On 23 February, Surgeons were offered a special tour of the British Library by ex-Surgeon Phil Hatfield, now Lead Curator for Digital Mapping.
The visit began in the courtyard outside the building, where we were reminded we were standing above thousands of books stored in four floors of shelving, the largest subterranean tower block in the world. Phil talked about the structure of the building and its ‘ship-like’ design (which is only visible from the street), the history of the site, the broader area of Somers Town and the process of gentrification it has gone through over the past decades.
Inside the building, we were introduced to British Library’s founder collectors (Sir Robert Cotton, Sir Hans Sloane, Robert Harley, and King George III) and had the opportunity to wander through the Treasure Gallery, whose riches range from Magna Carta and Gutenberg’s Bible of 1455 to Coronelli’s celestial globe and handwritten lyrics by the Beatles.
We then moved into staff areas of the British Library with a collection display in Meeting Room H, where we had the privilege to take a close look at rare eighteenth- and nineteenth-century books related to polar collecting and exploration, including Thomas Pennant’s Arctic Zoology (1784) and William Scoreby’s An Account of the Arctic Regions (1820), and books on plantations and anti-slavery. These included Sir Hans Sloane’s, Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbadoes, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica (1707-1725), Olaudah Equiano’s, Interesting Narrative (1789) and Amelia Opie’s, The Black Man’s Lament (1826).
We are most grateful to Phil for this amazing opportunity.