, the strange case of the Tichborne Claimant and the visiting card that led to Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment. However the letters to the Police from people who were claiming to be Jack the Ripper is a chilling reminder that bizarre behaviour from the general public associated with high-profile crimes are not a modern phenomenon.

The section on the 20th century show that agitation is still a common theme with documents covering the suffragette to the women workers of Dagenham demanding equal pay.  Royal matters are also covered with the Instrument of Abdication  and Elizabeth II’s Coronation Oath. However the century was dominated by the two world wars, Battlefield Plans and Reports, the declaration of Sigfried Sassoon and the treaty of Versailles  give some insight into the madness of the First World War. Intercepted German reports of the St Naziare Raid, a Special Operations Executive report and the Percentages Agreement enlighten the Second World War. Outside the larger themes , telegrams received from the RMS Titanic and the Ruth Ellis confession make still make disturbing reading.

This well written and informative book, full of wonderful illustrations offers a window on earth shattering events by the viewing of often deceptively mundane and unimpressive documents. But the consequence of these pieces of material has been Empires have risen and fallen, Kings and Queens have being crowned and executed , reforms have been fought over, wars have been won and lost.

This book will appeal to people who would like to view British history from the primary sources and often discover the reality behind many of the myths that take hold over time. Looking at the illustrations of the documents brings you in many ways closer to the people involved, the shaky handwriting or notes in margins often clear indicators of the thought patterns of the authors of the document.

The book is also a reminder that information from the National Archives are constantly being  made available to increase our knowledge of the past. The National Archives really are a treasure trove that keeps on giving, available for anyone to use.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like to find out more about the book or buy a copy, visit the Ebury Press website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January, we attract thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
here