I travel as much as possible at home and abroad. I'm always ready for new experiences
Published August 25th 2019
'Paradise will be a kind of library' ~Jorge Luis Borges
Literary escapes for bibliophilic visitors to England could fill many books. One would be hard-pressed to find a place not touched by literature in the homeland of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and innumerable other beloved writers and poets. In no particular order, the following list is a small sample of options ranging from the well-known (British Library) to the less well-known (Hathersage Moors).
1. Merton College Upper Library, Oxford
Historic Merton College Library is the world's oldest continuously functioning academic library. The oldest part of the library dates from 1373. The library contains bookshelves and dormer windows dating to the restorations of the 16th century. The collection of early printed books are divided into subjects (medieval manuscripts are now housed elsewhere). Also on display are scientific instruments and astrolabes, large 16th-century globes (of the earth and heavens), book chests, reading benches, and repurposed medieval tiles.
Being a historic space within a busy working college library, visits are only possible by booking with a college guide at specific times of the year. From July to September, tours take place starting at 2.00pm and 3.00pm daily. Advance bookings may be made with the Tour Coordinator (up to 24 hours in advance) or with the College Lodge on the day.
When: See website for special instructions
Phone: 01865276310 Website Where: Merton College Merton Street Oxford, OX1 4JD Cost: £5.00 per person; £3.00 for University members
The British Library holds one of the most extensive book and manuscript collections in the world. It also hosts a number of high-profile temporary special exhibitions, such as the celebration for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. There is also the permanent collection in The Sir John Ritblat Gallery, which contains over 200 rare items, including the earliest English Old Testament, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Magna Carta and compositions by Shakespeare, Milton, Mozart, and Purcell.
Address: 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB Phone: 0843 208 1144 Website See website for opening times Cost: Free; charges apply for special exhibitions
3. Isaac Newton's Childhood Library, Grantham
The Francis Trigge Library of St Wulfram's Church is one of the last remaining chained libraries in England. The Library was established in 1598 by Reverend Francis Trigge, Rector of Welbourn. Isaac Newton attended the King's School located near St Wulfram's and is said to have visited the library to consult the wide-ranging collection.
The library contains 356 items, including 80 chained volumes. One of the oldest items in the collection is a 1472 incunabulum. The majority of the chained volumes are bibles, sermon collections, and theological texts, including the collected works of Aquinas and Calvin. There is a rare copy of the Vinegar Bible, which contains a printing error in the heading of Luke 20 which reads 'The Parable of the Vinegar' instead of 'The Parable of the Vineyard.'
It is best to phone the parish office before your visit to ensure the library is open.
4. Bromley House Library, Nottingham
Off the busy market square of Nottingham city centre is an old Georgian building that contains one of the last subscription libraries in England. The library holds a variable collection of rare manuscripts, early printed books, and works by new authors that are not available in more conventional libraries. With its serene reading rooms, attic hideaways, spiral staircase, coffee room, 'secret garden,' and over 40,000 books, it is an enchanting place for scholars and book lovers.
Free tours are offered on a fortnightly basis, many art exhibitions and a wide range of lectures, teaching courses, and other events are open to members and non-members alike.
When: See website for opening times
Phone: 0115 9473134 Website
Where: Angel Row Nottingham NG1 6HL
Cost: Free to visit; subscription cost for membership
5. The Bard at Lord Byron's House, Newstead Village
Newstead Abbey, originally built as a monastery in the 12th century, is the ancestral home of the Romantic poet Lord Byron, a man once described as 'mad, bad, and dangerous to know.' The house retains something of Byron's presence from the bullet holes in the walls to the extravagant gardens with wild roaming peacocks.
During the summer, the gardens become the perfect backdrop for Shakespearean open air theatre. Choice of play varies each year. Shows typically run between mid-June and mid-August.
Address: Newstead Abbey, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, NG15 8GE Website
Cost: Adults £16, Children £11, Family £46
Stratford-Upon-Avon is best known as Shakespeare's birthplace and the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). Shakespeare's birth-home, as well as his wife's cottage (Anne Hathaway) are open for tours. Shakespeare's home is located in Stratford's main tourist high street, while the cottage is about a mile's walk from the city centre. Holy Trinity Church, or Shakespeare's Church, was the site of Shakespeare's baptism and burial. It is also the burial site of his wife.
All necessary information about tours is available at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Where: Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 0RW
7. Lyme Park Hall and Jane Austen, Cheshire
Lyme Park Hall
Lyme Hall was made famous by the BBC's 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice where the house played the part of Mr Darcy's ancestral estate, Pemberley. Inside the house you can see 17th-century tapestries, one of the largest collections of antique English clocks, and wood carvings by the sculptor Grinling Gibbons (famous for his work on St Paul's Cathedral). The gardens contain some of the oldest lyme trees in England. On the south side of the house Austen fans will recognise the reflecting pond where Elizabeth Bennett encountered a sodden Mr Darcy.
When: All year round.
Phone: 01663 762023 Website
Where: Disley, Stockport, SK12 2NR
Cost: £15.20 (adult) for house and garden
8. Samuel Johnson's House, Lichfield
The prosperity of Lichfield in the eighteenth century and rise as a centre of culture and intellect led Samuel Johnson to call it 'a city of philosophers.' The house where Samuel Johnson was born and lived is now a free museum. It was built by Johnson's father in 1707 and served as a residence and bookshop. Samuel Johnson is best known for his A Dictionary of the English Language, but he was also a prolific writer and was known for his quick wit and memorable sayings.
Signatures of Tolkien's friends in the guestbook
The house has been recreated as it might have looked during Johnson's lifetime, including the room where Samuel was born, a writing room, library, and extensive collection of manuscripts, books, furniture, and artwork. Of note is the former guestbook which contains the signatures of two of Tolkien's friends, Geoffrey Bache Smith and Robert Gilson, who are thought to be the inspiration behind Frodo and Sam in the Lord of the Rings. Both men were killed in the Battle of the Somme a year after signing this book. The TCBS behind their names in the image below stands for Tea Club, Barrovian Society (a club formed with Tolkien).
9. City of Literature, Nottingham
Photo by Nottingham Writers Studio
Nottingham is not only home to the ballads and legends of Robin Hood, but to more recent famous writers like DH Lawrence and Lord Byron, as well as a present-day thriving literary community. Nottingham was named a UNESCO City of Literature, and, in addition to historical literary sites, there are many events taking place at universities and centres across the city. One such centre is the Nottingham Writers Studio, which is an independent, non-profit space for writers to attend workshops, meet with agents, attend courses and lectures, receive mentoring and feedback from other writers and work on projects in a dedicated area.
The English countryside has inspired hundreds of writers and poets across the centuries. The 'Lake Poets' connected with the Romantic movement found inspiration in the natural beauty of the Lake District. Thomas Hardy and Thomas Gray were moved to beautiful poetry by melancholy country churchyards. England's Peak District also has attracted notable writers over the years. Perhaps the most famous being Jane Austen, who once said that 'there is no finer county in England than Derbyshire.'
Hathersage is a small Derbyshire village in the Peak District. The village sits near the River Derwent on the border of Sheffield and Derbyshire. Charlotte Brontė was a visitor to Hathersage and it is widely accepted that she based 'Thornfield Hall' (Jane Eyre) on North Lees Hall, which is within walking distance from the moor. The Derbyshire tourism board has produced a walking guide that will take you to the manors of Jane Eyre, to the hiding places of Robin Hood, and many more places in between.