A Tale of Two Cities: 48 Hours in London and Oxford
The CODEX Papers, no. 1, 2018, pp. 119-26
A two week excursion to the UK with a bibliophile's itinerary in hand yields an opportunity to highlight some of the best bookish destinations, both well-known and under the radar. Spend 48 hours in London and Oxford, with a bonus trip to Northumbria if you are so inclined.
Includes the British Library, Charles Dickens Museum, Bodleian Library, Blackwell's, John Rylands Library, and Lit & Phil Library, among other gems.
Care to have a read?
"There are many versions of England designed to satisfy each of us. Sports enthusiasts are enthralled by the likes of Manchester United, All Blacks, and Andy Murray. Gastronomes explore the Borough Market and set out to seaside towns for a batch of fish and chips made 100 ft. away from the boat on which the cod was caught. Audiophiles flock to Reading & Leeds Festivals and make pilgrimages to Rough Trade East and Piccadilly Records. Bibliophiles face no shortage of destinations to tug at their heartstrings.
London has a vast literary history, serving as home to the likes of Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, and the contemporary Zadie Smith, among other esteemed authors. Libraries around every corner inspire young minds and preserve the resources cherished by collectors and scholars alike. And as commercial mass book production continues without a hitch, the art of bookbinding and fine printing continue to gain interest throughout the city. Just over an hour train ride away, Oxford is a mirror for this immersive bibliophilic culture and abundance of activities. In these cities, carrying a book with you is a given.
Chapter 1: London
Perhaps the crème de la crème of libraries in London, the British Library (96 Euston Rd, London NW1 2DB) serves as an excellent starting point for jumping into the book-loving culture of the city with its collection of over 150 million items, including 8 million stamps and 4 million maps. As one guest services team member informed me on my recent visit, even if one were to request 5 items per day, it would take over 80,00 years to view the entire collection, which in many ways doesn’t speak to much when their collection requires an additional 12km (approx. 7.5 miles) of shelf space each year. Thankfully, an exhibition room housing the treasures of the library is open seven days a week for visitors and patrons alike to view and learn about historical materials such as the Magna Carta, Gutenberg Bible, 16th century manuscripts by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi, and Churchill’s letter authorizing the Monuments Men. This room is free to view, but those wishing for a more in-depth look at the Library’s inner workings and holdings may take advantage of the individual library and conservations tours. For £10, visitors can learn more about the institution’s history, collection, and architecture, or for those interested in the behind-the-scenes, the conservation tour provides an opportunity to see world-renowned conservators at work with the benefit on gaining insight into their techniques and tools. Those interested should check the British Library website or otherwise inquire about available dates for each tour.
From the British Library a 20 minute stroll through the St. Pancras neighborhood will bring you to the Charles Dickens Museum (48 Doughty Street London, WC1N 2LX). Housed in the Dickens family home, the study, bedchambers, and servants quarters are open for exploration and viewing jewels including the author’s desk and drafts for novels-to-be, most notably Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. Rotating exhibitions are open throughout the year and have recently showcased Ghost of an Idea: Unwrapping 'A Christmas Carol’ and The Other Dickens: Discovering Catherine Dickens. For a more immersive experience, the Museum hosts a series of lectures, performances, and workshops all delving into the life and work of Charles Dickens. The last Sunday of each month, Highlighting the Collection allows visitors to handle “Dickensian curiosities” on each floor of the house. With over 100,000 items within the museum, there is no scarcity of surprises to be delighted by."