Lost Libraries of London walking tour
A Friday night out with a bunch of librarians looking at places where books used to be was always going to be a niche activity. But the knowledge and enthusiasm of the lovely Alice Ford-Smith more than made up for the loss of a couple of hours drinking time. The evening commenced with a tour of the cathedral-like Gray’s Inn library, which lost the major part of its collection during the blitz and was completely re-built after the war. Destruction and dispersal were the themes of the evening, which was not for the faint hearted bibliophile. Our tour ranged in date from the loss of the library of old St Pauls in the great fire of London (which was said to smoulder for a week) through the disbanded libraries of eighteenth century coffee houses right up to the present day – and the much-loved St Brides library which faces an uncertain future. Our stops ranged from the official to the commercial and we even took in the site of public book burnings outside Stationers Hall. Nevertheless the tone of the tour was upbeat and contained my favourite fact of the week – that Dr Johnson treated his books so badly that when his library of 2000 volumes was auctioned after his death it raised a measly £300. Surely a comfort to those of us who can’t seem to kick the habit of turning our page corners down.
22nd June 2012